February 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
For those of you in the Grand Forks area, Bret Weber and I are giving a little talk down at the Backstage Project at the Empire Theater tonight on our work in the Bakken. It is part of the first annual International Studies Speaker Series.
Our paper is going to be sort of a cool format, where I’m going to read a short paper and Bret is going to respond to it. This is helping me gets some words on page for our Bakken Goes Boom edited book project. My contribution to this project will probably focus on archaeology of housing in the era of late capitalism. It’s still germinating a bit…
Anyway, if you can’t make it down to the Empire tonight, I think we’re going to record our conversation. And if you’re interested in my part of tonight’s festivities, you can read my short remarks below:
February 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
Anne Kelsch, our Director of Office of Instructional Development here at the University of North Dakota, sent along a fascinating article on slow pedagogy. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been an advocate of becoming more aware of pace in how we teach. I have made various tweaks in my classes to use change of pace in teaching to lure students to engage material in a more focused way in the classroom and, at the same time, to develop the ability to think quickly and efficiently. That being said, I also value slowing down, maintaining routines, and thinking carefully (such as I can) both in classroom work and in assignments. In fact, I have gradually shortened the length of assignments in my midlevel classes to allow students to focus a bit more on the details of writing than the need to fill changes.
This article, “Determining our Own Tempos” by P. Shaw, B. Cole, and J. Russell appeared in To Improve the Academy 32 (2013) and talked about the value of slowing down and encouraging contemplation during the classroom encounter. (To add to the quaintness of this notion, Anne sent me the article as a photocopy, on paper, in a campus mail envelope rather than as a scan in an email!). The article discussed the context for the “slow” movement extending it from the slow meals phenomenon through slow writing and the larger slow living movement which emphasizes taking pause in our every day life and managing our engagement with the hectic pace of the mass media, the internet, and other so-called distractions.
The most significant take away from this article is the value of creating an
environment where students feel comfortable both in reflecting on their own learning and in thinking carefully about the material or content of the class. While the article provides little direct advice for installing slow learning exercises in the class, they did make refer to some techniques the authors used to create a contemplative and reflective environment for students. Playing music before class that generates a calm environment in the classroom (i.e. not the Meat Puppets), taking some quiet time during class to encourage thorough consideration of an issue, and fostering group discussions that verge on the conversational (rather than the task or goal oriented) all play a role in creating an environment more conducive to deliberate thought than the typical classroom.
The authors then extend their model of slow pedagogy to faculty development. They emphasize the value of quiet conversation, reflective practices, and writing groups to transform what can be a solitary professional existence with one embedded in a community of supportive peers. As the authors note, this will not happen naturally, but has to be cultivated by an environment that supports particular practices.
Whether one buys “slow pedagogy” or even the entire slow movement, there is no doubt that the tempo of life has come under increased scrutiny in the early 21st century. Just this week, for example, I coined the term “slow archaeology” to describe archaeological practices that are deliberately independent of the pace allowed by technology. I see a “slow archaeology” as a antidote to field practices increasingly informed by a Taylorist obsession with efficiency.
I have also sung the praises of my daily walk home (and it’s beauty here, here, here, here and here). One of the real bummers of this winter is that I am still recovering from a broken leg and I haven’t returned to my daily walking routine. It find that it robs me of valuable time for thinking without the distractions of digital gadgets, human distractions, or even good old fashioned texts. I will do all I can to make sure that daily strolls are part of my life during my sabbatical year. My daily blog writing – usually before 7 am – encourages me to take some quiet time at the start of my day to think through problems, develop a regular practice of writing, and focus as much on producing as consuming digital media.
Finally, we can all see the reinvigorated interest in craft behind these various slow movements. As our culture slides more and more deeply into the totalizing grasp of late capitalism and audit culture, we increasingly look for opportunities to embrace minimalism, take control of the pace of life, or just tune in by turning off. It is probably too soon to tell whether these practices represent desperate last ditch efforts to preserve our humanity or another chimerical return to “simpler times” mediated by the relentless push of technology.
February 10, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last week, I spent an enjoyable few days in lovely Western Massachusetts at the Digital Archaeological Practice Workshop hosted by Eric Poehler at the University of Massachusetts. The goal of the workshop was to bring together scholars who are using digital tools in the field and to discuss critically both new directions and possible liabilities of these practices. The papers were good, filled with practical examples, and generally balanced in their enthusiasm for new directions. Eric should be particularly praised for integrating undergraduates and graduate students into the conversations. The undergraduate papers were very well done and moved the conversation forward almost as surely as faculty and graduate students papers.
1. The long view of technology. Many of the papers had a (relatively) long term approach to the use of technology emphasizing how the current tools fit over 30 years of digital tools in the field. This provided a cautionary perspective to some extent as the group could all appreciate false starts, overly ambitious adoptions, and (to paraphrase Shawn Graham) “glorious failures.” It also provided a bit of a road map moving forward as developments in technology provided faint traces of future directions. The first talk of the conference offered visions of extrasensory technologies that would record more than just visual data but also touch, scent, and sound (at a higher resolution that currently available). Later talks explored the potential (and need) for new ways to structure data leaving the limitations of relational databases behind for RDF “triples” and new ways to document the chemical make up of artifacts.
2. Archaeology as Text. Shawn Graham’s talk opened up some new vistas for me. I’ve been interested in text mining and topic modeling for a few years, but I’ve never quite managed to use the modest tools at my disposal to get results that I could understand as meaningful. Shawn’s talk once again motivated me try to do some topic modeling and text analysis and he and Sebastian Heath reminded us all that much of archaeology is frequently about TEXT. Excavation notebooks, published reports, survey documents, all produce unstructured textual records for archaeological sites. In some sense, our ability to make sense of the material past is only as good as our ability to understand its textual representation. Just as we have invested energy into using more and more sophisticated digital tools to capture archaeological data at the edge of the trench, we need to explore the resources available to analyze bodies of text.
3. Deskilling and Social Impact of Digital Tools. I introduced the term deskilling to the conversation in my paper on Thursday afternoon, and it reverberated – in various ways – throughout the conference. It made sense that we considered how digital data capture in the field transformed the practices, skills, and disciplinary structure of archaeology. I introduced my talk with a confession of disciplinary and profession anxiety. I am nervous that my skill set will not only become obsolete or, worse, render me obsolete, but also undermine the value of discipline specific skills in the field of archaeology. At its most alarmist, my perspective offers a future where digital tools in the field marginalize the interpretative ability of individuals or remove the space of interpretation from the side of the trench or the walk through the landscape to the laptop computer, office, or computer lab. Few at the conference embraced this pessimistic view, but we all agreed that the increasingly significant role that technology plays in archaeological data gathering holds for risks for archaeologists and the discipline of archaeology.
4. DIY. One of the coolest confirmations that came out of the conference was just how many projects are using do-it-yourself solutions to technological problems. From DIY aerial photography and XRF to deploying a range of text and topic modeling applications to published and unpublished texts, it is clear that the rapid diffusion of technologies and the growth of the “maker” community across the entire range of disciplines and technological interests has intersected with the long-standing tendency toward improvisation in archaeology to make digital archaeological practices a hotbed of DIY. What makes this particularly intriguing is this DIY culture exists at the same time (and sometimes in the same place) as high-profile collaborations between archaeological projects and the tech industry. This suggests, of course, that the DIY instinct is not so much a manifestation of some kind of strict DIY ethos (which celebrates the autonomy of the maker in response to the increasingly pre-packaged, commodified, prescribed world of technology) as a DIY of convenience. In other words, archaeological DIY reflects its roots in the improvised and ad hoc approach to challenges in the field, limited resources, and difficulties accessing tools designed for every circumstance from remote locations. This distinct genealogy is almost enough to define a distinct species of archaeological DIY.
5. Future Proofing Your Workflow? One of the extensions of archaeological DIY is that we began a conversation about how to future proof our archaeological workflow. For example, using an ad hoc solution to a technological problem might continue the flow of data over a field season or a field project, but it becomes more of an issue when the ad hoc solutions rely on proprietary software or a series of fragile links between applications or temporary solutions. The problem is, of course, the more we rely on software to analyze our data, the more we have to work to preserve both the data as well as our the tools that we used to produce our data. Propriety software is an obvious problem, but this is equally problematic with DIY solutions that are difficult to maintain and replicate over time. So, we all thought a bit about how to future proof our research not only to maintain consistency season-to-season, but ensure that what we did could be understood by future archaeologists.
6. Metaphors. Finally, it was fascinating to hear and consider the metaphors that archaeologists were using to describe their digital processes. Data flowed in streams, but was also expelled as vomit. There were rivers to cross and bridges too far. Data breathed, it could be hard or soft, it collected in archives, and it possesses magic. It is clear that we were both at ease talking about data as an abstract, atomic version of archaeological evidence, but we also struggled to think about data literally. I wonder how long it’ll take for Mediterranean archaeologists to articulate a clearer vision of how data functions to produce analysis and meaning?
The conference was as thought provoking as it was informative. I learned as much about digital practice as I did about concepts and theory. This is a pretty rare thing these days and I enjoyed myself immensely.
February 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
It’s day two of the Digital Archaeology Practice Workshop convened by Eric Poehler at the University of Massachusetts and we’re listening to discussions of databases, tools, and techniques at the University of Massachusetts and anticipating conversations about practice and theory later today.
Follow along with our Twitter hash tag #DAPW or (better yet) watch and enjoy on our live stream here.
And don’t worry, there will be an epic, double Friday Varia and Quick Hits next week!
February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
These are just some photographs of the lovely University of Massachusetts as we get ready for the first sessions at the Digital Archaeology Practice Workshop.
If you want to check out a live stream of the conference today go here.
Campus looks great under a new layer of snow and with dramatic blue skies in the background.
February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Never doubt my commitment to digital field practices in archaeology! Through driving slow and sleet and slow moving snow plows and flight delays and an Australian driving a rental car on a steep driveway, I made it to the University of Massachusetts and am safely ensconced in the nicely appointed on campus hotel.
This is my view:
Here’s a link to the Digital Archaeological Practice: A Workshop on the Use of Technology in the Field. The hashtag is #DAPW so you can follow us along on the social medias. There is a rumor that we might be live streaming the event as well. I’ll send the link if and when it becomes available.
This is my paper:
February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week began my Spring 2014 Scale-Up adventures in earnest. I introduced the class to the first of three units new for my modified Western Civilization I class. Whereas last time I taught this class, I spent the first four weeks discussing historical methods, presenting various kinds of sources, and introducing the students to relatively narrow content areas. This year, I’ve moved in the other direction and dedicated three of the first five classes to a broad survey of Western Civilization with one class devoted to Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages. The last 10 weeks of the semester will involve the students writing more focused studies on various aspects of Greek, Roman, and Medieval civilization so these next three weeks are designed to set the stage both methodologically and in terms of content. Each of these three weeks has a specific exercise that will produce an essay. The three essays will represent a single grade that stands in for their midterm exam
The first of these three broad survey classes involves creating a timeline and essay dealing with some aspect of the Greek world. As we had just spent three weeks exploring how preindustrial societies were so very different from our own, I expected essays that dealt with Greece as a preindustrial society in some way. Floating madly from table to table, I was a bit surprised to see how many groups abandoned thinking about preindustrial societies as a phenomenon and decided to focus their essays on philosophy rather than more traditional political questions.
On the one hand, it is heartening to see students take their own directions and follow their own interests. On the other hand, it is quite strange to see student deviate from the larger thematic structure of the course which emphasized preindustrial societies. It does remind me that, despite my tendency to see our students as little materialists (i.e. “all about the Benjamins”), they retain a strong interest in the life of the mind and want to wrangle with abstraction more than get their hands dirty with the complexities of ancient politics or the economy.
The first time I taught the class, I started slowly and kept work that had to be produced outside of class to a minimum. Most of the outside of class work focused on reading. This year, however, I have set the class up so that class time is dedicated to conceptual and organization work which has to be executed fully outside of class time.
This has prompted more complaints about how the groups are functioning and has shown the logistical challenges of, say, ordering books or balancing individual expectations against the work of the group. The more work that has to take place outside of class time the more pressure there is for the group’s to function successfully.