No Margins, No Word Counts, No Masters! Experimenting With ‘Zines for Archaeological Outreach

The following text is an expanded version of a Twitter conference paper I presented in 2019 for the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference on ‘zine making as an alternative form of science communication for archaeology.

Setting the mood with one of the coolest looking slides I’ve ever made (from the original Twitter presentation)

Over the past two decades, archaeology has seen a shift towards “outside-the-box” thinking. From queer theory to archaeogaming, the discipline has begun to embrace non-traditional approaches to the ways in which archaeologists engage with the theory and practice of archaeology. And yet, can we say the same for our methods in archaeological outreach and communication?

In some ways, we can; with the popularity of platforms such as YouTube and Twitter, archaeologists are now able to utilise multimedia, in particular visual media, to increase their outreach and experiment with new forms of engagement. However, I would argue that there are some methods that have been mostly ignored by the archaeological community as a whole, despite the huge potential these methods have as tools for public archaeology. With a growing interest in alternative approaches to the discipline (Morgan 2015), perhaps it is time that archaeologists learn how to become ‘zine makers.

‘Zines can be traced back to as early as the 1930’s in the form of “fanzines”; these booklets were produced by science fiction fans and circulated across clubs as a means of distributing critiques of recent literature and publishing new works. The ‘zine format as we understand it today, however, was popularised during the 1980’s with the development of “do-it-yourself” (DIY) and punk subcultures that emphasised pushing against the mainstream, corporate media through creating your own material (Duncombe 2008: 11-12). To the general public, ‘zines are arguably most associated (at least, aesthetically) with the “Riot Grrrl” movement of the 1990’s, which combined the punk scene with the burgeoning third wave of feminism (Piepmeier 2009: 2).

Today, ‘zines live on defiantly against a society whose media intake can now be found almost entirely online. Many ‘zines are distributed and published digitally through websites, such as sproutdistro.com and zinedistro.com. Online shopping platforms, such as Etsy, have also become hot spots for small, independent ‘zine makers to peddle their wares. And, perhaps in spite of our overall reliance on the Internet, there are still in-person ‘zine fairs and swaps organised around the world.

But what exactly is a ‘zine? Given the free nature of expression that is central to the concept of a ‘zine, it can be hard to pinpoint a definition that can broadly encompass all media that identifies as such; over the last decade, this has become even more difficult, as the Internet allows for ‘zines to overcome the restrictions of cut-and-pasted paper publications and become full-fledged multimedia pieces. Perhaps the best definition of the ‘zine comes from the forefather of ‘zine studies himself, Stephen Duncombe (2008: 18): “’zines are decidedly amateur”. While this may sound dismissive, Duncombe quickly clarifies that this is not the case at all; to say that ‘zines are “amateur” is to say that they are made with love, from love, and by love. ‘Zine makers are not making a profit, nor are they professionals working within a professional context – instead, they are working against the cult of professionalism and formality through the emphasis on their individuality and amateurism.

Since their first iteration, ‘zines have been produced and distributed with the intent of education the masses – whether it’s about the best science fiction stories of 1935 or the main tenets of anarcho-communism, ‘zines are hyper-focused pieces of media that allows for free and further exploration of certain subjects. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that ‘zines have been experimented with in an academic context.

The application of ‘zines within the classroom goes beyond just reading material, however. The process of writing and creating a ‘zine has been observed to be a useful activity in students applying and expressed learned knowledge (Wan 1999: 18-19). As a final project, ‘zine making can also be used as a creative outlet through which students can synthesize an entire course worth of information and express their own conclusions (Desyllas and Sinclair 2014: 300). For subjects that are entwined with political activism and social justice, ‘zines can be a meeting ground between the educational and the personal; additionally, the informal format of ‘zines can also create a space where students feel as though they can harness and express their own, individual voice (Creasap 2014: 155), in contrast to the more formal, standardised publications in academia (i.e. journals, edited volumes, etc.). Perhaps most importantly, ‘zines can be weaponised against an increasingly neoliberal, commodified academy and help in returning focus to a relationship based on knowledge exchange between student and teacher (Bagelman and Bagelman 2016).

Although ‘zines are becoming more popular within academic circles, there have been very few written specifically on archaeology. Artist Peter Driver (2013) has produced a series of ‘zines as part of his work as artist-in-residence for the Basing House excavations. These booklets, which were ultimately distributed as souvenirs for the archaeological team, captured Driver’s thoughts and observations as a non-archaeologist watching the process unfold over a span of three weeks; the resulting artwork included drawings of the excavators at work, diagrams of the stratigraphy reflected in the trenches, and even some speculative illustrations of what the Basing House may have looked like prior to its destruction. 

Over the past two years, archaeological ‘zines have been used as a means of introducing more radical, alternative archaeology into the zeitgeist. For example, in 2017, Meghan Walley (2017) edited together a ‘zine called “inDIGnant”, which was distributed at that year’s Society for American Archaeology conference. Walley’s initiative was inspired by a collective frustration she and other students felt at the lack of radical, social justice-oriented literature in archaeology. The resulting ‘zine is a collection of essays, poetry, and visual media that tackle topics such as queer archaeology, Indigenous rights, and ableism, with the hopes that publication in this format will lead to further exposure and discussion of these important subjects in the larger archaeology community (Crocker 2017). Possibly the most recently published archaeology ‘zine comes from the relatively new sub-discipline of archaeogaming. Florence Smith Nicholls and Sara Stewart (2018) have published a ‘zine that is both an introduction text into the basics of archaeogaming theory as well as space of exploration for both the author and illustrator, allowing them the freedom to elaborate and illustrate concepts of archaeogaming that interests them.

‘Zines are clearly ripe for utilisation in the academic sector, but more specifically, within archaeology. Although there are some examples of archaeological ‘zines in distribution, I would argue that the format is still underestimated not only as an alternative form of communication and education, but also as a way to involve others in engaging with archaeology. ‘Zines can become highly collaborative projects, especially within public and community archaeology, and allows for both archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike to flex their various skills and expertise. As more academics become less enchanted with normative methods of publication and communication, perhaps we are due for an “alternative turn”, where ‘zines and DIY culture help usher in a new period of accessible and creative exchanges of knowledge.

References

Bagelman, J. and Bagelman, C. (2016) Zines: Crafting Change and Repurposing the Neoliberal University. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 15 (2).

Creasap, K. (2014) Zine-Making as Feminist Pedagogy. Feminist Teacher 24 (3), 155-168.

Crocker, E. (2017) Getting the Dirt on Punk Archaeology: InDIGnant Zine Hopes to Change Archaeological Culture. The Overcast

Desyllas, M. C. and Sinclair, A. (2014) Zine-Making as a Pedagogical Tool for Transformative Learning in Social Work Education. Social Work Education: The International Journal 33 (3), 296-316.

Driver, P. (2013) Guest Post: An Artist’s Perspective. www.basinghouseproject.org/2013/09/04/guest-post-artists-perspective.

Duncombe, S. (2008) Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. Bloomington: Microcosm Publishing.

Fitzpatrick, A. (2018) Black Flags and Black Trowels: Embracing Anarchy in Interpretation and Practice. In Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference. 

Morgan, C. (2015) Punk, DIY, and Anarchy in Archaeological Thought and Practice. AP: Journal of Online Public Archaeology 5, 123-146.

Nicholls, F. S. and Stewart, S. (2018) Archaeogaming.

Piepmeier, A. (2009) Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press.

Walley, M. (editor) (2017) inDIGnant: Archaeology by and for Activists, Feminists, Punks, Queers, Anarchists, and Coprolite Disturbers.

Wan, A. J. (1999) Not Just for Kids Anymore: Using Zines in the Classroom. The Radical Teacher 55, 15-19.


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The World Wide Reference Collection: Zooarchaeological Twitter and the Case for an International Zooarchaeology Database

The following text is an expanded version of a Twitter conference paper I presented back in 2018 (remember the world pre-pandemic?!) for the Computer Applications in Archaeology Twitter Conference. As such, it’s a bit out of date – however, I think some ideas from the paper are still worth considering, particularly as Open Access and digital engagement both become bigger topics in academic discourse across disciplines.

A brief overview of what an open access, world wide digital reference collection could look like (from the original presentation).

Social media platforms such as Twitter have allowed for a substantial increase in collaboration between academics, allowing access to information and advice from one side of the world to the other. This is especially true among both archaeologists and zooarchaeologists, who often turn to Twitter with faunal bones that they have been unable to identify so that another pair of zooarchaeological eyes can help. In many cases, Twitter has allowed access to reference collections that would have otherwise been inaccessible due to distance and monetary reasons.

Based on numerous experiences in using the zooarchaeology community on Twitter to successfully identify archaeofaunal bones, this paper proposes that the next logical step for continuing collaboration among zooarchaeologists to is to develop an international digital database of faunal bone references, crowdsourced from reference collections of zooarchaeologists and institutions around the world. This database could bring zooarchaeology into the Open Access movement that will arguably define the future of archaeology in the digital world.

With the rise in popularity and use of social media networks such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, it has never been easier to collaborate with academics across the world. This is especially true for the archaeology community on Twitter, in particular with zooarchaeologists. There are many instances of interactions on Twitter where zooarchaeologists and others in zoology-related fields have helped in the identifications of faunal remains based on photos posted by others. This has led to a common practice when faced with a mystery bone to tag photos with the hashtag #Zooarchaeology to get the attention of this community on Twitter. Of course, this is not only limited to one website – even before the rise of social media, the zooarchaeology community was helping each other with identifications and other issues through the JISCMail emailing list, which is still in use today with an online archive of answered questions. On Tumblr, another social media network specifically catering to bloggers, there are resources such as “Bone Identification”, which has readers send an anonymous Tumblr user photos of bones to be identified. This Tumblr blog has been in use since 2014 and is still actively identifying mystery bones, arguably due to the continuous interest in the identification, care, and collection of faunal bones often referred to as “vulture culture” online. With these examples in mind, I propose that the natural progression of these resources is an international digital reference collection that is open access to everyone.

There is precedence for such a large scale project in the form of numerous individual digital collections; some examples include BoneID (Abel and Butler 2016) and the University of Nottingham’s Archaeological Fish Resource. With advances in virtual technology, there have also been interactive, 3D references, such as the free paleontological models available from the Witmer Lab at Ohio University (Witmer 2015) and the specimen models available from the Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (Maschner et al. 2017).

The foundation for this hypothetical project has also been laid recently with Historic England’s project, led by David Orton and Eva Fairnell with consultation from other zooarchaeologists in Britain, called the National Zooarchaeological Reference Resource (NZRR); this online database hosts information regarding several British collections, including what kind of specimens are available, policies for access, and location and contact details. This allows for a “shortcut” of sorts, where zooarchaeologists and others in need of a specific specimen for reference can easily locate nearby collections that may be useful for their needs. Orton and Fairnell have stated that future plans for the NZRR may include consultation and support for further digitisation of collections and resources (Fairnell and Orton 2016; Fairnell and Orton 2017).

A future platform like that is clearly in demand, but I would suggest that the final goal should take the concept a step even further, based on the recent push for open access resources in archaeology: the creation of an internationally-sourced, digital reference collection. I propose that this occurs in stages, as I understand that such a large scale digitisation project will be logistically difficult to not only organise, but maintain over time. However, in this hypothetical case of having the time and labour available for such a project, I would first suggest that the existing NZRR continue to be built upon by supporting and encouraging digitisation projects, as suggested by Orton and Fairnell. By creating a database of these digital resources, hopefully other institutions will follow, seeing the increase in popularity and use of such resources. The ideal goal should be that this, in turn, leads to a collaborative effort between institutions around the world to synthesize digitised collections into one, all-inclusive one – not only would this promote the institution’s collection by providing the sort of details, but also increases the accessibility to the collection. Open access means that the resource needs to be able to be used by anyone, no matter their situation; as of now, some archaeologists are unable to physically visit reference collections that may be vital to their research. A digital reference collection would be vital in increasing this accessibility. Ideally, success in this sort of endeavour could create opportunities for the creation of more specific digital databases: paleopathology, butchery, taphonomy, etc. For zooarchaeologists, this would be a particularly useful collaborative effort, as it could help unify a lot of research around such topics that may otherwise cause confusion due to differences in opinion (i.e. the vague use of the word taphonomy, no real uniform definitions for types of butchery marks).

It is understandable that there could be concerns that the existence of such a database would render zooarchaeologists redundant and ultimately unnecessary. On the contrary, I’d argue that such a resource would help increase the interest in zooarchaeology. Again, the increased accessibility would not only aid in current research, but it may also introduce the field to others and allow for greater collaboration with what some may consider a relatively “niche” discipline.  As older textual resources become harder to access, creating more open access databases will become more important to survive in the future.

Of course, the actual logistics of a large scale collaborative project like the one proposed in this paper would be difficult, if not impossible without many resources, time, and labour. And in truth, I do not have the answers to questions on how this should specifically be undertaken (although I am always open for suggestions and collaborations). However, I believe that this is a worthy goal that we, as zooarchaeologists, should try to achieve in the future. As the Internet continues to move us all closer together in the electronic world and allows us to work alongside each other despite the physical distances, I think archaeology as a whole must be fully committed to progressing towards a more open access future, lest the discipline is left in the past with the materials it studies. 

References

Abel, S. M. and Butler, E. B. (2016) BoneID. http://www.boneid.net/

Anonymous Archaeological Fish Resource. University of Nottingham. http://fishbone.nottingham.ac.uk/

Anonymous (2000) Zooarch Homepage.  JISCMail. https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ZOOARCH

Anonymous (2014) Bone Identification.   http://boneidentification.tumblr.com

Fairnell, E. and Orton, D. C. (2016) Building a National Zooarchaeological Reference Resource. https://historicengland.org.uk/research/current/heritage-science/Building-a-National-Zooarchaeological-Reference-Resource/

Fairnell, E. and Orton, D. C. (2017) National Zooarchaeological Reference Resource (NZRR). http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/nzrr_he_2017/

Maschner, H., Betts, M. and Schou, C. (2017) Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project.

http://vzap.iri.isu.edu

Witmer, L. M. (2015) Witmerlab Projects.  Ohio University:  https://people.ohio.edu/witmerl/projects.htm


If you’re financially stable enough, why not donate to help out marginalised archaeologists in need via the Black Trowel Collective Microgrants? You can subscribe to their Patreon to become a monthly donor, or do a one-time donation via PayPal.

My work and independent research is supported almost entirely by the generosity of readers – if you’re interested in contributing a tiny bit, you can find my PayPal here, as well as my Amazon Wishlist for research material.