Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Repost from the MSU Archaeology Blog

Here follows a repost from the excellent MSU Capblog - check them out here!

Hello MSU! And hello followers of this blog. Since I fall into the former category, it's very cool to be asked to share a little bit about what has become a fairly all-consuming obsession project: TrowelBlazers. If you don't know us, please come be our friend. Or not, you know, it's cool.

The TrowelBlazers project is a born-on-twitter idea that took off from a handful of early career academics (post docs all) who joined in the general academic-internet wide horror at the type of 'inspirational' material produced by major research funders to encourage women to participate in science. If for some reason you missed the utterly patronising travesty that was the European Commision produced 'Science: It's a Girl Thing', please do feel free to watch it now. I'll wait.

Squirm inducing, right? I think what as a group we shared was the feeling that there was something particularly galling in the visual representation of women 'scientists' - that the only girls could ever be inspired to achieve academically would be by highlighting their sexual attractiveness.

This did. not. sit. well.

So, we started talking. We started googling. We asked twitter, facebook, friends, colleagues, and ourselves: did you have a role model? Was there an inspirational figure whose story you cant believe more people don't know about? What would a real inspirational woman look like? And wow, was there a response, both dug up by ourselves and submitted to our website. We trawled archives to find that same arresting visual 'wow' that, presumably, was what the EU video was after. And we found it, but we found it in pictures and drawings of real women, who had real contributions to the trowel-wielding disciplines (archaeology, geology, and palaeontology), and who had real and tangible effects on the women who followed in their footsteps. 

Virginia Grace
Image: American School of
Classical Studies
at Athens: Agora Excavations
Hilda Petrie
Image: EES Flicker

In a world where equal pay, equal opportunity, and gender balance in professional positions is still a long way off, the TrowelBlazers project hopes to be just a bit of a (very lighthearted) reminder that women have made amazing contributions to our fields, and even if they were denied the careers their male contemporaries had, they still, just by forging on, mentoring, guiding, and supporting the next generation, made a huge contribution to getting women out into the dirt.

Guest post by Brenna Hassett (@brennawalks) , on behalf of Team TrowelBlazers.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Why Bother? the final #blogarch question. Now with added answers!

Ok! Got distracted by other academic commitments, so fell off the #blogarch wagon for a bit, but back on for March and Doug's final question:

 where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? 

"Where do we go from here?
Is it down to the lake I fear. 
Ay ay ay ay ay ay..."

Or, as several of my colleagues would put it, why am I wasting my time writing non-peer reviewed anything? Why would I share anything about my work when people could find out and use it themselves, without giving me credit? I've encountered time and again the repetitive mantra that blogging is at best a waste of time, and at worst an ego-stroking, publicity-seeking exercise carried out by those who just can't hack 'real' academic research.


This does rather beg the question - why bother?

Well, one answer is, I increasingly don't. My personal blog languishes as research projects that really can't be discussed publicly (by request of the PI, but also because I work with medical data and that is a big no-no) take over my time. What was once an outlet for side projects I couldn't see leading to publication (looking at you, augmented reality skulls!) is now almost solely about communicating the experience of being an early career researcher. Because the field project I've been working on already has it's own fantastic blog, I don't feel I have to share that side of my work in a new forum. And finally, nothing in the news recently has pissed me off enough to write out a sarcastic rant

Of course, if you know me under my other identity, as 1/4 of Team TrowelBlazers, you also know I'm totally lying when I say I don't blog as much. I blog ALL THE TIME. A post a week, for a year, on awesome fantastically-be-hatted, snake-wearing, Olympic-fencing women archaeologists, geologists, and palaeontologists.* But the difference there is that the TrowelBlazers project is very much a community thing. Very loosely 'run' by a group of early career researchers, it's a very public-participatory experience: people submit posts almost as often as one of our team writes one. We've got short-form communications like twitter and facebook underpinning a larger community who are all talking to each other, which means our 'blog' is more of a forum than a missive. 

So, as I see it, a personal blog is nice, like a tl,dr twitter archive, or even a public journal. But aside from letting me vent, I'm not sure how much I get out of it. On the flip side is the TrowelBlazers project, which I get enormous amounts out of - energy, enthusiasm, community, networks, support, pictures of women climbing into tombs in very large hats, you name it. The difference is in the level of interaction, and at the end of the day, no one wants to be caught talking to themselves.

* not all at the same time.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Some #MuseumMemories for #MuseumWeek - Decommissioning Medusa

As it's #MuseumWeek in the world defined by the extent of hashtags this week, I thought I could follow up on @HenryRothwell's suggestion that I, ahem, explain myself. Or rather, I explain this photo:

I've managed to bring home my very own permanent installation, formerly a statue in the Natural History Museum Earth Gallery. It used to live amongst its fellows, God/Babbage, Atlas, Spaceman, Cyclops, and another one I've forgotten. Poseidon maybe.

I'm not saying it was easy. The statue clocked in at 2.65 meters, which necessitated a large van-

And several brave folk to lift it (this is why it comes in handy to know a lot of archaeologists. They don't shirk manual labour!)

But with a few hacksaw-and-hammer based modifications, we managed it. And while the exhibition space may be changing, at least I will always have a permanent and terrifying memory of my life at the museum :)

Friday, 27 December 2013

we be #blogarch December: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Welcome to round two of the #blogarch adventure, orchestrated by Dougsarchaeology. This month, the question posed to those of us who still do this blogging thing is more reflective: what's been good about blogging? Bad? And what's been downright ugly?

Well geez.

The Good

Friends! Contacts, networks, people to talk to. But I think more importantly, blogging offers a longform elaboration of the casual conversations and offhand interests that the 140 character world doesn't really give you a chance to get into. For instance, I am pretty good at working up a #twitterstorm rage. I've had lots of social media chats with friends and strangers about things that seriously, epically get my metaphorical goat (looking at you, #aquaticape! also, druid in-fighting). But here's the thing about an insta-rage: you sound like a total jerk. Seriously. That rage needs context. And maybe pictures of the Judean People's Front (splitters!).

literally, any excuse to use this photo
The Bad

Oh hai impossible deadlines and epic time-suckage! Apart from this, personal, blog, I also play 1/4 of the instruments in the feminist archaeology tribute act . Aside from being totally rewarding and a heck of a lot of fun, a regular blogging time commitment is pretty hard to juggle with my postdoc (teeth!), my fieldwork (teeth! but in Turkey), and my personal health and hygeine.

 Honestly, the most difficult part of keeping up a blog has been the fact that I am strongly advised not to divulge any details of my current research by actual Acts of Parliament (shout out to the Human Tissue Act!). In addition to legal restrictions on what I can and can't discuss, there are organisational attitudes to navigate; i.e. nothing I say here can reflect too much on my employment over at the Museum That Dare Not Speak Its Name Without Being Cleared By the Press Office.  So between various pressures to keep mum and the general sense by people who sign off on my paychecks that blogging doesn't count for impact metrics with our funder, there are a huge number of disincentives to keep blogging.

The Ugly

I have never had an experience publishing my blog that I would describe as 'ugly' per se. Unintentionally, out-of-control, hilarious? Yes. Very much. I got so peeved with theories of an 'aquatic' period of human evolution (after we walked out of the sea that first time) that I went all Rudyard Kipling on the idea that it wasn't the sea -- it was SPACE! This was the sarcasm that launched a thousand tweets, and they were unapologetically funny. However, the relentless mockery in short form (tweets, my take on the subject for Radio 4) comes off as more snide than I ever intended the original post to be.

In the end though, the same things that were 'good' about blogging -- engaging with people who are neither me, nor my mother -- are the same things that were 'ugly'. The 'bad' is just part and parcel of the whole blogging experience - it takes time, which, for most archaeologists I would reckon, is in short supply.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

ah, but what have you done for me lately? a response to the #saa14 #blogarch carnival which your correspondent participates, not for the first time (those were the good ole' days, eh Colleen?) , in the digital round robin that is a blogging carnival, with the hopes of someday seeing it at the SAAs.

Follow along with the carnival through the #blogarch tag or Doug's blog here.

November's question:
Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I'm guessing that like many of my blogging compatriots, I started my personal blog for a combination of reasons, starting with interest in a new bright and shiny thing (blogging! whatever next-- hoverboards? Hey, it was a different time), and running the gamut of self-publicising social media instincts, including the desire to join a conversation of peers, the chance to talk loosely and informally about things I was interested in, and the chance to share my devastating wit with the world at large.*  The world is a lonely place at the end of a PhD or in the dreaded gap between degree and employment, and I enjoyed the company.

Gertrude Bell, behatted.
I could say quite a bit more about my *other* blog, The TrowelBlazers project came about organically, but was consciously designed and organised by our group, with planned posts and a duty roster - a very different scenario from the haphazard, laissez faire attitude I maintain with my personal blog. I think in the end this reflects the very different uses both are put to. Where TrowelBlazers is a wonderful, glorious, time-suck of discovery and funny pictures of women in outrageous outfits that we actively want to bring to a larger audience, my personal blog has very much become a repository or archive of small projects that would otherwise be left by the wayside. My personal blog has become a bit of a memento mori for the various shiny things I get distracted from my actual job (dental anthropologist / bioarchaeologist) playing with. I think this answers the second part of the carnival question: ' Why are you still blogging?'. Quite frankly, if I don't write down how I made an augmented reality app with bouncy Neanderthal skulls, I'm never going to remember.
* who uniformly failed to notice.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

My TrowelBlazers post for the BGS GeoBlogy

Hello! This is a crosspost from our TrowelBlazers guest spot over on the British Geological Society's blog.

Mary Anning, trowelblazer
Thinking geology? Thinking science? Thinking crinolines, bonnets, and muddy skirts? Probably not! However, if you discount the damsels in the discipline, you actually lose quite a bit of history-and that's what our project 'TrowelBlazers' is all about. We're a small collective of researchers who got a bit bored with the hoary old pictures of the great and good in science, and started looking around for some of the unsung (or just amazing) heroines of the digging fields - archaeology, palaeontology, and, of course, geology. We started the TrowelBlazers site and put out the call for people to nominate  trowelblazing women. After just a few months, we've had 50 posts, many of which were submitted by guest posters who have direct links to the women they are writing about.

Official Wikimedian sticker and pin

With the approach of Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the contributions of women in science, we started to hear more and more about other groups plans to highlight the forgotten women in their fields. While preparing our chapter on trowelblazing women in Passion for Science for the FindingAda project, we started to get really into the question of just how many trowelblazers were out there--and we found tons! What we didn't find, however, were their entries on wikipedia. This imbalance might have something to do with the larger issue of how few women contribute wikipedia entries overall -- just 13% according to a 2010 study.

Here we are in the NHM Boardroom
 (the Dodo painting gives it away)

That's why Ada Lovelace Day this year was accompanied by wikipedia editathons across the world to try and tip the scales just a bit back towards balance. Team TrowelBlazers' Suzanne Birch covered the American Beat with a wikidetithon at Brown Univeristy, while our own Victoria Herridge organised #TBwiki - the first wikieditathon at the Natural History Museum, to bring together people who wanted to contribute to wikipedia with our resident Wikimedian to talk training, tips, and trowelblazers.

The event was a smashing success - we had a full house and a wide variety of partipants! John, our Wikimedian, was on hand all day to help our potential entries get off on the best possible footing, linking our new trowelblazer posts to other related content, showing us how to sort out images, and all of the technical details.

By the end of the day, we had written several new posts- result! Suzie's entry on Bertha 'Birdie' Parker ended up on Wikipedia's front page and got more than 4,000 hits -talk about awareness building! We also had pages on Meemann Chang (courtesy Rob Mounce), Amice Calverly (courtesy Claire Millington), Rosalind Moss (Lisa Lodwick), Etheldred Bennet (courtesy Emily Humble) and Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (courtesty Dominic Bennet). But we still need more! TrowelBlazers is putting out a call to all of you who are interested in highlighting women's often-overlooked contributions to science: if you can think of a trowelblazer we should feature, let us know! Or even better, write us a post! We love guest posts and our submission guidelines are here.

 A massive thanks to everyone who came out to help, from getting collections out (e.g. Elizabeth Grey's snazzy outfit shown left, next to specimens she collected). Thanks to all of our participants and to our incredibly awesome folks from the NHM for volunteering their time and energy and making it all happen. And don't forget, anyone can edit Wikipedia!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Adventures in Outreach: #SU2013 at the Natural History Museum

For those of you who have somehow found this blog without either being personally shown it with my hand on the mouse, or through my highly serious and infromative twitter feed (@brennawalks -- or even @trowelblazers, which is my identity 1/4 of the time), welcome. I always enjoy meeting new spambots.

For the rest of you, I'll assume you have an interest in either a) museums b) outreach or c) the life and times of our Human Origins research group. In which case, hurrah! Because that's what I'd like to talk about.

Prof Stringer lays down some knowledge
Every year, under auspices of the EU 's Framework Programme 7 , museums across europe recieve funds in order to hold a giant Open house. And it is giant, especially for us at the Natural History Museum London - we have hundreds of researchers here, normally safely hidden behind locked doors in the labryinth of cabinetry and slightly past sell-by-date skeletal models of obscure animals that is the 'working' part of the museum.This is Science Uncovered, or #SU2013 to its friends. However, an enthusiastic approach by the museum (and free drinks vouchers for the employees) means that the scientists and specialists are all gently pushed, blinking, into the limelight for one glorious night, and exposed to several thousand members of the public. Honestly, it's a ton of fun, and you can see how we tried to drum up interest in our Human Origins research last year  too.

So what did we do this year? What were people interested in? The most valuable part of Science Uncovered is working out what aspects of our research are easily communicable, which are 'eye-catching', and how any of that might work into our longer term involvement with special exhibitions (like the upcoming awesomeness that will be our early homo in britain exhibit) and our general goal of Making Science Interesting to Other People.

 The fossil and skeleton casts are always a huge draw, and we had lots of experts on hand to explain them (C. Stringer, L. Buck, M. Lewis, L. Humphrey, C. Rando, A. Freyne, H. Liversidge, E. Grant!).

Also standing by with a measuring tape was I. De Groote and C. Coleman, waiting to put you down on a chart of hominids based on your foot size...

 The make-your-own cave art run by R. Kruszynski and G. Delbarre, with help from A. Turner, M. Holloway and M. Dekleva was as popular as ever, and for ONCE, we didn't accidentally spray paint the Earth Galleries ;)

And, of course, because I was there, we played with reality ever so slightly. Here's C. Coleman, next to his very own 3d avatar created in Photoscan -- seperate post on my latest computer based time sucker to follow!