ASOR Wrap Up

My apologies for missing a few days on the old blog last week, but I was pretty busy at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to as many panels as I would have liked, but it was a productive meeting none the less.

So here are five things that happened (to me; after all, it’s my blog!) at ASOR:

1. Object Biography. The final workshop in a three year series of panels on object biography was a hoot (or as one of the panel’s organizers said “a bag of worms”), even if my paper was cautiously received. The papers were fun and the conversation was pleasantly edgy. Whatever the utility of object biography, the panels demonstrated an overwhelming desire for some kind of authentic engagement with things. It may be that object biography is flawed because most of us don’t think of objects as having life. At the same time, one wonders whether the recent interest in object agency especially among archaeologists, reflects our experiences struggling with objects that appear to have greater and greater autonomy from our wishes, desires, and intentions. In other words, maybe the idea of an object having a biography – a birth, a youth, an adulthood, and a death – is simply a matter of degrees from the idea that objects are agents. The former, however, seems contrived not because as we expand our notions of agency from individuals to things we are simultaneously diluting the very concept of being alive.

2. Welcoming our new digital overlords. I was amazed by the number of variety of panels on digital tools in archaeology at this year’s ASOR. Maybe it’s been like this for the last few years, but our fascination with the potential of digital archaeology was on full display starting with the plenary address by Sarah Parcak and continuing through many of the posters and papers. I was particularly pleased that the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, received a share of the attention. In fact, co-editor Jody Gordon recorded his paper and answered some questions for ASOR and this will likely be posted in the next week or so. I’ll put up a link to his paper and the interviews when they become available. 

3. CAARI has a new director. I am a member of the board of trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and after almost 7 years of dedicated service, Andrew McCarthy, is stepping down to pursue new adventures. In his place, the CAARI board approved the appointment of Lindy Crewe, a prehistorian who has worked on the island for many years and has a reputation for being a thoughtful scholar and an elite excavator. You can get a sense for her accomplishments on her academia.edu page. It was a good choice and I look forward to her leadership at an institution that has contributed significantly to my work on this island and my career.

4. Digital Publishing and ASOR. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working with Scott Moore to produce a digital version of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: The Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Since we published our data with Open Context, we produced an unofficial digital edition that allows a reader to move from the text to our published data throughout. We learned at ASOR that we’ve been given approval to release a linked digital copy of the book (as a beta) this spring once we work some bugs out. The goal is to present this beta-draft for some feedback and to prepare a revised digital edition at a later date. 

We also discussed the possibility of preparing PKAP II as a digital release with links throughout to our excavation data in Open Context. There are number of technical and cultural challenges to overcome, but hopefully we can propose a series of steps toward making the Archaeological Report Series a significant outlet for innovative digital archaeological publications.

5. The ASOR Meeting Program. I serve on the ASOR program committee and one of the most interesting conversations in recent years in that committee concerns the number of times people can officially appear in the annual meeting. This year, we decided (and it was a mistake) to only list the first author (or presenter) in the schedule section of the program book and to list coauthors in the abstract section. The reasons for this are complex and involve both aesthetics (and a concern for clutter in the schedule) as well as a concern that some members of ASOR are appearing “too frequently” in the program. Most academic meetings have some kind of policy limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program designed to promote diversity in the program and to ensure that scholars of all ranks can participate. At ASOR we have fiddled with this policy numerous times over the last few years and not quite settled on a universally accepted formula.

To me this is interesting because it considers both the meetings, but more importantly, the academic program as a lens through which we can understand and shape the field. Limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program will promote the the appearance of diversity, but it leaves open the possibility that the program does not actually reflect the work of writing the paper. At the same time, appearances can change reality and making the program appear more diverse might actually change the nature of field.  

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