Category Archives: outreach

Reddit and Archaeological Outreach

EDIT: Sadly, only hours after I posted this, one of the founders of Aaron Swartz, committed suicide. The world lost a brilliant soul, who was facing 50 years in prison for sharing academic articles:

http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully

————–

There’s been a growing amount of attention to Reddit in the past year or so, culminating with very prominent appearances on the website including Q&As with President Obama, Ira Glass, Molly Ringwald, and Bill Nye (the Science Guy!). The website is reminiscent of early newsgroups, with “subreddits” devoted to most every topic under the sun. The popular subreddits appear on the default front page and are primarily devoted to photographs of cats, arguments about American politics, atheism, science, and miscellaneous “meme” humor.

The key to reddit is an up/down-voting system that determines the prominence of the content and rewards frequent, useful, or clever posts with “karma” points. This is a boon and its burden, but more about that later. There is also a heavy emphasis on anonymity.

I started using Reddit to read the Crossfit subreddit, which contains work-outs and advice, but soon started looking over a handful of other subreddits, including:

http://www.reddit.com/r/Archaeology
http://www.reddit.com/r/Anthropology/
http://www.reddit.com/r/AskSocialScience/
http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/

The Archaeology and Anthropology subreddits are relatively low-volume with a mix of news stories, students looking for help with homework or advice about field schools, and questions about specific topics from the more general Reddit population. Sadly, these subreddits are not as robust as they could be, as the emphasis on anonymity undermines discussion of most of the topics. Answering questions and helping students is not particularly valued and can even result in backlash from the students–if you voice an unpopular opinion, Reddit downvotes can bury the discussion, even if this opinion is informed.

More structured subreddits such as AskSocialScience and AskHistorians require areas of credentialed expertise to receive badges signaling this knowledge. These subreddits are also more strictly moderated with stated rules in the sidebar. The outreach potential of these two forums is fantastic, and questions range from “How injurious was tarring and feathering” to “What came first, dance or music?” to “What was the Arab world like before Islam?”

There are also AMAs – “ask me anything” wherein anonymity is shed and the expert invites any questions. An archivist and a curator from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted a AMA and then discussed their engagement with Reddit later in a fantastic blog post on Engaging Museums. Sadly it appears that their participation in the format ended with the AMA and they have not continued to participate as named experts on Reddit.

Most people seem to separate their Reddit accounts from their identities, and Reddit heavily discourages posting personal information of any kind. As such, I have not posted my name to Reddit, but it would not be too hard to figure out who I am.

Reddit offers a venue for archaeologists to directly communicate with interested, engaged, online stakeholders and to answer questions about the past. It is not without its own pitfalls–the anonymity of the userbase and the up/downvoting system can both obscure the credibility of authors and promote a culture of consensus that punishes legitimate opposing voices. Still, with some dedicated work from archaeologists, Reddit could be a useful addition to an outreach toolkit. For archaeologists with a book or a dig to promote, an AMA can raise awareness of your research to a broader audience than a blog or a twitter account.

Failing that, Reddit also turns a fantastic trade in small cute animals. I mean, LOOK at this baby zebra!

Take Two: Rephotography in Doha

Should that be re-rephotography?

I wasn’t entirely happy with my last attempt at rephotography, so we tried again. This time, we went while the area was somewhat deserted and took photographs across a wide plane of vision, then stitched them together as a pano. I would have liked having people in the modern photograph, but they tend to move, which is not so good if you are trying to stitch photographs together.

Instead of just getting a small window of current Doha within historic Doha, we were able to make them equal players, which I like. This was a much easier photoshop job as well, just two layers, a mask, and a gradient and there we have it. I thought about masking some of the details out near the mosque in the background, but some confusion in the overlay is a good thing–not a seamless past melting into the present, but a hodgepodge–this appeals to my sense that reconstructions should present the messy palimpsest that archaeological interpretations entail.

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.

Ruth vs. the Intercutting Firepits

The QIAH has been conducting work at Freiha since 2009, revealing dense, complex occupation. This video is a time lapse of my good friend (and coworker) Ruth Hatfield excavating a series of intercutting firepits. Photo and Video Credit: Qatar Museums Authority – QMA.

We built a small structure over a fraction of the firepits to provide shade and then Ruth did her thing, digging all of the firepits under the shade in two hours. This time lapse demonstrates the principles of single context recording on a microscale–Ruth would dig and record the fills and cuts, all in stratigraphic sequence, showing which of the pits were dug last and working back in time. The last little bits were dug (and burned) first and truncated by later firepits. In some ways it is too bad that the camera was on a timer–you only see Ruth measuring or taking photos a couple of times. I’d like to do a time lapse that shows the entire recording process for each feature–but that might be just too tedious. Sadly I had to use iMovie to edit–my old Final Cut Pro license expired and the new FCP is appalling.

Incidentally, the font for the video is one of my favorites, Lavanderia, inspired by the writing in the windows of the San Francisco Mission:
Download Lavanderia

The music is licensed under Creative Commons and is available on Soundcloud:
Kitab el 3omr by Yussof El Marr

Please comment and let me know if you show the video in your classroom so that I can report back to the QIAH and the QMA and show them that making these things is time well spent!

Memory Palaces, Archaeological Sites, and Postex Planning

A plume of dust spread over the tanur I was drawing and my tape measure fell over and shuddered shut with a metallic clang. The wind had been steadily getting worse throughout the day, until it became an unrelenting blast furnace. I sighed and glanced up at the rest of the team. There were four of us on site, and everyone was neatly framed by the measuring tapes wound around grid pegs; five  meter boxes that we were neatly drawing at 1:20 scale on permatrace. I’ve railed against Americanist thinking-in-boxes for so long that it was a bit funny–but these were invisible boundary lines, and the layers were continued on the next piece of permatrace without the messy guessing of baulks.

Regular site work has come to a close; we cleaned up for aerial photography earlier in the week and are now drawing a large multicontext plan of the site before we cover it all up with backfill. I’ve done similar things before, but never a detailed plan over this large of an area–200 square meters. A few of the areas are pock-marked nightmares of postholes and clay-lined firepits–think circles within circles surrounded by circles. Other areas have bits of architecture or large layers of sandy-shelly accumulations.

I’ve worked over roughly the same area over the last five months, following the stratigraphy back and forth across the trench. Large areas can be difficult to excavate and I’d find myself chasing stratigraphic relationships in circles sometimes–not so hard to imagine when you know that the site depositional processes included sandstorms that would periodically blow thick layers of sand across site and we’d have to dig ourselves out time and time again.

While I was drawing I would remember the walls and the layers of sand that I’d taken off, but I’d also remember what the weather was like that day, who was on site with me, whether the general mood was good or bad. I’d remember if I was chatting to my workmen or my fellow archaeologists, or listening to a podcast or music (usually on windy days when I was using my headphones as wind muffles)–I have a very singular association of a midden dump and a low wall made of orangey-crumbly-crystally anhydrite slabs with a discussion of the concept of “the tipping point” courtesy of BBC’s Thinking Allowed. My thoughts wandered farther: what was the “tipping point” of midden accumulation–when was it accepted and acceptable to dump your garbage next to a wall? What started it? One camel bone? A piece of dog shit? Is there a broken window theory of midden dumping? I should look that up.

I recalled all of this as my pencil traced the outlines of layers yet to be removed. Archaeological sites are memory palaces in every sense of the term. We are re-remembering the past shapes and modes of dwelling and adding our own on top. As the site disappears in discreet episodes, paperwork and memories pile up in place of the stones and walls and sand.

I’d like for my future work to be in this arena, with location-based digital annotation, as most instances I’ve seen so far are completely separate from the lived experience of archaeology. Sadly, most avenues for this work immediately separates me from this very thing that I am most interested in–communicating the poetics of place. We’ll see if I can work something out.

Open Source, Software Piracy and Archaeology: a dissertation bit

Hello from sunny Qatar! Most of my spare words and thoughts have been going toward dissertating, so I thought I’d post some of my textual thrashing. (breaks in the text added so it won’t set off the tl;dr alarm)

“While some archaeologists are marginally aware of Creative Commons licensing, many archaeologists, myself included, exclusively use proprietary software. The software often is the industry standard and there are not necessarily good alternatives to use. In 2011, common proprietary software includes ArcGIS, the extremely popular global information system software suite, costs USD 1500 for a single-user license and Microsoft Access, an overwhelmingly popular database software costs USD 99 per license. More specialized software such as Autodesk costs USD 4000 for a single license. Increasingly interpretive projects and publications call for visualizations that require the detail and complexity that expensive proprietary software can provide.

Whether they are students or professionals, archaeologists generally do not have the money to purchase the sophisticated software with expensive licensing, so the copies are often illegitimate, and can stop working at any time. While it would be imprudent to identify specific individuals, archaeologists generally have thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of illegally downloaded software to perform everyday tasks and do not hesitate to publish results and visualizations gained from using this illegal software.  Whether or not the archaeologist has a philosophical commitment to Open Source and Creative Commons, it is in their interest to prevent the catastrophic data loss that is possible with proprietary formats and illegitimate software. To this end, LP Archaeology has developed their own database software called ARK, which is open source and available for archaeologists to download.

Sadly, much of the proprietary software that archaeologists use has not been replaced by similar open source software. Even in cases where there are free alternatives such as Open Office, archaeologists do not feel like they have the time to learn something different and worry that the results will suffer. Obviously a more formal study of software use among archaeologists would be required to make steps towards correcting the issues surrounding Open Source software, data formats, and preservation standards. Still, there are many places for archaeologists to fit into the Open Source and sharing spectrum, whether it involves Creative Commons licensing for photographs or developing specialized software — supporting these efforts would benefit our collections, our connection to our stakeholders and the longevity of the archive.”

Is it ethical to use pirated software for archaeological work? Why or why not?

Crowdsourcing Archaeology – The Maeander Project Kickstarter Page!

After months of waiting, we received very short notice that we had indeed received a permit to conduct an archaeological survey in southwestern Turkey. Sadly we did not receive all of the funding that we had hoped–it is difficult to fund a project before you have a permit, and to get a permit before you fund a project. The fledgling project had taken flight, the Maeander Project is a go.

Obviously we still had to figure out a way to make up the missing money somehow, or else we would have to miss this valuable opportunity. I’d seen various projects funded by Kickstarter before, and even signed up for it last year, but after the urging of several of my friends I decided to try it out. Kickstarter is primarily for creative projects, but what is my work but creative? I might as well use this aspect of my research in a productive fashion. So, the Kickstarter page:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/colleenmorgan/the-maeander-project-a-digital-archaeological-land

While $5000 does not cover all of our costs, it would help a great deal. Also, if we are unable to raise this amount of money in a month, we do not receive ANY of it!

So please, if you can, throw a couple of dollars our way. If you can’t (and I completely understand!) then please help us by getting the word out about this project.