Over the past week I’ve been thinking a good bit about publishing and disseminating archaeological data and yesterday I had some thoughtful conversations with Becky Seifried who was fresh from a recent conference in Athens on the topic (pdf).
I don’t really have anything profound to say about data except the observation that for archaeological projects, the more stakeholders involved, the harder it is to determine how best to disseminate project data. On the one hand, it is easy enough to envision how open data will allow our data savvy community to “dig into” the results of our field work. Moreover, those of us publishing both data and analysis of our projects can understand the value of making the link – no mater how fuzzy – between field work and interpretation clear. In fact, our field increasingly embraces this kind of transparency and openness as both a way to allow researchers and communities to engage with what passes as “raw material” in archaeology.
At the same time, we also recognize the rights of communities to control their own pasts and realize that the past – and its material and digital surrogates in the present – operates within diverse spatial, political, economic, social, and discursive regimes. As a result, openness in data can at the same time be decolonizing and colonizing, progressive and regressive, and collaborative and “going rogue” all at the same time. In fact, the more stakeholders invested in the data and the work, the more openness is seen as a challenge especially among communities who already feel that their control of their own past is vulnerable.
What’s interesting, of course, is that we often position open, digital heritage as a way to engage more diverse communities in the process of understanding their own past. For archaeology, sharing archaeological data invariably engages those who want to use public data for personal gain (e.g. looters), those who see the digital surrogates of archaeological objects as deserving the same protections as the objects themselves (e.g. limited or highly curated access), and those who see the tools necessary for digital dissemination of archaeological data as a barrier to access.
I recognize that people have thought seriously and expansively about the challenges of open publishing and digital heritage in practical and theoretical terms. I tend to be so deeply immersed in the data themselves (and the processes of moving data from the survey unit to the final database) to think very hard about these issues. It’s only now as parts of our dataset has taken on its final shape that I’ve had reason to think about its open or not so open after life.