Category Archives: digital heritage

The Lessons of Pokémon Go for Heritage

Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)

Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)

I have to admit, I was mostly ignoring the emergence of Pokémon Go, as I have probably the most gorgeous baby girl in the world to attend to these days. But after my favorite co-conspirator Stu Eve wrote a rather grumpy piece about augmented reality and Pokémon Go, I couldn’t resist.

Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology.

Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology. Especially if you don’t cite us.

Stu implores people to go outside, to use augmented reality to enhance and enchant heritage sites or even to ditch technology altogether and preserve and observe the wildlife that is already there instead of cartoon creatures. Stu then goes on to demonstrate that Pokémon Go distracts from heritage, citing a girl on Twitter catching a Pokémon at Stonehenge.

I contend that people playing Pokémon Go at heritage sites are simply extending their performance of identity on social media. It is not enough now to have an Instgram-filtered photo of you and your bestie at Stonehenge. There is a rather interesting one-upmanship in the attempt to capture unique content in the digital visual morass. When everyone has a photograph of Stonehenge, how can yours be the most unique, the most quirky or authentic performance of self in respect to the backdrop?

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

An interesting example–in the Volte Face series of photographs, Oliver Curtis deliberately turns away from the heritage focal point to capture the reverse view. This is provocative and compelling in its simplicity; the photographs reveal a blind side, a kind of back-stage for heritage at the same time as anthropomorphizing the heritage site–this is what the heritage “sees.”

Adding a Pokémon Go overlay adds a new element of interest, an unexpected juxtaposition of cartoon characters in a solemn (potentially boring) place. I, for one, welcome the Charizard on top of the Vatican–though I certainly share Stu’s concern for the complete monetization of experience.

The first lesson from Pokémon Go for archaeologists and heritage managers is that people are looking for novel, collective ways to experience and perform heritage. I think it is particularly important to note that Pokémon Go is obviously not a bespoke heritage application. It corresponds with my digital archaeological practice in that instead of attempting to build wholly new heritage-based applications and such, I try to use what people are already using as a form of interventionism, or even, at a stretch, détournement.

Memory maps at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.

Flickr memory maps for geolocative interpretation at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.

It is a hacky approach and everything breaks all the time–though bespoke heritage applications might actually have a worse track record–but surprising people by putting archaeology where they are not expecting it is its own reward. Be reactive, try to place archaeology in unexpected places, and don’t be too surprised when it blows up or it is ignored and it slowly fades away.

Perhaps the second lesson from Pokémon Go is that there is a corresponding retreat from digital media in archaeology from some of the most forward thinking digital archaeologists. It may be that the next challenge is to create interpretation so compelling, or so self-actualized that they put aside their phones and completely immerse themselves in experiencing heritage sites. Right? Devil’s advocate though–even if we managed such a monumental post-digital interpretive experience, we’d have to take photos of people engaged with it for the eventual publication. After all, pics or it didn’t happen.

 

 

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Manifest Destiny: Colonialism, Archaeology, and…Video Games?

You are the monster.

In her brilliant Story Collider podcast, Uzma Rizvi perfectly captures the rupture of graduate school, when, as she states, it becomes obvious that archaeology is “a colonial, racist, epistemically unjust system of knowledge production” and you ask yourself “how did I get here?” It is a question that archaeologists should be asking themselves every day. How did I get here? And how do I proceed?

It’s a bit of a wobbly path–unstable, uncertain, PROCEED WITH CAUTION black & yellow tape dangling in the wind. And yet, as cautious and de-centering and as sensitive as you can be, you are, often, still the monster. You are investigating the remains of the past, sometimes in another country, sometimes in your back yard, and you are navigating through your own cultural perceptions and the colonialist, racist foundations of your discipline to tell a story that might or might not be “true” or even important. This instability, I think, makes a lot of archaeologists & heritage scholars actually hate archaeology. It is actually not an entirely irrational decision, but I can’t agree. It’s too important.

It’s important that there are archaeologists who carry around the millstones of our own discipline’s past, that we have critical self-awareness and continue to engage anyway. It is our challenge to confront these disciplinary monsters and come away humbled yet still persistent. Because we need to continue to intervene in grandiose narratives, to rub dirt and stone and rubbish into histories that exclude women, indigenous people, people of color, the poor, the “othered” and to remove the props that hold up the crap politicians and power structures who use the past to justify present oppression.

And…guess what? The magical thing is that we can do this through traditional & alternative venues of publication, teaching, public outreach and…video games!

Manifest Destiny is an entry into Ludum Dare, a regular online video game jam wherein participants take on a challenge to create a game alone or with a team in 72 hours. Go ahead, fire it up and have a play and then come back.

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This entry was made by Tara Copplestone and Matt Sanders and is described as “a ‘hack n slash’ with a twist.” The name, Manifest Destiny, is an expansionist impulse to conquer, to colonize, one that is associated with the spread of white settlers across the continental United States in the 19th century.

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You are a towering figure with a cape, crushing tiny people and structures in your path, getting more points for your efficient destruction. And you have a trail of blood behind you. Sounds pretty accurate, right?

The game goes through four levels with different reconstructed cartoon landscapes, each corresponding to a season. You gain points and you gain dominion, partly represented by the devil horns that point out of your head. You also destroy structures and people with death spikes that come out of the ground. It’s not terribly subtle, but neither was Columbus.

Manifest Destiny is an incredibly detailed game for a 72 hour game jam. The music, upbeat but still slightly sinister, turns dire when you find out the truth of it all.

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I tried to play the game a few different ways. Yes, first I blew up all of the structures and people, then I tried just exploring without destruction. Finally I just stood there, and waited through the levels. The result was the same. In this last play-through where I stood and didn’t do anything, I noticed that the small people were at first running toward you, then milling around, then finally would run away from you.

The result is the same in each case–perhaps the only way to win is not to play at all. Though this message might have been reinforced by a different result if the character just choose to do nothing.

A “Learn More” button on the final screen points toward the EUROTAST webpage, which is a slightly unwieldy match, though appreciated. It did make me think that we need more in-depth online resources that are easy to point to that are arranged around current issues. What does archaeology have to teach us about state oppression? What does anthropological study have to say about forms of marriage?

Manifest Destiny is a creative, appreciated intervention that explores game conventions to highlight historic injustices.

A Decade of Archaeology in Action on Flickr

Nya lödöse 150312-2439.

Nya lödöse 150312-2439. Sweden.

I’ve been using Flickr for photographs since 2005, and have administered a group “Archaeology in Action” for almost as long. There’s 630 members and almost 4,200 photographs of archaeologists doing that thing we like doing so well.

Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event

Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event. New Mexico, USA.

Interestingly, being the admin for the group helped me define what it meant to be an “archaeologist in action”–what does our discipline cover? It also helped me define what an archaeological photograph is, exactly. HINT: NOT YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOS OF THE PYRAMIDS. I delete those mercilessly.

Shilla, South Korea - archaeology, planum

Shilla, South Korea – archaeology, planum

Why? Why should I censor the tourists? Aren’t their experiences of the site just as legitimate as ours? Perhaps. But it wasn’t archaeology. The Flickr group was cultivated to be a resource for educators, and to show a diversity of people doing archaeology. That last, active part was also important. Someone in the photo had to be doing something. Even if that someone was behind the camera. The photographer had to make archaeological seeing visible.

Modele Numerique de Terrain d'un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).

Modele Numerique de Terrain d’un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).

The group has been motoring on, attracting spam, but also, occasionally, surprising me with gorgeous, raw, photos from around the world of the incredible, strange, delightful tasks of archaeology.

Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.

Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.

Recently Flickr took away one of my most favorite functions–note taking. I loved this function as I was able to annotate maps and photographs to explain different features–it was great for outreach. I heard that they’ll add it back soon. Let’s cross our fingers!

Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.

Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.

In the meantime, if you have any photos of archaeology in action, sling them toward the group!

Previous photo-based posts highlighting Archaeology in Action. I probably should have made it a series at some point. Or at least had a consistent naming scheme:

Archaeology in Action on Flickr
Archaeology in Action Update
Archaeology in Action, Another Update
Archaeology in Action Around the World
Archaeology Around the World
Community Archaeology in Action

Archaeology Hack-a-thon! The Heritage Jam, Cemeteries & Audioscapes

Heritage_Jam_upload

Alexis and Sam, hacking away!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I knew the basic outlines of what a “Jam” should be in the tech/gaming world–everyone comes together to hack on a project together to see what kind of results you can get with very intense focus for a short amount of time–but how would that play out in the world of interpretation and heritage? I just knew that I was excited to finally have a chance to work on something with other visualizers, some of whom I’d known for years. We started out bright and early at 9:00, went through introductions, got an outline of a plan together, then went to York Cemetery to gather primary data…

(Read the rest of the post written by me and Stu Eve at the Day of Archaeology website)

Why Archaeologists Should Use Creative Commons…for everything.*

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Photo of Jason Quinlan, early advocate of Creative Commons photography in archaeology. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Your powerpoint slides are probably okay, especially if you forbid anyone from taking photographs of your talk. The video of your excavations, that hilarious one that your intrepid students made that uses the popular song that you all sang while shoveling? Probably okay, as long as you never share it on YouTube. But to be able to publicize your efforts, and to share online with others, you must be cognizant of this great (and often unspoken) rule:

With great public archaeology, comes great responsibility…to copyright law.

“But I’m an educator! I’m not doing it for profit! I have only the very best of intentions!”

Sorry, folks. There are very strict laws about copyright in the US and the UK, even for the most angelic of researchers, teachers, and students. Did you know that in the UK you have to wait 70 years after the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and composer of the music ALL DIE until you can use a movie without restrictions?** 70 freakin’ years. I know my artful multimedia museum display won’t wait that long. Are these laws sane, just, and better for innovation & society? No. But until the day that Lawrence Lessig rules the world, we are probably stuck with navigating copyright. Sure, you can fly the pirate flag, copy and distribute everything, but at least be aware you are doing it.

We could get into a horribly complex dissection of the disgusting entrails of copyright, but I’m going to assume that: 1) you don’t care about copyright law 2) BUT you’d like to keep your nose clean and 3) that you may actually care about contributing to the wider media discourse about archaeology. So let’s talk basic best practices.

1) USE – media with clear copyright. That photo that you scraped from the pdf? The photo posted online with no attribution? Not okay. Everything is under copyright, whether you see the © or not. The key is to use media that has been pre-cleared for use. This is Creative Commons (CC). For my projects, I try to use music, images, and fonts (yes, fonts!) that are available under Creative Commons.

There are a few varieties of CC licenses, and you can read about them in detail here, but I’ll quickly go over them:

88x31 Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) This means that you are free to use, share, remix, as long as you attribute the original work. My favorite license, as it asks (okay, tells) you to attribute my work, but please use it as you like.

88x31 (1) Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) This means that you have to attribute the work, and that you have to share the work under the same Creative Commons license. Many people (including myself in the past) thought that this was a good idea so as to spread the CC around, but ultimately it limits the ways that your work can be used. Screw it, just use (CC – BY).

88x31 (2) Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) This means that others can distribute the work but others can’t change it. This is a stupid license, don’t use it.

88x31 (3) Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) This means that you must attribute the work, but you can’t use it commercially. A lot of educators use this one, but I try to avoid it. What about the professional archaeologists among us? They need media too.

88x31 (4) Public Domain – Jackpot! This media has no known copyright restrictions. Most of the media labeled with this comes from our most worshipful friends, the enlightened librarians and archivists who have identified works that are in the public domain and then twisted the arm of their institution to digitize them and host them, for free. I love these people. With that in mind, it is kind to thank the institution. And buy your activist librarian/archivist friend a drink.

(added 30 July 2014)

CC0 No Rights Reserved (CC0) – As was rightly pointed out, I forgot CC0! Unlike the Public Domain license above, this is for folks who have made something recently and want to opt out of copyright protection altogether. It’s an amazing, gutsy license–I still like to keep my attribution attached. It’s probably one part wanting to respect intellectual lineage and one part ego-based.

2) CREATE – Once you know what the different licenses mean, you can start using CC media to create all your finest scholarly outreach. But where do I find such a thing?

We started a slightly shonky wiki that lists some of our favorite resources for free/CC media and tutorials, please feel free to add to it:
http://digital-makers-alliance.wikia.com/wiki/Digital_Makers_Alliance_Wiki

Better yet, Creative Commons hosts a handy search page for you to find images, music, and video here:
http://search.creativecommons.org/

You can also tweak your settings in Google Image Search to look for CC content.

I try to credit all of the photos actually in or near the photos, but if they’re in a movie, a list of credits at the end will suffice. I nearly fall out of my seat when I see an academic presentation that properly credits the authors of the media. It shows a commitment to authorship and multivocality as well as professionalism. Love your media makers. They make you.

3) SHARE – To me, using Creative Commons for sharing is at the very heart of public archaeology. You are explicitly sharing your academic or professional labor and giving permission to others to use it to build upon. Simple, but beautiful.

Flickr, Soundcloud, and Youtube all allow you to share your media under Creative Commons in a relatively easy fashion. The benefit to using “free” social media-based corporate hosting is that more people will see/use your content, and that it is better distributed to protect against catastrophic data loss. If you host it yourself, you can just put a CC license on the media webpage and share that way. Better yet, put the CC license in the object’s metadata and it will more likely stay intact. But don’t worry if that sounds too complicated.

Also, keywording your content makes it much easier for people to find and use. Happily, there is a pretty good guide on how to do this HERE. Sharing your excavation images online with good keywording can also save your bacon if you have massive data loss at 3AM on the way to your conference. whew.

Stu Eve and I talk briefly about some of the issues around Creative Commons and Open Access in our 2012 article HERE, but to be brief, archaeologists should use CC media by default, and adopt CC licensing whenever and wherever possible.

Do it because you want to stay within copyright laws. Do it because you want to show respect for fellow archaeologists and media makers. Do it because you want to make photos of archaeology available to everyone. Do it because you fear for the longevity of the archive. Do it because you had the worst time last week finding an example of a grave register to reuse in a short film. Do it because you hate stock photos of archaeologists with clean clothes and plastic whips.

Do it to put the past into the future.

—–
* I realize that there is some complexity here with indigenous knowledge, and with sharing precise archaeological locations, but for simplicity, we’re going to side-step it for the moment.

** The UK law is changing as of October 2014. Hopefully for the better, but it’s generally for the worse.

Digital Heritage 2014: Digital Communities in Action

DH Poster-348-494

I’m chairing a session at this year’s Digital Heritage conference at the University of York–it should be really interesting! Here is the line-up:

Mhairi Maxwell – The ACCORD Project (Archaeology- Community Co-Design and Co-production of Research Data)
Sara Perry – Cultivating democracy and good citizenship via digital visualisation in archaeology
Carrie Heitman – Facilitating Communities of Collaboration: A Case Study from the American Southwest
Gareth Beale – Digital Imaging, Heritage and Participation at Basing House
Lorna Richardson – Digital Activism, Digital Volunteerism

The conference will be on July 12, 2014, for more details check out the event page:

http://www.york.ac.uk/digital-heritage/events/cdh2014/

And you can register here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/digital-heritage-2014-digital-communities-in-action-registration-10647524031

 

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.