The topography of knowledge: whom are we writing for?

A good performer knows his or her audience. Likewise, a good scholar knows who is being written for and how best to satisfy the expectations of the reader. Our traditional audience has been ourselves - that body of scholars who judge our work and its value. But as many commentators in this volume have noted, our traditional audience is growing smaller as the world of ideas in which we operate gets larger, and as the disciplinary boundaries of the modern university, created over a century ago, collapse. New audiences of very different composition and expectations are forming and, in great part, the innovations of the Information Age have created these shifting and shapeless audiences, and have made them equals to the traditional scholarly voice in their ability to disseminate and propagate their viewpoints. Knowing the audience, then, becomes a challenge in this brave new world.

In a paper presented at a recent Society for American Archaeology meeting, Chippendale (in press) described the 'topography of knowledge', which he intended to mean the context within which peer review and some measure of quality control is exercised within the publication process. I will return to his intent later, but right now, I would like to turn to a secondary meaning of the word 'topography' and its implications: topography as 'a schema of a structural entity reflecting a division into distinct areas having a specific relation to one another' (Webster's College Dictionary 1991). The structural entities I will treat here are the scholarly community, the statutory community, and the public. The relation I will use to join these is 'the data' (Figure 1).

At this point, I prefer not to try to define these structural elements too closely, but I think it clear they are terribly complex and as such, could be divided and subdivided into many categories. It is, though, useful to define briefly what I mean by data. Although one can look at the term from a purely theoretical perspective (Aldenderfer 1987), I'm striving for practicality and, as such, I mean the term to refer to 'primary archaeological data', by which I mean the records, forms, notes, drawings, photographs, and other results of the excavation, mapping, and analytical process. Most of these elements, aside from photographic products, exist in paper form, although it is obvious that many different digital types of primary archaeological data have become commonplace.

The different communities for which we write have different levels of demand on data, which can be represented by a simple schematic (Figure 2). The scholarly and statutory communities have high levels of demand, while the public, at least insofar as we scholars have conceived of it, has had less interest in the data and more in synthesis. However, this model is changing as these new audiences seek to push their own agendas either in collaboration with or in opposition to members of the scholarly community. In this paper, I will focus most of my attention on the scholarly community; I hope to return to the other audiences in a future paper.


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