Ethan Watrall on ‘Branding’ and Interdisciplinary Identity: Amen, Brother!

For those of us who fall between the cracks, I heartily suggest reading Ethan Watrall‘s Profhacker post on ‘Building an Interdisciplinary Identity in a (Mostly) Non-Interdisciplinary Academic World’

Hi there, my name is Ethan and I’m an archaeologist.  Well…maybe not exactly. I haven’t run an excavation in years, and I don’t teach in an anthropology department.  Ok, lets try this again.  Hi my name’s Ethan and I’m a digital historian.  Ok, thats a little better, its got the “digital,” and I also live (mostly) in a history department.  But, my PhD isn’t in history.   Hmmmm…ok, how about digital humanist? Well, its got the “digital,” so that’s good.  I also “live” in the digital humanities community, work with many people who identify themselves as digital humanists, and have received digital humanities grants.   The problem is that I’m not a humanist.  Ok, mmmm…Game designer? No. Serious game designer? Not really..its what I work on, not what I am. Oh bother, what the heck am I?

The problem, dear readers, is that I’m an interdisciplinary scholar.  I sit on the happy intersection of several domains (both traditional and “progressive”).  As such, it is always a challenge for me, as well as many other who swim in these crazy interdisciplinary waters, to build and maintain an academic identify.

I have a pretty similar background to Ethan. I too am an archaeologist… wait, digital… well, history? humanist? anthropologist? dilettante?

Ethan invites us to consider our ‘brand’. I think Electric Archaeology has a pretty good brand going. I’ve got a pretty good turf staked out.  Ethan has some pointers:

Don’t know the best way of coming up with your academic brand?  Ok, try this little exercise.  Google “building a brand” (or some such phrase), and you’ll get a list similar to the one below.  Answer all of these questions (replacing words like “company,” “product” and “service” with more academic-y words), and you’ll be well on your way to developing your own personal scholarly brand.

  • What products and/or services do you offer? Define the qualities of these services and/or products.
  • What are the core values of your products and services? What are the core values of your company?
  • What is the mission of your company?
  • What does your company specializes in?
  • Who is your target market? Who do your products and services attract?

As an aside, when I was writing this, Tom Scheinfeldt pointed me towards something he wrote on his own blog called “Brand Name Scholar” (  The piece has some great points, and is well worth reading in this context.

I recently sat down and wondered to myself – if I had 30 seconds to sell my research, what would I tell people? I came up with the following:

—Social networks in history & space
—GIS & ABM to simulate & explore our understandings of the past
—Game Based Learning as an extension of simulation
—The Tiber, The Pontiac, and the Gatineau, from Antiquity to the Relatively Recent
  1. Social networks in history & space
  2. GIS & ABM to simulate & explore our understandings of the past
  3. Game Based Learning as an extension of simulation
  4. Effective online education
  5. The Tiber Valley, The Pontiac, and the Gatineau (P & G are regions of Quebec), from Antiquity to the Relatively Recent

Ethan sums up his field of endeavor as  ‘Cultural Heritage Informatics’.  In fact one piece of advice Ethan gives out is to give your ‘discipline’ a name. Cultural Heritage Informatics. I like that. Does what I do fit in that discpline? Maybe, maybe not.  I once suggested ‘xenoarchaeology’ for archaeologies of virtual worlds, but that didn’t really catch on, perhaps for its star-trek like associations.

I need a word to capture the ideas of simulation, procedural rhetorics, human antiquity, and ‘new media’. Answers on a postcard, please.