Finalizing a Survey Field Manual

A few years ago, I casually floated the idea that projects should publish their field manuals. This was in conjunction with the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual (by Guy Sanders, Sarah James and Alicia Carter Johnson) by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. There was a pretty tepid response with a number of project directors agreeing that this was a good idea in theory, but no one took me up on the suggestion and submitted a manuscript.

I’m still very open to the idea and I’d love to publish a manual from any of the iconic excavations in the Mediterranean! Field manuals represent the crucial link between methods (and methodology) and field practices that often have a significant impact on the kind of knowledge a project produces. They also provide insight into project and situation specific constraints, offer a kind of paradata (as well as metadata) for the project’s data, and give some indication of the work conditions and work rhythms present on site. Manuals also have pedagogical value as both evidence for how students learn archaeology on the ground and as examples in the classroom for how methodology plays out in the field. Finally, a publicly available field manual provides the kind of transparency that is good practice for the discipline. 

As part of The Digital Press’s project to publish the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual we also published an archived list of project manuals which is available here.

Part of the challenge, of course, in publishing a field manual is that field manuals tend to be dynamic documents that change over time. Even for a relatively short project, such as our Western Argolid Regional Project, the manual underwent a number of changes over its four seasons of use. We were particularly fortunate to have active and engaged survey team leaders who provided not only input into the manual itself, but also helped us revise it each year. As a result, publishing a final manual is not as simple as just formatting a document and sending it to an archival repository like tDAR. We spent some time (by we, I meant, mostly Sarah James) revising our manual and providing some additional context so that a working document can be useful to someone not familiar with all the ins-and-outs of our specific project, its history, and goals. This morning, I’m going to go through it one last time and provide a brief preface that situates this finalized manuscript in the history of our project and our field work. 

Here’s my draft of the preface:

Preface

Field manuals are living documents which not only are adapted over the life of a project to suit the needs of each field season, but are interpreted daily in the field and workspaces of a project. This document is no different.

This finalized manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project is an effort to produce an honest version of the manual that both reflects the day-to-day practices of the project as well as our regular efforts to adapt the manual to the needs of the teams and slight shifts in our methods. As a result, this is a composite document that conflates and combines any number of adjustments offered by team leaders particularly during the first two field seasons of the project. For example, we developed our site revisit procedures over the first two seasons and settled on a procedure during our time in the field. There were also adjustments made to how we documented artifacts in the project storeroom in response to requests from local officials. We have included these changes in this document to reflect our practices in the field and in artifact processing. We made these changes in consultation with our team leaders who are the co-authors of this finalized text because the both made this manual work in the field and made the text itself better.

We also added an introduction that provides some broader context for the project, its goals, and its methodology. We have also added a number of appendices that reproduce our unit form, a field guide to surface visibility and conditions, and a list of abbreviations for artifact types within the Chronotype system.

The goal of publishing this document is to preserve a record of our field practices as well as to offer a resources to other projects looking to follow similar methods in their work. In the interest in making the genealogy of field practices somewhat easier to trace through grey paper documents such as field manuals, we have released this under an open-access, by-attribution, share-alike license. This allows anyone to use freely the text of this manual, but requires that this manual be cited and any future documents based on this manual to be made available under a similar open access license.

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