Blogs as Anthropological Outreach
Gordon Rakita, a bioarchaeologist at the University of North Florida, wrote a commentary on public outreach and blogging in bioarchaeology. I'm just going to cut-and-paste it, since it's short and sweet, but you can get the entire volume here (PDF):
Of late, there have been several calls for anthropologists to reach out and engage the public. For example, Jerry Sabloff (2011), in his distinguished lecture at the American Anthropological Association's annual meetings, strongly urged us to actively speak and write to a public audience and develop mechanisms (at least within academia) to reward those who do so. In particular, he suggested (p. 414) that ―One of the most promising areas of outreach—and perhaps the launching pad of the future for public intellectuals in anthropology—is blogging.
Sabloff is just one such prominent anthropologist to advocate for blogging. Likewise, paleoanthropologist and blogger himself, John Hawks (2010, 2011) has continued to advocate for anthropologists to reach out to the public through blogging or other forms of public discourse.
Writing as I do from a public university in the state of Florida, I am keenly aware that the public and our elected officials often have a clouded understanding of the nature of our discipline and our contributions to society. Certainly we make such contributions, but we often fail to tout or otherwise advertise these contributions. As a result, we often have to play catch-up when others define who we are and what we do. In the wake of Florida Governor Scott's comments regarding anthropology, many rushed into the public debate to emphasize the scientific aspects of modern anthropology. None were more effective than the presentation developed by Charlotte Noble and other graduate students at the University of South Florida.
But I can't help but wonder if this entire incident would have happened, or if such a response would have been necessary, had anthropologists been more active in communicating the value and knowledge of our field to the public. This is especially true for scientific archaeologists who both seek public funding and require public laws to preserve the cultural resources that we know are so important to our communities. For this reason, I want to highlight several blogs that are dedicated to bioarchaeology or bioarchaeology themes.
These are the blogs I've tuned my RSS feed reader to:
So if you're interested in the field of bioarchaeology, tune in, and don't drop out. And if you're not interested in bioarchaeology but some other aspect of scientific archaeology, then I guarantee there's probably a blog for it out there. If not, then why not start one yourself.
References CitedSo, Rakita points out that blogging is a valid and powerful method of public outreach, a way to tell people what it is anthropologists do. He cites Jerry Sabloff, whose AAA keynote I covered on this blog a little over a year ago, as a prominent anthropologist who thinks blogs are awesome and who thinks that public outreach should be rewarded. I'm quite honored to be included on Rakita's list, particularly as an example of what Sabloff was talking about. It's always nice to be recognized by one's peers.
What's interesting about Rakita's list of bioarchaeology bloggers, though, is that not one of us has a tenure-track position. Katy is a PhD student, David is working on his master's, and I have my PhD but haven't found a permanent position yet. Don't get me wrong - there are some awesome job-having bio- and archaeo- bloggers out there like John Hawks, Kate Clancy, and Rosemary Joyce. But many of the heavy-hitters in anthro outreach blogging, like Krystal D'Costa and the Savage Minds crew, are from various levels of academia as well as outside it.
The revolution in public outreach - particularly in bioarchaeology - seems to be coming from the Young Turks. This is especially interesting, since we (Katy, David, and I, for example) aren't even required to engage in public outreach or in service activities like tenure-track faculty are. Still, there is a growing conversation about the place of blogs in CVs, cover letters, and promotion-and-tenure files, suggesting more of us are starting up blogs and using them as a way to... well, that remains an open question, one that we each answer at an individual level.
I blog because I find it rewarding - there's excitement in knowing that people who probably wouldn't touch my journal articles are reading about my work and about other developments in bioarchaeology; there's joy when I get emails from up-and-coming researchers, as young as middle schoolers, who want advice on how to make bioarchaeology a career; and there's the interaction with my readers that doesn't come across in the unidirectional, static medium of a publication.
Blogging is an exercise in writing for a different public, an exercise in taking all that jargon you learned in your coursework, distilling it, injecting your own ideas, and making it interesting. Writing a blog has helped me refine my research and my prose, and I think that my public lectures and my successful grant proposals in particular have greatly benefited from the practice. I always wish I had more time to blog. There's just so much cool stuff out there to talk about, and so little time to write...
(Thanks to Katy Meyers for the heads-up on Rakita's article!)