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john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

Photo Credit: At Denisova Cave. Credit: John Hawks CC-BY-NC-ND

An eleventh year of blogging

I don’t have an official anniversary date for blogging. I had many false starts, and I spent a good part of 2004 developing the current iteration of the blog. I had already blogged about the discovery of the Flores hominin fossils during the fall of 2004, and provided a bunch of material for my courses here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison through my blog. That was the latest of a long string of online writing attempts, with varied success.

I started writing online shortly after the Web itself began, but I know when I consciously became a blogger: January 1, 2005. Something about the blog system I started using had clicked with my writing style, and I made a New Year’s resolution to start blogging every day.

That lasted until January 4. Then I skipped a day. And that’s been pretty normal for me.

This is all ten years ago, and I’ve had many chances to look back. I didn’t think about it consciously at the beginning, but sometime along the way, I realized that if I made blogging an obligation, it would feel too much like work. I don’t get paid for blogging, and my university has never given me any credit for doing it. It’s not work. It’s what I want to do. So blogging has to inspire me. What works for me is just writing for myself. The blog is, and always has been, my own notes – edited a bit to make them readable, but fundamentally notes.

That first year, I didn’t blog every day, but I posted 444 times. I continued to break 400 posts every year up through 2012, and even in the low, low year of 2013 I posted 377 times. I took plenty of breaks, sometimes taking off two weeks or more at a time, but I kept posting. If you’ve been reading along, you know how consistent I’ve been, and how much fun I’ve had over the years.

John Hawks in the dust of southern Ethiopia
In the dust of Omorate. Credit: John Hawks CC-BY-NC-ND

2014 was a year of transition. In 2013 I had developed two online courses, completing more than 30 hours of video production. I ran both courses last year – first, the massive course with more than 40,000 students, and later the smaller online course for our undergraduate students here at UW. That was a huge investment of time, and I knew I had to take special care to maintain my research as I was developing these teaching resources.

What I could not have predicted is that I would be invited to be part of a field research project that would take me to South Africa for four months last year. The Rising Star project has been, and continues to be, amazing and fulfilling, an incredible experience that has brought me close to nearly a hundred colleagues all over the world. I can’t wait to share what we’ve done so far. It’s hard to say where all the time goes, but I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been, and I’m loving it.

Clouds in the mountains at Denisova, Russia
Near Denisova Cave. Credit: John Hawks CC-BY-NC-ND

Meanwhile, my travel hasn’t paused. I spent nearly a month last year helping to film documentary productions, both traveling and hosting interviews here in my lab. I attended conferences in Calgary, Gibraltar, and Toulouse, and I made another visit to the Altai. Everywhere I have met new friends and shared good food and drink with old ones. Thanks to blogging, I’ve been able to meet many old friends for the first time.

In 2014, I posted 114 times. It’s a high number for many other science blogs, but twice a week is a low number for me. I took a few breaks of two weeks or more, including the last several weeks of the year. It has been a wild time and I’ve needed to recharge and regroup. Even though I didn’t post as much last year, I am so pleased that I was able to take readers with me to so many places. I have many great stories from the past year still to tell, and a lot of writing ahead of me.

The year was my twentieth as an anthropologist. I was awarded a distinguished professorship. I took more than 20,000 photos and wrote more than 300,000 words. I’ve welcomed a new postdoc into my lab, graduated another excellent new PhD, and seen the brilliant progress of my current graduate students, not to mention another 400 undergraduates.

I could not do any of this without my wife Gretchen, and I am incredibly grateful to her for supporting my research. As all long-time readers know, she is the best judge of taste here on the blog. I am so lucky to have a partner in this adventure. We took some amazing family trips this year, and celebrated accomplishments by all four of our kids.

2015 will be even better. And bloggier.