From Wild West to Twittersphere: The Changing Face of Assemblage

Alison Bestwick (a.bestwick@sheffield.ac.uk), Toby Martin (prp08tfm@sheffield.ac.uk), Toby Pillatt (t.pillatt@sheffield.ac.uk) - Assemblage, The University of Sheffield.

Assemblage is The University of Sheffield’s postgraduate journal of archaeology. It provides an arena within which postgraduates or early career researchers can engage with the peer review process and publish their work, often for the first time. We also use the website to feature magazine content, such as interviews, opinion pieces and humour.

Launched in 1996, Assemblage was among the first archaeological journals to publish exclusively online, offering open-access. It was an enormous success and gained an excellent reputation within the research community. As one of the pioneers of the internet archaeology movement, in its early days, Assemblage explored the potential of the web to its fullest extent, hosting features and articles that were ahead of their time in foreshadowing the interactive, social-led way in which we use the internet now.

In recent years, we have seen the explosion of social media on the web, and Assemblage has been attempting to keep up with these changes by engaging with people through Twitter and Facebook, as well as adding blogs and discussion features to our website. It could be argued, however, that in this process we have actually lost the avant-garde approach that originally contributed to the success of the journal. On one hand we have had much success in the promotion of Assemblage through social media, as well as in the sharing of our content, but this seems to have shifted the focus away from true academic engagement and discourse. We have returned to a traditional, linear presentation of research by publishing papers as PDFs, allowing little or no active engagement on the part of the reader. Moreover, it could be argued that the peer review process discourages social and reader-centred methods of presenting research. Assemblage has found this a difficult issue to grapple with: losing the peer review process and an authoritative format would obviously be detrimental to the journal's esteem. Yet, the notion of editorial authority is explicitly challenged by the ethos of Web 2.0, and retaining these formalities means that Assemblage is little but a traditional paper journal rendered in pixels.

In the spirit of social collaboration and crowd-sourcing, Assemblage would like to open the floor to attendees to discuss these issues. We wish to see a return to the pioneer spirit of Assemblage’s brazen early days, and truly engage with the huge potential of the web to inspire, inform and shape archaeological discourse. How can we harness the utility of social media in creating new knowledge through dispersed collaboration while still maintaining processes of appropriate scrutiny and review? Through consideration of these issues, we wish to at least re-ignite an awareness of the relationship between knowledge and technology, and hopefully provide some pragmatic thoughts on how we can restore electronic journals to the forefront of academic innovation.