New Publication: Afterword – The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games

I was happy to see VALUE’s volume The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games released today. There are several fantastic, thought-provoking chapters in it, and I highly recommend you check it out, and it’s free to read online. I wrote a short afterword for it:

West of House

You are standing in an open eld west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

>open mailbox
Opening the small mailbox reveals an invitation.

>read invitation
“WELCOME TO ARCHAEOGAMING!
ARCHAEOGAMING is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No computer should be without one!”

>|

The blinking cursor at the beginning of an interactive text adventure held all the expectation in the world. A universe of words waited for you, and simple commands propelled you headlong into a maze of spoonerisms, chasing ghosts, solving puzzles; the blinking cursor could lead you to meet Zaphod Beeblebrox or get eaten by a grue. Zork – the game referenced above – seemed endlessly complex, sending you to Hades and back for treasure. It is within this breathless anticipation of fun that we find archaeogaming, a term usefully coined by Andrew Reinhard. Archaeology’s constant collisions with digital media, storytelling, and co-creation made this eventuality inevitable, and archaeologists are rapidly forming the lexicon for understanding how to speak ludology. I find Janet Murray’s germinal Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) essential to this discourse; archaeogaming and other expressive forms of digital archaeology are what Murray terms as incunabula, an infant medium, untested and unwise in methodology and scope. Perhaps this is why they are so compelling….

(read the rest here)

The Queer and the Digital: Critical making, praxis and play in digital archaeology

Gareth Beale & Paul Reilly’s session at TAG was filmed by Doug Rocks-MacQueen’s team of conference videographers, for which I am grateful. There are a host of great papers from that day from Jeremy Huggett, Paul Reilly & Stefan Gant, Rose Ferraby, Catriona Cooper, Nicole Smith, Tanya Freke, and more!

Watch all of those other presentations first, and then watch mine on queering digital archaeology:

Let me know how it is–I struggle to watch myself on video.

Truth & Beauty Bombs: The personal/political/poetics of online communication in #archaeology

I was very happy to keynote last week’s first ever Twitter archaeology conference, Public Archaeology Twitter Conference, hosted by Dr. Lorna Richardson. I chose to speak on how to find meaning in online discourse in an increasingly noisy world. I collected the tweets on Storify:

And here’s a PDF:

https://www.academia.edu/32770184/Truth_and_Beauty_Bombs_The_personal_political_poetics_of_online_communication_in_archaeology

 

 

Academic Productivity: To do Lists

I’m not some kind of time management guru, and I don’t generally advise people to try to optimize themselves to better conform to our insane system of fast capitalism in academia. And I’m not the most amazing always on time person…but I’ve gotten better and this method of curating a single to do list has helped. And I get asked about it occasionally, so I decided to punch out 15 minutes to explain the process.

If I don’t put something on a list then I don’t do it. I tried apps, the bullet method of journaling, all of them seemed to take away time from actually doing things. With a baby in my life, I have even less time to mess around. A lot of people have various “lifehacks” and productivity schemes and I might have picked this method up from one of those, I honestly don’t remember. The best lifehack is to stop reading lifehacks and get shit done. Importantly, I also manage my google calendar heavily and automatically. A lot of my schedule is timetabled automatically by my institution, so I rely on it to tell me where to go and when.

I have a document that hangs out on my desktop. It is almost always open. Title it something fun. Mine is “TO DO LIST…FOR THE AGES.” I separate this list out into time chunks and then I break down tasks I need to do into chunks that will fit into these time slots.

Urgent/TODAY – this category has the things that need to be done over everything else. This is ONLY for hard deadlines. Letters of recommendation, things that will genuinely screw you (or someone else) up if you don’t do them that day. Nothing stays in this category for longer than a day, because obviously you get it done.

15 minutes – this is where a lot of admin lurks, things like booking hotels, flights, invoices, but also securing permissions for images for publications, emailing students with literature for their dissertations, etc. If you find yourself with a free 15 minutes, open the list and do one of these things. This is the “survival mode” category where you have way too many things to do all the time.

An hour – This is where I have things that take more thought, like teaching, writing, reading, etc. The trick is, if you have an hour, do NOT do anything on your 15 minute list, because then you get caught up in an endless cycle of admin and you never do research. An hour is sacred, enough time to write 500-1000 words or read a few research articles. I used to have a 2+ hour category pre-baby. Now, not so much. If you have longer than an hour, keep going, or switch to another hour task. Mine that gorgeous brain time all you can.

Writing – This is a list of in progress publications & grants. They are usually sorted in order of importance and deadline.

Things to Think about – This is a long, slightly insane list of one-offs, potential blog posts, digital projects and ideas. This slush file keeps me focused when, inevitably, in the middle of some task I find something OH SO SHINY and instead of burrowing down into a marginalia K-hole about Tessa Wheeler’s personal field notebooks, I write a quick note to myself to look through this later. This category is great for inspiration when everything starts to look a bit gray.

This to do list incorporates both personal tasks and professional tasks–managing two different lists is another time sink. So that’s it. Just a document on my desktop. In theory I could do something fancy and sync it to my phone, but honestly when I need to remember something from it…I just take a photo of the relevant part of my to do list. Saves messing with version control and internet connectivity.

Right, now to catch a plane. Hope this helps!

Twitter is Full of Filthy Crannog Dwellers

One of the projects I was marking this year featured a virtual reconstruction of a crannog, a dwelling built out into the water on an artificial island. There are a lot of them in the UK and Ireland, and they were used over 5,000 years, apparently. This is not my speciality (hence I am currently on an archaeological excavation in the desert in the Arabian Gulf), so we’re going with what Wikipedia says.

I was lucky enough to visit Must Farm while the excavations were still going on, which featured several of these houses built on stilts. It was an incredibly cool excavation for the preservation, the detailed examination of the vast array of finds, the hard work of the excavators, and the bang-up job that Chris Wakefield did on the social media for the site. From an outsider’s perspective it was a model excavation…though perhaps they could have used more time and money, but that’s generally true for excavations.

Anyway, during my visit all I could really think of was how miserable it would be to live in a damp house built OVER THE WATER in an incredibly damp country. I mean, LOOK at this:

Photo by Dysartian

Absolute horror show. Can you imagine the mold?

So I decided to take a quick poll to see how many Twitter people would live in one of these monstrosities. Apparently, a lot of them. I can understand not wanting to live in a pit house (the name has little to no appeal), but the cave house in Cappadocia was clearly the best option.

Photo of a cave house by Matilda Diamant

If that makes me a troglodyte, so be it.

Photo by Shelmac.

I mean, c’mon!!

Dig House Life: Now, With Added Baby

I really hoped she didn’t wake anyone. It was 3am, and Tamsin was up, again, howling. She’s a good baby, very smiley and chilled out, but at eight months she still wakes up. A lot. Sometimes every two hours. Consequently I have done things during the very depths of sleep deprivation that I did not believe possible…and now we are in the field.

Of all the things I thought about when I planned to bring her with us to Qatar on archaeological fieldwork, somehow I didn’t really think about the fact that she might be going through a rough patch and keeping people up at night. Our fellow dighouse dwellers have insisted that it is fine though, and have been exceedingly sweet about the whole thing.

Probably everything about our experience so far has been exceptional; we are lucky to be here with the Origins of Doha & Qatar Project, with Rob Carter, the project director who is not only one of the best people I’ve ever met, but who also loves babies. It’s a gift, really. I’ve inconvenienced just about everybody at York (staff, students, admin…sorry y’all) by going into the field, but they’ve all been incredibly supportive of me trying to make research work while having a baby (especially Claire & Nicky). And most of all, my husband who also works hard to make room for my research. It also helps that we have all the modcons here in Qatar. Living in the “field” in Doha is basically like living in Dallas. Except that the people are nicer. hah.

So, that laundry list of “lucky” is to say that we have a huge amount of support and we take none of it for granted. The opposite of this support is not, as you’d think, people telling us “no, not with a baby” (though there is some of that) but the silent omission, getting passed over for work. When a field season or a lecture comes up, a quiet conversation about how “she’s too busy right now.” Let us decide. I’ve turned down over a dozen opportunities in the past year, and each one ate at me a bit, but I decided. I don’t know how many opportunities were not offered, and I’ll never know. But thank you to the people who gave me the choice.

Anyway, it has been going well, but it has been flat out. Digital archaeological work often means (to my chagrin) not going out into the field, but being behind a keyboard, and that has also worked in our favor. Also our permit has been slow to come this year, so I’ve been managing archaeologists doing heritage work. It’s great but I get stretched pretty thin.

And there’s been awkward moments–there’s never really a great time to dry out a breast pump in the dig house dish rack. Having a baby in field archaeology is incredibly difficult, and impossible for many who can’t be away and might not be able to afford childcare, or who do not have a supportive employer, department, colleagues, husband. Not to mention the super secret cabal of archaeologist parents who offer help, coffee, find cots & pushchairs for you to use in the field (thank you, Paula!) and who know.

But there is support out there, and a cadre of archaeologist parents who are working hammer and tongs to make it better for the rest of us. So, though I’m still a bit shy of putting Tamsin up on social media, I wanted to follow up on my series of posts about Archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers–role models and who handled it much better than I could ever hope for.

And now…I think I hear the baby, up from her nap. God I’m tired. But still here.

Dig House Living: Seasonality & Materiality

For the past couple of days I’ve been here in Qatar, setting up the dig house for the 2017 season of the Origins of Doha and Qatar project. My husband, Daniel Eddisford, is the excavation director (while I’m the digital archaeologist) and we’ve been doing all the chores required such as picking up the rental SUVs, cleaning up the dig house and buying odds and ends for the arriving team.

Our dig house is undeniably urbane as these things go–Dan & I wrote an article about the contemporary archaeology of dig houses that featured much less comfortable living quarters, including Flinders Petrie’s residence in a tomb in Egypt.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.29.57 AM

Flinders Petrie in front of his tomb dwelling in Giza.

Dig houses, as we say in our article, are good to think with–they are structuring structures that give shape to our thinking about the past. They also dictate critical social relations amongst team members so we try to give a lot of thought and care about our setup. Our dig house consists of two adjacent flats in “Education City” a sector in Doha that houses all of the universities. There are young families who live in the other apartments and we have a bit of grass, some palm trees, and open space.

Yesterday Dan picked up several boxes of our kit that we’ve stored away for the year at UCL – Qatar. We have all sorts in there, spare lamps, kitchen knives, a christmas tree, a muffin tin, jigsaw puzzles and each team member has their own box of stuff that they’ve stored over the past year.

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It’s a tricky thing, storing stuff from year-to-year for excavation seasons. It’s a sign of confidence that 1) the project will continue without interruption and 2) you’ll be invited back. Even if you are very confident you’ll be back, it’s good to hedge your bets–we usually leave a random assortment of clothes that aren’t quite knackered…but close, along with various other odds and ends that aren’t worth transporting across the world, but we hate to throw away. Dan and I had stuff stashed on three different continents at one point.

So this stuff, these little caches of assorted, slightly-knackered and mostly worthless kit become a bit nostalgic when you open them the next year. I’d forgotten about the hoody that I’m currently wearing. I bought it over a decade ago and I probably really should throw away but am currently thankful that I’ve left it as it’s chilly this week in Doha!

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This is a silly laundry basket that I bought for a long season in 2011 and am always happy to be reunited with.

It’s also a point of pride, of anticipation of future work, to leave a box with your name on it. On the other hand, it can make people incredibly grumpy when they leave a box and then cannot retrieve the contents, even if they contain relatively worthless materials. When you do not plan on coming back, you often shed these same possessions, sometimes by burning or sometimes the project has a place to either donate or pass on clothing. Çatalhöyük had a giant box of miscellaneous ragged clothing that we’d rummage for costumes and such. Infamously, if you did not retrieve your washing from the clean washing pile you might find your beloved possessions in that same box.

It’s an interesting class of possessions, slightly worthless, slightly precious, always a surprise when you rediscover it but nostalgic at the same time.