August 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Amidst the beginning of the semester din, I did capture enough time to settled in and read a new book: E. Kansa, S. Witcher Kansa, and Ethan Watrall eds., Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration. (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology (UCLA) 2011). The book is a product of a session at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in 2008 and is the first volume in the new Cotsen Digital Archaeology Series. It is published with a Creative Common BY-SA license (By Attribution, Share Alike). The volume is available for free here.
This book may well become a landmark volume in the history of archaeology and the bundle of technologies that we associated with Web 2.0. The volume spans a range of topics from core infrastructure, to technical and theoretical concerns, collaborative research environments, and realistic perspectives on sustainability. Each of the topics considers the significance of Web 2.0 technologies in advancing the way in which archaeologists organize, produce, and share data on the web. The credentials of the participants in this volume speak for themselves and their body of technical work is cutting edge. More than taking a leap into the future, the book captures a precise moment in the history of the discipline’s long-term engagement with technology.
The greatest strength of this book is that it is steeped in the practical realities of archaeological data sharing. For the contributors, data sharing is not merely the exchange of raw data (databases, spreadsheets, GIS and CAD arrays, or whatever), but the full range of conversations that Web 2.0 (variously defined) technologies has made possible. User-generated archaeological information has changed the way that archaeologists conduct research.
At the same time, the contributors to this volume remained profoundly realistic. No one imagined a situation where all data is stored in some great archive but rather in a distributed way across numerous different archives on the web. The different organization of data, the limited ability to centralize resources, and the institutional structure of the discipline present significant obstacles to any single method imagined to accommodate the mass of pre-existing and born-digital archaeological data. In the place of the fantasy of a single repository, comes more sophisticated ways to syndicate, integrate, and query (and search) for archaeological data across the web like those provided by the Alexandria Archive’s Open Context and Michigan State’s iAKS.
The web has radically changed concepts of visibility, collaboration, and scholarly performance so it is now possible to consider projects like the online UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology to be equal (if not superior) to traditional print publications. Blog, social media, and other collaborative spaces have become important avenues for certain types of archaeological conversations. (It was flattering to see my blog mentioned in Sarah Witcher Kansa’s and Francie Deblauwe’s article on middle space in scholarly communication in zooarchaeology (it would have been even cooler had they spelled my name right!)).
While much of the book went over well-trod ground among those who follow trends in the digital humanities, the scope, accessibility, and intensely reasonable perspectives offered by the authors made the book particularly compelling. There was little in the way of naive sensationalism or even the utopian tech-evangelism that is sometimes found in these kinds of volumes. The limits of funding, issues of sustainability, and the need to protect certain kinds of sensitive data appear as serious considerations without simple answers. While this is a reality among scholars discussing digital archaeology and history, it rarely seems to be so fully articulated and recognized in the texts that these scholars produce imagining the digital futures of our disciplines.
The greatest limitation of this text comes not from the technological side, but rather from the intellectual or academic side. An issue that I have raised on my blog before stems from reflecting on the interpretative agendas advanced by many Mediterranean archaeologists. While the idea exists that it could be possible to collect data from numerous projects, across a vast area, and crunch it into a broad reaching, novel synthetic perspective, I think that it remains an open question whether there is a substantial scholarly interest in this kind of research. Vast, quantitative studies of even single regions – from single data sets – remain relatively rare in our field. And, there are significant questions whether the quality of data produced even in the most carefully monitored projects reach a sufficient standard to allow for complex generalizations across regions.
Moreover, more qualitative analysis – which does not rely necessarily upon the raw data of excavation or survey, but on published objects – is becoming better served by the greater accessibility and visibility of standard print publications via various journal databases and projects like Google books. (And it is worth noting that standard issues like naming of various vessel types, places, or even contexts (across multiple languages) are not any more easily resolved in databases than in more traditional publications).
In my world, most academic archaeologists design their field research to collect data that answers a particular question. Their research question, then, absorbs their energy, structures their data, and shapes their interpretative and publication strategies. In fact, the absence of useful data is often the reality that prompts fieldwork. At the same time, the inadequacy of other projects’ data is the conceit that makes one’s own data stand apart. This is not to say that comparative analysis does not occur between projects or that we don’t search for comparative “type-fossils”, but rather that this work tends never to be a major research priority. In fact, in Mediterranean archaeology tends to approach comparative analysis from the attitude that “our data” is unique and meaningful in and of itself, and other data “merely” provides it with context. (I do understand that this is not the same process for professional archaeologists or CRM types. There is obvious and tremendous value to the various digital projects described in the volume that sought to open up the vast body of “grey literature” to a wider professional audience.)
The issues facing large scale data distribution schemes isn’t, then, a technological one, but rather a more profoundly methodological one. Archaeologists simply are not asking the kinds of questions (yet) that queries across vast swaths of intensively produced data would support. So, the lack of support for the massive data repositories, comes as much from the intellectual limitations of our discipline as from institutional, professional, or technological concerns.
This being said, I do recognize that changes in technology does shift the conceptual footing of the discipline, but the nature of archaeology as a craft (as opposed to a more rigorously standardized science or profession) remains a major limitation to how scholars think about data.
May 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Smith-Corona Sterling Portable Typewriter. Ca. 1955.
May 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Over this past semester, I worked with a couple public history graduate students to build a small digital archive of M.A. theses produced by students at the University of North Dakota during the first half of the 20th century. Their work concentrated primarily on theses focusing on aspects of North Dakota history. Over the course of the semester the students scanned around 25 theses and uploaded them to an Omeka.net site.
This group of theses represent the first wave of graduate students in the departments of History and the School of Education. Their reflected the efforts of Orin G. Libby to develop a solid graduate program in the Department of History at UND and many of these works contributed to Elwyn Robinson’s seminal History of North Dakota.
As a final part of the project, we worked to create an online exhibit of these theses. Check it out here.
May 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
If you’re interested in archaeology and the digital future then this is the lecture for you. Prof. Eric Poehler will be speaking tomorrow at 6 pm in the East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz Library on the beautiful campus of the University of North Dakota. If you’re not in North Dakota, FEAR NOT, the digital future has you covered!
We are going to stream the lecture LIVE from this site here. Please join us online if you can’t make it in person.
This talk is going to be so spectacular that we made the UND home page (everyone should click through to the UND link to show the power of my blog!!):
For you regular Archaeology of the Mediterranean World readers, this is probably a bit of a disappointing post. So, just to show you that I’m looking out for your leisure time reading, hop over to Teaching Thursday and check out a brilliant bonus post. My colleague Caroline Campbell has posted a particularly thoughtful series of reflections on her second year of teaching at the University. This is a follow-up to her first year reflections which she offered in the spring of 2010. Be sure to check out Teaching Thursday over the next few weeks as
April 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
This past week, Robert Darnton published a curious opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I am sure that by now, more qualified bloggers have already puzzled over this column where Darnton positively obliterates several strawmen (strawpersons?) about our digital future. Darnton begins his brief reflections by identifying and refuting five myths of the information age:
1. The Book is Dead. Here he argues that since more books are produced each year than ever before the book is alive and well as a medium for communication. I am not sure that I’ve ever read anywhere that the book is going away. In fact, most people say that recent changes in way books are produced, published, distributed, and read is a cause for some celebration! The real questions have surrounded our definition of the book and its place within our increasingly convergent media universe. So if the book is dead, long live the book.
2. We have entered the information age. Darnton points out cleverly that “every age is an age of information” as if this somehow undermines the idea that our age has celebrated and problematized information in new ways. While the changing pace of our ability to discover, manipulate, and communicate information is perhaps not “unprecedented”, our fixation on this abstract notion of information perhaps is. In any event, his argument is pretty facile. Every age seeks to define itself and almost every age identifies itself somehow and in most cases, these identifications tell us more about how that generation imagines itself than a perspective on some kind of absolute historical character.
3. All information is now available online. First, I’ve never heard anyone say that. I suppose someone might have only because people say the darndest things. It’s such a crazy notion that I am not going to comment any more on it here.
4. Libraries are obsolete. Aside from people who are library haters (and our local politics have reminded me that some version of these people do exist), few serious people have argued that libraries are really obsolete. They are changing, of course, to keep pace with new ideas of what constitutes a book and our fixation (fetishizing?) of information, but they are coming to occupy an important place in our expanding information infrastructure.
5. The future is digital. While it might seem impossible to argue with this, it all depends, of course, on what we mean by digital. Darnton points out that the information environment will be “overwhelmingly digital”, but also reminds us that printed material will continue to be important as well. Again, it seems hardly valuable to note that “old technologies” like print will continue to be value just as long-playing records, typewriters, radio, and old houses continue to be cherish as opportunities to reflect on media and through media on our own past.
To be more charitable to Darnton’s offers these strawmen as myths and his few concluding paragraphs offer more compelling observations on the changing landscape of information. He’s particular insightful when he challenges the idea that digital reading habits are undermining long-standing practices of reflective, sustained reading by arguing that there is growing evidence that people read in snippets and gleaned from texts in the past. So, perhaps in the final analysis his article does have something to contribute, even we might even see his effort to push back against such seeming facile and polarizing perspectives as perhaps warranted. I would like to think, however, that massacring such strawmen is an activity better left for a popular outlets than a publication like the Chronicle.
March 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This is a big week for the students in my digital history practicum. As some readers of this blog know, two University of North Dakota graduate students have been working on preparing a digital archive of our collection of M.A. theses relevant both to the history the state of North Dakota, but also the study of the discipline at the university.
So far this week, the first draft of the Omeka.net-powered web archive has role out and the first public presentation of their work will occur this afternoon at the 10th Annual University of North Dakota Graduate School Scholarly Forum. Come by today (Wednesday March 9) and check out the poster and chat with the students from 2-4 pm in the Ballroom of the Memorial Union.
They have also produced a poster describing the current state of the project:
They are also working on blogging, which as I have discovered does not come native to our aspiring cohort of public historians. Check out their blog: North Dakota History Goes Digital. Using social media is even more foreign to them, but they have a Twitter feed @nodakhistory, and they are trying!
They’ve even experimented with QR codes on their poster. It’s almost like the 21st Century.
February 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This semester I am supervising a small digital history practicum. The goals (as I have explained elsewhere in the blog) is to begin the process of digitizing Master’s Theses stored in Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections at the University of North Dakota. These theses document the early history of the study of history at UND and provide some valuable historiography for the study of the history of the state. In fact, some of these theses date to before the establishment of state or local archives or to times when these archives existed only at the most rudimentary levels. As a result, they could contain references to documents that are now lost.
For example, we have Myrtle Bemis’s 1909 M.A. Thesis on the Settlement of Swedes in North Dakota. Much of the evidence for her argument comes from conversations and interviews with Swedes who had settled there just 20 or 30 years earlier. This appears to be the earliest thesis in our collection here and it was prepared under the guidance of A. G. Leonard (Geology), Orin G. Libby (History), and John Gillette (Sociology).
Among the more interesting theses, however, does not touch on the history of North Dakota at all. Elmer Ellis‘s M.A. thesis, followed in the footsteps of Orin G. Libby’s work on the quantitative, geographical study of American political allegiances, but emphasized minority parties from the Civil War to 1900. As readers of this blog know, Ellis went on to earn his Ph.D. and become the 14th president of the University of Missouri.
We hope to begin to release these theses by early March with short interpretative introductions, some discussion of our methods, and a proposal for digitizing the entire series of M.A. Theses in the archive.
At present we are a bit stuck as to how present these theses to the public. Our initial instinct had been to use Omeka, an online collection management application, and, specifically, their hosted Omeka.net service. For public history students, learning to use these kinds of tools is an important skill, as many small to mid-sized museums and institutions have begun to develop their web presence in a more serious way. Omeka allows the students to familiarize themselves with the Dublin Core metadata for objects as well.
Unfortunately, we have not been very successful in getting Omeka (or Omeka.net) to display textual artifacts. While the self-hosted version of Omeka (version 1.1) does allow for a document viewer installation (using Google Docs viewer), it is pretty limited in where it can be deployed. For example, it does not appear to work when arranging various items in the database for a formal exhibition. Omeka.net, while a great tool for image collections, does not support the viewer at all. So we can develop the metadata for these objects and even display images of their front page (like in this blog), but we can’t actually display the text in a way that is easy for the visitor to the site to scroll through without downloading the entire thesis. This may be an acceptable solution for the present, but it is hardly optimal.
Since the scanned theses will eventually (we hope) make their way into the libraries digital collection in ContentDM, we are a bit reluctant to develop too much of a front end for their display. At the same time, the practicum had as its goal more than just creating a digital collection. We wanted to make sure that our collection could present our collection to interested members of the local community.
January 20, 2011 § 2 Comments
This semester I am once again directing a public/digital history practicum. The goal of this little course, like the one before it, is to develop a digital history collection that might be of interest to some kind of public. The course is designed for a small group of students with almost no background in digital history.
The focus of the practicum will be on a collection of Master’s Theses (for list, see below) produced at the University of North Dakota between 1909 and 1955. These theses are currently housed in the Department of Special Collections at the Chester Fritz Library. These theses present a significant body of more or less original scholarship produced over the course of 100 years of graduate education in the field of history at the University of North Dakota. Our first emphasis will be on theses that contribute to the history of the state or the region. Most of these theses were written under the direction of Orin G. Libby or Elwyn B. Robinson (and a number of these works contributed to his History of North Dakota).
The specific objectives of this practicum involve creating a proof of concept. This will specifically involve the following steps:
1. A basic collection of digital objects with appropriate metadata.
2. Interpretative material in association with the digital objects that makes the collection accessible and understandable to the general public.
3. An academic presentation that details the creation of the digital collection, its historical context, and its significance.
4. A program for publicizing the collection over the course of the semester. This includes developing a media strategy and setting goals to assess its success.
5. A grant proposal for future funding for the project based on methods and results of the proof-of-concept level work.
This practicum I think should proceed along four overlapping phases:
Phase 1. Familiarize ourselves with other comparable projects and the tools of the trade (in terms of equipment and software). Identify and scan a group of theses to determine time and procedure and document this work. Produce a prioritized list of theses to be scanned this semester and establish a schedule for scanning.
Phase 2. Scan the theses on the prioritized list. Adjust procedure document as necessary. Discuss search and mark-up strategies for these texts. Determine how to “brand” these theses.
Phase 3. Publication and publicity. Release scanned theses to public in a systematic way and leverage digital, new media, old media (press release?) and social media tools to make these theses visible and valuable.
Phase 4. Prepare a formal report and proposal for completing the job of scanning M.A. theses and presenting them to the public.
More to come as this work continues!
Here’s a list of theses produced by the students in the practicum:
(Theses marked with an asterisk appeared in Robinson’s History of North Dakota.)
1. Myrtle Bemis 1909, History of the Settlement of Swedes in North Dakota
2. Charles Denoyer 1909, History of Fort Totten
3. Evelyn Leigh Mudge 1914, The Development of Western Protestant Churches
4. William Charles Whitford 1915, The Establishment of Overland Connections Between the Region East of the Mississippi and Red River
5. Bertha M Kuhn* 1917, History of Traill County, North Dakota
6. Axel Martin Tollefson 1917, History of Norwegian Settlement in Grand Forks County
7. Alexander Aas 1920, History of the City of Grand Forks to 1889
8. Waldemar E. Lillo 1923, History of the Whig Party to 1840
9. Elmer Ellis 1925, Minor Parties from the Civil War to 1900
10. Ethel Mautz 1929, The Factory Reform Act of 1833 in England: A Survey of Events Immediately Preceding and Accompaning
11. Eva Grace Syre 1930, The London Housing Problem, 1840-1875
12. Isabel Johnston 1930, Geographic factors in the history of Grand Forks, North Dakota
13. Frances H. Owen 1932, Social influences in Colonial Days
14. Lillian Viola Bangs 1932, The Effect of Parliamentary Legislation Upon the Development of Railroads in England from 1825-18
15. Leal R. Edmunds 1932, Congressional Reconstruction and the Radical Program
16. Clarence Chester Shively 1933, History of the Policy of the United States Toward Arbitration from 1789 to 1933
17. Anna Swenson 1933, Cleveland and the Hawaiian Question 1893
18. Flossie Burson 1934, The Transition of Agriculture in the Great Plains from 1920 to 1929
19. John C. McKinnon 1934, The Star Route Frauds
20. Clara Mae Kjos 1934, Origin of the Irish Free State, 1800-1922
21. John Almon Page 1934, History of North Dakota Public High Schools
22. Albert Freeman Arnason 1935, The Foreign Policy of Sir Edward Grey During the Moroccan Crises, 1906-1911
23. Arnold Olaf Goplen 1935, Congressional Opposition to Lincoln in the Early Years of the Civil War
24. Raymond Joseph Gwewrth 1936, Some Political and Diplomatic Aspects of the Treaty of Washington
25. Ella S. Quam 1936, History of Homestead Legislation
26. Edwin O. Tilton 1936, American Expansion Toward the Canadian Northwest, 1865-1870
27. John Louis Rezatto 1937, Albania, The Adriatic’s Problem Child
28. Clayton L. Baskin 1938, Political and Constitutional Development in India Since 1920
29. James Price Scroeder 1939, A History of Organized labor in Fargo, North Dakota
30. Alfred Jerome Cole 1939, History of Health Legislation Affecting the Public Schools of Minnesota
31. Ingeborg Fjalstad 1939, Constitutional and Political Problems of the Irish Free State Until 1932
32. Henry Nelson Symons 1939, Bismarck’s Relation with England, 1870-1878
33. Joseph B. Voeller* 1940, The Origin of the German-Russian people and their role in North Dakota
34. Albert George Selke 1940, A History of the Initiative in North Dakota
35. James Nelson Kent 1941, A History of Education in Grand Forks County
36. Bertil Maynard Johnson 1941, The Ethiopian Crisis of 1935-1936 and its European Repercussions
37. Clarence Victor Johnson 1942, The European Diplomatic Crisis of 1935
38. Clifford Arnold Solom 1944, History of the North Dakota Congress of Parents and Teachers
39. William M. Grindeland 1944, History of public school system of Ransom County: 1881-1944
40. John Hove 1946, History of Public School Financial Legislation in North Dakota
41. Norman H. Hanson* 1946, History of consolidated schools in North Dakota
42. Otto C. Schultz 1947, A History of the State normal and Industrial School at Ellendale, North Dakota
43. Edward Archibald Milligan* 1948, The Standing Rock Sioux: 1874-1890
44. Thamar Emelia Dufwa 1948, Lincoln and Secession, 1858-1861
45. Agnes McCorkell Stee*1948, History of the Minot State Teachers College
46. Lawrence Blood 1948, A History of South Dakota Boy’s State
47. Lucy Kidder Leobrick 1948, History of School District Number One
48. Julian John Rolczynski 1949, The History of the State Educational Institution at Mayville, North Dakota
49. Asbjorn B. Isaacson 1949, Farm Mechanization in the Red River Valley: 1870-1915
50. Vernon Alfred Johnson 1950, History of Public School System of Kittson County, 1881-1950
51. Robert Samuel Anderson* 1951, A Social History of Grand Forks, North Dakota
52. Glenn Alden Hanna 1951, History of the Valley City State Teachers College
53. Adrian Ritchey Dunn 1951, A History of old Fort Berthold
54. Steven Hoekman 1951, The History of Fort Sully
55. Robert J. Murray 1951, History of Education in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
56. Ralph Arthur Larson 1951, History of Education in Clearwater County
57. James D. Johnson 1952, A History of the Midland Continental Ralroad, 1906-1950
58. James E. Palm 1952, A History of Dilworth school System at Dilworth, Minnesota
59. Lenora Isaacson Johnson 1952, The History of Ada, Minnesota: The Friendly City in the Heart of the Red River Valley, 1876-195
60. Lambert J. Mehl 1953, Missouri Grows to Maturity in North Dakota: A Regional History of the Lutheran Church–Missouri
61. Gerald C. Caskey 1953: A History of Northern Montana College to 1951
62. Rovert J. Murray 1953: History of Education in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
63. Embert J. Hendrickson 1954, The City Where the Two Rivers Meet: The Background and Early History of Thief River Falls, Minn
64. Marian Elizabeth McKechnie 1955, Spiritual Pioneering: A History of the Synodof North Dakota, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 1885
65. E. Bruce Hagen*1955, The North Dakota State Mill and Elevator Association: History, Organization, Administration
66. Sinclair Snow 1955, American Reaction to the Mexican Church-State Conflict of 1926-1929