I put up my first blog post on April 28th 2017. In the previous 24 hours, I had seen the explosion of media coverage and public engagement about the first Cerutti Mastodon paper in Nature. I went to the original paper, and I knew that as an academic and as a teacher, I had to become part of the public conversation. A blog post seemed to be a good way to start.

Since then, I have made 111 posts (for something like 75 000 words) that have gotten 104 113 views over 4 years (as June 23rd 2021, 1322 Mountain Time), on everything from Neanderthal “extinction”, to Open Access, to Gunnar Myrdal, to the history of the title track on rock albums, to The Curse of Oak Island. What have I learned?

The lesson that stands out most for me is that when people have questions, they look for answers, and we can be there to help them, whenever and wherever they have a question. That’s encouraging for an academic and a teacher. I’ve learned that we have to be part of the conversation, and we have to make some answers, or at least some discussions, available for people looking for them. If we don’t, we can’t complain that others are doing it for us, whether they are outright scammers, misguided politicians, misinformed marketers, or our pseudo-alters (in my case pseudo-archaeologists).

Of all the views on my blog, a whopping 61 740 have collectively gone to the ten posts in which I discuss the claims made on the wildly popular pseudoarchaeology television series Curse of Oak Island. Is there really a secret tunnel from the foundation of Samuel Ball’s house to the money pit? (20 308 views. Answer: most likely a domestic drain) How surprising is it that there is coconut fiber in archaeological context on the island? (1 802 views. Answer: Not surprising, but certainly interesting) etc.

People found my blog posts mainly through search engines (52 503, of which 46 707 are from Google), but also through Facebook (10 794). During Oak Island season, I have strong spikes of views and search engine hits on my relevant posts on Tuesday nights, when it airs in the US, and on Wednesday mornings.  When I see a spike of views from a particular country, I can assume they just aired a new episode over there and that people are trying to find answers to their archaeological questions, and trying to look up the claims made on the show.

In fact, people search from everywhere. I have views from 172 countries and territories. Sure, 63 262 views are from the US, but then again, ten are from Zambia, and one is from the Maldives. So… Bottom line: I want to be there to help people who are searching, and blogging definitely works for that.

My next most viewed class of posts have to do with academia and academic life, rather than my academic work itself. Wondering why you get so much spam from Academia.edu? (6 055 views) Is the 80 hour work week “normal” in academia? (1 503 views) What about equity and archaeological fieldwork? (405 views).

Then there are the one-offs. Little bits of inspiration that take hold of me once in a while and that I just have to dive into. The blog is an amazing outlet for those, and some turn out to reach a bit of an audience, which could never, ever happen with traditional publishing. Ever wonder when actors started holding flashlights overhand on TV? (2 342 views, this one got an assist from being featured on John Warner’s Inside Higher Ed column) When did doom scrolling become a thing, anyway? (689 views)  Sometimes, I just react to a headline I see, for example, that supernovae caused human bipedalism (506 views).

Probably my favourite one-off is a bit of an introspective material culture piece about an old man and his typewriter (116 views). I consider it an archaeology piece, but I think not many would. Not many people saw it either, but I am glad that some did. I even got some nice comments about it from the few who did. Some days, when I have a hole in my schedule between meetings, or as I wait for the comms people to be done with the next draft of that document I have to edit and sign (which is what I am doing right now), those little posts provide a nice intellectual pressure valve. Maybe that’s even more important for academic administrators than for others. I don’t know.

But what about my actual, “serious” academic work? The blog is useful for that as well. In terms of actual archaeology, I have mostly posted evaluations of claims about surprisingly early archaeological material in the Americas. The most widely viewed (1 265 views) is my evaluation of the Chiquihuite site in Mexico. Even my post on complexity and archaeology, with a modest 516 views, has probably been more widely read than a number of my traditional publications on the topic, and has certainly generated better engagement than most of them.

Surprisingly, a quick search of Google Scholar shows that my blog posts have been cited not only in archaeology journals, but also in The Journal of Research Management, The Library Quaterly (both for posts on Open Access), and in The Historian.

As for the post that motivated the creation of the blog, my first Cerutti Mastodon post has 275 views since 2017. When it got about 75 in the first few days it was up, I thought that was amazing, and I still do. My subsequent updates on the Cerutti Mastodon saga have garnered increasing numbers of views (this one from 2019, for example, has 708), probably because the blog itself has become more visible over time.

The blog has been a good experiment, and a good experience. It can be a bit scary at times to be unfiltered, but it is worth it. I have pretty good evidence that it has helped others, and that it has had an impact, especially in the area of addressing pseudoarchaeology, that would have been difficult to create otherwise.

Finally, I have learned that there is no shortage of stuff to write about or comment on. I keep tabs open of stuff related to posts I plan to do, and I regularly have to cull them because there is no realistic chance I will get around to them. Which reminds me, I have three tabs open right now about the recent hubbub on Dunbar’s number, and I definitely, most likely, probably, get around to writing that one.

3 thoughts on “Four years of academic blogging: What I have learned so far

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