November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
This past weekend, I did a bit of traveling and this allowed me to spend some quality time with the new Professor Footnote podcast series produced by Joel Jonientz and Brett Ommen at the University of North Dakota. I listened to two of the first three podcasts: “Leopold, Loeb, Darrow and the Death Penalty” and “Hobos, Uncle Sam and Yowzers the Clown” and perused the associated web companions to these programs. Both podcasts ran about an hour, were professionally produced, easy on the ears, and informative. They’re ideally suited for a long car trip, a slow evening by a roaring fire, or cross-country flight.
The general structure of the podcasts are a conversation between Prof. Joel and Prof. Brett on a “marginally interesting topic.” Their approach walks the fine line between being truly conversational and a staged dialogue. For example, Joel and Brett shared a vivid narration of Leopold and Loeb’s crime and court case but also provided a discussion of issues surrounding the psychology of the two infamous criminals, Darrow’s motivation in “defending” them, and their larger impact on jurisprudence in America. The alternation between well-wrought narrative and less formal discussion was all very NPR in character (in a good way).
To distinguish these podcasts from the glut already available, Professor Footnote have a clever hook. The conversations are riddled with audio footnotes providing references to secondary and primary sources for the information and, to a lesser extent, the arguments presented in their conversations. The footnotes are set apart from the podcast proper by a little sound and traditional footnotes appear a webpage dedicated to each podcast. The audio footnotes define these podcasts as being something different from a traditional radio programing, for example, where the hosts might invite in a guest or other expert to contribute their authority to the conversation. Instead, Professor Footnote functions more like an academic article where outside authority exists in a separate space and largely static relationship (which is not to say passive) with the conversation in the text. Interestingly, in the first two podcasts, the hosts do not particularly engage the arguments offered by the scholars who they cite in the footnotes, but mine these texts for pertinent details. The influence of the texts cited in the notes on the conversation is never entirely clear (with just a few exceptions). This leave the listener to wonder where the arguments from the footnoted authority end and the opinions of the hosts start. This ambiguity should not detract from an otherwise valuable effort to create a hybrid medium that breaches the usually rigid divide between text-based scholarship and new media punditry.
A listener will come away as curious about the world of clowns and Leopold and Loeb as the potential for these topics to provide points of departure for critiques of our contemporary society. (For those who don’t know Prof. Jonientz and Prof. Ommen, this is part of their larger aim to work at the intersection of the media, popular culture, and academia. They were the conveners of the successful Arts and Culture conferences at UND which brought together artists, scholars, media personalities in a series of concerts, gallery shows, public fora, and lectures.). The popular and academic tone of the podcasts, then, parallels their interest in hybridizing the typically popular medium with the inclusion of academic footnotes. Clever guys, Joel and Brett.
As for content, the clowns podcast began with a short chat about the origins of clowning, which our host associate with the Shakespearean larikins rather, than, say characters in, say, the New Comedy of Plautus or even ancient and Medieval genre of farce although they do concede the potential influence of the Devil in Medieval theater as a possible influence. They go on the discuss clowning in 19th and 20th century American drawing on famous clowns like the 19th century Dan Rice (who was said to have earned $1,000 a week in the 1860s!) to the rise of the circus “hobo” clowning of the Guilded Age and late-20th century T.V. figures like JP Patches and Bozo. The appearance of Ommen’s failed adolescent alter ego “Yowzers” is endearing. The bad clown figures of the 21st century from pedophile Pee Wee Herman to the Joker in Batman represent to Ommen and Jonientz the decline of the clown figure in contemporary society. They associate this decline with the rise of post-modernism, the collapsing social standing of institutions, and our distrust of earnestness (and the concomitant rise in irony). The podcast offers much more than my dry description can capture.
I wondered whether they could have spoken to the influence of Carnival and other ritualized efforts to invert social order as an important influence on clowning. The hobo clown champions of the Guilded Age would seem to have provided the kind of safe opportunities for critique in a society struggling to come to terms with the rampantly dehumanizing effects associated with the ethic of industrial capitalism. If the “big top” provided a safe venue to challenge the dominant social ethos, then mass media’s demotion of clowns to children’s programing in the television age was a key step in the decline of clowning as a recognized form of social critique. The “bad clowns” of the 21st century may hint that we still expect clowns to operate outside of the established cultural structures to represent our ambivalence toward them as adversarial figures standing (and defining) the margins of institutional and social authority.
The second podcast interlaced the nicely narrated story of Leopold and Loeb’s cavalier murder of a 14 year old in 1920s Chicago with larger considerations of the death penalty, youth culture, and the media. The podcast felt both more polished – in the well-told story – and more ragged in the discussion the episode on clowning. This is perhaps to be expected as the complexity of the particularities surrounding the Leopold and Loeb trial offered too many tempting digressions: social class (Leopold and Loeb we wealthy), to comments on homosexuality (they were lovers), education (they graduate college at age 18), ethnic tensions (they were Jewish), Progressivism (Darrow saw his effort to protect the boys from the death penalty as part of a larger social crusade), the media (it was one of a number of blockbuster trials of the first half of the 20th c.), and even jurisprudence (Darrow played several ingenious gambits during the trail). My only real complaint is that I would have balanced the discussion on different issues, and this is hardly a real critique, but at times I felt like the conversation darted from one topic to the next without wringing all the genius from it.
It took me a couple of hours to “get” that the first two episodes represent the hosts’ interest in commenting on the margins of society in a way that was similar to their interest in critiquing academia from the margins. Their choice of media – the podcast – hybridized with an almost flippant use of that most academic affectation, the footnote, define these podcasts as a vox clamatis in deserto just as clowns and the unbearable precious intersection of Leopold, Loeb, and Darrow defined the limits 20th century civilization.
But don’t take my word for it, listen to them yourself.
November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Over the past 5 years, I’ve been active in a group called the Working Group in Digital and New Media. This is a cross-disciplinary, cross-college, and cross-campus group of scholars whose work touches on digital methods, media, and approaches to problems in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
Each year, to attract new members we do a Fall open house and make a press release. It is often my job to prepare the press release. Here it is for the 2013 open house:
On Wednesday, November 6th, the Working Group in Digital and New Media will host its 4th annual open house in its laboratory space in O’Kelly Hall from 11 am to 1 pm. The Open House will feature works-in-progress by members of this transdisciplinary collective of scholars from across the University of North Dakota Campus.
The open-house will provide demonstrations of Travis Desell’s Wildlife@Home project, the digital music of Mike Wittgraf, Tim Pasch‘s innovative digital outreach in, to and from Indigenous Arctic communities, and Rick Van Eck‘s latest work to use computer games to introduce students to STEM disciplines. Paul Worley will be on hand to discuss his new monograph which makes important contributions to how we understand contemporary Mayan performance in the digital world. Crystal Alberts’ will present her interdisciplinary collaboration with Katia Mayfield, a Ph.D. candidate in Scientific Computing, James Merrill’s “Lost in Translation” Piecing together the Puzzle. Wilbur Stolt will discuss how the Chester Fritz Library has become a key space for digitally mediated interdisciplinary collaboration between faculty, staff, and students. Joel Jonientz, Kyle Conway, and Bill Caraher will introduce the first two volumes from the The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, a laboratory press that will curate original research in digital and print forms. For the 2013/2014 Academic Year, the Working Group will host an innovative speaker series featuring global leaders in digital technologies and approaches.
“Over the past 4 years, the Working Group has become a regional leader in digital innovation in the arts and humanities,” Joel Jonientz remarked. “The members of the group refuse to be fit into disciplinary boxes or conform to outmoded expectations of what it means to be a scholar in this or that field.”
Founded in 2008, the Working Group in Digital and New Media pioneered the vision of Exceptional UND by facilitating collaborative research in a dynamic gathering space. The uniquely collegial environment of the Working Group encourages faculty and students to experience the digital world as a means of expanding and enhancing their academic, regional, and global community.
October 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
If you missed the panel discussion earlier this afternoon at the University of North Dakota’s Arts and Culture Conference, you missed an stimulating conversation about curation in the media, art world and film. As I said in an earlier blog post, curation has come to be a particular important concept in the late-20th/early-21st century cultural lexicon.
The panels were relatively conservative in their reading of curation and privileged the curator as a kind of arbiter of creativity. When asked whether curation could occur without a curator, the panel was largely dismissive. (And, yes, it was my question, and I have a blog, so I can respond to my own question here. It’s completely solipsistic, I know, but it’s hardly my fault that the panel stimulated me to have a conversation with myself.) My idea of curation sans curator was not that curation would occur without any agency, but rather the highly distributed models of agency present on the web challenge our traditional, frankly elitist, notions of the curator as culture-maker.
In some ways, the editorial work present at a site like Wikipedia or the crowd-sourced curation present at a site like Reddit demonstrates how effective decentralized models of curation can be. Interestingly, Jennifer Preston, a social media reporter for the New York Times, mentioned how the front page of the Times was among the most intensively curated spaces in media. When asked about curation without a curator, though, she responded by suggesting that this would give rise to massive collections of YouTube clips of people filming the news coverage of on their televisions. She overlooked that the crowd-sourced site Reddit claims to being “the front page of the internet”.
I also thought about the assemblage of ancient objects present in collections today. The modern curatorial intervention comes only after centuries of human curation. The use of objects in various ancient context, trade routes, modern geopolitics, colonialism, and the unequal distribution of wealth conspired to make available a collection of objects for the modern curator. This clearly does not fit a narrow definition of curation as a reasoned, generative act, but it is reminds us that our current genius is always contextualized by the “invisible hand” of centuries of individual decisions, value judgements, and markets combined with natural, political, and social vagaries that have nothing properly to do with objects, but nevertheless shape their fates.
Be sure to check out the final day of the conference tomorrow:
Thursday, Oct. 24:
- David Pagel, Visiting Artist Lecture, 11 a.m.,Witmer 114, UND campus.
- Kerri Miller – Visiting Artist Lecture, 3:30 p.m., River Valley Room, Memorial Union.
- Closing reception, 7 p.m., at the “Cultures of Curation” Exhibition at 3rd Street Gallery in downtown Grand Forks.
October 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’m pretty excited about this week’s Arts and Culture Conference. Its theme is Cultures of Curation (and features a super snazzy poster). Archaeologists (and historians) love curation. In fact, one could argue that archaeology is primarily a discipline of curation. We not only spend significant time fussing with publications, but we also are obsessed with the archival aspects of our work. This extends from how we plan to conserve and present the physical artifacts themselves to our interest in the distribution and archiving digital artifacts.
Curation is a hot topic these days (as this Ngram view shows):
So, to get myself in the spirit, I thought I’d offer up three things that I want to think about at this week’s festivities.
1. Curation as Mediation. One of the most interesting aspects of curation in archaeology is how much it involves the archaeologist moving objects from one system (or context) to the next. This shift from one system to the next serves to make the objects of archaeological study accessible to different kinds of questions. In other words, an object located on the floor of a collapsed building has a different meaning than one on a museum shelf. In its “archaeological context” the object can speak to it use during the lifetime of the building, the history of building, and the formation processes that contributed to presence of the object on the floor.
The act of curating prioritizes some aspect of the object’s context – whether it be the object’s form, the object’s context, or the standing of the object as an example for a larger process – and recontextualizes it according to this value. The curator translates the objects from one context to the next (in both the Latin meaning of carrying across and the Medieval context of moving a sacred object from one site to the next). Curation, then, is the act of mediation as it emphasized the middle zone between one context and the next and how this unstable middle zone both imparts meaning and captures the inherent instability of meaning.
2. Curation and the Dynamic Archive. In my thinking about curation, I tend to think of it in the context of the object. I know, though, that the days of stable objects subjected to mediating influences are behind us. New digital objects are unstable, constitute and reconstitute themselves at the demand of the curator, the researcher, the querier, or the audience. The spirit of the linked-data movement see databases, for example, as entities that stretch extend beyond single creators, datasets, and users, and reconstitute themselves constantly and new data constructs new relationships.
In keeping with the idea of the curator as a mediator, curation become a decentralized practice the curator focuses on relationships rather than objects in a traditional sense. The managing of relationships within curatorial systems allows for decentralized collections to emerge and to constantly produce new contexts for existing material.
The most obvious example of this is a site like Wikipedia which houses perhaps the single largest collection of linked data in the world. The line between curator and contributor is blurred completely, and the links between entries and between the entries and other large datasets on the web (most notably spatial datasets) ensures that the structure of Wikipedia data is a significant as the actual data present in the entries.
3. Curation and the Web. As innumerable web-pundits have argued, the web is the single greatest curatorial enterprise (perhaps) in human history. Social media, blogs, wikis, and the like provide a constant space for individuals to assemble, collect, and mark web content for secondary consumption. With the massive expansion of Facebook and Twitter the web has continued the process of democratizing the culture of curation. Each individual curates a dynamic museum of content and shares it with a complex network of friends, followers, and readers.
With this new environment for curation, the curator becomes both more secondary to the act of curation (we’re all curators, after all) and more individualized as the standards of curation drift across the varying tastes and practices of millions of users in the web. So the title of this year’s conference “cultures of curation” is particularly apt way to describe the practice of curation on the web. Culture perhaps best describes the distributive practices of curation in the 21st century.
Just for fun, I ran a Google Ngram on the words “curate” and “curator”. Curator is in red and curate is in blue. Both show a slight uptick in frequency over the past decade, but nothing like the dramatic ramping up that the word curations demonstrates.
My temptation is to argue that the verb “to curate” and the individual, “the curator”, fail to capture the decentralized context of curation in the digital age. Curation remains a strong and persistent interest, but curating and curators are actions and agents of an earlier age.
October 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
Last week, I mentioned that I was invited to write something for our local literary journal on digital art, presumably, in the field of archaeology. I decided to take idea of art broadly and focus on some transformations in the world of archaeological presentation and data collection. More importantly, for me, is that I decided to try to write in a reflective and reflexive way about my experience as a blogger. This is very early draft of this effort. It’s due on November 15th, so I’ll have to try to get something more substantial and sustained together soon.
In 2007, I began a blog called the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World (available here in archival form). The goal of the blog was to publicize my research on Cyprus particularly the work at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP). I wanted to think in public space and bring an interested public closer to the experience of archaeology. The daily blog seemed to be a great way to post regular dispatches from both my desk work and my field work. At first, I dutifully posted a few times a week, but before long, I was posting daily. My dispatches started as regular updates on our work at PKAP along side some cursory comments on my research and professional activities to a repository for fieldwork updates, conference paper and article drafts, research quandaries, essays on various topics, and increasingly common guest posts on topics ranging from archaeological publishing to 3D modeling and punk rock. Over this time, my blog developed from a few hundred views a week to over 100 per day and gained a degree of notoriety in my profession.
2007 were heady days for blogs. They still dominated the way in which individuals distributed content on the internet. Social media, like Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy, and hybrid services like Tumblr which streamlined the social sharing of content among its users was born the same year. Even the mighty YouTube was still relatively uncharted territory among content producers. Blogging was king among Web 2.0 pioneers and the ability to almost instantly modify the appearance and content of a website attracted a generation of intrepid academic content producers. (I discussed a good bit of the origins of blogging in general and in archaeology here.)
Of course, some remained concerned that an unfettered medium like blogging could undermine the professional standing of a young faculty member. At the same time, others began both to discuss blogging in academic publications and to embrace its potential as a publishing platform. My own efforts to understand the medium in which I was working were tentative and halting. A good bit of self-censorship was involved, and I only engaged other academic bloggers or scholarship in general in a superficial way. Once I was on staff at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, a gentle reprimand about a slightly impious post further discouraged me from doing much more than providing a travelogue of my time in Greece and various notes about “goings on”.
By 2008, however, a growing confidence in the blog as a medium and perhaps a developing awareness of its potential emboldened my blogging efforts. I was committed to being more transparent in my presentation of our archaeological work. I announced our idea that we had discovered an Early Christian Basilica at the site of Vigla, published some short video productions, and posted more regularly from the field. The use of podcasts from the site, almost daily updates, and more regular photographs, brought our viewers closer to work and exposed them to the vagaries of real archaeological research. Our “Early Christian Basilica” ended up being a Hellenistic fortified settlement by the end of the summer and the blog had exposed a major interpretative mistake.
By 2012, attitudes toward blogging had changed and new approaches to the immediacy of the archaeological experience had emerged. We had begun to use Twitter in the field and to collect data from our trenches using iPads. With Twitter we encountered the immediacy of engaging our network of stakeholders, colleagues, and viewers. With the iPads at trench side, we began the fraught process of directly digital data collection. This opened the door to communicating with our archaeological community not through the interpretative lens of the blog or even the truncated expressions of Twitter. The opportunity to push trench-side results directly to a global audience creates a new way to communicate the immediacy of archaeological discovery to the world. There is no middle step of interpretative or peer-review and mistakes are visible on the edge of the trowel. Data becomes immediate and transparent.
Publishing data directly from the edge of the trench is probably still a ways off and a cultural change away. Archaeologists still follow the traditions of social science in their need for neat and tidy data. The hasty conclusions set out in blogs and the immediate, trench side, analysis present in new digital notebooks pushes the social aspects of archaeology from the meeting among staff members to a larger community. In this context, the archaeological process become transparent and ownership of the results moves from the intimate confines of the project to the universal domain of the web community.
From the opposite perspective, the limited and specialized academic community has begun to find ways to integrate traditional practices of peer review with the more dynamic space of Web 2.0 content and born digital data. The result is a hybrid space of engagement that recognizes the persistent value of peer review, but also lays bear the process and accommodates the dynamic potential digital content.
I have recently begun to experiment with using my blog to introduce and serialize a print publication. From October to December, I have featured a series of guest posts from scholars around the world on issues related to 3D imaging in archaeology. These posts will eventually form a small volume produced very soon after the last blog post appears. The advantage of this approach is that it can accommodate the rapid pace of change in the world of 3D imaging by immediately circulating the results of very recent work in this area. The ability to post comments or even Tweet responses to these contributions using a designated hashtag (#3DMedArch) exposes these articles to a kind of public peer review. A digital and print-on-demand publication after the last post appears will include any comments or Tweets that shed critical perspectives on the posts. A final publication forms a “publication of record” that conforms to traditional expectations, but the entire process was more transparent and dynamic.
May 2, 2013 § 1 Comment
This is my 600th post on my “New” blog. This is the sequel to the “Old” blog where I posted 859 times.
This blog has been seen 67,500 times by folks all over the world.
It’s nice to know that people find my musings interesting.
It’s also the last day of classes in the 2012-2013 Academic year. Over this time, I wrote 81,000 words for this blog and 145,000 words for various projects ranging from peer reviewed manuscripts, articles, book reviews, grant proposals, conference papers, reports of various kinds, letters of recommendations, and other odds and ends. You can see what I worked on this year here.
Making an App for That: A Conversation with Sam Fee on Developing In-field Applications for Archaeology
April 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
On Friday at 11 am, Prof. Sam Fee, from Washington and Jefferson College will speak via the internets with the UND community in the Working Group in Digital and New Media Lab (O’Kelly 203). His talk is titled “Making an App for That: A conversation with Prof. Samuel Fee on developing in-field applications for archaeology”. The talk will be a conversation between me, Sam, and anyone who wants to join us from the audience.
I’ve known Sam Fee for over 20 years and he has an inspiring knack for making the complex simple and teaching archaeological methods, practices, and theories. He was one of the first archaeological bloggers who I followed regularly, and I have admired his accomplishments as a photographer.
At UND, he’ll talk about the development of the PKApp which is the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project’s custom web/tablet application for trench side data collection. We alpha/beta tested this summer on a bunch of iPad generously provided by Messiah College and wrote a short descriptive and technical piece on our experiences for Near Eastern Archaeology (that I think will appear this month).
So come by the Working Group Lab (O’Kelly 203) at 11 am on Friday to check out Sam Fee.
March 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve been trying to interest some of my colleagues in the Communication program in a project that works to document the use of social media in the Bakken Oil Patch. So far, there have been no takers, so I thought I’d pitch the idea a bit more widely.
Over the past 5 years, the use of fracking to extract oil from miles beneath the surface has transformed communities in the western part of North Dakota. For all the effects on the physical communities around Williston and Watford City, there has also been a parallel development in the region’s social media presence. From the rise of Greg the YouTube sensation (check out Kyle’s picture!) who describes on YouTube his struggles to make his way as a new arrival in Williston to the Real Oilfield Wives, a website and Facebook page, dedicated to the life of oil field wives. Facebook pages dedicated to Watford City Newcomers and My Life in Williston share space with pages dedicated to Watford City’s new Indoor RV Park and the tragedo-comic Bakken Oilfield Fail of the Day. The business oriented the Bakken Dispatches speaks in the same forum as the Facebook page, This is Mandaree, which documents the influence of drilling in the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation. Amy Dalrymple’s Oil Patch Dispatch provides news from the patch in a blog type format. The North Dakota Petroleum Council maintains an active Twitter feed. A simple search for #Bakken on Twitter provides a significant insight into the range of activities present in social media outlets. Photographers and documentary makers share space with local businesses catering to the Bakken boom. While I am not trained in the study of social and new media, I have been pretty interested in how Facebook and Twitter collapse the distinction between various voices. Industry advocates (driven in part by marketing strategies) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with support groups and critics of activities in western North Dakota. The interaction between media outlines, critical voices, individuals, and communities provides a window both into the nature of these new media voices and the emerging communities of the patch. Some student, somewhere, needs to analyze this to understand how these virtual communities, marketing strategies, viral phenomena, and twitter strategists contribute to how we understand the Bakken and the North Dakota oil boom at the intersection of community, individuals, and technology.
In other, somewhat related, news from the Bakken, we were a bit shocked to hear that there was a stabbing death at the Capital Lodge in Tioga. This is where we tend to stay when we’re out in the Bakken. Sort of a bummer.
January 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
For those of you interested in this kind of thing, here’s a link to the annual report generated by WordPress.com.
31,000 views and 230 posts isn’t too bad, but the dearth of comments is always disappointing.
Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!
November 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
Several members of the Working Group in Digital and New Media have been discussing glitch art. Some of this was inspired by Mark Amerika‘s glitched contribution to the Arts and Culture gallery show titled “The Eastern Shore of Maryland”. The term glitch art refers to digital images that are manipulated by deleting lines of code or through sometimes random processes of data and file corruption.
In a few brief conversations I became interested in the performative aspect of glitching art as much as the results. So on a grey Saturday, I started glitching some of the images that I prepared for the final publication of our survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria. The first step was converting the .tif files to .jpg files. Jpegs appear to be more susceptible to glitching and less likely to fail. Once the file is in .jpg format, it it possible to open it up in NotePad or TextEdit to and manipulate the code.
I started with an image like this:
Deleting random code made it look like this:
These images are randomly glitched. I have no idea what code I took out and could not replicate this. Each image is effectively unique. Some attempts to produce this kind of glitched image resulted in the file being too seriously corrupted, and it could not be opened.
A more systematic effort at glitching involved cutting parts of the code and replacing them. The advantages of this is that its replicable. By swapping out the effectively random letters (to me) that made up the code for the image, I began to think a bit more about how to introduce to the images something less random. In other words, to make the language of the image intersect with the more easily understood forms of verbal communication.
For this image I replaced the combination “SM”, the initials of Scott Moore, our ceramicist, with my initials BC:
For this image, I replaced “DP”, for our co-director David Pettegrew, with “BC”:
Finally, I replaced the letter P with the acronym of our project “PKAP” (the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project):
The idea of these last three images is to combine computer code and human codes to transform our computer mediate image of archaeological reality in unpredictable ways. The process is remarkably similar to analyzing the site via the GIS where we take the “natural” landscape and transform it into a series of symbols, lines, and text. By manipulating the code that produces these images in both random and patterned ways, we manipulate the meaning of the image and the way in which these images communicate information to the viewer. We problematize the process and manifestation of mediating between the experienced landscape and its representation as archaeological data.