Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Wednesday, February 09, 2011

In the first article, Tiffany Jenkins rails against the posting online of rumours of looting in Egypt, suggesting that those who post them are prejudiced against the people of Egypt.  For instance, she says:

The rapid repeating of unverified information without proper scrutiny, across social media and blogs as well as in mainstream news outlets, suggests a broader fear of an unpredictable mass and the idea that museums in this part of the world are unsafe. There is a presumption that Egyptians just don’t quite know how to care for cultural heritage while they concern themselves with making trouble in the name of democracy.
Marianne Luban, meanwhile takes a very different line when talking about the Electronic Egyptologists' Forum (EFF), but her remarks could equally be read more generally  as a complaint that Egyptology is sluggish and hasn't adapted to the latest developments in social media.  And as we are seeing in Egypt, social media is now having huge impact on society as a whole.   (Click on the article heading to read my commentary.)


I am not going to get drawn into Marianne Luban's comments on the EEF in particular, but generally I believe her observations about how ancient Egypt is discussed are more accurate than those of Tiffany Jenkins. I see no justification for Jenkins' claim that repeating of unverified information implies a presumption that Egyptians don't know how to care for their heritage.  In fact, I would say that very many people online have been at pains to acknowledge how much gaffirs, imams and the ordinary people of Egypt have done to protect their cultural heritage during the current political unrest.  I think she also misunderstands social media and crowd sourcing.  Yes a lot of blogs just repeat previous stories - and some media - without proper attribution, and crucially without saying when the story surfaced.  I am not pretending they add much other than an indication what is of broad interest.  However, the work Margaret Maitland has done at the Eloquent Peasant in identifying the items from Tutankhamun's tomb demonstrates the power of crowd sourcing.  Unless stories had circulated, they might not have reached Margaret so they she could do the analysis.  For me a fundamental issue in Jenkins' line is an apparent belief that information should pass around a restricted circle until somebody verifies it, at which point it can then be released to the public.  That is precisely Luban's complaint.  By restricting raw information flows, research is slowed and inhibited.

It's also noteworthy that Maitland did her analysis and research out in full public view, updating it several times a day in response to contributions from visitors to her blog.  For me that is the future of academic effort - real-time collaboration and a willingness to share and to make mistakes in public.  It takes courage, but in my opinion it does deliver superior and faster results.

BTW, over the past ten days, other than yesterday I have worked almost full time to gather and share information about the situation in Egypt, and I know Andie Byrnes has put in a similar effort.  We were still swapping emails this morning at 3am.  In the current climate "verified" is a difficult word but I have put a huge amount of work into reviewing material I have posted here - and there are stories that I have decided just didn't seem credible enough to post.  I think we would have done the world a disservice had we not reported stories of looting - abd I still fear many of them will prove to be accurate.

13 comments:

Matt said...

Your site was invaluable even before the recent turmoil, and has been riveting ever since. Keep up the great, opionated but openminded reporting.

Matt from Chicago

Anonymous said...

The EEF has posted daily feed back from Egyptologists from their sites in Egypt, so not speculation, but fact. I would prefer to believe western scholars to tell the truth about what has happened, rather than believe the daily conflicting reports by a minister who has seized further power at the expense of others, during this unrest.

Anonymous said...

Zahi Hawass has just posted this...
This photo comes from the tomb of Maya, Overseer of the Treasury during the reigns of Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb. There have been many rumors that this tomb was damaged, so I sent a team from my office to examine the tomb. I was very happy to learn that the tomb is safe, and has not sustained any damage.
Wrong tomb!!! The reports were about the damage to the tomb of Maia, Tutankhamun's Nurse , so who has it wrong?

Anonymous said...

The EEF and its subscribers have done an excellent job in covering the recent turmoil, a lot better than the Facebook groups and most blogs - or whatever you mean with "latest developments in social media". The FB groups have spread a lot of false rumours.

Anonymous said...

Kate, it is not clear what your point is. You seem to be against "filtering" of information. But surely you are also doing that, by judging sources, and if & how you will present the info. For anyone can post anything on whatever topic, incorporating half-truths and slander and what more -- and subsequently people like you happily aid the misinformation by quoting it or linking to it. What's good about that? It shows well that normal critical journalistic principles like fact checking, avoiding personal attacks, what sources to use or ignore, etc, are also valid for the "social internet media". And if such media do not filter themselves in that regard, and justify gossip by calling it "raw information flows", then it is a bit odd to condemn people, who avoid these media, as being "sluggish"!

Marianne Luban said...

You know who I never, ever, trust to write the truth? People who sign their writings "anonymous". Because I always have the impression they have something to hide or merely arrive to cause trouble.

I have not seen the reports of the uprising, crisis, in Egypt on the EEF. However, in my experience there, I have never seen even one Egyptologist have the guts to criticize Hawass or anything going on in Egypt, so I can imagine how guarded these reports were--unless they came from individuals living in Egypt, who have nothing to lose by ruffling the feathers of the Great Man. There's nothing wrong with a little "speculation". It's part of feeling free to explore any and all possibilities. And there certainly is nothing wrong with thinking outside the box.

As for me, when I write something it is normally under my own name and carries with it as much of the truth as I, personally, know. That is my guarantee.

Kate Phizackerley said...

I've also no idea whether EEF have dine a good job of reporting or not. I do know I explicitly wanted the Looting Database to be public. Someone suggested a closed section; I respectfully declined.

Would Hawass have sent a journalist back to Saqqara if all the commentary on the first visit had been on closed sites? I think not. Not least, how would he even have known that the first visit had failed to reassure if the debate wasn't out in public?

Anonymous said...

Do you (K) really think the Egyptians need blogs etc to remind them to look after their antiquities, or that excavators would be too scared to request the SCA to inspect their sites? (I know for a fact they are not) Such ideas are exactly what made Jenkins blow up.
And let me guess: you (M) do not
live in Egypt, do not work in Egypt, do not have contacts or responsibilities in Egypt, yet you are all eager to pass judgements on all those who do (Egyptians and Egyptologists). That also proves Jenkins's point, doesn't it.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Remember that most suggestions of looting are being made by Egyptians. Nationalising the debate is inaccurate and, I would suggest, unhelpful.

Marianne Luban said...

Telling the truth or trying to find it out does not amount to "passing judgment". You, Anonymous, seem to have that concession all to yourself here right now. It is my opinion that western Egyptologists have been acting like a lot of scared bunnies for quite some time. Since I don't owe anything to anybody in Egypt, am a free agent, I have at least felt free to speak my mind in the past. Somebody has got to. And you know what else I think? If foreign Egyptologists really trusted the Egyptians to be the stewards and exclusive scholars of their own heritage--they wouldn't be so frightened. But everybody wants his own piece of the action so kowtows like the common people in the Amarna reliefs. But I have news. Deep down the Egyptians "don't" feel they're ready, don't even trust one another due to corruption and the fact that they know everybody who gets even a little bit of "responsibility" immediately starts lording it over the underlings like 3,000 years had never passed. But certain Egyptian people are sick and tired of this kind of behavior and age-old system and that's why they're demonstrating in the streets. They want to live in the 21st Century.

John Bright said...

Take a winter break and the world breaks out in open revolt! The picture from Egypt is confusing to put it mildly. I have channel hopped between CNN, BBC and Sky news outlets and at times you would wonder if they are reporting the same events. As to the looting or presumed looting of various museums and temples/tombs, I regret to say that something along these lines was bound to happen (not because it is Egypt but because revolutions often lead to it: churches where I live in France were looted in The Revolution and similar things took place in the English Civil War). However, it has been inspiring to read of "ordinary" people standing in line to protect things. I only hope it ends soon and above all, peacefully.
One thought about anonymous comments, perhaps the makers of them, at times like these, are either afraid for their own well-being or perhaps are acting as agent-provocateurs.

Marianne Luban said...

It looks like Mubarak has stepped down.

John Bright said...

He has: so what happens now?

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