Monday, 19 May 2014

Building a 'community of archaeologists' and the value of social media

Guest blogger: John Lowe
At the 2014 Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings, I presented a paper entitled “Building a Community of Archaeologists through Social Media” during the Blogging Archaeology Again session. I focused on how microblogging social media platforms such as Twitter are useful in “building a ‘community of archaeologists” that goes beyond typical job networking.” Much of my talk is similar to or based on ideas expressed by Lorna Richardson in her 2012 chapter “Twitter & Archaeology: An Archaeological Network in 140 Characters or Less,” as well as utilizing survey data from her ongoing dissertation research.
Basically, I have mostly switched from blogging in a traditional sense (such as this) to using twitter as a “microblog”. One reason for this is that Twitter is a much more dynamic format for discussing archaeology. Twitter is a more conversational medium, while blog posts are more soliloquies. Put another way, blogs are like a presentation at a conference, while Twitter is the “conference bar”, where the real discussions take place.
I originally conceived of Twitter as a place for doing public archaeology outreach and education (using the #archaeology and #CRMArch hashtags to increase my visibility), as well as networking. However, as I became more active on Twitter and interacted with archaeologists around the world, I changed my approach. I found that I cared more about archaeologists than archaeology. The value of a person wasn’t as a connection, but the connection itself. I think this might have a particular appeal to archaeologists, who are often isolated due to work and school locations, not to mention lack of funds for conferences and travel; even those in academic settings may be isolated in their specialization. Live-tweeting of conferences using official or unofficial hashtags allows people all over to read session highlights and participate in the discussion during real-time (well over 20,000 during the #SAA2014 meetings).
This Twitter archaeology community is valuable, particularly for younger working archaeologists and those still in school. People can commiserate, seek support, share advice and suggestions, support formal and informal mentoring, and forge friendships outside of a professional setting and beyond the field. It transcends regional, professional, specialization, and class boundaries. It is a highly inclusive medium that values regular activity, personality, willingness to engage as well as useful information and accuracy. The inclusivity of Twitter might appeal to women and early career scientists who may not feel safe, comfortable or welcome in more traditional academic and professional settings.
A shining example of Twitter collaboration amongst archaeologists from different countries and specialties is the
TrowelBlazers project, a blog and Twitter feed highlighting the early and often unheralded contributions of women in archaeology and related sciences. This project was started by people who knew each other through Twitter, and is a group effort that has inspired other similar projects.
The Twitter archaeology community is made up of all types of people, including some who might not consider themselves a part of it based on Richardson’s (2014) survey. Some choose to focus solely on archaeology, and are looking for and/or solely posting news and links. Others comment and engage in discussions related to archaeology, often within their area of interest or expertise, but keep their personal life and thoughts separate (some even maintain a separate account to do so). And there are some, like myself, who tweet both archaeological and personal information and thoughts, who share photos and links related to outside interests. The way I see it, in the field we talk about our work, but we also talk a lot about food, we listen to music, and we tell all sorts of crazy stories and jokes. We all like food and beer and we study humans and are human, not archaeobots. Think of Neil DeGrasse Tyson!
So how does one build a community of archaeologists (as opposed to an archaeological community) on Twitter, as implied in the title of this talk? Organically. It just happened, and keeps happening, as people with common interests start to talk with each other, share data and ideas, become familiar and then become friends. And sometimes, the “virtual conference social” becomes real, and friends meet “for real”, and get together to talk about archaeology and the other things that humans do.

Richardson, Lorna

2012: Twitter & Archaeology: An Archaeological Network in 140 Characters or Less in Archaeology & Digital Communication: Towards Strategies of Public Engagement, ed. C. Bonacchi.  Archetype Publications, London.

2014: “Summary Report with Comments”, manuscript published by the author, available at

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