Tuesday, 3 December 2013

PACHI Blogging Archaeology

Here is my belated contribution to Doug Rocks-Macqueen’s blogging carnival - Blogging Archaeology. (what’s a blogging carnival? click here). The first question for the month of November was:

Why blogging? – Why did you start a blog? 
That has a number of answers. The first is that it will be obvious from this blog that what I write about here concerns me (and annoys me) very much. I think "Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues" are important ones which cannot be brushed under the carpet. I am however constantly frustrated, and frankly, amazed, to see that as afar as certain areas of this debate go (artefact hunting and the antiquities trade in particular) this is precisely what just about everybody and anybody involved in heritage management in any capacity (Heritage Action almost alone excluded) is currently doing for one reason and another.

This blog is an extension of other earlier internet based activity, first on the CBA's Britarch discussion list 'Britarch' (2000 onwards), then the PAS forum and the 'Time Team' Forum, two metal detecting discussion lists. Then I was invited to be a blogger on the SAFE blog. The problem with all of these was that what I said on any of them tended to attract the nasties of the artefact collecting world and the more genteel readers of these resources found that nauseating and distracting, and so by extension were less keen to see any kind of discussion of certain issues (which of course is precisely what the black hat guys wanted). So, instead of having to mince words to avoid confrontation with them, I decided to split off on my own. I thought I'd make my own little secluded corner of the Internet to have my say on what I wanted to talk about without the fluffy bunny bunch moaning at me all the time. So here it is, it's here for those that need it, it's not in-your-face for those who do not.

The blog gives me opportunities to provide my own answers to questions some may have about issues concerning artefact collecting and the trade, especially those they may have after reading the more prevalent pro-collecting material on the Internet. My hope is that some of my readers will be going away thinking that there is a problem here to be resolved.

The other reason is that its an exercise in thinking. It is stimulating to be forced to think things through, and put down ideas which in some circles you know are going to be controversial and disliked, which means putting the thoughts and arguments down in a way which makes clear why you say what you say. Having to put down where people can see it in black and white what I think forces me to think through just why it is I hold such and such a view and how to articulate it. Blogging these issues is a learning experience for me. This opinion is also there in black and white ready for those who think differently to marshal their best arguments against what I say - which in turn gives everyone something else to think about. In the course of this to and fro, the inquisitive reader will see, I have modified my own views on a number of issues. This though is at the moment primarily a purely private indulgence.

Because it is a blog the tone adopted is bound to be more personal, and at times flippant, than would be the case if this was a round-up in an academic journal. It also is designed to reach a much wider and more varied audience, which will for the most part include non-specialists (and indeed the very collectors I write of). I try to keep the discussion in plain terms, obviously from some of the reactions, not successfully enough. This needs more work. On the other hand, though part of the audience might be (maybe) a few archaeologists, who I know are put off by the tone sometimes adopted. For them though there will eventually be a 'book of the blog'. In the meanwhile, I am in agreement with those bloggers who feel that there is a need for different kinds of archaeological communication in various media to combat emerging misconceptions about what we do among the public (public archaeology) as well as specialist audiences from other fields. Without that understanding we cannot count on their informed support in the struggles that await the discipline in various areas in the years ahead.

The blog one day will just disappear the way all digital media. Before that happens, I plan to put down some of the things I have learnt from running it into more academic written form, a book and some articles starting from 2014. The words are all there, putting them in some sort of order is the (rather daunting) challenge, but one which I am fairly confident that I am better equipped to attempt now than I was when I started this blog.  

A third reason related to the latter is that it's one of the things that helps keep an expat in touch with the language. I've been living in Poland umpteen years, surrounded by Polish speaking friends and family (at home we speak Polish, though the cats are bilingual); at work and generally out of the house I speak Polish. Here on the blog I tap away in English. Writing is a skill that we all need constant practice in, as a kid I was dyslexic, but fortunately nobody told me, so I just kept trying... and still do (just be thankful this is not hand-written).

Which brings me to the second question: Why are you still blogging?  

There are certainly a lot of people who'd be very happy if I stopped (or if they could stop me), and who have their own answer to that one. The problems with artefact collecting and the antiquities market don't stop; while there is something to write about, then surely somebody ought to be drawing attention to the issues. When I look at what is out there, it seems to me that (at least in the English-speaking world) that basically there is nowhere else where an attempt is made in this sort of medium to cover the same ground from this point of view. Fellow archaeologists in the UK are far too timid (or busy), the most any can do is tweet a few article titles, but with no real meaty commentary. I think that there is more than ever before a great need to get the information out there, and offer some thoughts to counter the floods of pro-collecting propaganda and superficial bunny-fluff that lots of other folk are busy putting out. I think the serious reader should have access to both sides of the story, and that's what I kid myself I am doing.

Am I making a difference? Is this about making a difference? Is it all a waste of time? Perhaps. It is always going to be easier all around to accept the status quo, no matter how damaging it is, so perhaps nothing will ever change. Who knows? Does that mean it is not worth trying? (Metal detectorists - that was a RHETORICAL question, look it up).

Now it's time to see what others wrote and whether mine looks lame in comparision...

Vignette: At the moment there are very few archaeo-cat posts on my blog.  That could all change.


Elina Moustaira said...

Very good!! It is really an exercise in thinking and a way to "see" and to show things more clearly.

(And the photo of the cat at the PC, really precious!)

Paul Barford said...

The cat is not mine, I like to have a little picture in the posts that appear in the "popular posts" sidebar to brighten it up. Every time it changes, I have to go on a hunt for suitable piccies. Sometimes that takes more time than writing the post did...

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