This statement will make me sound old, but there was a sharp turning point in learning and the acquisition of knowledge in scholarly circles that, even now, we are just beginning to feel the full effect. When the internet was inserted into worldwide culture it changed the way university students looked for knowledge. Strangely though, this technology did not make a generation more technologically sophisticated than the previous and has arguably created a slew of end-users with no idea how the black boxes work.
On the other hand, I’m something of a Medievalist when it comes to learning. As a drifting anthropology student with unfocused interests in ethnomusicology, paleontology, oral literature, archaeology, and ethnography, I spent long hours in libraries, often sitting on the floor, reading countless articles in journals such as Nature, Antiquity, or Proceedings of (fill in the Societies here). It seemed that there was not enough time to catch up. I was born at least a century too late to make the big contributions. There was a lust for knowledge that had no concrete goal; just learn more. And no one was in a hurry to leave the university. It was life at it’s best.
I was not alone in these feelings when I was in college. The cadre of my fellow students wanted to learn, taking or auditing courses in math or literature purely because they could. I rarely see the same behavior amongst the students in the university where I work. I’m sure they must be out there. I just don’t seem to see them. They certainly don’t haunt the library. Maybe they are all sitting at home and scouring the web for articles to download, with e-books instead of musty, century-old, cloth bound journals. That’s what I often find myself doing these days as well. I carry many hundreds of articles around on my laptop, with thousands more at my fingertips through J-Store and other on-line facilities. Too many to read every month and only a tiny fraction are even skimmed. As a professional, one has to stay focused, as there are many rabbit holes to fall down on the internet.
When I sat down to type this this morning, my intention was to begin a series of good links to scholarly websites of real scientists (including social scientists) who contribute to the on-line community. I personally try to high-grade my time on the Internet and find quality stuff there (it has become a “place” in our minds) so I will be posting links to the more interesting stuff I find. Most of the folks I “know” from the web are great at sharing, and are certainly far better than I am.
So for students of science out there, let’s begin with the journal NATURE. As archaeologists*, we are expected to be fairly well-rounded as we steal the best stuff from all the other (real) sciences. Even if you don’t read it cover to cover, you should, at least, be aware of it’s existence! $99 per year (51 issues) and available at every library worthy of the name, it covers the pulse of science world-wide and informs us just about any topic imaginable (and usually topics I’ve never imagined).
*Archaeologist (my ad hoc definition) – this word has multiple meanings. Meaning 1: I use the term “archaeologist” as a person in a scholarly sub-field of anthropology who studies humanity’s past, through the material manifestations of culture, ecology, biology, and using any and all the other -ologies that help us understand where we came from and who we are. Meaning 2: The non-academic title “archeologist” (note the dumbed-down spelling) is bestowed by state and federal agencies on mid-level bureaucrats who usually (but not always) have a basic background in anthropology or a related field but are generally relegated to overseeing compliance to environmental and cultural resource laws and regulations. This version of archaeologist tends to oversee the letter of the law being carried out but not generally contributing, in their daily tasks, to the larger science or humanities. Meaning 2 is where the great majority of us end up finding employment.