The Stories Bones Tell w/ Kristina Killgrove
This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. In this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.
In our fourth episode of the TAL + SM collaboration Ryan and Adam chat with Dr. Kristina Killgrove about her strategies for engaging popular audiences through writing. We start by discussing interdisciplinary collaboration and its role in improving writing. Then we explore Kristina’s strategies for choosing content to cover in her blog, Powered by Osteons. We end by considering some ways anthropology has changed in terms of crowdfunding and the possibilities of open data.
Be sure to check out the first three episodes of the TAL + SM collaboration: Writing “in my Culture.”, “Anthropology has Always been Out There”, and “Anthropology + Science Journalism = A New Genre?”
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What is the Society of American Archaeology?
The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is an organization of archaeologists that hosts some 7,500 members. The SAA prides itself on its public outreach programs most of which center around education. The SAA Public Education Committee has a whole collection of resources from workshops for teaching archaeology, pre-written lesson plans, lists of books, movies, and games that focus on archaeology, and even a Boy Scout Merit Badge Program.
Check Out These Links to Learn More About the SAA’s Public Outreach
Who is Kristina Killgrove?
Kristina is an assistant professor for the University of West Florida’s Anthropology Department. As Kristina puts it,“I am people not pots”, she uses bioarchaeology to explore the daily lives of ancient Romans. She is known for her blog, Powered by Osteons, and her publications in Forbes and Mental Floss.
Origin Story: “If I were a superhero, then my origin story would start with x-rays and that is because when I was seven years old I broke my arm”. She broke her arm after racing around her street with a friend. At the doctor she was shown an x-ray of her broken arm. Her doctor then asked if she wanted to know how tall she would be as an adult, which blew her mind and started her down the path of bioarchaeology.
Kristina describes bioarchaeology as “storytelling with bones”. You are able to learn about the daily lives (i.e. diet, health, trauma, etc.) of people through their skeletons.
“I always say that it is a time capsule. You don’t just get information about the point of death, but you can get information back five years, or twenty years, or from their birth with their teeth.” – Kristina
To Learn More About Bioarchaeology and Kristina’s Research Check Out the Links Below
Bridging the Gap Between Anthropology and Classics
Kristina’s research on the bioarchaeology of Imperial Rome requires her to interact with anthropologists as well as classicists. In order to get funding and prove her work was relevant to both subjects, Kristina needed to demonstrate the benefit of using anthropological approaches to her work in classics and vice versa. This helped her to become aware of her audience when writing and to be able to make her writing accessible and relevant to her readers.
Kristina’s Writing Tips: When you are beginning to write make up a movie trailer for it. In a dramatic voice, say “In a world where…” and introduce your topic and where you plan to go with it. This will help you figure out what you want to get across to your audience.
How to Pick a Story People Will Read in Three Steps
- “I tend to, first and foremost, look for a story that is relatable. It is important to pitch a story and write a story to convince people to care about it. They are not going to click on your post, they are not going to click on their article, if they don’t think they are going to care if it is not relatable to their daily lives”.
- Focus on provocative stories where you “can personalize the past or relate it to a contemporary issue”. By making your stories more provocative you can captivate your audience, which is kind of important if you want them to stay interested in your work!
- Keep it short! “The article needs to be holistic, it needs to be all there. A person reading it needs to get entire the sense in 800 words”.
Kristina’s Writing Tips: “it is always important to develop a message and to stay on that message”
Check Out Some of Kristina’s Articles Below to See the Results of Using These Steps!
Crowdfunding or Grants?
When talking about the shifting landscape of anthropology the engagement of the public in anthropological research inevitably came up. One way researchers have engaged the public is through the use of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is when a person presents a project to the public and asks for donations to fund it. Some well-known crowdfunding sites include: Instrumentl, Kickstarter, Experiment and Patreon.
There has been some movement away from using grant-based funding in favor of crowdsourcing. Kristina has experience crowdfunding one of her own research projects, and she and her team were able to raise $12,000 through public donations.
Including the public in research projects changes how we write as anthropologists. According to Adam, “there is a move for more researchers to write more directly for impact”. There is more concern for directly connecting and informing the people who actually are affected by the project than there has been in the past. Introducing crowdfunding as a valid means of procuring money for research and the rise of blogging and podcasts allows researchers to get around the paywalls often associated with academic publications.
Kristina argues that “we need flexible speaking styles and flexible writing outlets”, so we can talk more directly with the public about our work. She does not limit these outlets to blogs, podcasts, and news articles. Kristina suggests anthropologists branch out and make videos, start clubs at local schools, and talk in foreign language venues to engage more directly with the public.
It is important to remember that public engagement in anthropology is not new: Margaret Mead wrote columns for Red Books Magazine, Ashley Montagu was on the Tonight show, and Froelich Rainey hosted the TV show What in the World. Public engagement in anthropology is just being revitalized in contemporary media.
We discuss the historic role of public engagement more in depth during the second episode of the TAL + SM series if you would like to learn more.
Check out the Links Below to Learn More About Crowdfunding!
Where We Need to Go: Open Access to Data
Kristina does not think that public access to academic articles will change their interaction with anthropological research all that much because, “our writing tends to be impenetrable, it is really hard to strike a balance between something that people will be interested in reading and something that meets the standard we have already set for science and social science articles.” Open access to data, or openly accessible data, is what is really important. If scholars shift gears to all share data, we can all better check each other’s work, incorporate complementary pieces into our own research, and shed light on unpublished data.
Check Out Kristina’s Open Access Databases from Her Research and an Interview on her Upcoming Field Season.
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