By Zofia Guertin |
When I was invited by Pubs and Publications to write a post about penning a travel-archaeology blog, I was thrilled! It proved that someone had read my nerdy blog! However, there was one small problem – I am not a PhD student yet. Finding myself in-between studies recently, I needed to invest my time and creative energies into things that might keep me in a productive mind-set. My blog developed into my pre-PhD project – a large body of work and research – facilitating my learning in how to confidently promote my ideas and develop my voice.
Starting and maintaining a blog, whatever the topic, is a labour of love. As when embarking on a long-term research project, it is important to think about your goals and ambitions. My blog began to take shape as my adventures to strange and wonderful locations grew; friends and family would ask to know more about why I was interested in a particular site, or what historical relevance it had. I also enjoyed offering somewhat off-the-beaten-path advice on sites to check out, and offer travel tips and logistical suggestions. So the idea of putting all of these things together in a platform that could allow me to share the things I am very passionate about seemed natural.
One of the best parts of this creative project has been learning how to tell succinct stories, from a whole civilization, an individual, or of the cup they drank from. One of the upsides to being a bit of an academic generalist (from a long and ambling undergraduate) is dipping into a variety of aspects of art, history and archaeology in blog posts, and feeling confident that I understand the historical flow and longer-term narratives.
Engaging creatively with the subject
Storytelling in an online platform has offered a lot of rewarding and fun ways for creatively engaging with audiences. I have been an avid hobbyist photographer for several years, focusing mostly on architectural photography…and the occasional foodie shot on Instagram. However, once I started my travel blog, it changed my photography. I started incorporating photographs alongside writing more consciously to tell the story of the city. The atmospheric shots – textures, colours, feelings – a site gives off are now part of what I am looking for, through the lens of its making its way into a post one day. Having a theme in mind whilst traveling helps to guide the camera, and you start paying attention to things that might not have otherwise stuck out to you.
Similarly, my obsessive sketching at every idle moment has been a defining trait of my travels for a decade. Possibly to the annoyance of my obliging travel companions. Recreating small aspects, montages, or quick sketches of ancient buildings, statues or modern scenery has allowed me to capture some intimate parts of the place I have visited. The time spent creating those drawings is lodged in my mind, as part of the story and my experience of that city. A photographic-art blog allows me to share these more intimate parts of these experiences. Adding another layer to my ability to share with an audience the variety of ways to engage with ancient material.
Speaking to the audience
Deciding who your audience is can be a pretty big element. Writing to broad audiences at times might feel like oversimplifying complex ideas and perhaps not doing them justice. Academically oriented blogs may use particular language which is not too far a leap from academic writing more generally. There is a balance to be struck if you want to appeal to a cross-section.
Some of the content I include on my blog is my own interpretation. What I didn’t want to do was a copy and paste job, like many websites, where they all share the same information presented as fact with no further interpretation. My interpretations may not be perfect but it is part of engaging readers, I think, to imagine how it all connects. Critical thinking about the narrative around a stunning piece of architecture and allowing yourself to be absorbed by it has a purpose, and sharing that with people can start some really engaging discussions.
This project has changed me in a lot of ways already. I now travel with an eye for the little details of a city, the logistics involved, and even photographs and sketches to tell the story of the place. My blog has allowed me to explore the sites I go to in greater depth and share what I learn. Writing about something you love – even if it is not academic – might provide you with a bit of a creative outlet, or space to highlight things that you are passionate about in-between periods. Taking your ideas and creative passion and putting it out into the world can be pretty fulfilling, even when much of your day job isn’t.
all images © Zofia Guertin
Zofia Guertin currently works at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning. She has an MSc in Classical Archaeology and Art from the University of Edinburgh, a Bachelor of Arts in History and Humanities, and a Bachelor of General Studies: Archaeology and Museum Studies from Simon Fraser University. You can follow her on Twitter at @ZofiaAstrid, or check out her blog at http://archaeoartist.blogspot.co.uk.