After a series of tough decisions, I am extremely happy to announce that from 1 September, I’ll be the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology & Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. For USA-folks, this is basically a tenure-track position, but without the tenure process. Kinda.
I am very happy to continue to work with my great friends and colleagues there…expect shenanigans of the highest order.
When it comes to UC Berkeley, these days I feel more like a politically-minded voyeur than grad student. I’ve been following the Occupy movements in both Oakland and Berkeley online, but I’m half a world away, working and writing my dissertation out in the desert.
Still, I’m going to be teaching a Reading and Composition course next summer, and I used part of my weekend to come up with a course description:
Materiality and Ethnographic Film
Ethnographic film has a long and ambivalent tradition within anthropology. The theory, technology, and methodology behind making ethnographic films has changed radically during the last century, but often this historic context has been ignored. In this course we will critically examine a wide range of ethnographic films through the lens of materiality. Materiality, or the study of the relationship between people and things, allows us to think about technology and social interactions in new and compelling ways. What were people wearing and using in the film? How was the film made and how does this effect the scenes that were filmed? What can these films tell us as artifacts in themselves? In our “archaeological” examination of ethnographic film, we will read the current interdisciplinary literature regarding materiality and excavate the context of these anthropological artifacts. This course satisfies the second half of the University’s Reading and Composition requirement.
The Reading and Composition requirement is a two-part writing skills class that all undergraduates have to take to graduate. The first class is the basics of writing and the second class, which is what this course description is for, is for intensive reading and writing on a particular topic. The only prerequisite is that the student has taken the first class–no Anthro or Media Studies is required to take the class.
Anyway, it is my first course description and I have no idea if it sounds of any interest at all to undergraduates. Any thoughts? Too boring, complex, or obscure?
By Turtlemoon, on Flickr.
So last week for our Wednesday archaeology brown bag lecture we had Ran Boytner from UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology come and speak to us about their collective archaeology field school program. It is a good idea, that universities and individual field schools have a centralized place for organizing and funding field schools so that larger pools of money can be around when something goes wrong and more students from varying institutions can participate. I was less happy with the administration–UCLA professors are the only ones who can decide if the methodology on site is rigorous enough for your field school to be associated with the Field School system. I guess I’d like to see what training in excavation methodology and pedagogy these professors have, especially if they’re the 1m x 1m square-heads that dominate US institutions.
Anyway, during the Q&A at the end of the talk I had a question about that–just how vigorous is vigorous? What is your metric for a rigorous field school? I didn’t really get an answer more than “UCLA professors decide and they know what is best” but I did get a particularly good anecdote:
So a semi-anonymous professor/field director last year lost a piece of equipment on the plane ride over and decided to replace that equipment from the student food budget. Field school budgetary decisions are absolutely opaque to students (and to most of the team) so this information must have gotten leaked somehow and it got passed around. The students went un/underfed, and had to lead tours of the excavation to visitors while holding a can that said “food money” and beg for tips. While this is hilarious, and sadly fairly typical, word of this came back to the Cotsen Field School system and they immediately flew out a “crack team of UCLA graduate students” to “separate the director from the undergraduate students” and to make sure that the undergraduate students had enough food. The director could no longer have any contact with the undergraduate students and the graduate students effectively took over the excavation.
This is a great boon to field schools in that the students–who are absolutely under the complete sway of directors who may or may not care about their tutelage, living situation, or dietary needs–have recourse if something goes terribly wrong during the field season. The students also have no metric to judge if the field school is particularly bad, as it will be their first time in the field and they have nothing to compare it to. So they put up with a lot, have little decision-making ability and can be fairly thoroughly abused. Some people even consider this a sort of “jumping-in” for students to see if they are tough enough for archaeology. Utterly ridiculous. For this reason I endorse the Cotsen program, perhaps combined with a little radical transparency for individual field directors and budgetary concerns…
…but only if I can be part of the graduate student strike team, of course.
Part of grad student professionalization as nascent professors is developing your own class syllabi. I already have a bit of experience in this from teaching Ancient World History at San Quentin, and Ruth allows a fair amount of my input into the classes we teach together. Still, it’s good to have a few stock syllabi, especially for job applications and the like.
I’ve been trying to develop a syllabus for a class I’d really like to teach and this involves watching a lot (more) ethnographic films. I’ve seen quite a few already, but access to these films is restricted at UC – we have to go into the media room and watch them in uncomfortable little cubicles. Needless to say, my further research has been fairly limited. That is, until UC gained trial access to Alexander Street Press’ Ethnographic Video Online. It’s a pay model, but I’m really pleased with the format and the interactive follow-along transcript accompanying the movie. Our trial access runs until May 4th and I hope it is extended, but in the meantime I’ve been soaking up as much ethnographic film as I can stomach.
Earlier this week I watched Robert Gardener’s 1964 classic Dead Birds. He filmed it among the Dani of West Papua, who at the time he characterized as having an “almost Neolithic culture.” The film follows a day-in-the-life-of narrative structure, following the lives of a Dani man, woman, and child. The narrative is done entirely in voice-over, with Robert Gardener’s solemn, commanding voice telling us the inner dialogues and motivations that drive the on-screen action of these people. He notably characterizes the child Pua as being lazy, smaller, and more awkward than his playmates. Poor Pua.
In 2007, Robert Gardener released a book about the film, Making Dead Birds, which includes his extensive notes while taking the film, along with an amazing collection of letters and photographs of his time with the Dani. It reveals the impact that his stay had on the people, and of the reactions they had to his film, many years later. In all, it’s a great resource, especially for the class that I’m planning.
One small consideration that adds to the challenge of teaching this material is the Dani’s gourd penis sheaths. They’re pretty standard ethnographic fare–Peter Ucko published a comparative study of them in 1969 that is a classic (and at times hilarious) study of material culture. They are a somewhat distracting feature of the film, with different morphological details and attachment schemes sometimes upstaging the interaction between people. A higher-minded anthropologist would probably disdain my distraction, but it brings to mind cultivation strategies, processing times, and the possibility of even recognizing such a thing archaeologically. So, Dead Birds makes the cut. I hope I get the chance to teach it!
I mentioned at the beginning of the semester that we were tumblr blogging our classes, the Serious Gaming seminar, 39B and Archaeology and the Media: Film, 136i. Tumblr is a simplified, speed-blogging service that provides a place to “tumble” your thoughts. I appreciate it as a sort of visual short-hand while I’m doing research–I tend to tumble what I’m reading about or thinking about, select quotes and photographs. It makes a nice, general record of your research trajectory. I like that it is an explicit acknowledgement of the marginalia created during the construction of knowledge. Anyway, so we decided to try it out for our classes, with mixed results.
It was great for 136i. The Archaeology and the Media classes tend to be structured discussion sessions, where a lot of examples of movies, television, online video, and other forms of media come up in class. The tumblr blog was a way to track class discussion in a non-intrusive way. It helped that there were two of us–me and Ruth–so one of us could take over while the other typed. If I held the seminar by myself, I might arrange for round-robin of responsibility among the students for tumbling class discussions. Though I have a hard time on occasion with the “multi-tasking” that goes on during class. Having folks referencing online sources and their own previously typed notes can be handy, but I’ve had to ask for “laptops down” many times this semester.
In any case, I found Tumblr to be not only a great “rapid-repository” for references during class, but also appended clips from movies discussed in the readings for students to reference before class. Most of the students had never seen such movies as Double Indemnity and Stagecoach. I was also able to provide a small collection of important links to address issues such as copyright, and finding creative commons-licensed music for their movies. I even threw in a few “fun” links to archaeology videos that circulate among academics, but aren’t often seen by students.
The Serious Games and Virtual Worlds for Archaeology Tumblr blog didn’t fare quite as well. Perhaps it was because so much of the class was oriented toward trying to manage awkward CAD systems in Second Life, or that the readings were primarily about Catalhoyuk or other history games. The students also were not quite as engaged, and did not offer as many examples from their own experience for us to reference on the blog. This class was also completely new, and we had to wrangle material about a subject that is not a fully formed field of inquiry quite yet.
In any case, I could recommend using tumblr for both smaller seminar settings, and for larger classes when there is a TA available to follow the discussion with links to examples and salient points. We are not quite to full immersion–live blogging a lecture so that a powerpoint isn’t necessary, but we’re getting closer. I’m guessing that in the next decade we’ll have it being done for us–word clouds, reference images, and networks of meaning appearing behind us as we lecture. That might actually get the attention of the students…for a second or two.
I uploaded the above test clip for the longer machinima that I posted about a little while ago. It took an immense amount of work to get this far, and this is only a tiny clip of a somewhat awkward avatar doing a single animation. I used Jing for the video capture and downloaded Soundflower for the system audio redirect.
I think I’ve complained before about having a hard time finding a variety of avatars on Second Life. Well, this lady is definitely in a different mode than my usual avatar. “Wearing” an identity like this one is deeply uncanny, and the reactions and perceptions of other people you meet in Second Life are absolutely different. I decided to follow a fairly popular strain of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük in dressing her as a goddess figurine in the bandeau that I made for a decidedly younger character.
Once again, the exercise of recreating this small scene raised more questions than it answered:
She’s weaving reeds, so it must be summer. Were there cicadas? Yes. Why would she be doing this inside by firelight during the summer? It would be excruciatingly hot and smoky. What about her vision? I’ve put her in a less than optimal situation for weaving, that’s for sure. Why isn’t there anyone with her? Could she hear other people? Maybe sheep! We’ll add some sheep sounds. I think she’d be humming to herself. But what sounds?
It’s a lot of interpretive responsibility, wearing these second skins.
From the teachings of Big Daddy Soul:
“Think about the kind of revolution you want to live and work in. What do you need to know to start that revolution? Demand that your teachers teach you that.”
Roll up your sleeves. With archaeology employment declining and the world economy burning down around us it is more important than ever to do everything we can to bring archaeology to the public. Our organization policy makers in the Society for American Archaeology in the States and more broadly in the World Archaeological Congress work hard and do what they can to raise awareness of the preservation of archaeological sites and the promotion of archaeological education, but they are not enough.
So my question is one inspired by the Young Lions Conspiracy: What are you doing to Participate? The Young Lions Conspiracy, based in Austin, TX, was formed around an attitude toward life and soul music. Primarily driven by Tim Kerr, one of the most fantastic musicians and artists that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching writhe on the floor in a tangle of guitar cables and beer cans, the Young Lions was one manifestation of a broader culture of participation and DIY in Austin in the 1990s. This attitude has stayed with me through the process of undergraduate and graduate school. My statement of purpose upon entering Berkeley included a variation of bell hooks’ feminist manifest: Archaeology is for everybody.
This seemed even more possible with the growing ease and accessibility of technology and downright necessary with the specter of ubiquitous computing and embedded landscapes looming. While there are a few interesting projects and “proof of concepts” emerging in conference presentations and collected volumes, many archaeologists seem content to let others visualize and present their work, citing a lack of time or knowledge of the technology involved. Those of us who are conversant with this technology–which at a basic level is no more difficult or time consuming than creating a power point presentation–need to stretch further and faster than before. Even some of us who are technologically capable do not share, and sharing should be a reflexive, nearly automatic action for archaeologists. I was recently inspired by Eric Paulos’ recent Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation that calls for the creation of “an entirely new form of citizen volunteerism, community involvement and participation” to “effect real political change.”
It is worth learning new forms of communication to preserve the past. It is important that we as archaeologists do not let others co-opt our unique vision and understanding of the world around us. We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past. Change it. Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do. This is my charge to myself and to other archaeologists and to anyone who wants to join us.
What are you doing to Participate?
(The title is also an upcoming talk I’m giving as part of a seminar at Moesgård Museum in Denmark)