Books, blogs and communicating knowledge to the public

This blog as yet has few readers; perhaps at some point I will be swamped by school pupils looking for information they can steal for their essays. But thinking about it, this lack of interest is part of wider issues to do with the means of communication.

The first example is that this blog covers archaeometallurgy, i.e. historic artefacts made of metal, their manufacture and their place in society and use by people. As far as I know, the only general book on the topic written for the general public was Ronnie Tylecote’s “History of Metallurgy”, which was first published in 1976 and an updated version in 1984.

It would be nice to know there was a more recent book of this type, but people are still using it as a reference on wikipedia, and I am sure I know of an error or two in it, because actually archaeometallurgical knowledge has greatly improved since the early 1980’s. Just in Britain we’ve had the publication of lots of London digs, putting metal objects of various sorts into their context and period; in Scotland there’s the Perth High street digs. There have been numerous PhD’s on archaeometallurgical topics, and a thriving society, the Historical Metallurgy Society: http://hist-met.org/

which journal has many interesting articles on the manufacture and use of iron, copper, gold, silver etc. In fact Tylecote was the founding father of archaeometallurgy and helped found the society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_F._Tylecote

What all minority interests have trouble with over the decades is getting funding and disseminating information. Hence this blog and my re-enactment presentations. But my self appointed task (One which is also quite fun) is made a little harder by the paucity of publicly available information.

Another example of the issue is the book “English Medieval Industries”, edited by Blair and Ramsay. Whilst it is available on google (http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/English_Medieval_Industries.html?id=PDLPX7J8kW8C) that is not a full copy, so frustratingly you can’t get at all the information.

Amazon has copies from £42 upwards into the hundreds, because it was first published in 1991 and a paperback edition done in 2001, from which my copy comes, and it cost £19.95.

So the information in it is now 25 years old!

It is a standard reference work for anyone wanting to learn more about everything from cloth manufacture to foundrywork, but the sources and such are more than a generation out of date. Whilst I think the information given and the general conclusions are accurate enough even now, any attempt at public education should include more up to date sources, which in this day and age would include web links, even although they are often subject to rot. There is also the simple fact that EMI is out of print now and unavailable to the general public; if you are luck your library will have a copy, although due to cuts that is now extremely unlikely.

Fortunately, Copac indicates that there are copies at 31 British libraries, including the NLS, NLW, BL and university libraries. So if you really want to you can find it, but most people won’t know of the fact that you can get into University libraries even as a member of the public.

To summarise – I think there’s a disturbing lack of modern public friendly sources of archaeometallurgical information. Whilst the archaeometallurgists I know will happily talk to anyone about the topic for as long as their interlocutor can stand it, there simply doesn’t seem to be much that is easily available to the interested member of the public.

There is a great deal to be found on less well known places like http://www.academia.edu, but how many people know of it? I know of no other blogs like this, although some of the old SCA websites have information and write ups from 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of information is also found by careful searching of groups on the likes of facebook (E.g. this French experiment on crucible steel, written in English – http://ceroart.revues.org/2557#tocto2n1), but ultimately I have the impression that the subject is stuck in a ghetto. We need more communication and examples and books and other sources, to let everyone know how interesting this subject is and of course ensure they are properly educated.

TV programs sometimes cover it, for instance there was that well done documentary a couple of years ago on the bronze crossbows found with the Terracotta warriors, which really put archaeometallurgy centre stage. But that is about it. A fe minutes on Time Team or such programs really isn’t enough.

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One thought on “Books, blogs and communicating knowledge to the public

  1. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #38 | Whewell's Ghost

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