Tag Archives: blog

How Savage is Your Savagery?

After receiving some rather chilling feedback regarding the name of my blog, you know, Middle Savagery, I took a step back to think about it a little bit more. I thought it was obvious to everyone, that it was reclaiming an arcane, racist category for classifying ancient societies in a reflexive, anthropological way. I shouldn’t have assumed.

While I had been blogging since 2001, I started my archaeology-based blog in 2004, after taking Sam Wilson’s excellent The Archaeology of Complex Societies class, wherein we had to directly address what complexity means. It was one of those game-changing classes for me, a rigorous exploration of archaeological literature on complexity that revealed my own assumptions about social organization a moment before blowing them completely away. In it, we learned about the history of categorizing ancient societies, including Lewis H. Morgan’s system of progression through savagery, barbarism and civilization, with gradations of Upper, Middle and Lower for each category.

So when I heard that the name was not well received, I was taken aback. By now Middle Savagery feels worn-in, well-used, easy–perhaps lacking the sharpness of critique, an archaeological in-joke on a blog that has grown far beyond the original intended audience of friends and the handful of archaeologists communicating online at the time. I thought about transitioning to a new blog, but I’m torn. I might still. Lacking that, I re-wrote my rather glib About page to include the following:

The name of this blog is from Ancient Society written in 1877 by Lewis H. Morgan. In a very racist, colonialist way, he categorized all societies within an arcane hierarchy, ranging from Savagery to Civilization. In a fit of reflexive angst brought on by sharing the last name Morgan, in 2004 I named this blog after one of these categories, “Middle Savagery,” to highlight the ludicrous nature of ranking ancient and modern societies along such lines. It is not meant to perpetuate or codify these categories in any way, but for us to highlight the suspect history of anthropological and archaeological thought.

Even as archaeological blogging has grown vast and somewhat mundane, I hope that I can keep up a little outpost here at Middle Savagery. That, and we’re finally publishing the papers from my 2011 SAA Session on blogging in the excellent, Open Access Internet Archaeology–look for it in the coming months.

Sneak Preview – Then Dig

On June 1st, Then Dig, the collaborative archaeology group blog, will debut with its first issue: Distance. I’m getting together my post for Distance, but if you are interested in participating, the Call for Posts is here:


I made a one-sheet for it that we’ll be distributing on the various archaeology mailing lists. So, expect us!

Blogging Archaeology – Afterwords

Kris was waiting for me at the Starbucks in the Convention Center a couple of hours before the session. We were in the same session together at the SAA in 2007, when I urged my fellow archaeologists to use spatially-aware social media for outreach and she had enthusiastically supported me in her comments on my paper–it was good to see her again! I was a little late because I wanted to see Randy McGuire’s talk in the Activism in Archaeology session. (Thought provoking, but there is a fundamental disconnect rampant in public outreach and archaeology that I’ve been dared to blog about. We’ll see if I get up the courage.)

We chatted about the upcoming session and I groggily admitted that I had depleted most of my resources just to get to the conference, but after some coffee and a sandwich I was ready. I usually like to check out the room ahead of schedule and spend some time getting to know the space. I stood at the mic and welcomed an empty room to the Blogging Archaeology session at the meeting for the Society for American Archaeology.

The session participants began to show up and I told them the routine, asked if they had any questions, then spent a bit of time making sure Shawn Graham’s presentation would work. We didn’t have any computer speakers so the wonderful Sacramento Convention Center AV staff member (Hi Max! Thanks!!) gave us an extra-long mic cord that I held next to my computer for the talk.

And the show began.

The speakers were beyond excellent. They gave compelling, intelligent and surprisingly funny talks about the place of blogging in archaeology. The energy in the room was great and our audience stayed with us–I was in the front most of the time, but I did a quick headcount and came up with about 75 people in the room early in the session. Later it would grow to 100-125 and I spotted the friendly faces of colleagues, students, and my former CRM boss! Whispers went around–was that John Hawks in the audience?

A summary of the papers seems unnecessary because the whole session was live-tweeted, the results of which have been collated by @archaeologist at Storify and Shawn Graham and John Lowe have posted their papers online. Needless to say, I believe that between the blog carnival and the strong session presentation and discussion, we have a firm foundation to pursue publication.

As the community has become self-aware, some have taken it upon themselves to implement key questions and interests that were raised by the carnival and session.

Past Thinking has published a list of archaeology blogs, along with a bundle in Google Reader for the RSS-dependent like myself.

Alun Salt has expanded on the idea of a group blog – this is essential reading for bloggers who are interested in the possibility. The carnival was harder work and took longer than I anticipated, and editing a group blog would only amplify the amount of work and attention necessary to create a quality outcome.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in this timely and essential conversation about the place of the short form in archaeology.