Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is there really a need for this forum?


Archaeometallurgy forum 

Forum for all aspects of past metallurgical activities

 A new discussion group, started by Bastian Asmus in early October.

He posed the question : Is there really a need for this forum?
When I posted in the Jiscmail list that I had started this forum I had some answers both privately and online if there really is a need for another resource.

I think that this is a good question and would like to discuss this in earnest.
The main criticism I received is that there are already too many resources available and that other, already existing social media could be used to achieve the same effect. By creating another one it is one more resource to have an eye on..
 The following was my contribution to that discussion :

There has been an evolution, as the internet as evolved, in this medium as a communications tool.

I may be able to make some bold (!!) observations, having been involved in metalworking aspects of using the internet since pretty early on:

At first it was the discussion boards? (Remember those?) Kind of like the live chat that you find associated with Facebook these days. Slow, so slow. Pretty much wide open. A bit like trying to talk at a party - everyone saw, anyone could drop a line in. Often frustrating because it was so slow in the transmissions. And no records kept at all of the conversations. You might be able to cut and paste out pieces into a file - but generally once sent, things were gone. You also had to almost find specific individuals by accident - you all had to be on the same board at the same instant to converse.
I was actually surprised to be able to find others interested in historic metalwork at the time (be the early 1990's). Having a group of people working on the same processes and source artifacts was amazing. And world wide!

Into the 90's - it was individual web sites. The amount and quality of the information presented varied a huge amount (and still does). The biggest problem (and still) is maintaining web sites over long durations. My own site has been at a stable URL since the mid 90's - and this is unusual. The huge advantage that with a little work, any individual could now publish information. For those of us working outside the academic stream, this was very important. Of course *quality* of information was very irregular (to be generous).

I was part of the group in North America, largely started by Mike McCarthy, lead by Lee Sauder & Skip Williams, behind 'Early Iron'. First several conferences, then an documentation web site ( This never became as useful as it might be - largely because of the huge amount of work involved trying to manage the (yet another!) web site.
Attached to this was the original Early Iron discussion group. At one point it had something like 200 plus involved, world wide. The international aspect was its biggest strength, attempting to tie together what was happening in Europe with what was developing in North America. As such groups do, the interest would wax and wane. Tied to geocities / yahoo, there were problems with the access via e-mails. This was ideal for some, not so wonderful for others. It did allow for an archive of past postings.

More into the 2000 period, personal blogs became active. These are driven by interested individuals, so often can be fairly detailed in the amount of information included. Not necessarily the easiest to find, but generally a google search will yield topics of your interest. The best are fairly narrow in focus. They all suffer from limited volume. Most importantly they do not allow for easy discussion, but only represent a single viewpoint.

Don Fogg's Bladesmith Forum has become of late a very active discussion. This is largely because of the developing interest by practical, mainly American, knife makers in bloomery type materials. Some of the main voices in developing the techniques experimentally have become active there. The truth is that there are two quite different approaches developing. The earlier workers were very much concerned with *process*, many of the 'second generation' concerned with *product*. (My view at least.) This forum does allow for easy posting of images, and does maintain an easy to source archive. (The format is the same as what is being started here.)

Enter Facebook. 'Iron Smelters of the World' - Mark Green has been largely responsible for developing that venue. It has the advantage of being extremely casual. It has a certain ability to allow images. Its huge drawback is that it only allows for the shortest of text. It is often hard to follow single topics. There is preservation of the threads, but no easy way to sort or search those. Certainly something that has been extremely active, and pulls in a large number of people world wide. There are also a number of experimental archaeology FB pages available. Although there is much specialization easily possible, the truth is that FB is simply too fragmented.

When I was talking to Lee Sauder about this new discussion group, he did point out one of the greatest potential strengths. Of being able to hold information - search it - and allow for longer, more detailed postings. Of allowing for serious *discussion*, hopefully with a collection of academic researchers, skilled industrial people, experienced practical artisans and serious amateur researchers.
I have to agree with Lee (and echo Alan) that a blend of the 'rubber boot' archaeologist and the working metalsmith may prove the most fruitful. I have hopes. But I do notice there are a lot of 'views' here - and not that many submissions yet...

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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