Category Archives: academia

New Article Published! The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Matt Law and I have published our co-authored article in Present Pasts, The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment: Online Sustainability and Archaeological Sites. Matt had a very nice small data set on the closure of Geocities and how it affected archaeological websites. I keep citing it in my presentations, so I’m very happy to see it published formally. My deep thanks to Matt and the fantastic team at Present Pasts!

Here is the abstract:

After 15 years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo! announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or just abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 88 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on ‘free’ services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach? We propose that sorting through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts helps us to evaluate the eventual fate of the archaeological presence online.

 

The New Gig: EUROTAST

Two of the research fellows in the EUROTAST project, looking at samples in the lab at the University of Bristol.

Last December I had the immense good fortune to join the Archaeology Department at the University of York as a EUROTAST Marie Curie Research Postdoctoral Fellow. I’ve been finding my legs in my new job for the last few months, getting the required equipment, and generally settling in. In practical terms, the position is familiar territory for me—digital media and public outreach—but the subject matter is a radical shift: new scientific methods of investigating the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

While my first excavation investigated the home of formerly enslaved Dallas residents, with Dr. Maria Franklin at the University of Texas, and I have worked on historically disadvantaged and enslaved populations since that time, it was not my major research focus. Also, I understood (to a certain extent) the developments in archaeometry of the last decade, but the specifics were a gloss: I put the sample in a bag and sent it to a specialist who dealt with it.

It has been incredibly eye-opening both in terms of the vast wealth of information that DNA and isotopic analyses has to offer in archaeological research and the emotional toll of studying what can only be described as one of the most tragic chapters in history: the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

(After I finished that last sentence, I sat and looked at it for ten minutes. The TAST takes all the words away.)

So. While my postdoc is incredibly amazing—I heard that it was called the “unicorns and rainbows job”—there is…this. How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? There’s also contending with the rather large new body of literature. I find this a benefit, as it provides an outside perspective that is valuable in outreach in demonstrating the interest and vitality of a subject that feels tedious to a long-term expert in the subject. Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.

Finally, it is fantastic being at the University of York. There’s great momentum in the Archaeology department and beyond, with the Centre for Digital Heritage, the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, and the presence of top researchers who are willing to try new things. And we do have some delights in store.

Participate, Make, Share – My 2013 Commencement Speech

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Me and my amazing mother, Elizabeth Kelly.

I chose to be the graduate student speaker at the UC Berkeley 2013 commencement ceremony. It was a difficult audience to write for–I probably should have just copied Neil Gaiman’s keynote from last year and called it a day. I’m a little ambivalent about how the speech turned out, but people seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, here it is:

In the years before I had the opportunity to stand in front of you in these fancy robes, I was one of the graduate student volunteers that helped out during commencement. After grading exams, teaching, securing funding, conducting research and finding time to write, graduate students are called on to help our fantastic staff today. When I volunteered during commencement, I selfishly went for the best job…the person who stands just behind and to the side of the esteemed chair of the department. This person hands the scrolls to the chair, but as I discovered, they have an extraordinary insight into the commencement ceremony.

What this person sees is your face as you achieve an epic win.

Jane McGonigal, famous game theorist, humanitarian and UC Berkeley PhD, class of 2006), describes an “epic win” as an “outcome that is so extraordinarily positive that you had no idea that it was even possible and that when you achieve it you are shocked to discover that you are actually capable of such a thing.” The facial expression is singular: joy, fulfillment, attainment of a goal, perhaps a little bit of disbelief and shock.

After several years of basking in the glow of the achievements of both my fellow graduate students and the amazing anthropology undergrads I taught…now I get to join you.

But I have to admit that I am greedy. I want that job again. I am excited by the potential to enact change in the world, but moreso by the potential of seeing other people achieve their own aspirations.

Accordingly, my dissertation research was shaped by three principles: Participate. Make. Share.

In anthropology we learn about the breadth and diversity of human experience and in my sub-specialty in archaeology, we acquire knowledge about this human experience through material culture. Our education is one of discerning patterns and difference, specifically, we learn how to see. My advisor Ruth Tringham would surely protest–we learn about the past through all of our senses, she would say. We touch the edges of still-sharp obsidian, we smell the dank interiors of caves, we hear the rasp of dirt beneath our trowels and the dull and hollow rattle that marks a grave. Still, this experience, this way of seeing requires your attention and participation.

And that is the first principle that I learned during my studies at UC Berkeley–your full participation is required. No half-measures. Learn and live with both hands.

The second principle is to make things. This may seem like a strange imperative coming from an archaeologist–great, now we have even more material culture to study–but making mudbricks at the San Francisco Presidio on a particularly chilly morning, trying to get the straw-to water-to horsehair-to mud ratio correct, hefting them, slapping the bricks together into a wall, and watching the mudbricks melt in the ubiquitous Bay Area fog gave me particular, if unflattering insights into the early architecture of the colonizers in the area. Making ethnographic movies taught me how to watch regular movies…and commercials and Youtube clips. Always always try it yourself. As part of the outreach program mandatory for Berkeley archaeology graduate students, I developed this mudbrick-making into an exercise for 10-year-olds visiting the Presidio and saw them Get It–that elusive link to the past that we archaeologists take for granted.

This dovetails nicely into the final principle, which is to share. It is not enough to participate, it is not enough to make things, these things (and the insights gleaned from them) must be shared whenever possible. The default should be to share. The production of knowledge about humans is for everyone, and should be made available to everyone. Enter your ideas into the commons, publish your own book, and push to make academic journals open access. Though the process is terrifying as a junior academic, it is not only vital for the survival of our field, but imperative that we communicate our knowledge of the diversity of human experience in the face of suffering and violence enacted against alternate ways of life.

What I saw as I stood behind the chair of anthropology and what I am seeing today is the realization of years of effort that resulted in a fantastic, transcendent moment. What I ask of you today is to now work toward the next epic win. Participate, make things, and share.

Thank you.

 

Acknowledging, the Thesis Edition

I was searching for something else on my computer and came across my thesis acknowledgements. I wrote them in that wild and woolly period last December where I was white-knuckling through the necessary fore-and-aft detritus of the thesis. As always happens, I accidentally left a few people out, alas. But I included a building, the ARF, which is surely very fashion-forward contempo-materiality-networky-thingy thinking, right? 

Acknowledgements

The decorations adorning the atrium of the University of California, Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility strike me as slightly macabre. The polyester “snow” is strategically covering the fake archaeological excavation in the corner, dripping from the plants that are always neglected, and lining the framed photographs of graduate students doing outreach with children. It’s the beginning of December, and the semester is winding down around me, the students finishing their finals and getting ready for the holidays. Though the strung lights and nutcrackers are a bit much, the atrium holds an airy loveliness that is lacking in so many academic buildings. The stately red brick and windows retained from when this was an outside area of the building, the fantastic Paleolithic mural covering the west-facing wall, and the strict geometry of the earthquake-proof girders bracketing the walls, and the transparent pyramid-shaped roof all come together in a place that is the heart of the department. In this atrium I’ve attended functions honoring many of the professors, receptions after talks, convened meetings with advisors and other graduate students, taught undergraduates how to plot artifacts in an archaeological drawing, and even taught the history of the building, its status as a frat house and the subsequent occupants, each living in the space and remaking it as their own. It is the appropriate place for nostalgia, for remembering and acknowledging the previous occupants of this building, and how I got here, and how this dissertation came to be.

My committee members, Ruth Tringham, Meg Conkey, and Nancy Van House have generously and enthusiastically opened their lives and research to me, and I cannot imagine my graduate career without their wisdom, humor, and indulgence! I have no small amount of awe for these pioneering women in academia who fought relentlessly for recognition of their research in the face of normative patriarchy. My advisor, Ruth, stood with me and kept pushing me to be more reflexive, to challenge my own preconceptions, and to have ridiculous amounts of fun. Meg was always ready with incisive comments that exposed uncritical thinking and fostered introspection and enlightenment. I deeply enjoyed my long conversations with Nancy Van House at various coffee shops around Berkeley, and always came away delighted and inspired by our shared digressions and passion for photography.

This dissertation would also not have been possible with the fantastic energy, love and support from professors who were not on my committee. Rosemary Joyce’s white-hot brilliance always inspired me, but it was her mentorship and tremendous kindness that got me through some rough times. Steve Shackley helped me find several great resources on early archaeological photography, and always had a sly political quip and a half-grin that made me genuinely regret that I could not somehow work obsidian into my dissertation research. A writerly debt is owed to Laurie Wilkie; I hope that I can inspire with words half as well as she can some day. A big thank you to Benjamin Porter for allowing me to work at Dhiban, and to Ian Hodder who allowed me to work at Catalhoyuk. Also, I would be absolutely remiss not to express my gratitude to my undergraduate professors Samuel Wilson and Maria Franklin at the University of Texas, who are both wise and radical in their very own ways. A special thank you to Jamie Chad Brandon, who was the first one to tell me that I too could be an archaeologist.

I have learned just as much, if not more outside of the brick walls of the Archaeological Research Facility as I have within. My mentors in the field, Roddy Regan, Lisa Yeoman, Michael House, James Stewart Taylor, Freya Sadarangani, Shahina Farid, Cordelia Hall, David Mackie, and Gareth Rees taught me so much and put up with the ridiculous American with big ideas and a big mouth. To all of my friends, colleagues, stakeholders, and stake-wielders in the field, I miss the starry skies, the campfires, the cold, the hot, the beer, the antics, the storytelling, and your company. May we all be gainfully employed, somehow.

I had the tremendous misfortune to move away from great friends, the fantastic good fortune to gain new friends, and then the inevitable let-down of having to move away from all of those friends too. John Lowe and Dan Machold, you are honest, true, and amazing people all around. You are my strength. Thank you to Rob Browning for living and growing with me for so long. My brilliant, invincible posse of lady friends, Shanti Morell-Hart, Doris Maldonado, Nicole Anthony, Kathryn Killackey, Sara Gonzalez, Burcu Tung, Cheyla Samuelson, and Melissa Bailey are without parallel. I treasure and admire each of you in perhaps unhealthy amounts. My community of fellow archaeologists, academics, and good friends, James Flexner, Andy Roddick, Esteban Gomez, Nico Tripcevich, Rus Sheptak, Tim Wyatt, Jun & Charlotte Sunseri, Heather & Eric Blind, Michael Ashley, Cinzia Perlingieri, Orkan Umurhan, Jason Quinlan, Dan & Yesim Thompson, David Cohen, Jesse Stephen, and Guy Hunt, thank you so much the inspiration and support over the years. I would also be remiss to leave out my colleagues online throughout the years; you have leant such enthusiasm to my research that I could not let you all down!

Thank you to my lovely mother, Elizabeth Kelly, who always likes it best when I “talk about people” in my writing and is always my inspiration for strength, kindness and love. Thank you to Don Freeman, my father with a big sense of humor and a bigger heart. My love and thanks to my brother Matthew and to his darling son Raiden. My love and regards to my English family, the Eddisfords, who continually delight me with their kindness and who have welcomed me with open arms. Finally, words cannot express how much gratitude I have for my husband, Daniel Eddisford. You are the cup that was waiting for the gifts of my life. Thank you.

AAA 2013: A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Sorry to post yet another abstract, but the American Anthropological Association has come to San Francisco and I’m presenting in a fantastic panel titled, Sharing Anthropology: Theorizing Anthropological Research in the Age of Social Media. All of the rest of the presenters are anthropologists (except for Ryan Anderson, who is a sneaky former archaeologist) so I’ll be one reppin’ the field.

Sadly my slides aren’t going to be quite as fantastic as the ones I previously posted, but what can you do? Here’s my abstract:

A Digital Ecology of Sharing Archaeology

Clean. Draw. Photograph. Level. Record. Dig. Sample. Sort Artifacts. Share.

Share?

Archaeologists are increasingly recognizing the benefits of an online presence. Field school blogs and project Facebook pages have become standard outreach fare. Yet this outreach is often an afterthought, relegated to undergraduate students and rarely cultivated as a legitimate expression of archaeological research. I argue that unless digital sharing moves beyond a rarely-updated Facebook page and is integrated into all aspects of archaeological practice it will always be considered an illegitimate by-product, remaining at the fringes of our profession, a poor shadow of the potential that digital outreach has for communicating with the public. This integration involves disrupting our professional customs to re-frame our research in terms of expressive, teachable moments. Contrary to the opinion that sharing at an intimate level would compromise our research, I argue that sharing can introduce reflexivity into the archaeological process and increase multivocality among project participants. Creating a digital ecology wherein archaeological research is made available “at the trowel’s edge” and rewarded as a legitimate undertaking is risky, unpredictable, and utterly necessary to usher archaeology into the digital age.

Blackberries & Berkeley

“Bullied” by Darwin Bell

There is a ragged little blackberry bramble that grows along the fence outside my door. We live in a ground floor apartment that opens almost directly to the street, so there is no grass for a visual break–the sidewalk becomes our cement front yard. I’ve been watching the bramble all summer, the green berries turning red, then black, and then the fat blue-black when they are finally ready. There are some days that the little bramble is my excuse to get out from behind my screen and go outside to check up on the ripeness of the berries.

When I was a child in Oklahoma my grandmother would send us out with gallon buckets, buckets that had held vast slabs of vanilla ice cream made crunchy from the too-cold freezer. We’d swing our buckets, bang our scraped knees, and squabble, a little scrum of bare-limbed cousins. I remember the main blackberry bramble as being at least two-stories high, thick, shaggy and impenetrable. It was full of all manner of bitey creatures, ticks, chiggers, wasps, snakes, and spiders as big as your hand. We’d approach the bush timidly, throwing rocks and talkin’ real loud to scare the snakes away. The nearby ponds were writhing with cottonmouths and they’d get into the bushes to eat the mice. Or possibly to kill children.

The berries were thick and would sometimes explode in our hands, or go into our mouths instead of the bucket. There would be long tears across our arms, punctured fingers, thorns embedded in our socks. We’d fill our buckets and return to my grandma who would freeze most of them, but would bake a big blackberry pie for dinner. It’s the first thing she taught me how to bake and is still my favorite. While a slice after dinner was delicious, having a cold slice with cream the next morning for breakfast was divine.

The bramble outside my door doesn’t yield more than a handful of berries at a time, and these are mixed. Many are still too tart, a few are dusty and bad, but occasionally I’ll get a perfect one and then it is summertime all over again.

This was my first summer in Berkeley. I am usually out on an excavation, but I’ve been determined to stay here and work hard to finish. I haven’t quite come full circle on Berkeley summers–I still whine and groan when it is cold, gray and foggy for months on end. But the bright hatred I had of the climate has dulled over time, and I enjoy the cool, sunshiny days. As I’m wrapping up I have also regained a sense of wonder over the University of California at Berkeley. It was never really gone, I always was drawn to grand state institutions with their endless halls and vast libraries.

I had a couple of beers with the new archaeology faculty members last night, and they made me excited again with their drive and enthusiasm. Jun has some great ideas about teaching and Lisa is ridiculously smart and incisive. I had a little too much cider and wandered back through campus, along the paving stones and through the shadows of the giant eucalyptus trees that had gone sharp and cold in the evening chill. Summertime in Berkeley, my first, and maybe my last.

Save Early, Save Often

Command-S. I think I picked it up from video games, or maybe even from Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’d read each story, keeping a finger between the pages at each decision point, and then another one, and another one until all of my fingers were used up and I’d be flipping back and forth to find the optimum route. In video games I’d run back to the save point, use unique names for each of the files, fill up all my “save cards” or eventually hard drives. It isn’t so much that I was anxious about making the wrong decision but more that I wanted to experience everything the book or game had to give.

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology scores the game playing style of gamers according to card suites, with Diamonds = Achievers, Hearts = Socializers, Clubs = Killers and Spades = Explorers. While I haven’t formally taken the test, I’d score pretty high in the Spades category, always exploring the level until the very edges of the in-world earth, looking for the extra dialog or funny-colored sword. My imaginary rucksack was always full.

I have been writing so much and for such sustained periods of time that I find myself in the same compulsive mode, command-S, command-S, command-S. Save. I have started doing it in emails now, annoyingly, as Google Chrome offers to save my entire screen, and on Facebook, command-S. All dissertation writers get their own personal ticks, I suppose.

Next week, visa-Gods willing, I’ll be on the road again with my not-so-imaginary rucksack. I’ll be headed to London to work with the incredible L-P Archaeology on the developer-funded Minories Project, a fantastic excavation right outside the Tower of London. I’m taking this six week diss-break because L-P gave me free reign with digital media and interpretation and it’s perfect for setting up some fairly experimental postdoc work. Time to see if I can find the edge of the world again. Command-S!

Meg’s Papers: Just for Fun

I smiled when I read the title of the article on the manilla folder. On the outside, in Meg’s rounded, near-cursive print: MEG’S COPY, PLEASE RETURN. I cracked the folder open and the faint gray type was only just legible, the edges of the book were still visible from when someone copied the original article, many many years ago. Since then the article has been copied over and over again, for the yearly iterations of our introduction to theory class, the class that gives us the indelible stamp of Berkeley archaeology: 229A. It’s also one of the few articles that has made me laugh out loud–Kent Flannery’s Golden Marshalltown. I removed the staple and programmed the copy machine: Flannery_1982, single-sided, output to pdf.

I’ve been back in Berkeley for just over two weeks now. I hit the ground running–I rented a place to live, moved in, and presented my dissertation research to my department in the matter of days, finished up an article with the inimitable Stu Eve, and now I’m holed up in the library. On occasion I’ve been helping Meg Conkey clean out her office after she retired, converting the stacks and stacks of archaeological ephemera she’s collected over the years into pdfs.

It’s a little humbling, looking at all the authors and article titles and fascinating research that I’ve never heard of–or that I have never heard of that particular iteration of. So much diversity in the literature that it feels like we might not actually have made much progress in archaeology, we might just be writing the same things over and over and over again. I get to watch the progression of archaeological publication–hand-written notes, to typed pages, dot-matrix, then laser printing! and finally, pdfs. Monographs of all sizes and colors (particularly annoying for the copier) and notes from lectures given decades ago. Nice notes at the top of the page, marginalia, and occasional backstage-passes to legendary moments in archaeology:

I find these moments so delightful and such an intimate view into a long archaeological career.

But I have to wonder how much I am duplicating efforts, just how many scans of Flannery_1982 we need in the world. I know there are other departments with treasure troves of scanned material and it seems absolutely ridiculous that we have to have our separate stashes, especially when all the state universities are technically owned by the public anyway. It’s frustrating, and I know it will change soonish…but it’s like using a mimeograph in the digital age. Can we have the academic literature Spotify yet?

A Moment for Elizabeth Brumfiel

I stepped into the auditorium. The space seemed cavernous–high ceilings, hundreds of white chairs, and a single podium up front, a podium that was not nearly big enough to hide behind. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.

The room was empty, but felt safe. It was my first professional meeting–the Society for American Archaeology in 2004 in Montreal and I was overwhelmed. There were thousands of archaeologists and they all seemed to know each other. I had just been working long days on a big site in Kerrville, Texas, and felt grubby and callused–very removed from the high-falutin’ academic talk that surrounded me.

I walked up to the podium in the empty room and did what my mother told me to do: “get into the room early and practice giving your talk at least twice.” The paper was printed in big font, double spaced, a few corrections here and there. In my own scrawled handwriting across the top–SMILE. I lowered the microphone to my height, wincing at the screeching sounds that it made, and started to speak.

I was about half-way through when the door way at the back of the auditorium cracked open, then closed shut, and then, more slowly, opened again. I couldn’t really see who it was, but that didn’t matter; I didn’t know anyone anyway. As soon as she–I could see that it was an older woman at this point, made it about half-way down the aisle, I apologized and said that I was just practicing. She said it was fine and made her way to the front row. I was nervous, but if I couldn’t give my talk to one woman, how could I give it to a whole audience?

While I droned on, she settled into her seat and pulled out her own sheaf of papers. She was writing rapidly, but not frantically, crossing out some words and re-writing others. I tried to ignore her as I hurried on with my talk.

At some point I noticed her pen stop, then drop, and she looked up from her paper. I was speaking about feminist lineages in archaeology; how as an undergraduate I benefitted from strong female leaders in archaeology and their students becoming teachers of a new generation (and supermajority) of women in the field. And she, this woman in the first row, was listening.

I finished and she stood up and clapped loudly, congratulating me for speaking so clearly and well. We chatted for a little while, about my paper topic, and she gave me further advice about conference presentations and academia. I honestly don’t remember most of the rest of the session–I was still very nervous–but to this day I remember her kindness, her encouragement, and her generosity. She didn’t have to mentor me, she could have kept working on her paper, but she took a moment for a nervous, nobody undergraduate. I glanced at her name tag, but it meant nothing to me at the time…until I googled her later.

Thank you, Elizabeth Brumfiel (1945-2012).

—-

Please read Rosemary Joyce’s post, which gives you a better perspective on just how amazing Elizabeth Brumfiel was:

Liz Brumfiel will always be remembered

Anthropologies: The Workmen of Mes Aynak

Ryan Anderson’s wonderful Anthropologies project is on its tenth edition:

Beyond Words (the visual issue)

I wrote my contribution in India, in longhand, then typed it out in an internet cafe. First fully analog to digital blog entry for me, check out one of the 4(!)pages:

One of my favorite academics (and people) Dr. Sara Perry also has a contribution to this edition, titled: Fluid Fields: The (Unspoken) Intersections of Visual Anthropology and Archaeology.

Here’s an excerpt of my entry, for the full length click through to Anthropologies.

The Workmen of Mes Aynak

Workmen are a rarely discussed but often present element in large excavations performed outside the United States and the United Kingdom. Their presence evokes the Victorian era of archaeology; large expanses of oddly-dressed men working with picks and shovels, directed by a man in a pith helmet and perfectly clean khakis. While this is becoming rare (indeed this method is heavily critiqued) it is still employed in large excavations. Some governments require foreign excavations to employ local people, and in sites in Greece, workmen are professionals unto themselves, often more familiar with the archaeological remains than their student “supervisors.” In still other excavations, workmen are not allowed to excavate the “real” archaeology, but are employed to move our already-excavated spoil or to lift sandbags. While there is a wide range of experience and interaction between foreign excavations and local people available, archaeologists receive no training in interpersonal management or customs. Yet we form relationships with these workmen and learn from each other. They become our friends and workmates but they still occupy the margins in archaeology–excluded in publications, never cited, and rarely thanked.

(click here for the rest)