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BRITARCH  February 2000

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Subject:

RE: Plain speaking

From:

Bill Bevan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Bill Bevan <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 21 Feb 2000 12:13:57 -0000

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Paul, what you say below is largely what many of the messages on this 
thread have been saying - write for your audience. However, as pottery 
reports are not just for other archaeologists to comprehend, but also the 
developer or planner who is probably not going to be an archaeologist, you 
also need to write technical reports with their understanding of the 
subject in mind. so while you won't want to produce a long descriptino of a 
pot type each time it is described, it would be very useful to have the 
technical terms, eg schalenurne, explained in the report too. Otherwise, if 
the importance of a site or landscape is veiled by total reliance on 
technical shorthand then the cause of archaeology as a whole is limited 
too. there's no point us all agreeing how important something is if we 
can't argue that to others.

But as already pointed out by others it is not solely the use of technical 
words which is the issue here, it is also the style of writing and a site 
report full of technical detail and argument (as Chris Cumberpatch rightly 
states is a necessity) can still be written in a way which engages and 
 interests the reader - which will have a better impact than a report 
written in a boring, plodding style. Again I would suggest reading Mark 
Edmonds recent book on the Neolithic to find out how an academic book, of 
refereed quality, can be interesting and can meet the needs of both 
academics and interested 'lay'readers' alike.

and while the Tories should be burnt at the stake for all the problems they 
caused in govewrnment, including those for archaeology, you can't blame 
them for all faults in archaeology. As practictioners we also have the 
responsibility for promoting archaeology beyond our discipline.

<snip>As someone who is involved with writing archaeology, a few thoughts 
on the
subject (again).  Archaeology is an academic discipline, and, like all
academic disciplines, has its own language which is necessary to allow
communication to take place between practitioners with reasonable brevity.
If, for  example, I had to write 'a 5th century hand-made bowl with a 
hollow
pedestal base, with a waist angle of less than ninety degrees  with
knife-cut incisions along the waist, similar to the type found on the
north-west coast of europe, and probably a direct descendant of the local
Iron age tradition' rather than 'schalenurne' everytime I was describing
such a pot, then boredom really would set in, both for the reader and
writer.

However, archaeology is not the only academic discipline with its own set 
of
'impenetrable jargon'.  I would imagine many subscribers to this service
have read Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' - have any attempted to read
his 'technical papers', and if so, would they criticise them for being full
of jargon of a similar impenetrability to that which site reports etc are
said to contain?  I certainly wouldn't attempt to read them, I'd stick to
his syntheses intended for mass consumption.

It would be a pleasure to sit down and write a series of 'popular' books 
etc
about recent finds in archaeology, but the nature of the discipline makes
this impossible - most field archaeology is funded by developers, not the
public, with no provision for popular syntheses - Time Team and Meet the
Ancestors-related publications sell well, but look at the amount of 
air-time
(=publicity) they receive, and publishers are no doubt happy to hand over
nice fat advances to the writers.

Academics,  to a certain extent, have their hands similarly tied - any
publications which do not appear in refereed journals do not score any of
the points which count in the government's league tables etc, so
universities actively discourage their staff from writing popular books - a
friend of mine spent several years of his own time, and drove himself to a
breakdown writing a popular publication (which sold extremely well), but 
was
disciplined by his own department for making himself ill writing it as it
didn't score any points.  I certainly don't want to spend all my spare time
on such things - I do archaeology all day, but I don't want to do it in the
evenings as well - these days, a new episode of 'the Simpsons' wins out 
over
Time Team every time.

I would suggest that rather than blaming archaeologists for elitism, the
dissaffected should protest to the government about the nature of the
present system, largely foisted on us by the last couple of Conservative
administrations, which simply does not allow for the production of an
archaeology which is suitable for mass consumption (oops! politics!!).

Paul Blinkhorn




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