8. The Value of a Bibliometric Approach to an Understanding of Archaeology

Traditional accounts of the development and nature of the discipline of archaeology have relied on their authors to read and understand a corpus of archaeological writing. These accounts offer a close reading and an experienced and expert judgement of the context in which certain publications were written, and an expert analysis of the influences that have had their effect upon specific ideas and their impact upon later writings. The best offer persuasive intellectual histories, but an exponential growth in the absolute number of archaeological research publications, the broad range of sources upon which they draw, and the languages used, make such traditional historical scholarship either impossible or, by necessity, highly selective in its focus of interest. The exponential growth in the number of archaeological research outputs now makes it impossible for any individual on the basis of first-hand reading to gain a detailed overview of archaeology as a whole discipline. Yet the processes of research evaluation and the need to present archaeology as a valuable activity to non-archaeologists requires a sense of the nature of archaeology, its engagement with other research disciplines and an understanding of its methods.

In 2016, however, we might start with a different approach to gaining an overview of archaeology as a discipline in an era of Big Science. We can use the available bibliometric data that we access every day when searching for relevant research outputs to generate the networks of influence between documents, between researchers and between the different disciplines from which archaeologists take inspiration and with which they interact in their research. The network maps of archaeology presented here provide the first such examples of such a visualised and bibliometric approach in which archaeology as a coherent and distinct entity is the focus of study. While there are inevitable limitations caused by the nature of publication practices in archaeology and the strategic choices of publications to index made by WoS, these maps, built up from the individual document to document links reveal the complexity of contemporary research practices as shaped by their authors at the time of writing, and of the language/concepts of archaeological research that we must understand to become effective members of this discipline. These maps allow us to explore and interrogate the relationships of influence, to examine the nature of archaeology's endeavour as a multi- or inter-disciplinary form of research, to explore variability in influence by citation and gender within communication networks. Lastly, the patterns visible in these maps suggest that despite the diversity of different forms of archaeological research and the various networks of practitioners associated with them, there is an underlying process of fractal division that splits archaeological researchers, no matter what communication network they belong to, into nested sets of scholars with common approaches to archaeological enquiry.

A bibliometric approach will not replace the carefully crafted intellectual histories that have tracked the development of our discipline. However, as it becomes impossible for individuals to read more than a small sample of archaeology's research outputs, bibliometric explorations and the visualisations that can be created from these data can help address questions that exists at a different scale concerning the overall shape of our discipline, its connections to disciplines beyond, and the broad pattern of its internal structure of networks. Indeed, we might think of this approach as a form of initial 'landscape survey of archaeology' where the landscape surveyed is not that of the geographical spread of the material remains of the past but the disciplinary landscape of research outputs generated over time.


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