Þæt wæs god blog!
I recently came across this post on Imgur: the story of Bob and Terry as told by thehomeofDob. I’m hooked. I want to hear the rest of Bob’s story, and not just because of the somewhat gruesome picture.
People were using special hair gel 2,500 years ago? Tell me more!
Amazing the information you can get about someone that old.
OK, granted this post is somewhat irreverent, more than a little disturbing, and perhaps not the most useful for learning about archaeology. So I visit the website listed at the end of this post, eager to learn more about these bog bodies.
There’s nothing wrong with this, per se. The information I need is there–opening hours, phone number, directions, links to the different collections and exhibitions. The temporary exhibition on Samhain looks intriguing, so I click the link.
Again, the essential info is there–the dates of the exhibition, the cost (FREE!), and what it will involve (music, creative writing, photography, the culmination of a series of workshops in Dublin, Mayo, and Belfast). The page continues with more information on what Samhain is and what the project is about–a series of rather dry paragraphs without any images. If it were not for my preexisting interest in Celtic festivals and mythology, I doubt I’d be tempted to see the exhibition, even if it is free.
I’d love to see how someone like thehomeofDob would advertise it.
Back to the bog bodies. I type ‘bog bodies’ in the search bar at the top of the homepage. The top hit is a page for secondary school teachers that explains how to incorporate bog bodies into the curriculum.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s a useful page for teachers. As someone who has taught primary school students and kindergarteners as well as university undergrads, I can appreciate a clear list of topics to be discussed upon visiting a museum. Further down the page is a list of ‘key curriculum strands’ and important information like the length of the tour and the maximum number of students allowed per group. There are even instructions for self-guided tours and a PDF with follow up activities for the classroom. This is very useful information for a teacher. However, what if I’m just someone who came across this website via the Imgur post who wants to find out more about bog bodies, not someone who wants to plan a school trip? After those amazing images of ‘Bob and Terry’, the tiny hand image is a bit of a disappointment.
From a teacher’s perspective, the information on this page is necessary and useful…but it’s not sticky, it doesn’t make someone outside of the field of archaeology in general and prehistoric Ireland more specifically yearn for more knowledge. If I were to show this page to my students, would they get excited about the museum trip? Possibly, but I have a feeling the Imgur post would interest them more.
I was recently asked by another academic why we needed to ‘dumb things down’ for public consumption. Why can’t we expect ‘the public’ (that terribly vague and useless word) to learn via conference papers and journal articles the way we do? It’s not like ‘the public’ is less intelligent.
My answer: I may be a PhD student, looking forward to a future career in academia, but if someone in the Geography Department at King’s wanted me to hear her conference paper on linking computer-based simulation modelling and laboratory experimental work to field-based environmental monitoring campaigns using both in situ sensor networks and satellite/airborne remote sensing…I would have zoned out by the end of her sentence. And I would in all likelihood make up an excuse to avoid her talk–sorry, geographer friend. It’s not that I think geography is inherently boring, but an invitation like this is not sticky.
Sticky research captures the interest of the non-expert as well as the expert. A non-expert might even be an academic who admittedly takes interest in all sorts of boring (to many people) things, like the number of times fah is used with blood words in the Old English corpus or comparing language used to describe the Eucharist in tenth-century texts. It’s not that the non-expert is unintelligent; the non-expert may very well be an academic, intellectually inclined, someone who loves learning. But we can’t be interested in everything, can we? And we can’t expect everyone else to be interested in everything either.
Responses to the Bob and Terry Imgur post run the gamut…
As you can see, some people added info to the post. One person was curious enough to find out more, adding a link to Clonycavan Man on Wikipedia. There are jokes from commenters, some of whom may have been interested in this sort of thing before (the archaeologist) but not necessarily.
But this post about Iron Age bog bodies has acquired 513 comments in just two days. Whether you like it or not, you can’t deny that it’s making archaeological research sticky.
So don’t ‘dumb it down’, but think about the different audiences you want to attract. If you only expect experts in your own field to look at your research, then fine, continue with conference papers and journal articles. But if you want other people to love bog bodies as much as you do, use your imagination. Make those bog bodies sticky.