Friday Varia and Quick Hits

While the first day of winter is still a week away, it feels like winter right now here in North Dakotaland. With temperatures around 0 and flurries in the air almost every day.

There are plenty ways to keep warm, of course. Holiday parties, books by the fire, hot cups of coffee and stiff belts of whiskey, and layers of clothes under a warm blanket. If that’s not enough, the boys of Australian summer are playing in the first test of the Trans-Tasman Trophy, the Sixers vanquished their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics, and one of the best fight nights of the year is happening Saturday with Bud Crawford, Mick Conlan, and Teofimo Lopez sharing a card at Madison Square Garden.

There’s also a gaggle of good things to read these day, if you haven’t checked out Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays (Grand Forks, ND 2019) you really should! And if you’re looking for something a bit more literary, do check out what we’re doing over at North Dakota Quarterly!

If that’s still not enough (and when is enough, really enough?), here’s some more quick hits and varia:

IMG 4530

Cyprus in Global Late Antiquity

I’ve been working this week on adapting some of the paper that I gave at Dumbarton Oaks last month into a section in a short article with Jody Gordon. The article considers globalization as a paradigm for understanding Roman and Late Roman Cyprus. In my short contribution, I’m arguing that, in some ways, Late Antique Cyprus was indistinguishable from its neighbors in the region and, in some regards, represented a kind of Late Antique “non place” where most manifestations of distinctly Cypriot ways of life became manifest in the material culture of the wider Late Roman world. To make this argument, which frankly is a kind of “strawperson,” I explore both ceramics and ecclesiastical architecture on the island and argue that many of the key forms present are common in the wider region. 

The second part of the paper will complicate this perspective, by arguing that an emphasis on the global character of the Late Roman material culture of Cyprus obscures the variation across the island. If I can swing it, I want to suggest that our understanding of the global is, at least in the archaeology of the Roman and Late Roman world located at the intersection of issues of scale and the typologies through which we produce chronologically specific assemblages of material. I have more to do to get this contribution into shape, but if you’re interested in a draft, keep reading:

The Late Roman period on Cyprus shows so many of the hallmarks of globalization that it is tempting to read the Cypriot landscape as a series of premodern non places to appropriate the term that Marc Augé coined to describe the indistinguishable character of hotels, airports, and shopping malls in the globalized contemporary world (Augé xxxx). Indeed, G. Bowersock noted that the brilliant series of Late Roman mosaics from the House of Aion at Paphos depicting the life of Dionysos reflect a pan-Mediterranean fascination with Dionysos echoed in the 6th-century epic poem of Nonnos of Panopolis (Bowersock 1990, 49-53). In later Late Antiquity, Derek Kreuger has noted, the seventh century world that Leontios of Cyprus described in his lives of St. Symeon the Holy Fool and St. John the Almsgiver leveraged a range of features, economic and political realities, and landscapes that would be familiar to literate residents of Leontios’s native Neapolis on Cyprus, in St. Symeon’s Emesa, and St. John’s Alexandria where his lives were certainly read. The regular transit of bishops, pilgrims, and other Romans across the island ensured that Late Roman cities of Cyprus’s south coast formed part of a familiar landscape connecting the Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant with the Aegean. It is difficult to avoid the impression that whatever aspects of a distinctly Cypriot culture persisted into Roman period, by Late Antiquity, Cyprus emerged as a composite crossroads of Mediterranean influences.

The archaeological evidence from the island likewise reflects the global character of Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While there is no doubt that the basic settlement pattern that emerged over the course of the Cypriot Iron Age persisted into the 7th, 8th, and even 8th century, a new constellation of villages, ex-urban, and suburban settlements (e.g. Rupp 1997) came to complement densely urbanized southern coast of the island. Many of these settlements appear to have supported the place of Cyprus within the economy of the Late Roman Mediterranean. The ex-urban site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias near Paphos, for example, features warehouses that the excavator suspects to have supported the annona route from Egypt to Constantinope (Bakirtzis xxxx). The remarkable scatter of of Pyla-Koutsopetria may have emerged as an important harbor for the quaestura exercitus instituted in the mid-6th century (Caraher et al. 2014). The site a Dreamer’s Bay appears to be another significant entrepôt on the south coast of the island and recent work excavating warehouses promises to contribute to how we understand the island’s economic relationship with the wider region (GET CITE). The presence of kilns for Late Roman 1 amphora on the coast near the village of Ziyi provides more evidence for the role of ex-urban coastal sites in large scale agricultural produce from Cyprus during Late Antiquity. Even small sites like Kione on the Akamas Peninsula and the development of harbors Inland village sites such as Kalavassos-Kopetra situated in intermediate zones between the ore bearing Troodos mountains and coast also flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries (Rautman xxxx) and complemented ongoing extraction of copper from long-worked viens (Given et al. xxxx). A parallel development in the Karkotis valley documented by the Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project (TAESP) seems to have supported mine in the region of Skouriotissa (TAESP CITE; Rautman, Troodos xxxx). Rural settlement on Cyprus appears to have expanded in the Late Roman period leading Marcus Rautman to remark on the “busy countryside of Late Roman Cyprus” (Rautman xxxx) which appears to have prospered into the late 6th century. The intensity of settlement in the Cypriot landscape during Late Antiquity finds parallels across the Mediterranean world from the well-known “deserted village” of the limestone massif in Syria to the valleys of the Peloponnesus.

At a glance, the material culture of Cyprus tells a similar story. Cyprus saw a regular flow of imported fine or table wares particularly African Red Slip and Phocaean Ware (or Late Roman C ware). Archaeologists long thought that Cypriot Red Slip (Late Roman D ware) was manufactured on the Western side of the island perhaps near production sites of the earlier Cypriot Sigillata, but it now appears that most forms of Cypriot Red Slip were manufactured in Psidia (CITE). These fine wares, whatever their provenience, remain common in assemblages from across the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Levant. It remains difficult to identify the provenience of the ubiquitous Late Roman 1 amphora on Cyprus, but it appears likely that a substantial percentage of this common form originated in the Aegean or Anatolia. The same can be said for its successor, the globular Late Roman 13 amphora, which also saw production on Cyprus, but appeared extensive in 7th and 8th century assemblages in the Aegean and most famously Constantinople (Hayes, Sarachane xxxx). Cooking pots, including the well-known Dhiorios type known from kilns excavated by Hector Catling at the site of Dhiorios from which these pots get their name. Paul Reynolds and his colleagues have noted that cooking pots both in fabrics common to Beirut and elsewhere in the Levant appeared in common ”Dhiorios“ forms as early as the mid-6th century and circulated widely. In sum, the standard components of Cypriot ceramic assemblages throughout Late Antiquity are common not just on Cyprus, but across the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean at least through the end of the 7th century or the first decades of the 8th century. If the Cypriot landscape follows a pattern common to economic expansion across the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of antiquity, the ceramic assemblages suggest that the local economies were either integrated at a regional level or at least sufficiently related for common ceramic forms to appear form multiple, contemporary production sites in the Aegean, Asia Minor, and the Levant.

The Bakken Hundreds (A Draft)

Over the last week or so, Bret Weber and I have been working on a little article for an edited collection called “Archaeology Out of the Box.” Our work has been inspired by Lauren Berlant’s and Kathleen Stewart’s book, The Hundreds and, as I blogged about last week, it involves 100 word insights into our field work drawn from our field notes, interviews, published pieces, and photographs.

The piece isn’t done, but it’s far enough along to share, I think. To my mind, this piece is among the most compelling that we’ve put together. At the same time, I suspect we’ll work to balance the sensational with the everyday as we add a few more “hundreds” to assemblage, but the rhythm of encounters presented here feel quite authentic to me.

 

The Bakken Hundreds

The Bakken Hundreds is an experiment in understanding six seasons of archaeological fieldwork in North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch (2012-2018). Our study focused in particular on workforce housing during the Bakken boom and involved both archaeological documentation and hundreds of hours of interviews. The authors alternated presenting 100 word statements from our notebooks, interviews, and publications loosely following the method of composition used by Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart in their book, The Hundreds (2019). The passages offer a window into the material and social conditions of the Bakken as well as the authors’ reading of these conditions. 

(MC 65) Riker Brown, Camp Owner, August 21, 2013, ($106.42–West Texan Intermediate Crude Price per Barrel at that time)

RB :Right. So we went with the RVs and actually, this is like a family park. We have kids on bikes and dogs. We promote families, dogs, kids. So it’s temporary housing but some of these people bring their families for the summer and they’ll go back for the winter, but they’ll stay here.

Bret Weber (BW): Mom and the kids are here when school’s out?

RB: Right.

~

(MC 40) Camp Manager, July 31, 2015 ($47.12)

The owner was interested in transitioning the RV park to a more permanent mobile home park. This involved fixing significant code violations – especially the water and sewage pipes being in the same trench – and installing a $500,000 septic system. Camp makes no money. Despite the optimism, the camp appears rather rough with abandoned RVs, lots of abandoned equipment, and a run down playground. Some trash. Owner noted the difficulties in keeping the camp clean. Thinking of installing wind breaks, trees, and snow fences. – Caraher Notes on Blaisdell RV Park 

~

(MC 75) Diane Skillman, camp resident, October 4, 2014 ($89.74)

DS: Well I think everybody keeps a bit of water running just to keep it from freezing. Although, they did freeze up there at the other end.

BW: Is that the water tank over there?

DS: No, that’s the poop tank. [laughs]

BW: Oh, so where do you get your water from then … it’s ground water?

DS: Yeah, he has a well and everybody is pumped into that, and then he’s got, well last year that froze 

~

To enter Stanley proper, turn left from old US 2 onto MainStreet. About a half mile south, Main Street passes beneath the Highline, which is carried on a deck-girder concrete bridge dating to the 1930s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reflecting the importance of rail to this part of the state. Today, Amtrak’s Empire Builder continues to serve Stanley from a small, modern railway station on the east side of Main Street. Farther south on Main Street is the Two Way Inn and Bar, which offers a delicious patty melt in authentic surroundings for the oil patch.

Caraher and Weber 2017, 41.

~

(MC 14) William Nelson, camp resident and ‘fisherman,’ Aug 11 2012 ($85.38)

WN:  I’m a consultant and my specialty is fishing. When they lose things in holes, I fish

it out. It’s not everybody’s favorite but… people on rigs don’t want to see me coming but when they need me, then there it is.

~

(MC 14) Don Ashton, owner of the land under the camp, Oct 28 2016 ($48.70). 

Well, I bought the land in ’85. I’ve been living here since ’81. All the investors come out of

South Dakota, Rapid City, to see if I wanted to do kind of trailers … they said they were gonna put in water and sewer for ‘em, and that never happened … They had big dreams and everything. I gave them a longer term lease, cause they said, oh they wanted long, you know, maybe do it a motel or a hotel, so they figured maybe 10 acres or so … Then I found out they were trying to sell this 110 acres out from underneath me and I got pissed off and took them to court. 

 ~

(MC 77) Juan Gonzales, camp resident, May 3, 2015 ($59.15) : 

It’s not easy, you know, living out here, but, I mean it is a good way- me, for example, I’m

young, I started out at a young year, it’s a good way so I can get a good start at life and then, invest in a home where I’m going to be able to live and move on later as soon as everything calms down here. I think a lot of people are taking advantage of it and making the best of all this stuff and they’re gonna-whoever’s taking good advantage of it is gonna be making- is gonna have a good future.

 ~

P1090664

MC 77, March 6, 2015 ($49.61) Photo W. Caraher.

~

(MC 10) Eugenio & Adelina, Camp residents, Feb 9, 2013 ($95.72)

Eliseo- For people that want to just work and come home and sleep, you know it’s a nice little place to stay at, but you know, there’s, you have to watch out who you live around, you know, you can’t trust a lot of people— 

Ariel- It’s good money but everything else is so dang expensive that you can make the same anywhere else—

~

(MC 10) David Donaldson, camp resident July 11, 2015 ($52.74). 

I heard there used to be a lot of meth out here, but you know, nothing that I ever really had a problem with [it], so. But yeah, you know, just a million different personalities and people living with their kids and family, and a lot of drinking and fighting, just, I’ve seen pretty much everything you can possibly think of out here, that just random stuff. You come home and everybody’s just got chairs set up around your camper having a fire outside your camper, and you can’t get any sleep and, blowing flames out of their mouth with alcohol in front of the little kids… 

~

Gene Veeder, Executive-Director McKenzie County, Jobs Development Authority, August 11, 2014 ($97.65)

your law enforcement and your sheriff’s department are all transporting so it’s pretty hard for them to, if they have to go to even Bismarck, you know, it’s an all-day trip and their entire trip is spent transporting prisoners so it’s way more costly than we originally thought.

BW: What’s the local police force, the size?

GV: We have city and county. We have gone from 6 sheriff deputies to 19. Police force went from 2 to 9. We’ve always got openings of course too.

~

(MC 40) Donny Bringwatt, camp resident–just arrived from Texas, January 16, 2016 ($29.42)

BW: Right. So when the work starts what will the work cycle be? How many days on, how many days off?

DB: [inaudible] 

BW: I don’t know what that means.

DB: It means you start in the mornings, and you work till, however many hours a day you can work … seven days a week

BW: Yeah

DB: We’re here to work, we’re not here to, you know

BW: … well right now, you’re not working, so you’re cooking a ham, what else do you do when you-?

DB: [inaudible] [laughs] I’m just cookin’ a ham, I’m gonna eat it [laughs] Play dominos, play poker.

~

(MC 28) Will Oldman & his roomate, Feb 19 2013 ($93.13) 

WO: As long as you don’t go to the strip clubs from what I hear (laughs) I’ve heard some pretty horrible stories about some strip club, I think it was in Watford, closed it down because guys were getting raped in the bathroom, viscously I mean— 

Roomate: Crime has gone up almost 100% around here, compared to what it ever was, just a quiet town where you could leave your keys in your door open, keys in your car and stuff like that, nowadays you can’t do that and uh not only that but the women that are here fear for their lives …

~

(MC 11) Description of the material outside two units, August 10, 2012 ($92.87).

Massive built deck, grill, plants, fence, dog run. stone, satellite tv, ramp leading to deck, potted plants, hanging plants, plywood around the base of a planted tree. Scrap wood underneath various garden features, propane tanks, table set on cinderblocks, outdoor bed, tarp, pallets, trashcan.

Pallet deck, kids toys, wading pool, small table, camp chairs (some kids sized), potted plants, plywood, small fence between unit and road, toy truck, strange tubs, propane tanks, water jugs, grill, cooler, satellite TV.

~

(MC 11) Angela & Bob Williams, December 13, 2014 ($57.81) 

AW: Lots of insulation. That, you’ll find a ton throughout the park. Any insulation, any wood. If you can get their hands on it they’ll take it. So many people skirting and mudrooms are built from recycled materials. You know, it’s just used over and over and over.

Ben W: It’s like, ‘well I’m moving if you want it, and make a little modifications,’ you know.

AW: If it’s coveted, everyone wants a mudroom. If you leave behind a mudroom…

Ben W: But now they knock the mudrooms down, they don’t give people opportunity to take them anymore.

~

Mudroom Guidelines

1. Mudrooms require plans be submitted to Park Management.
2. Mudrooms smaller than 5×10 may be made and will require no deposit.
3. Any Mudrooms larger than 5×10 will require an additional $300 clean-up deposit.
4. Maximum Mudroom size is 20×8.
5. Maximum height of Mudroom is no higher than the RV.
6. No Mudroom additions may fully enclose the trailer (may not extend over the top).
7. RV must be able to be removed from lots without obstructions (no part of any mudroom may extend behind or in front of RV).

Posted at MC 11, dated November 7, 2012 ($86.07)

~

Barb Bendle, Aug 10, 2012 ($92.87) MC11

Mudrooms yeah. We do check them out and make sure they meet the fire code and that they’re not built shoddily, so that if the wind comes up 80 mph, it’s not going to blow away. That’s what we do. Right. So it’s safe for people. So it’s not blowing down and hitting the next trailer or anything. My husband looks at their plot plans that we have them draw. Little plan telling us what they want to do and then we usually okay it because you know, we want them to have a little piece of land.  (trying to light a lighter/cigarette in the wind)

~

MC0902CROPPED

~

Roy Harrison & Garfield Washington, July 11, 2015 ($52.74), the RV Graveyard

BW: So you’re bringing trailers when people abandon them?

RH: Yeah, when people abandon their vehicles and whatnot… We had other things we were doing, but this was the most cost effective way. We were taking an excavator and we were crushing them and cycling the metal and the wood out and putting them in different dumpsters and just having them hauled off that way, just picking them all up at once and just shoving them in a dumpster and trashing it.

MW: Well during the wintertime if we are lucky we burn them.

BW: Who- Does the county allow you to do that?

MW: They did let you burn, when you know, when you can, with the snow, and (when) the wind’s not gonna affect it, and the land around it…

~

IMG 2951

Battery tank explosion near Alexander, ND from March 7, 2015 ($49.61).

~

Bret Weber, first trip to the Bakken, Jan 31, 2012 ($99.56)

We drove west out of town on Hwy 23, went south on 22, and then looped back west (probably on hwy 73), then north eventually turning east again on hwy 23.  We seemed to pass a number of smaller, ad hoc ‘man camp’ areas with various vehicles and RVs. The main thing that we witnessed was the night sky illuminated by dozens of flares—15-20 foot flames that burst straight into the air to burn off the natural gas that wells produce.

~

P1140668Photo of a memorial set up to Brendan Wegner who died in a well blow out in September 14, 2011 ($87.96) (photo from August 1, 2015 ($47.12)).

~

Clark Brewsman Feb 2013 ($95.72)  MC4 “The longest I ever worked was 57 hours, with a two hour nap. You don’t want to do it, but when the oil’s coming out of the ground it won’t stop and it needs to be tended to.”

~

(MC 16) Sally Burnick, camp resident October 28th, 2016 ($48.70)

SB: When the oil, when the oil tanked up there, and the oil went away, I lost my job, his overtime got cut, so our primary home, we couldn’t afford the big mortgage on it anymore, so that got foreclosed on, and we had another little rental house that we sold at a huge loss.

BW: So, how much stuff did you bring with you?

SB: We got rid of a lot of our stuff, like almost, we had a 3,000 square foot house, we got rid of almost all the furniture, almost all the artwork … Most of our stuff is in a storage shed packed into our horse trailer, um, we kept a couch, TV, entertainment center, DVDs, you know, knick knacks we were really fond of, family heirlooms … Everything else went, so we’re down to what’s in the horse trailer, our storage shed, our boat, and our camper [laughs]

~

Mark, Aug 9, 2012 ($92.87), MC8

M: They guaranteed 60 hours a week and holiday pay. 

BW: You’ve been here a month, have you ever worked 60 hours a week?

M: No. I’ve only worked 1 week so far. One full week.  I can’t stay much longer because I’m going broke. When I show up every morning, they give me 2 hours for showing up. And this week, so far, I have 6 hours. So I can’t make it. I’m buying my own food and paying rent and trying to pay bills at home … I’m getting the hell out of North Dakota.

~

Camp 8 August 2012 aerial  72 of 232

A kite photograph of MC8 outside Tioga, North Dakota. Note the regular arrangement of units, the elevated walkways between units, and the small common building with a flat roof in the center right of the image. (Photo by R. Rothaus, 2012.) 

~

Claudia Nielsen Aug 10 2012 ($92.87) MC10

CN: He’s from San Antonio, Texas. I met him while I was bartending, of course, I wasn’t drinking but I was working. What else do you do out here besides work and drink? So we just hung out a couple times and actually he proposed to me after about a week so, it happened really really fast. But when you know, you know.  We’re both out of 6-year marriages and I have actually, my kids are in Helena, Montana. Yeah he’s a very successful man so it’s going really well. He was in a mancamp actually so he’s enjoying the freedom of sharing my camper with me now.

~

(MC 65) Riker Brown, Camp Owner near Watford City, August 2, 2015 ($41.80)

BW: Are you seeing changes in the people who are living here now from a couple years ago?

RB: I’d say a lot of change. A lot more families, a lot more couples. 

BW: More permanent?

RB: More permanent. Or there’s, like the guys been out here so the next time he can bring his wife out, he’s kind of got it figured out, he’s got it like, he’s got an RV park, so then they bring, or have their wives come on out. Yeah. But first it was way more, you know, single guys, three guys living in a trailer, you know, but now, we’re seeing way more families.

~

Sue Christiansen Aug 9 2012 ($93.36) MC6

SC: Like the living conditions are terrible here. Like people are shitting behind, in the trees, past the trees right there. There’s flies everywhere… We’re like brothers, like a family, brothers and sisters out here, like a family. We’re close, tight-knit family. Like all my men, like I owned, I own a construction company called Christianson Construction so we were working, we were all contracted in Idaho but a bunch of just got together. My husband and his boss decided to uh come up here by themselves in the winter last year. It was terrible in the winter too. Terrible fricking conditions.

~

(MC 10) Richard Scrum, Camp Owner in Wheelock, ND, August 10, 2012 ($92.87)

RS: Well I had to put in power and water and sewer. The campers had full hookups here. It took me a while. I did it all by cash. I don’t use credit so I did everything in cash. Anything you do is really expensive out here. They want, for example, my well is bad here. They messed it up, the previous owners messed it up one night and I uh put $6,000 into fixing it and didn’t get it fixed yet. They said I have to put another $10,000 into just drilling a new well. I haven’t done it. I just put in a holding tank and I haul my water from Ray. It’s uh, there’s no city services here. The power’s the only city service and gas, I guess, we do have natural gas which is nice. But as far as water and sewer, you’re on your own.

~

With the collapse of oil prices in 2014, our work in the Bakken has come to focus increasingly on various forms of abandonment, as the number of temporary workers in the Bakken declined concurrently with the oil-rig count. Numerous coffee-makers in an abandoned RV revealed signs of methamphetamine use, trashed trailers smeared with human feces showed frustration and anger, and squatters’ occupying empty rooms at defunct crew camps reflect a shifting reality.

Caraher, Weber, Rothaus 2017, 200.

~

(MC 16) Shana Berritt, newcomer and camp resident, October 28, 2016 ($49.72)

SB: Um, don’t count on the oil field.

BW: Don’t count on an oil field?

SB: Don’t count on it, um, when it’s good it’s great, but when it tanks, it affects an entire community, if you haven’t been smart about it, you haven’t squirreled any money away, you’re going to be in trouble when it all drops off. [laughs] we learned the hard way, um, you know, my dad has seen the oil field rise and fall a couple times, and he kinda tried to warn us, but, you know, we said the oil field is so big, it’s going to last forever [laughs]

~

Our approach to documenting workforce housing drew on recent directions in archaeology and architectural history. First, archaeology of the contemporary world informed our work, and particularly this subfield’s interest in sites of short-term or ephemeral occupation. Zimmerman’s (2010) archaeology of homelessness, the archaeology of contemporary protest sites, photographic documentation of graffiti, and the archaeology of tourism collectively demonstrate how archaeological approaches to contemporary sites of contingency have the potential to inform issues of immediate social and political concern (Schofield and Anderton 2000; Graves-Brown and Schofield 2011; Kiddey and Schofield 2011, 2014).

Caraher, et al. 2017.

Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time: A Response

My old pal Andrew Reinhard of the American Numismatic Society and a PhD candidate at the University of York kindly agreed to comment on my post from yesterday. Because he interwove his responses to my original post, I thought it would just be easier to repost yesterday’s post with his comments included. His comments are in italics.

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

This is something similar to what the American Numismatic Society has done with the notebooks of E. T. Newell. We have the printed notebooks, they have been scanned and tagged, are available as open access to the public, and give us insight into the first Golden Age of numismatics, both the people and the artifacts and related context. The trick is doing a third step: publishing what we’ve learned. We can do all of this cool, useful stuff post-digitization, but the results must be published both digitally and in print. More about the necessity of the analogue below.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future.

I’m coming at the issue of heritage-time from looking at active software use. Classical civilizations found the archaeologist thousands of years removed from acts of creation, use, modification, discard, and destruction. Digital archaeologists find themselves watching as digital landscapes, sites, and artifacts undergo those stages over the course of an hour, often less. The notion of digital time is so absurd that we must observe it at the quantum level, understanding that Deep Time happens concurrently with things occurring literally at the speed of light. How are archaeologists equipped to handle an archaeology of the immediate? This issue is not limited to digital data, but also to anything that is mass-produced. The speed of waste now when compared to what it was 2,000 years ago is logarithmic. Archaeologists are yet not able to keep pace

It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

I think it’s important to mention here that I see “digital archaeology” as having two major threads that are not independent of each other: 1) digital archaeology is archaeological investigation of anything facilitated by the use of digital tools, and 2) digital archaeology is the archaeological investigation of digital things, which can include, but is not limited to synthetic worlds, software of any kind, and the firmware, middleware, and hardware used to create, distribute, and allow access to those digital spaces.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

It shouldn’t matter why archaeological documentation is created, only that it is. At the point of its creation, archaeological documentation is of its own time, which can tell future researchers a bit about the conditions of the creation of the interpretation of archaeological data. Archaeological documentation, while of its own time, is also of all time, that is to say that it occupies past, present, and future all at once. Researchers at the initial point of interpretation will author documentation with conscious or unconscious political, social, and economic bias as they work to answer their research questions. They need to bear in mind, however, that while this interpretation is important in the present about the present and the past, that their interpretation will not be the only one. They will not have thought of all of the research questions. They will miss things in the data that only temporal distance from the project’s “conclusion” can yield. Ideally data should be agnostic and amoral, but data are anything but. Archaeologists can, however, write for the present knowing that future generations will revise the work and there’s nothing to be done about it.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data. 

All data are legacy data, which includes data created and interpreted today. Any data “preserved” digitally are fugitive. Databases serve the purpose of now, one year from now, and maybe ten years from now. I remember talking to Sebastian Heath about the future of filetypes. Should we be concerned about what types of files we use for data entry, for publication? His opinion (and this was several year ago and might have changed, but I agree with him now and still) was that it didn’t really matter. If we want to access a legacy filetype badly enough, we’ll find a way. But ultimately this all depends on persistent electricity, internet, the “cloud”, and functioning hardware. All are doomed in the long view. So what are we going to do about it? I’d suggest paper versions of record. Super-engraved blocks of permanent material that will outlive every server farm? But then, if data ever survive that long, will future humans and non-humans (including A.I. entities) care? I don’t think it matters. It’s the moral obligation of the archaeologist to record, interpret, publish, and preserve data from any given project with as much care as possible on the unlikely chance that someone 100 years from now will return to it and be able to do something useful with it.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

I find myself waiting for the publication of the historiography of 21st-century archaeological method and practice, but published in 2020, and not at the end of the century. Such an omnibus publication would surely advance the state of the discipline, prompting conversations about “best practices,” although what’s best for one type of practice might not be best for another kind.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code. 

I think video game archaeologists (myself included) continue to fetishize the artifact over its context, and that needs to change, perhaps decentralizing the role of the game itself and instead placing it within a ring-of-context: what forces caused this game to be created, and where does the game slot in with everything else that’s happening at the point of its creation. We study the game-artifact as a way of participating in the greater knowledge-making of the past 50 years.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

I don’t think so largely because in most(?) cases, the artifact or site once digitized still exists in its analogue form. Lots of copies keep stuff safe, so as long as copies of data are kept and openly distributed at the point of their creation, we theoretically should have “originals” floating around even as other copies are ported forward to other formats for contemporary use.

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices. 

 

True, but I worry about the speed at which the recent past creates massive piles of stuff for archaeologists to inherit and inhabit. This “data deluge” can be sanely managed through the use of bucket cores as an analogy for the  sampling of data flows. For example, a game I am studying (Death Stranding) contains human-created items (signs, towers, roads, etc.) that are created and destroyed several times an hour. The archaeologist would need to sit at the screen 24/7/365 to record all that is happening. Now, over time, the same events happen in the same places, although with subtly different placements, volume of creation, and names of creators. Is it necessary for the archaeologist to mine all of the data all of the time, or, in the case of human-occupied digital environments, can one take a sample every day, week, or month, and be satisfied that the sample is representative? I think so, but in doing so we might miss out on those anomalies—a day of no creation, or a day of the creation of something odd/funny. Perhaps by sampling data often over a very long period of time, those anomalies will appear just as part of standard sampling. The only way to find out is to try.

Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future. It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

It’s hard to believe that this is the first Friday in December. Winter is here. There’s a nice blanket of snow and the skies alternate between a opaline grey and a brilliant light blue.

There are plenty of reasons to mostly stay inside in my cosy chair with my annoying dogs. First and foremost, this is new book week from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Do check out Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays (and, if you don’t believe me read what some very smart people are saying about it here and here). Most people should also be receiving their copies of the latest issue of North Dakota Quarterly. If you haven’t received yours, it might be because you don’t subscribe

Next, there’s a fight for the heavy weight championship of the world on Saturday between the former champion Anthony Joshua and the current champion Andy Ruiz. If the pundits are right, it should be a brilliant contest. There’s also a gaggle of quality college football games including Ohio State versus Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game. In other words, there’s a lot going on!

If you have find some time this weekend, maybe there’s something to enjoy in my quick hits and varia:

IMG 4511Froze upstream

Alternative Design, Innovation, and Imagination in Higher Education

I did some traveling this month and that always gives me time to sit still and read without being distracted by a million other things. On my last flight, I read David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Higher Education (2019). It was a pretty fun read and despite the book’s ostensible audience of higher ed administrators and leaders, it offers some intriguing and imaginative proposals that could be of use for anyone working at a university today.

The most appealing thing about the book is that the Staley allowed himself to imagine 10 different forms of post-secondary education. These ranged from a industry focused liberal arts college to free form “platform college” where faculty and students are combine and disperse on the basis of interest and demand, to decentralized microcolleges that operate with loose coordination to offer almost individual instruction and radical colleges based on play, advanced cybernetic interfaces, and the body. The willingness to speculate and to imagine a future to higher education with only the barest number of institutional constraints and appeals to tradition is refreshing. More than that, it demonstrates that there is a place for “solutions in search of problems” in higher education, although Staley does conclude by saying that he hopes his experiment in imagination will demonstrate that alternatives exist to the increasingly commodified character of contemporary higher education.

At the same time, Staley’s alternative universities do have certain similarities that suggest a particular understanding of the higher education landscape that goes beyond his rather cursory diagnosis of the contemporary “crisis.” For example, nearly all the alternative universities managed to exist with a minimum of administration who tended to serve as coordinators and facilitators rather than leaders. Conversely faculty took center stage and while their work was often subject to the whims of the market (and students), the mentor-student relationship remained fundamental most fo the alternative universities proposed.

Likewise absent from his alternative universities were the onerous burden of assessing learning. In fact, Staley largely accepted that both students and faculty operated in good faith. Students committed to learning and faculty committed to teaching. In some of his scenarios, faculty will be on an island with students either instructing small groups as part of single-teacher micro universities, leading students in immersive experiences abroad in the “Nomad University,” or connecting and dispersing with demand and interest in the “Platform University.” Such free form experimental spaces as the Institute for Advance Play and Future University have outcomes that seem to almost resist formal assessment. A university based on play or the producing models of future society may have rules and expectations (i.e. humans won’t suddenly develop the ability to fly), but these do little to narrow the wide range of potential student outcomes.  

At times, I felt like Staley’s book was a bit naive about the ability of the market to self-regulate both within academia and the relationship between academic institutions and industry. The idea of a “Humanities Think Tank” and “Nomad University” rely on the idea that the private (and public sector) would consistently reach out to scholars in the humanities or in various applied sciences for collaboration. On the one hand, it’s Staley’s fantasy which always involves a certain suspension of disbelief and maybe that’s enough to sanction his exercises. On the other hand, I’m not sure that his more naive approaches to the functioning of the market offer a useful way forward. The idea that students will gravitate toward majors and funding will flow from industry toward innovative institutions ignores the complicated roles that ideology, politics, and tradition plays in shaping the economic and educational landscape. Of course, Staley acknowledges that his exercises in imagining operate at the margins of the possible, but how he defines these limits remains unclear. For example, he does not propose “Mars University” where students study Mars and the role of space on the terrestrial economy over the course of the multiyear curriculum taught during a trip to, from, and on the Red Planet. His selective reading of existing experiments in higher education – with example such as Deep Springs College – rarely explores less successful (or at least sustained) experiments (e.g. Black Mountain College) to understand the real limits to what is possible. This isn’t to suggest that the book isn’t worth reading and thinking about. Perhaps, he designed the fuzzy limits to his imagined solutions to push us to think about the constraints that currently exist within higher education or to encourage us to engage in a kind of “design thinking” that recognizes the interplay between ideas and constraints as the key environment for producing real change.

Lest my review seem too critical, I should emphasize that the book is inspiring. In the spring semester, I’m teaching a class that will focus not so much on a problem or a series of educational outcomes, but on a building on our campus that is scheduled for demolition. I was fretting a good bit about the point of the class, but Staley’s book put me more at ease. I was particularly drawn to the idea of an “Institute for Advanced Play” that Staley based on the idea that “play and the imagination define higher learning.” 

My one-credit course will focus on play and the idea that our bureaucratic, outcome driven education system leaves rather little time for engaging the world thoughtfully, critically, and carefully without a particular goal. To my mind, this might be the best thing about Staley’s book. Even if the problems that it seeks to solve and the limits to Staley’s imaging are fuzzy, the book encourages all of us to think about higher education in radically different ways and to enjoy the silliness of unwarranted provocation and the freedom from consistency, well-defined goals, and tidy outcomes. 

UND has a new President: Writing the History of the Recent Past

Yesterday, the state board of higher education announced a new president for the University of North Dakota. After a session of deliberation, a few white puffs of smoke ascended from the Chancellor’s inner chamber and a herald of the board solemnly announced “Habemus Presidentum.” Andrew Armacost will become UND’s 13th president and the chant of “Armacost virumque cano” was heard across campus.

I sometimes imagine that the new president would come to me and ask my sage advice about how to thrive on our campus. Needless to say, this will not happen, in part, because few people on campus know or care what I think and, in part, because I’m an idiot. That being said, I still found it intriguing to speculate on what the president should know about UND’s campus before his term formally begins in June.

I would undoubtedly urge him to become familiar with the history of the state and the university. Read Elwyn Robinson’s magisterial history of the state of North Dakota, and Kim Porter’s recent update. Read Louis Geiger’s institutional history of the University of North Dakota published in 1958. Read (if I may be so bold) my series of blog posts on the clash between Orin G. Libby and Thomas Kane, the 5th president of UND. Read Robinson’s article on UND’s 7th president, George Starcher and Starcher’s musings on the future of the university from North Dakota Quarterly in 1956. Read Dan Rice’s history of the Clifford Years at UND. Read David Haeselin’s edited volume on 1997 Red River flood and its impact on the community.

These books will give our new president a basic understanding of the history of the university and the state which will put him at an advantage of over many less informed members of the faculty and the community who will nevertheless dredge up some half-remembered historical precedent to justify their feeling of outrage and entitlement. At the same time, these works will give Armacost a good sense for the community’s historical imaginary. Robinson’s memorable “Themes of North Dakota History” continue to be evoked in the public media and used to justify all kinds of political and institutional positions. The high esteem that many hold for Tom Clifford not only explains why he is the only UND president to have a book length treatment of his term, but also why funding has been set aside for a monumental chryselephantine statue in his honor that always rotates to face the sun.

The most challenging aspect of understanding the history of the university is that so far, no one has taken on the challenge of writing a history of the “Three K Era: Kupchella, Kelley, and Kennedy” on our campus. I have to admit that I’m pretty tempted. 

It’s interesting to trace a trajectory from Starcher, who I see as responsible for creating the institutional structure, expectations, and character of the University of North Dakota throughout the late-20th century and Kelley and, to a lesser extent, Kennedy who worked to transform the institution into its 21st century form. I could imagine a little volume that focuses on a series of significant events and structural changes.

1. High Water Mark for the University. There’s little doubt that UND experienced its high water mark in terms of enrollments during Robert Kelley’s presidency and tuition dollars and stable state appropriations allowed the university to grow and start to anticipate changes to higher education taking place around the U.S. The relatively insulation of North Dakota and UND from the “Great Recession” may have created a false sense of calm on campus and the Bakken Oil boom encouraged faculty and administrators to think big.

2. Research. While Starcher should perhaps be credited with imagining UND as a research university, under Kelley and against the backdrop of Bakken boom, it seems like UND started to believe that it could achieve a R1 Carnegie classification. While the rhetoric of this being an aspirational goal for campus certainly accelerated under Kennedy’s presidency, the investment in the Medical School (including its new building) and in STEM fields crucial to generating the kind of grant funded research necessary advance UND through the Carnegie ranks.

3. The Kupchella Faculty. When I first arrived on campus, faculty hired under Tom Clifford and Kendall Baker held many of the informal leadership positions on campus. In many ways, they represented institutional memory and set the expectations for both faculty and campus life more broadly. They also set the terms of campus debates. As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the Kupchella faculty will emerge as senior figures on campus. This is all the more significant because of the declining number of tenure track hires in the later years of Kelley’s and Kennedy’s presidency. In other words, the Kupchella faculty may well represent the last group of tenured faculty on campus.

4. The Arrival of Austerity. Part of the challenge of writing about Kelley, in particular, is that the last years of his presidency were overshadowed by a series of serious budget cuts which began in 2016. While much of the hard, bloody work of cutting the budget took place during Ed Schafer’s term as acting president in 2016 and under Mark Kennedy, the cuts themselves served as a referendum on Kelley’s vision of the university. Efforts in 2014 to implement a prioritization program and a strategic planning initiative that would create a sense of a direction for the campus gave way to across the board cuts to both academic and support divisions. The emergence of an incentive based model for funding seemingly indicated the planning and prioritization might best be left to “a market” defined by student enrollments, faculty research, and a certain amount of administrative vision. It goes without saying that the confusing set of statements made both through policy and decisions particularly under Kennedy’s presidency shook the campus to its core. Some of this must reflect on the indecisiveness of Kelley’s final years at UND as well as the hamfisted nature of Kennedy’s public statements.

5. Logos, Marketing, and Sports. For many alumni and community members, the most significant event in the institution’s history was the retirement of the Fighting Sioux mascot in 2012 and the rebranding of UND Athletics as the Fighting Hawks in 2015 both alienated a certain number of UND supporters and inspired a new wave of campus marketing looking to take the introduction of the new logo as a chance to begin a comprehensive rebrand of the tired campus graphic identity. 

The new logo was probably less important, historically, then the move in 2008 to Division 1 in all sports. This led to both upgrades to UND facilities (including the opening of the Betty Engelstad Center in 2008) and the UND Athletics High Performance center in 2017. The canceling of baseball, swimming, and, more controversially, women’s hockey in 2016 revealed that the move the Division 1 athletics was not without casualties.     

6. Campus Construction. The presidencies of the 3 Ks has certainly shaped UND’s campus in fundamental ways. The opening of the Ralph Engelstad arena in 2001, Clifford Hall and various structures on the western edge of campus, and major upgrades to the Law School, the College of Education, the Medical School and the College of Engineering and Mines reshaped many parts of campus. The new building for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation and new dormitories have likewise suggested a new, more contemporary design language on campus. Today, major expansions to the College of Business and Public Affairs, a new Student Union buildings, and a renovated library continue the work to bring campus up to standards. This is all driven by a new campus plan and, sadly, the removal of several of the early 20th century buildings on campus. 

7. Student Life. This is an area where my understanding of what goes on across campus falls the most short. I recognize that important social events – like riotous Springfest – have been suppressed by the city and the UND administration. I also know that there have been efforts to cultivate a greater sense of school spirit over the last five years, but I’m not sure how successful this work has been. The influence of Greek life, the changing landscape of student housing, and the smaller, but generally better prepared student body would form key parts to any narrative on the last 20 years of UND history.

8. Digital Futures. Finally, over the last 15 years, the prospects of a more digitally savvy, more online, and more innovative campus have lingered in the air and taken various administrative forms. This represents both an effort of UND to develop new revenue streams (with new, often private partners) and to reach students raised as “digital natives.” I suspect that this will have a major impact on the university of the future. 

In any event, I’m unlikely to find the time, funding, or energy to write this volume, but it is fun to imagine and it seems like naming of a new president offers an opportune time to reflect in a historically informed way. At the same time, there seems to be a bit of a renaissance in scholarship on higher education and this would form a useful backdrop to any recent history of an institution. I might even imagine a book like this generating a little buzz on campus and in the community particularly if I started it with a series of public fora and conversations designed to understand what the larger community saw as key moments over the last 30 years. More than that, this would be fun. 

Time, Legacy Data, and Flow

After a lazy couple of weeks with books, travel, and the holidays, I’m struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things. One step in that direction is starting to work “for realz” on my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in January. (I probably need to start writing lectures for my two new preps in the spring, but one thing at a time!).

My paper is in a panel on the re-use of archaeological data, and when I wrote my abstract, I was all pepped up on the idea of flow. This hasn’t entirely changed, but I’ve recently started to worry about how time and flow work together. In particular, I’ve become interested in the way in which the concept of “legacy data” has shaped our view of digital archaeology in practice.

It seems to me that legacy data is a pretty broad concept. In 2008, Internet Archaeology published a useful survey of projects using legacy data. In the introduction to that volume Penelope Allison noted that legacy data in Mediterranean archaeology could include anything from Pausanias to late-20th century excavations notebooks. In other words, data needn’t mean literal data – that is granular or fragmented bits of digital information gathered from survey units or trench side – but also analog sources like photographs and notebooks, narrative sources such as those produced by early travelers and archaeological publications, primary paper sources of varying kinds and granularity, as well as information produced and stored in obsolete or antiquate “legacy systems.” The common feature of all these sources of data is that the archaeologists using these sources did not produce them. They are legacy because they were passed down from one generation (however defined) to the next.

In many cases, the research questions of interest to scholars who chose to work in legacy data differ from those of the archaeologists who produced the original dataset. This discontinuity often emphasizes the need to adapt the data from the past to the goals of analysis in the present. At its most challenging, this represents a kind of methodological disconnect that speaks both to “advances in archaeological practice” to appropriate the name of the SAA’s methods journal as well as new questions of interest to the contemporary discipline. In other words, long standing projects with consistent practices, methods, and research questions over time are less likely to produce “legacy data” than projects that formally conclude, experience some form of institutional or personal discontinuity, or change how they approach their archaeological work.

Since 2010, I’ve been working with a team of archaeologists to publish some of the work done by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at the site of ancient Arsinoe in the village of Polis Chrysochous in Western Cyprus. We have focused on three main sources of data from the project – the excavated architecture, which includes two Early Christian basilica style churches, the ceramics and other small finds, and the excavations notebooks. These notebooks represent the legacy data component of our work at Polis and document excavation at the site over 20 years starting in the mid 1980s. These notebook constitute a kind of legacy data in part because many members of the team currently studying the excavation did not participate in the original work, but mostly because the excavations were not conducted in a formally stratigraphic manner. As a result, we have had to cautiously reconstruct stratigraphic relationships on the basis of descriptions in the notebooks and a general understanding of their excavation techniques which removed material on the basis of levels and passes which may or may not have clear stratigraphic definition.  

In this example, then, legacy data reflects a methodological discontinuity with contemporary archaeological practices. The progressive character of archaeological practices, then, creates the conditions in which legacy practices come into being. At the same time, we recognize that legacy data preserves evidence for past archaeological practices as well as for the deeper past embodied in the artifacts, architecture, and depositional processes that it describes. The deeper past that archaeology studies tends to be far more resilient than past practices manifest in legacy data.

~  

Our approach to the Polis notebooks has depended in no small part on the work of Joanna Smith who worked to have the notebooks scanned and made available to us in digital form. This allowed us to study the notebooks remotely and to begin the process of reconstructing stratigraphic relationships from non-stratigraphic narratives.

The first step in this work was to create a distinct identifier for each excavation event. This identifier combined excavation year, area name, trench name, (both according to the Polis grid) level, and pass. In addition to this identification, we might have also included notebook number and page number. Many trenches had multiple notebooks and because the excavators did not proceed in a “last in, first out” method, it was possible for multiple contexts to be open at the same time. The notebooks recorded the daily work of the excavator and moved from context to context depending on their work. As a result, the excavation of certain contexts could appear on dozens of different, non-consecutive, pages in a notebook.

The individual contexts, identified by their year, area, trench, level, and pass, can then be arranged in relation to other excavated contexts, in an informal matrix (that I call a “Franco Harris Matrix” because so rarely can we establish immaculate relationships). We can then associate with these contexts our analysis of the finds and, in many cases, architecture. This has allowed us to propose a chronology for several of the buildings at the site and to construct assemblages of finds that allow us to make arguments for the economy and connectivity of the Late Roman community. Most of this work is done with relational databases that allow us to connect different kinds of data in various one-to-many relationships. 

~

At the same time, we are aware that our approach involves disaggregating the excavation notebooks. This essentially disrupts the narrative of excavation that these notebooks preserve. On a practical level, this made it more difficult for us to understand cases when multiple contexts being open at once led to the contamination. It also tended to obscure aspects of the excavation process that developed over the course of a season. In the Polis system it was possible for a level to be excavated in a series of irregular passes over the course of weeks resulting in the latter passes through the level being informed by the excavation of other contexts in the trench. Fortunately, it appears for now that these kinds of issues had only a minimal impact on the kind of coarse analysis that we have conducted so far, but future work, particularly in more complex areas of the site, may require greater attention to the organization of the notebooks themselves as a form of information on archaeological practices. 

This example demonstrates the complex ways in which our effort to join legacy data to contemporary data collection processes runs the risk of obscuring the character of legacy data as evidence for more than simply contexts, objects, and features from the past, but also as evidence for past practices. Part of the significance of the linked-data movement, for example, is that it privileges the interoperability of data. By encouraging the production of granular data, we now have datasets that support artifact level analysis across multiple sites. Open Context, for example, has helped my excavation and survey at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus to create a corpus of artifact assemblages identifiable at scales ranging from the individual sherd to the type, chronology, or archaeological context. Unlike our work at Polis, however, we designed this project with this kind of data publication in mind.

The publication of data from Polis invariably requires the re-arrangement of the legacy data to allow it to contribute to the larger “flow” of data being produced by contemporary archaeological projects. This streamlining and disaggregating will result in the obscuring of past practices that contributed to the status of this data as “legacy” as we work to ensure that it integrates with contemporary expectations and research questions. In many cases, our growing dependency on digital technologies, tools, and practices are responsible for reshaping legacy data.   

~

There is little disputing the significance of this kind of work for our field. Renewed attention to legacy datasets have allowed us to publish two decades of excavation at Polis in ways that make it useful both to understanding our site, and hopefully, in the near future, understanding the larger region. We have also be able to avoid many of the challenges associated with new field work which range from the cost in time and resources in establishing a new project to the pressing and ongoing realities of artifact storage, site preservation, and publication.

The study of legacy data also presses us to engage in the multiple of temporalities present in archaeological work. We can largely agree that archaeology has focused on material from “the past” and recognize that archaeological practices have changes and – by and large – improved since the disciplines founding in the 19th century. Archaeology remains a progressive science.

Legacy data also makes us aware of a third kind of archaeological time which I’ve tended to call “ethical time.” Ethical time in archaeology recognizes the persistent value of artifacts and data from excavations even when these no longer coincide neatly with progressive ideas of archaeological practice or clearly defined archaeological contexts or provenance. The practice of repatriation, for example, represents the ethical time in archaeology in that it embraces the potential for the return of artifacts to restore a situation that existed a historical past.

The study of legacy data offers similar opportunities for archaeologists in that we can find new ways to restore the significance of past field work. Like repatriation, which must often recognize the compromised situation of the repatriated artifact and the limits to our ability to restore the artifact to its archaeological context, the reuse of legacy data faces similar limitations. Releasing legacy data into the world of contemporary data flows often requires us to strip aways parts of its historical situation as part of an archaeological past to accommodate the information in a disciplinary present. We can hope that this compromise restores the legacy of the field work both to the meaningful world of contemporary practice and to our disciplinary efforts to understand the past.     

New Book Day: Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays

Today is new book day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We are very excited to release Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. This short collection of reflections traces Shawn’s career in academia, his experiences with failure, and the lessons that he learned over the past two decades at the forefront of digital archaeology and digital humanities.

Failure in academia and in the 21st century gets a bad rap. Among some, failing or even admitting a mistake continues to represent weakness. Among others, failure has become a right of passage into the heroic, and largely white, male world of the tech industry. As Katherine Cook has noted (in one of my favorite articles on digital archaeology), whatever the potential benefits of failure to a career or personal growth, the right to fail and the personal and social safety necessary to fail safely is not universal. For some, the opportunity to take risk and to fail gloriously or otherwise, involves too great a risk.

Shawn’s book is both about admitting failure and making it safe for others to fail.  

On a personal note, I’ve long admired Shawn’s work from the days where he and I were both bloggers in the wilderness. Back in the day, I wondered, who is this Electric Archaeologist and only when I reached out to him in person did I realize that he was bouncing between jobs and working – rather unhappily – at a for-profit online university. Since then, we’ve managed to meet each other a few times, we collaborate on projects like Failing Gloriously and Epoiesen, and I’ve been able to enjoy his successes (and even his failures).

I hope this book is a success because that means people have read and thought about Shawn’s experiences.   

Here’s a link to the book as a free download. If you spend $9 on the book from Amazon, the money helps us make other books available from the press. 

Here’s the media release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grand Forks, North Dakota

“Please, you gotta help me. I’ve nuked the university!”

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to release Shawn Graham’s peer-reviewed book: Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. The essays in this collection document Shawn Graham’s odyssey through the digital humanities and digital archaeology set against the changing landscape of the 21st-century North American university. Stylish, insightful, and heartfelt, Graham reflects on the role of failure over the course of his career.

This isn’t another Silicon Valley-type success story. Instead, Graham, who is an Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, reframes failure outside of a triumphant narrative and uses his own struggles as a way to remind us, “Don’t be an asshole. Practice radical kindness. Help other people avoid the rocks.”

“This book is for anyone who has found themselves at a loss for what to do next,” Graham continues. “I was woefully naïve going through grad school about what would be on the other side. I think folks just starting out in academia might find value in it. I also think that each of us have hushed up our failures, our rocky paths that got us to where we currently happen to be: and that’s not healthy for many reasons. How might we build things differently, if we actually understood where we each were coming from?”

Eric Kansa, who is among the most prominent digital archaeologists working today and the director of Open Context data-publishing, provides a foreword and Neha Gupta, whose work combines indigenous archaeology with digital practices, locates Graham’s ideas within larger discussions of race and gender in the discipline.

Graham decided to publish his book with The Digital Press who subjected the manuscript to peer review because he wanted to release the book open access. The use of an open access framework also seemed ideal owing to Graham’s background as the author of the long running and influential blog Electric Archaeology, editor of the open access journal Epoiesen, and leader of the award-winning Open Digital Archaeology Textbook Environment (ODATE).

Graham notes, “I want people to be able to publish wherever and however they want, rather than being trapped within the oligarchies of academic publishing. And I like working directly with the people who have a stake in the success of the work.”

The book is available as a free download from The Digital Press at the University of North
Dakota or it can be purchased from Amazon.

For more on Shawn Graham:
Electric Archaeology: https://electricarchaeology.ca/
For the Open Digital Archaeology Textbook Environment: https://o-date.github.io/
For Epoiesen: https://epoiesen.library.carleton.ca/