blog redevelopment: media monitoring; news, analysis, research

I’ve begun redeveloping this blog. I’d like to say I’ve finished, but I fear it’ll take quite a while to establish very good systems for information-trapping and sharing/curation. The details are even less exciting than they sound, and the post is tl;dr, but I want people to be able to find out how I source my information and why I discuss the looting and destruction of homes and neighbourhoods in community conflicts as well as the looting and destruction of archaeological sites and historic monuments in wars…

Summary

I’ve started monitoring more than a thousand web and social media alerts in order to document looting and destruction as they happen. From now on, I’ll be tweeting (@conflictantiq) and blogging news and analyses (more often than before), as well as publishing research.

Boring tl;dr details below…

Background

I’d intended this to be a blog for research into (and analysis of) the relationships between the illicit antiquities trade, organised crime and political violence in the Eastern Mediterranean; but work (and the lack of it) immediately disrupted both research and blogging. Then I didn’t have access to colleagues or information or even the internet… I felt a need to address related issues, such as the effects of national(ist) politics on academic research and public understanding in Turkey, and the effects of financial crisis on cultural heritage in Greece… I was unable to publicly discuss the knotted problem of looting, cultural destruction, crime and violence in the Cyprus Conflict…

@conflictantiq Twitter feed

I’ve created a separate @conflictantiq Twitter feed, with which I’m trying to document looting and destruction of cultural property in crises and conflicts as they happen.

I would have liked to rip off Shawn Graham’s (@electricarchaeo‘s) method for Infotrapping the Illicit Antiquities Trade: he monitors his feed with If This Then That (IFTTT) and queues up relevant information with the Buffer App, which releases into Looted Heritage’s Twitter feed and crowdmap. But it doesn’t work for me, either because it’s difficult for me to trap (and release) information by keyword and impossible to release information on schedule; or because the trapping mechanisms’ codes are being revised; or because I’m incompetent.

Since the most specific keywords are often not used by non-professional sources (e.g. “illicit antiquities”), and many of the more common keywords are very common indeed (e.g. “damage”), my information-sharing will have to be entirely hand-curated.

(Furthermore, beyond the challenge of tracking the “looting”/”pillage”/”plunder” of community property, there is the difficulty of (not) using one or more of those terms to curate and publicise that activity, because it could impair efforts to document and highlight illicit digging for antiquities.)

News and social media monitoring

Over the past twelve weeks (including messing around with my Twitter feeds, the Facebook link-up, etc.), I’ve developed alerts (pairs and triplets of keywords) to monitor news and comment specifically on the trade in conflict antiquities and violence against cultural property, and also generally on the trade in art and cultural property and violence against community property.

I manage more than a thousand alerts for web content and social media discussions, of vandalism and desecration; damage, wrecking, ruination and destruction; crimes against art and cultural property; museums and cultural property in conflict; illicit antiquities; riots; looting, pillage and plunder; raiding, robbery and theft… (Nonetheless, they are limited – they are primarily English-language alerts, though I also monitor events in the Eastern Mediterranean in Greek and Turkish.)

In addition to gathering information on the illicit antiquities trade from peers (whom I always credit, so that others can check my claims and pick up sources on their areas of interest), I process information from many hundreds of sources on cultural property, crime and conflict, Balkan and Mediterranean affairs, African and Middle Eastern issues, and world news.

My Twitter lists grew out of friends, colleagues and contacts (as well as standard news sources); they are sets of reliable sources and analysts rather than attempts at complete collections of all sources. (My Twitter alerts pick up others’ tweets.) Also, for my sake, everyone’s only in one category (so an archaeologist who worked in Nigeria and Turkey would be in the “cultural property” list). I’ll continue to manage the lists as high-content sources among and outside my contacts (rather than merely groupings of all those whom I follow).

Information recording and sharing

What I won’t do

(Generally) I will no longer blog about or tweet links to news and comment on “normal” art theft, gallery and museum robberies, and art and antiquities trading. (I will still try to discuss material on universal concerns such as the structure of the trade.) There are other web/blog sources and Twitter sources of information on the illicit antiquities trade.

Shawn Graham’s Twitter/crowdmap project is excellent. The only reason that I don’t simply auto-redirect to Looted Heritage is that it covers antiquities looting in general (including restitution and museum ethics); I want to focus on the connection between (cultural property) crime and conflict (including community-targeting violence).

Beyond simply not reporting information at all, some sources relay incorrect information long after it has been proved false, even about sensitive subjects (such as violent events in conflict zones); and this sometimes reflects not merely limited sourcing and automated publishing, but wilful ignorance of inconvenient facts. I am as susceptible to human error as anyone else, but I am impartial and committed to providing accurate, timely news.

What I will do

In order to establish a more coherent, easily-managed, easily-used, permanent record of looting and destruction of cultural heritage sites, I’ll curate news with link/clip blog posts. In order to combine timely sharing with easily-used archiving, without information overload, I’ll tweet information as soon as possible (with tweets posting on Facebook and streaming on Conflict Antiquities), and I’ll try to blog that news daily or weekly (which subscribers will receive via e-mail).

Update (17th March 2013; 20th March 2013)

Not wanting to spam subscribers with brief notes about flag burnings and slum domicide, I’ve ended up not posting news at all. So, now, I’m going to try to use my tweets almost like a news bibliography. I’m going to try to publish larger, historical/analytical posts when there are emergencies, such as the attacks on Hindu and Buddhist community places in Bangladesh; when there are mysteries, such as the looting and smuggling of the Kosovan conflict antiquities; and when there are controversies, such as the question of responsibility for looting and smuggling in the Syrian civil war.

Violence against community property

I will also try to monitor violence against community property. The targeting of “community property” can be difficult to identify, particularly when something/somewhere is a victim of wartime looting or sabotage; but I would like to record what could be called the archaeology of class conflict or (more properly) political struggle (the archaeology of violence between economic and political interest groups).

I would like to cover the plunder and ruination of things and places that are symbolic of non-cultural groups – for example, the bombing of political parties’ headquarters and trades unions’ offices, the burning of banks and police stations, the stoning of politically-aligned sports clubs… (There’s a note at the end on the relationship between community property and cultural property.)

News, analysis and research

I’ve streamlined the categories of material on the blog. You can look for illicit antiquities looting, smuggling, trading, etc.; community and cultural property destruction; or miscellaneous related issues, for instance, crisis-driven insecurity, access to information in trouble spots, and research and blog readership statistics.

You can also look for news and analysis of immediately publicly-available information (that didn’t involve fieldwork, or significant use of professional/community sources or library/archive resources), for example, my reporting on and examination of the robbery of the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games; or research data, drafts, presentations and publications.

Notes

First of all, that “community property” may (commonly) be considered – or become – “cultural property”. Buildings may be historic centres of political thought and action; insignificant buildings may even become significant sites through their destruction in historic events.

Second, community property may be targeted within the same programme of violence that targets cultural property. Retributive violence may be used against everyday objects as well as sacred sites because they are the property of a target community.

Third, changes in the targeting of community property and other material culture as well as cultural property can indicate and demonstrate changes in the targeting of cultural property. For instance, switches between the sabotage of military/state material and the destruction of military/state-associated civilian architecture may reveal switches between revolutionary violence and nationalist or otherwise partisan violence.

Other notes

Aside from the other sources linked here, if readers would like to try to do something (dis)similar, Andy Miah maintains the A to Z of Social Media for Academics (and @researchbuzz has given some good Twitter search tips).

Shawn Graham and Robert Blades (@BladesRob) have also drafted a way of data-mining the open access web ‘to spot and understand underlying trends in the world antiquities market’.

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3 Responses to “blog redevelopment: media monitoring; news, analysis, research”

  1. Sounds very interesting Sam. I hope you did not mean my nes column when referring to wrong information :)

    Good luck

    Culture in Development Rene Teijgeler The Netherlands E: rene.teijgeler@planet.nl http://www.cultureindevelopment.nl

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