September 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
This past week, I romped through Mark Amerika’s newest book Remixthebook (Minneapolis 2011). As with his previous non-fiction-ish offerings, this book defied categorizing and description. I was mostly a meditation on his creative process taking as a point of departure his creative work as a performance VJ, as an author, and as a critic. He focused primarily on the links between creativity and the work of remixing our lived worlds. His argument, laced through a complex, poetic text, is that to be alive, creative, and conscious is to exist in a constant flow of spontaneous, post-production remixing. As his definition of creativity expands and his understanding of remixing grows more ragged, the lived, creative, and performative become a blur and increasingly stand in for reality.
As archaeologists, we are in a constant state of remixing. Even the most basic archaeological arguments require us to move between times (the present and the past, relative and absolute dates, stratigraphy and periodization), move between media (ceramics, architecture, lithics, texts, digital data, images, maps, plans), move between voices (the art historian, the historian, the scientist, the critic, and the skeptic), and move between genres (narrative, analysis, catalogue, data). Our work flow is punctuated by the constant shifting between software, media (of different shapes, sizes, genre, forms), and our own creative output. Archaeological work is a process of constantly performing and remixing bits (both in the traditional sense and increasingly the digital sense) into new objects that present themselves for remixing.
1. This next week, Amy Papalexandrou has asked me to help her produce a 20 page synthetic, interpretative text for an exhibit catalog for an upcoming exhibit at the Princeton Art Museum -City of Gold: The Archaeology of Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus. Our short paper will look at the Late Antique to Medieval city and remix over 30 years of archaeological work, the physical objects present at Princeton, and our most recent research at the site (which is itself the remixing of finds, notebooks, architecture, past-texts, and archaeological method to perform new arguments and new syntheses). In our somewhat-harried correspondence, we took as points of departure an inscription, a short-video I narrated on site, and our most recent research. It goes without saying that the previous scholarship on the site forms a persistent backing track for our remix.
More importantly, we are writing a text that is designed for an informed and interest public, rather than a professional group of scholars, students, or researchers. So while our source material will – more or less – be the same as any other production of our site, our audience will be a bit different. The remix has context and responds to its environment.
2. I’ve been working with a small group of students to produce a public, digital history exhibit on the 50th Anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library (which is the main library on campus here). The students are busy pulling together photographs, texts, documents, and other objects from the university archives. They are also working on how to integrate these objects across a range of digital media – a blog, a Twitter feed, an Omeka.net page, and a Flickr account – and to narrate using these objects across these various spaces. While the source base for our remix is not so different from that confronting any scholar looking to produce historical analysis, the output of our work is quite different. We are intentionally distributing our remix across multiple media and thinking actively how our remixes (as a team and as individuals) will be unique to our audience.
In the context of our work with the library, we’re following Amerika’s lead by using the context of remix to join the work of the “authors” with the work of the audience. By preserving (re-producing?) some of the fragmented state of the original media (individual texts, documents, objects), we attempt to entice people to remix our material in new ways. We’ve performed the initial act of selection and become partners in the conversation.
3. In an effort to think more radically about the notion of remixing, I’ve begun a conversation with Tim Pasch – a computer guru type in Communications at the University of North Dakota. We both have an interest in sound and he records his own, highly-textured digital music. In the course of these conversations, he mentioned software that could translate digital images to sounds. This makes sense, of course, a digital image is a just a gaggle of digital data that could be read by any interface to produce output. The data behind a digital image could be rendered as text, images, sound or almost any medium imaginable via suitable software.
As we chatted about this, I offered to send him raster images from my project in Cyprus and invited him to use images which show the distribution of pottery, the survey grid, or topography and to render them as sounds. We’ve even discusses the potential for capturing sonic landscapes using both microphones, but more radically – capturing images with an explicit eye toward transforming them into sounds. Remixing the landscape would, then, extend beyond simply filtering digital data collected from the landscape and incorporate using the software filters as a lens for primary data collection.
August 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The new semester begins tonight at 5 pm (or something). This is my first semester with tenure which I officially received on August 15. It felt a lot like my team winning the World Series (which I have experienced) or the Super Bowl. I woke up the next day expecting things to be or feel different and then was disappointed when they were the same. My coffee tasted the same, the sky looked the same, my office did not become larger or smaller.
And my teaching and research loads did not change either. So here’s my fall semester:
1. Two old classes. I’m teaching two classes that I’ve taught every semester for the past four years. I love the routine, the opportunity to tweak the classes minutely and judge the results the next semester, the battle with boredom of going through the same material each semester (which I liken to acedia, a kind of monastic boredom), and the chance to compare students in very similar situations. And I often think of it as a kind of cricket match (as I watch Sachin Tendulkar in what is likely his last at bat in England). The patience to do the same thing over and over, but also the flexibility to adjust to variables and changes. The two classes are: History 101: Western Civilization I (online) and History 240: The Historians Craft, which is the required course for our majors.
2. A new class. I am also teaching a new class of sorts. I am teaching a digital and public history practicum. This course will focus on developing a boutique-y collection of digital artifacts to celebrate the Chester Fritz Library’s 50th Anniversary (The Fritz @ 50: 1961 to 2011). I have a class of four diligent but inexperienced graduate students, some good allies in the Department of Special Collections, a Gigapan, a brilliant tech advisor, and a bunch of good will. Like my effort in the Spring, our goal is to produce a small, well-curated digital exhibit, for the library using off the shelf components as much as possible.
3. Got Papers? I have somehow committed to four (?) conference papers this fall and winter. I have no idea how this happened. I’ve posted a rough draft of the first one here already. I’ll be giving “Liminal Time and Liminal Space in the Middle Byzantine Hagiography of Greece and the Aegean” at the International Anchoritic Society Conference here in Grand Forks. At the American Schools of Oriental Research Conference, I’ll be (co-)authoring a paper on our ongoing work at the site of Pyla-Vigla on Cyprus. (I might also be involved in a paper on my work on Polis at this conference, although this is not at all clear). Finally, in January I’ll be giving a paper with David Pettegrew at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting titled “Producing Peasants in the Corinthian Countryside“. This paper will draw on our decade old survey data from around the Corinthia. (To make my life easier, I’ve decided not to actually attend ASOR or the AIA.)
4. Publication Projects. I also have four ongoing publication projects. The first and most pressing one is to shape my paper, “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth” from the Corinth in Contrast Conference into publication shape. I’ve received really good feedback from the editors of a volume that will come from this conference, and now I need to take it all in. I also need to push into final form my short encyclopedia article on Early Christian Baptisteries. I’ve also (more or less) committed to writing up a piece on post-colonialism in Byzantine Archaeology. This will develop from a paper I wrote years ago, with every intent of publishing, and gave at a working seminar at the Gennadius Library in Greece. The last publication project involves the results of our survey on Cyprus. We have finally decided to publish the results of the survey aspects of the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Survey separate from the results of our excavations at the site. We have a completed draft of this manuscript more or less prepared and have submitted a book proposal to the American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Reports Series.
5. And the other stuff:
- Did I mention that we’re moving?
- I continue to tilt at windmills in an effort to document an early 20th century church here in Grand Forks. We have a verbal agreement with an architect to illustrate the building.
- I’ve been working with some people looking to revitalize the College of Arts and Sciences webpage (ssshhhh… this is the top secret not ready for primetime development page.)
- Teaching Thursday!
- At least one book review.
- Following Formula 1, NASCAR, Cricket, Baseball, the NFL, and College Football.
So it should be a fun semester!!!
August 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working with a team to publish the Early Christian basilica at the site of Polis EF2. One of the most perplexing things about this building is the relationship between the east end – specifically that three eastern apses – and the foundations of the nave and aisle walls.
The eastern apses do not bond with main walls of the nave or the aisle foundation walls. The widening of the aisle foundations at the point in which they join with the main nave would suggest that the main and flanking naves are later than the aisle foundation walls. In other words, it would make the best sense if we imagined the widening of the aisle foundations wall as a response to an apse being built with thicker walls. The apse is a more structurally complex and demanding component of the church and it would make sense that the aisle foundation wall received additional thickened to support more effectively a reconstructed eastern end.
The archaeology might well add some support to this sequence of building in the eastern part of the church. Efforts to find evidence for a foundation trench for the thickened eastern buttresses of the church were not successful. In other words, it seems like the fill below the floor of the eastern part of the church post-dates the thickening of the aisle foundation wall. This would be consistent with a major rebuilding of the eastern end of the church.
It is notable that the eastern wall of a portico that ran along the south side of the church building rested against (but did not bond with) the south side of the south aisle apse. This has allowed us to sequence the construction of the portico after the construction of the eastern apses and the modification of the eastern end of the church.
So the phasing of the church must go, aisle foundation walls, nave, and portico.
The ceramics from the fill associated with the construction of the apse are 7th century.
July 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A few weeks ago, I started to prepare a georeferenced sketch of the E.F2 Basilica (for more on that click here). I finished that this week. Sketching a plan is a great way to be productive especially when subjected to constant interruptions or distractions (heat, thesis defenses, job talks, et c.).
Here is the original.
Here’s my sketch added to the original:
And here’s the final sketch without the original plan:
July 12, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Those of you not particularly interested in Early Christian Polis are probably suffering right now and for that I apologize. I’ve been on the road, so I can only think about one thing at a time, so I continue to think about the E.F2 Basilica at Polis.
July 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Before I left Polis for the Northern Plains, Scott Moore and I prepared a short tour of the E.F2 Basilica there. We’ve been working on the basilica for the previous month and used the short video tour as a way to summarize some of our results.
For the academic purists, I can assure you that we’ve also written up a rather lengthy document that set out our preliminary conclusions!!
July 5, 2011 § 4 Comments
While recovering from jet lag over the long weekend, I started to digitize a georeferenced plan of the church at E.F2. We are lucky enough to have some fantastic architecture state plans of the basilica and environs.
The church is also neatly visible in Bing Maps. So that allowed me to check my rather informal georeferencing of the building.
The plan lined up pretty well.
First, I drew the the walls and some of the buttresses. This was an interesting interpretative project in and of itself.
Then I confronted the reality that sometimes you have to digitize the stones:
I need to digitize some of the various lines that contribute so much to the architect’s plans, but I have a draft now:
June 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
I can’t count how many fascinating things I encountered in Cyprus this summer, but five things stand out in my mind. I think I might develop these more fully over the next few weeks, but with our work here mostly done, my bags mostly packed, and my attention span pretty limited, I thought I might put together a quick list of thoughts.
So, here they are:
1. Modular research designs beget modular publication designs. We’ve had to rethink how we plan to publish the results of our work at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. From the very first year of the project, we set modest single season goals. As the project grew from a single season of work to almost 10 seasons of work, we expanded and adjusted these goals. We kept true to our basic research questions, increased our pool of evidence incrementally, and designed each season to make clear contributions to our questions. As a result, we will be able to publish a part of our project as a self-contained and substantial contribution (the survey), leave part of our project for publication in the future (the results of excavations at two specific areas: Koutsopetria and Vigla), and cut part of our publication goals entirely (the Bronze Age material at Kokkinokremos) without jeopardizing the integrity of our work. While we came to our project as a group of fairly junior scholars (I was still a graduate student!) and this justified our tentative approach, I can’t imagine designing a field project in any other way. The age of grandiose, multi-season field projects may be over.
2. Churches are not floor plans. I spent the last four weeks studying the architectural remains, plans, and excavation reports from the 6th-13th (?) c. basilica at the site of E.F2 at Polis. The church underwent an amazing series of modifications through its lifetime. The beautiful state plan prepared by the site architectures communicated only a tiny bit of the information that walk around the site can give. Looking at the relationship between walls, the extent of mortar, and the differences in various wall construction styles reminded me that buildings like this were dynamic living entities. The convention of depicting them as floor plans reduced the architecture to a static entity without history. Looking at the walls and floors careful returned the building to life.
I also was fortunate enough to travel around the area and look at various standing churches which proudly displayed their own histories. These buildings – like our basilica at E.F2 – not only showed signs of their life as sacred Christian structures, but also revealed that another aspect of sanctity through the attention of formal archaeological and architecture study and restoration.
3. Arches. When you do not have sources of marble on the island, arches often do just fine. I think that our church at E.F2 must have been framed with arches across its narthex and a dramatic south portico..
4. Video is easy. Scott Moore and I have discovered that we can produce pretty decent video using inexpensive equipment and publish it over the YouTubes. How did it take us so long to understand this? Why don’t more archaeological projects use the YouTubes to publicize our sites? Why are we talking about blogging (here and here) when video is so much more interesting?! Check out our antics here, here, and here.
5. The World Still Exists. The longer I’m in academia, the more I have to face up to the reality that the world back home – in Grand Forks, North Dakoty, at the University of North Dakota, in the realm of students, committees, and colleagues – still exists when I go to Cyprus to do research. M.A. theses are submitted, committees meet, obligations (almost responsibilities) proliferate, students enroll, and all the other stuff happens when I am pondering archaeology, architecture, and arches. Who knew? And how do people manage this?
June 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There is a particular kind of reflection that comes from reading a notebook description about the excavation of a benchmark set by a previous years’ excavators or architects.
In the area around benchmark 6″ soil is dark brown and moist. Digging reveal the large fragments of an earlier benchmark – L6 or 6′ – immediately to the west of BM 6′”