Tag Archives: writing

Springtime in Arabia

5415385867_325d8fccaa_z

Qatar, 2011.

In the desert there is a perfect proportion of dun sand and blue; a Rothko division between land and sky that horizontally bisects the lens. I can’t help but pop the colors on my photos of the desert, it is a magical saturation of yellow-orange and blue abused by movie directors into banality. Yellow! Blue! Yellow/Blue! By mid-March the colors are slowly bleeding into bright white, the desert is overexposed, blurring into shimmering haze.

I arrived in Qatar during a rare, late series of thunderstorms that pelted perfect circles into the dust on our windshields. I delighted in the lightning and rolling thunder–I had missed weather–and the odd green dusting left on the desert by the uncommon wet. It rumpled up the landscape of Qatar, coaxing the small creatures out and painting new eddies and rivulets in the sand. I realized that I think of Qatar very much like I think of a crisply folded white piece of paper, sharp, unsparing, a bit clinical, the knife-crease of a freshly starched thawb. But everything is a bit sandier after the rain, and it was nice.

The Origins of Doha project started excavations at Fuwairit this year, and I was excited to go back, after surveying the kilometer-long site in 2011. I wrote about the site then, and it’s funny to see that I discuss the same things–unusual rain, being at home in the desert. My role has shifted from excavation to handling digital media and outreach. I’ll be releasing several videos about the project shortly.

After backfilling the trenches on the beach, we moved on to Oman, where Dan is doing his PhD work. Where Qatar is stark and bright, Oman is a piece of colorful velvet left out in the sun. Hot, hot, slightly faded on the surface, but full of plush depth and texture when you part it with your fingers. I’m not sure it is entirely productive to have a synesthetic approach to the feel of entire countries, but I guess it at least breaks up the great, homogenous other of Arabia.

16934859562_2c6102aec3_z

Oman return/return to Oman.

Where Qatar was archaeology on a beach next to a mangrove, in Oman we’ve been walking through the dry wadis, finding purplish squared rocks in lines in the ground perched on the sides. I fell in love with such a site last year on our grand tour of all things Bronze Age and otherwise oldish, but tried to stamp it out, as I thought there was little chance of us doing more there. But we went back there this year, and there are plans for more work, and I’m trying to keep it cool and detached when all I want is to dive in with with both hands. A feverish, adolescent oh-god-oh-god-should-I-text-him sort of anticipatory glee that is truly improper when it comes to scatterings of 4,000 year old pottery in the desert. I guess I’d be more of a scientist if I didn’t have such a great love for this stuff.

I’ll be back in England next week, where the creep of spring doesn’t come in bold swashes of Hollywood color, but pushes small flowers into the air; the leaden gray skies breaking up into miscellaneous and slightly whimsical feather-clouds. In the meantime, I’m trying to wrap the desert around me, keep it close, an immaculate yellow/blue geometry cross-cutting my mind.

Advertisements

Feminism & Scholarly Piracy: A Love Note

Dear Feminist Archaeologists,

Not enough of your writing is freely available online. I feel like a bit of a jerk for pointing this out, but it’s becoming a real problem. I know, you fought like hell for your education, your academic position, and your publications where you finally risked all of these things to write about feminism and archaeology. And now you are being asked to give it away for free? Yeah, I know. I feel the same way when I cross my little Creative Commons/Open Source/Open Content fingers and publish with one of the Big Bads in hope of having a “real job” someday. How dare I ask you to make knowledge free when you’ve paid every single personal price just to get to the point where you can write something meaningful, good, true, and, astonishingly, get it into print?

But you are rapidly becoming invisible. These classics, these gems of texts that I hold closest to my heart are often buried in edited volumes–Susan Kus’ Ideas are like burgeoning grains on a young rice stalk: Some ideas on theory in anthropological archaeology, is a gray, dead non-link. The horrible smudged photocopy I read when I was an undergraduate lit my brain on fire! Sometimes you can get pieces of these classics through Google books, like Julia Hendon’s Feminist Perspectives and the Teaching of Archaeology: Implications from the Inadvertent Ethnography of the Classroom, but only pieces, and it has a low citation score. This is crap. This is Not Right.

Perhaps playing into the self-promotion game is too masculinist–a lot of the trowelblazing feminists of the 1980s and 1990s are retiring, have better things to do, and don’t seem to engage with the ragged glory of struggling for name recognition in our freakish neoliberal academic rat race. Worse yet, a lot of these authors found refuge in edited volumes, where their ideas found traction amongst like-minded authors and weren’t batted away by journal gatekeepers who did not find value in feminist ideas in archaeology. Yet the mid-90s edited volume is a particular publication black hole–too recent to escape copyright policing, and too old to be pirated and passed around in pdf.

So I submit to you, our finest doyennes of feminist archaeology, put your publications online. Put them in as many places as you can. Sow & germinate widely. I jumped for joy when I saw Diane Gifford Gonzalez’s You can hide, but you can’t run: representation of women’s work in illustrations of paleolithic life was available. Hilarious! Divine!

We need your archive. It is not enough to be tucked away on a shelf any longer. There is no reward for the intrepid researcher to unearth your lovely writing–peer reviewers are unlikely to point out the omission. Because the reviewers haven’t read it. They don’t even know it exists. There is so much that is more readily available and it’s damned unfair that you are disappearing in the deluge. Please, it’s too important.

Love & all my esteem,

Colleen

Dissertation Story

Toward the end of my dissertation writing, I posted a short story on Facebook each time I finished a chapter, describing my victory and advancing a simple storyline. It started in jest, but I began to really enjoy the updates–they were a perfect way to describe the relief I felt at each chapter’s close. While I was struggling through thick, academic verbiage I was imagining what the next bit would be like, the next genre I’d steal from. I’m not sure that the best reward for writing is more writing, but I had fun. Oh and if they appear out of order, it is because I didn’t write my chapters in order, and didn’t do a FB update for the introduction or chapter three. Enjoy!

Chapter Four:

Slowly our heroine drags herself free of Chapter Four’s steaming corpse, pausing for only a moment to consider the 20 photos, comic strip and 13,600 words that comprise the pustulent hulk that she has just slain. Though the journey remains long, and the rewards sparse, she soldiers on–sunny skies now, but the darkness of Chapter Six looming ever closer on the horizon. Alas.

Chapter Six:

With a grim twist of her blade, our heroine gutted the immense, serpentine corpse of Chapter 6.

First she had lost her closest companion to a tiny island in the North, then she lost her home in a fit of insanity. After an eternity of sailing dark tides on a tiny craft, she moored next to a great cave where the beast slept, its oddly pixellated head barely visible in the dim light. With easy confidence she cut off the head, “snicker-snack” but instead of expiring, the beast’s baleful green eye opened and shone with the light of a million computer terminals. The ground shuddered as the rest of the beast lurched into view. Not just a simple dragon–the beast was a hydra. The earlier hope, that this would be an easy part of the quest, was shown to be deeply, deeply foolish. 19,000 words later, she was done.

In the morning she would make sure the hydra was completely dead, but for now she was exhausted. She would continue to the tiny Northern island to retrieve her companion, then plot her course for Chapter 5. The nefarious Chapter 5 lived in the distant shadow mountains, where she would have to clamor up the slopes in the pitch dark, feeling for invisible obstacles as she went along. She had put off this journey, as the hydra was well-known, or so she had thought. Maybe this next one would be easy. Probably not. But now it was time to move on, as time was running out.

Chapter Five:

Her eyes fixed on the giant, flashing display and she cursed and bit her lip. Moving her little silver ship through the edge of the nova had, of course, been a bad idea. She was not ready for the wretched Chapter Fiveians to launch their attack, but she had no choice. After all, they were the prey.

She shoved the display out of the way and cut the blaring alarms. The Fiveians were coming in fast and her visibility was next to nothing, outside of the primitive sensing capabilities of her ship. She took a deep breath, then hit the thrusters hard, the entire craft shuddering around her. Something clanged out of place, probably the dinner that her co-pilot prepared and then forgot. Where was he, anyway? Probably headed off to a side-mission again.

Finally, she got a visual on the Fiveians. Their ship was lean and mean, better equipped with bigger guns, but she caught sight of a massive lacuna–there was virtually no literature on the subject! She aimed the guns on her little silver ship right at the sweet spot and fired, fired again and braced herself for the impact of the return fire, squinting her eyes and turning her head.

There wasn’t any. Our heroine, for once, had caught a lucky break. Chapter Five winked into nothingness in space, and she was free to journey on to her second-to-last destination: Chapter Two.

See you, Space Cowgirl.

Chapter Two:

The dark outline of the saguaro cut into the orange-pink desert skyline, oddly unmarked by the shotgun blasts that disfigured most of the proud cactuses in these parts. The heat of the day had passed, and I tipped the last drops of water out of my canteen to my lips. I had a bottle of whiskey in my pack, but that would wait until later.

The nag under my saddle was once a proud filly, chestnut hair shining, fractious and unforgiving. Her lank tail twitched toward a fly on her flank, but it was an empty reflex, and the fly went on undisturbed.

The shadow beneath the saguaro in the dim evening light was like looking into space without the stars. A figure slowly oozed out of the shadow, until a man was looking up at me, tall boots, battered hat. He spit into the dust. “I know what you came for. Let’s get ‘er done.”

I swung down from the old, faithful nag, patting her on the cheek as I retrieved the long rifle from where I’d strapped it across her shoulders. I unbuckled her saddle and let it drop to the ground, evoking only a mild nicker from the beast. With a sigh, I walked a few paces away, squaring off across from the man.

“It’s a shame, really.” He spit again. “But it has to be done.” I felt around in my heart for something, some hint of emotion like love or guilt or pain. Came up as dry as my canteen. I shouldered the gun, widened my stance, and shot, bracing my shoulder for the impact.

The horse fell heavily to the ground. The man took off his hat and wiped his brow. His familiar features were a comfort. “What was ‘er name, anyway?”

I cleared my throat. “Theory. Chapter Two.”

He gave me a terse nod, replaced his hat. “Well, she’s horsemeat now.”

Poor dead horse. It was time for the conclusions.

The Conclusion:

Battered, bruised, and alone, she approached the giant iron door. She knocked, three leaden tones that rung out in the silence. A very small window opened and a bored and slightly vacant face stared at her.

“You rung the bell?” The doorkeeper frowned.
She crossed her arms. “No, I knocked.”
“Good, the bell is out of order.”
“Whatever. I want to see the wizard.”
“He’s busy, nobody can see the wizard.”
“Look.” She pointed at her feet. “I have the shoes.”
“The ruby slippers! Well come right in!”
“Typical.”

The huge door swung open, revealing a massive throne. A purplish cloud of smoke obscured the top of the throne and suddenly she felt dizzy, nostalgic. Was she really ready?

“I AM THE GREAT WIZARD OF OZ.” A great voice thundered and flames burst from behind the throne.

Instead of being impressed by the display, she was suddenly completely unafraid. With a small shrug, she marched up to the throne and threw a folder full of paper at the seat.

“There it is. Finished. Now give me what is my due.”

“SILENCE.” The papers ruffled slightly, as if a breeze had swept through the throne room.

“STEP FORWARD.” She threw back her shoulders and thrust her chin in the air. Who cares if there was a comma splice in the abstract?

The placid face of the doorman reappeared. In a nasal voice he droned: “Congrats. You’ve got your Ph.D….NEXT!”

She was quickly shuffled out of the throne room and into the hall.

“Well, that was anticlimactic.” She looked down at the ruby slippers. “I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”

She smiled, clicked her heels three times, and disappeared.

Just like that.

Apocryphilic, Epigraphic Archaeology

Being that I am a fervent scholar of the marginalia of archaeology, and that I am in the middle of some fairly hardcore dissertation reading and writing, I thought I’d take a break to blog about the use of epigraphs in archaeological writing. For the unwashed (including myself, as I had to look it up), an epigraph is a quote before the main body of a piece of writing. As wikipedia has it, “the epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional context.” (Sorry epigraphers, I didn’t mean to get you all excited.)

While many academics either don’t read them or don’t use them, a good epigraph gives context to the intellectual universe of the piece. It’s a yearning for what you wish you were writing or what you hope to convey with the coming turgid academic prose. It can serve as a nod to a more poetic literature, or as a reference to a parallel understanding of a subject. The Archaeology of Islam by Timothy Insoll begins each chapter with a quotation from the Qur’an, Archaeology as Political Action by Randall H. McGuire begins with a Marx & Engels quote and the Gero & Conkey collection Engendering Archaeology dedicates a full half-page to a quote from John Berger’s Pig Earth about a kind of cheese. It’s one of my favorite epigraphs and I reproduced it in full on my tumblr blog if you are curious.

I admit that when I added “Life is short and filled with stuff.  – The Cramps” as an epigraph to my first archaeology paper in graduate school, it was an oversimplified reaction to the main project of archaeology and probably a reflection of how homesick I was for my family of friends in Austin.

Beyond the relatively simple, static, textual epigraph, social media and digital technology can provide generalized epigraphic enhancement. If you were following my last.fm feed you could tell that I have certain songs that I listen to fairly regularly while I write. The songs shape and invade the writing, no matter how rigidly academic or blandly passive and prosaic the report or article may be. Tumblr and Flickr serve much the same purpose with quotes from books I’m reading or images from what is in front of me. One of my colleagues said that she could always see if her grad students were busy or stressed out by how many photos of books or coffee they were uploading. Digital technology can turn writing an article into a performance, if the writer chooses to let the audience into their secret chambers.

While it is possible that writing doesn’t need this amount of embroidered reflexivity, ultimately any piece of research is an assemblage. A good, elegantly written article can stand by itself–but sometimes I wish I could turn on a more universal “track changes” to see what lies beneath.

Texting and the Telegraph

Many New Media scholars find it productive to compare technological innovations and their impact on society throughout time as a way to ground their current research.  In Techniques of the Observer, Jonathan Crary traces the modern construction of the observer and visuality to the camera obscura, an early device used for redirecting light to project an image of its surroundings onto a screen or paper. The connection between texting and the telegraph seems more straightforward. After all, I did just sign up for another two years of service from American Telephone & Telegraph.
Evans: Could you come superintend under my direction important excavation Knossos. Personal not school affair terms four months sixty pounds and all expenses paid to begin at once.
Mackenzie: Agreed coming next boat.
– Telegrams between Arthur Evans and Duncan Mackenzie regarding work at the excavation at Knossos
The 2008 Pew Internet report on Writing, Technology and Teens came amidst concerns over the “death of writing” and the “colour and poetry” of writing being lost. The Pew study also states that students do not consider texting writing, and indeed it appears to be closer to a vernacular form of speech. In Taylor and Vincent’s 2005 An SMS History they describe this speech as “new linguistic repertoires that allow for the intimacy afforded in face-to-face encounters to be reproduced between physically remote interlocutors,” in other words, a unique texting argot.

Alternately, Caroline Habluetzel looks at texting as occupying a unique position between speech and writing, allowing it to “overcome the absence of the receiver and create what in the context of classic letter writing has been called epistolary presence, that is, a sense of presence between the two interlocutors that is more intense than geographical distance would suggest.”

This changing of our sense of place and space through time is something that I’ve always been interested in as an archaeologist.  The affordances of texting and telegrams are similar enough–limited transmission length, relatively expensive, conveyance of instantaneous information that is expected to be read and acted upon immediately–that it creates an intriguing parallel in history.  Tom Standage calls the telegraph The Victorian Internet in his book with the same title.

It appears that the telegraph has not destroyed writing, nor will texting. If anything, I appreciate the shortness of the telegram agreement quoted above between Arthur Evans and Duncan Mackenzie–how wonderful it would be if more jobs had similar hiring practices!

Writing, Editing, Publishing

Last week I was pushing pretty hard to get a paper and a powerpoint together for the UMAC conference that I mentioned briefly before. The paper was apparently controversial (though well received by the majority of my colleagues) and I had to take the photos and the blog for the Dilmun Bioarchaeology Project down for a time. We’ll hope that it will all come back soon, especially since I rather liked my powerpoint and would like to upload it.

So now I shifted over to editing the paper that James and I put together about the worked glass in Kalaupapa–the editor of the volume had a lot of great suggestions for the publication. It’s going to go into an edited volume titled Hybrid Material Culture: The Archaeology of Syncretism and Ethnogenesis, but I’m not sure when the book is coming out. One of the NPS archaeologists that works on Kalaupapa found some really nice glass “cores” recently that reinforce our research.

Finally, the abstract that I submitted for this year’s Visualisation in Archaeology conference in Southampton was accepted! Now I’ll just have to scrape together some money for airfare. I’m excited to see all the folks from Southampton again so soon after we all had such great chats at Çatalhöyük.

Here’s the abstract:

Title: DIY, Edupunk, and the Visual/Digital Archive: A two-tell perspective

Abstract: Frustrated by the limited capabilities of educational and professional software content management systems, Jim Groom coined the term “edupunk” in May 2008. As discussed on several archaeology blogs and mailing lists, the edupunk approach both incorporates and subverts social networking sites and other internet resources to build a distributed, interactive and flexible platform for teaching, research, and collaboration. Faced with limited funding for more traditional approaches of presenting information to the public, the DIY approach has been increasingly attractive for self-publishing and archaeological outreach. Blogging, Facebook, and photo and video-sharing websites such as Youtube, Flickr and Picasa offer non-traditional venues for interacting with an interested public but can be a methodologically impractical exercise in the field.  In this paper I will build on my analysis of the photographic and video archive from Çatalhöyük presented at the Visualisation in Archaeology conference in 2008 and offer an additional perspective from Tall Dhiban in Jordan. In both cases digital media and the resulting online archive have had distinct, yet contrasting effects on archaeological practice. Issues regarding multivocality, interpretive authority, and the emerging distributed archive will also be discussed.

Though I’d seen the term Edupunk previously, I’d be remiss in not linking to Kerim’s great post about it over on Open Access Anthropology. I’m still working out various places to host photo archives–Flickr is a bit too open and Picasa doesn’t have the flexibility and functionality of Flickr, so I’m a bit stuck.