So… I’m interested in the potential for eBay to be of use to public archaeology research as a database of objects that can give some level of access to information about how people relate to objects. There are also the sellers themselves. What I wanted to do with this mini-project, after a bit of a play with the data I collected, was speak to eBay sellers about their use of eBay. I’m not directly interested in the issue of ‘illicit antiquities’ this month, largely because it is a well-covered topic and also partly because I think that debate can be a bit of a barrier. I’ll post on the subject this week. What I am more interested in for PA2015 is how much people know about where the things they are selling came from, whether they’re interested in knowing more about where they go and how active they are.
It was my first intention to send a survey link out to all of the sellers whose data I had collected back in November, but I decided against sending about 750 unsolicited emails through eBay. Instead, I wrote to two sellers for each of my artefact types asking if I could send them a survey link. I had four replies. Three of them said no. One said yes, but didn’t go on to complete the survey. So, precisely zero public engagement.
I was not hoping to collect statistics with this exercise, at least not after I gave up on the mass mailing. What I hoped to do was engage a couple of regular eBay sellers who I could work with to understand better how people relate to objects within the eBay context and to become (eventually)’ eBay archaeologists’, using their normal eBay interactions to develop and spread knowledge about the people-object networks created and enacted by the forum.
Although this failed for PA2015, it is not an end. I’m hopeful of still being able to speak to some eBay sellers at some point and I think the idea of eBay archaeologists is interesting and useful. Also, the kind of archaeology going into the idea is, as far as I am aware, quite unusual for public archaeology contexts.
What I would like in response to this post is to hear other stories of public archaeology ‘failures’. It’s not something we hear about enough and a few other people I have been chatting too have been very interested in the subject. Please add comments below and gather them together into a post at some point this month.
Following on from Map Orkney Month is a daunting task! It’s hard to match the scale of that project, but perhaps one way to go is to contrast a really successful project with one that has partly failed.
My month is about the ways that mundane objects move around, the role people play in that movement, and the potential for people to be a kind of public archaeologist through engaging with what is going on. The month will split into two parts, one of which has failed (in a way), one of which has not.
The first part of the month will look at eBay and its potential as a public archaeology archive. Unfortunately, I have failed to engage a single eBay seller. What this means though is that I can use that as the basis of a discussion about failures of engagement which is something that doesn’t happen enough.
What remains of the eBay work is some interesting data, interesting comparisons with similar material on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and a little non-art (for I am not an artist) project on the locations of eBay items that is interesting, funny and really weird all at the same time. Here’s a sneak preview:
1715 treasure fleets cabin wreck musket balls
metal detecting finds tokens jettons etc
For the second half of the month I will be moving into towns and looking at networks of reuse and recycling. On 11 April, I’m going to Bristol to spend a day with the staff and customers of the Bristol Wood Recycling Project and I will report back afterwards, as well as posting plenty more information on the context of the kind of public engagement with archaeology I am looking at with this work.
Please please get involved with the failure discussion, it could be really important! And enjoy the rest.
Having reposted that great post from @jessikart and my response to it, I think it’s also important that I link to her most recent post. For lots of different reasons, there are bad sides to any kind of archaeology (any kind of anything really) to go with the good. It’s important that we acknowledge and debate the failures as openly as we do the successes. With no further comment, except to say that Jess and I are in touch and I really hope she can still be involved in PA2015 somewhere down the line, here’s a link to her post:
Oh, and I think debating the general problem will be more useful than focussing on this particular instance. Please include @pa2015info and @jessikart in any relevant Twitter responses. Thanks. JD