John Hawks is a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who I first saw give a talk at the American Anthropological Association conference last year. The first thing that caught my attention was that he looks like a pre-emo hipster intellectual from the East Village–e.g., like one of my people! Dig the great hat! Second, he was using Prezi for his presentation, which I’d never seen before, & it was such an elegant nonlinear showcase it blew my mind (perfect for moving back & forth throughout a phylogenetic bush). Third, his Twitter feeds kept popping up at the top of his presentation, which he totally ignored (I’m not sure he meant that & it was a bit distracting, but he didn’t bat at eye–sort of like Gordon Gallup showing his whale penis slide–you’re thinking, “doesn’t he see what we see up there?! how can he just keep talking all seriously?”). I thought, “wow, he’s really plugged in.” Little did I know. Fourth, his “Scars of Evolution” talk (this was the session title; I forget his talk title) was awesome. Afterward, I started reading his blog here & there & found out, five, John Hawks knows some serious shit about paleogenetics. Six, he was trained by Milford Wolfpoff, who has fought the good fight to keep the multiregional hypothesis alive for decades now, in the face of tons of data to support the out-of-Africa model (actually, it’s good he did, because it’s really come to some accommodation of the two, but who wants to give up the name of a model with brand recognition?). Uh, seven, John is mapping the genome of Denisovans! I just found out about them last year. Am I that out of it? Where the hell did the Denisovans come from (I know, I know, I read the pieces here & there, but it seemed like all of a sudden we have another Homo species & it wasn’t a bigger event than it was?)? And, eight, John blogs practically every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. I have to remember this tidbit from John’s first post from this past Sunday when I’m teach paleo this fall:
The null model for early Homo should be the kind of evolutionary pattern that we now know to be true for Late Pleistocene humans. Multiple populations, much more highly differentiated than today’s human populations, existed during the Late Pleistocene and exhibited nonuniform patterns of expansion and mixture. The expansions of some groups within and outside Africa were likely driven by gene-culture coevolution, as both technological changes and physiological changes affected population growth. We are beginning to appreciate that similar episodes of expansions and mixture happened throughout the Pleistocene. The origin of our genus, initiating the first expansions of hominins into Eurasia, was surely driven by a similar process.
I like how John justifies academic blogging as a means of organizing notes/thoughts for other purposes, such as academic papers, grants, & teaching. This is particularly important for those of us fearing that it feels precariously close to the kind of things we do to look like we’re busy doing important stuff while avoiding doing other more important stuff, namely, getting manuscripts together & submitted & getting grant proposals out toward earning tenure. How do we justify blogging before tenure? Make it part of the work flow. And several bloggers of the digital anthropology mindset have made cases for blogging as a way to make anthropology relevant now & to get out work out there as part of the discussion without having to wait the several years after collecting data to send one stripped down paper off for publication, then another a year later, etc. I won’t backtrack thru all their names, but suffice to say, this idea was not mine but is certainly what got me motivated to contribute.
So now I want to inspire my students to do the same, & the way I’m thinking of doing that is to require blogging as a part of our graduate seminar in biological anthropology that I teach this fall. So, for one, I’m figuring out how to start a WordPress blog. And two, I’m trying to figure out how to make it useful & integrative for them, so I welcome ideas. My thoughts so far are as follows:
- Assign 1-2 students to summarize the readings for each class as a blog entry, & assign the rest to comment on that summary–to indicate what they didn’t understand, didn’t agree with, found interesting or new, or whatever.
- Require the students to post about their own research ideas & encourage them to post entries detailing their process thru the course of the semester.
But I know they’ll be overwhelmed with taking our Methods course & all manner of other first-year freakout-breakdown-o-mania, so I’m trying to brainstorm on how to use it productively & in a way that will facilitate their integration into the discipline instead of bog them down. Toward that end, perhaps the first task is to compile a resource list of other biological anthropology blogs out there, so we can look for inspiration & ideas. So I am going to start compiling them here, & I hope others will send me links to the many out there that I don’t know. Actually, I’m sure someone else has already put this list together, so feel free to direct me there. The sheer density of people blogging out there is a little astounding. Just looking at the Psychology Today list of bloggers kind of sends me reeling, but then I find a host of people I know or know of but didn’t know were blogging, so I start reading. Actually, I have to grade papers now, so I’ll save them to my RSS Feed & read some later.
For now, here’s the beginning of a list of biological anthropologist blogs:
- Bones Don’t Lie (Katy Meyers)*
- Paleoanthropology, Genetics, & Evolution (John Hawks)
- The Mermaid’s Tale (Holly Dunsworth, Ann Buchanan, Ken Weiss)
- Powered by Osteons (Kristina Killgrove)
- The Pleistocene Scene (Adam Van Arsdale)
- Neuroanthropology (Daniel Lende & Greg Downey)
- Chemistry.com (Helen Fisher)
- BANDIT (Julienne Rutherford)
- Patrick Clarkin
- Diary of a Research Student*
- The Primate Diaries (Eric Michael Johnson)
- Context & Variation (Kate Clancy)
- Animal Connection (Pat Shipman)
- The Evolving Father (Peter Gray & Kermyt Anderson)
- The Folly of Fools (Robert Trivers)
- Busting Myths about Human Nature (Agustin Fuentes)
- Anthropomics (Jonathan Marks)
- Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog (Dienekes Pontikos)
- Melvin Konner
- Hominid Hunting (Erin Wayman)*
- A Very Remote Period Indeed (Julien Riel-Salvatore)
- What Makes Us Human (Rosemary Joyce)–Joyce is an archaeologist with a really cool-looking book re sex in the archaeological record that I’m screening to possibly adopt for Anthro of Sex next year. She writes about human evolution so belongs here
- Evolution for Everyone (David Sloan Wilson)–David is technically trained as a biologist but I believe is jointly appointed in Biology & Anthropology at Binghamton.
- Lawn Chair Anthropology (Zachary Cofran)*
- Sinanthropus (DAE)
- The Prancing Papio (Raymond Ho)*
- A Replicated Typo (James Winters)
- Spider Monkey Tales (Michelle Rodrigues)
- Mammals Suck…Milk! (Katie Hinde)
- The Advanced Apes (Cadell Last)*
- Paleophile (Caitlin S.)*
- Biomarkers & Milk (Elizabeth Quinn)
- Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project & Neighbor Ape non-profit organization (Jill Pruetz)
And a great way for students (or anyone blogging) to find out about current topics that they might want to write about or where the digital biological anthropology community is getting their gossip, there are a few VERY handy news feeds:
*Non-PhD–My point in making this qualification is not to undermine the credibility of anyone’s contributions but just the opposite–to point out to my students who I will be directing to this page that many non-PhD anthropologists already are & always have been very actively contributing to the discipline (& many far more insightfully than me, I might add), including anthropologically trained science writers who make us all look good.