Five Thoughts from the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting

I spent two hectic days in Washington, DC on the weekend attending the AIA/SCS annual meeting. I try to go every other year and despite my griping about having to attend and my general feeling of being an impostor, I still very much view it as “my annual meeting.” In other words, the AIA feels like my disciplinary and institutional home.

 I attended a handful of panels at this years meeting and mostly knew what was going on (which was pretty good for me) and on uneventful flights home, I had six thoughts.

1. Legacy Data. I gave a paper in a panel on legacy data organized by Jon Frey and Fotini Kondyli. To my great surprise, the room was packed with an engaged and enthusiastic audience. The papers walked the intriguing line between the practical and the conceptual demonstrating not only the pressing need to discuss the challenging realities associated with working on legacy data and the potential for work on legacy data to inform the larger methodological and theoretical framework of archaeology. 

I left the panel realizing that most of the challenges that archaeologists encounter when dealing with legacy data are conceptually consistent with the challenges that archaeologists encounter in the field. They involve issues of context, classification, documentation, workflow, and historical and historiographical analysis. Perhaps this is why the panel attracted so much interest. You can read my paper here.

2. The Future of Publishing in the Humanities. I also attended a roundtable discussion on the future of publishing in the humanities with representatives of two presses, a pair of librarians, and a couple hybrid scholars who work between publishing, scholarship, and information science. 

Three things emerged from that discussion. First, the monolithic notion of “publishing a book” or “publishing an article,” belies a very diverse range of processes, possibilities, and publishers who range from very conventional academic presses to smaller “scholar-led” operations. Moreover, even among these groups, there are a range of different approaches and priorities for an author to consider. Second, a significant part of this diversity comes from the challenge of digital practices in both knowledge making and in its dissemination. Libraries, scholars, and publishers are all working hard to figure out how to distribute books across digital channels, preserve digital data, and support opportunities for scholars working not just on the bleeding edge of their fields, but close to the center of our hybrid analog-digital scholars practice. 

Finally, open access is coming and we don’t really understand how it will impact the landscape of scholarly publishing yet. My impression is that most presses do not have sustainable models for open access publishing and they don’t necessarily have models for the large scale dissemination of open access books, data sets, and content. The big change across the entire landscape of academic publishing is still on the horizon.

Here’s what I had planned to say in this panel

3. Survey Archaeology. About 10 years ago, I was up to my eyeballs in articles and papers on the analysis of survey data and, in particular, discussions of survey method. The methodological consequences of “third wave” siteless survey had outstripped, to some extent, our interpretative paradigms for understanding the data that we had produced in historically significant ways. It felt like survey archaeology might be at an impasse. Our desperate need to convince excavators that our work was rigorous, thoughtful, and sophisticated, had pushed us to develop the methodological context for our practices to the detriment of analysis.

This past meeting, it feels like that stage in survey archaeology has finally passed. None of the papers that discussed survey included an apologia nor did they drag the audience through a kind of pseudo-apologetic methodological digression designed to reassure the listen that this wasn’t just a bunch of students picking up random pottery in the countryside. Instead, the papers focused on the potential for survey to inform current debates concerning Romanization, rural land use, connectivity between places, and even seasonal patterns and taskscapes in countryside. Survey archaeology felt very grown up. 

4. Archaeology for the General Reader. This was an 8 am round table of very distinguished scholars who discuss their experiences writing for a general audience and receiving funding from an NEH Public Scholar Program Grant. The participants on the panel were gracious and open about their writing processes and their achievements. They did not waste time arguing for the value of this kind of work. 

At the same time, I struggled to understand how they envisioned a “general reader.” Over the course of the panel I began to realize that the general reader was not really a person, but rather a proxy useful to describe a work that could be marketed to a wide audience. The general reader is actually some who can and will buy these books. In fact, the model for most of the books seemed unapologetically commercial with their emphasis on characters, action, and authority. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing necessarily the viability and even importance of this model of writing and publishing, but it causes me worries. First, it equates the general reader as a book buyer rather than a content consumer, and this seems out of step with the diverse ways in which most of us consumer knowledge across a wide range of media in our daily lives.

Second, this panel assumes that the general reader exists rather than is created by the way in which we market, structure, and distribute our works. While so much important scholarship today is focused on recognizing, creating, and elevating diversity in both the past and the present, this panel seemed to imagine its audience as somehow monolithic. As writers for a non-academic audiences, I was expecting a greater sensitivity toward the kinds of audiences that their works sought to reach and how their writing responded to the needs of groups or sought to produce new communities of readers.   

Most painfully for me was the dismissive attitude toward significant emerging forms of writing like creative non-fiction that seek to challenge how non-fiction works in crucial ways. Creative-non-fiction can encourage the reader to question the authority of the text, can open up new and important spaces to critique how knowledge is made, and push readers out of their emotional and intellectual comfort zones. Even if we limit our view of significant public scholarship to works that have engaged a broad audience, it is impossible to deny the impact of works like Natalie Zemon Davis’s Return of Martin Martin Guerre (1983), Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966), and Roxanne Gay’s Hunger (2017) (not to mention Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s Undocmented (2016)). That the NEH Public Scholars Program was uninterested in publishing this kind of work seems more than just a missed opportunity. It appears to have conflated the existence of a general reader with the ability of compelling works both to speak to and create  communities. 

To be clear, I have no beef with the authors on the panel and their works —many of which I have read—are both good and, in the right light, compelling, but there is so much more to writing to a broad audiences than this panel presented.  

5. The Value of Conferences. As per usual there was discussion about the value of meetings like the AIA/SCS conference. It was great to see graduate students presenting their work — sometimes for the first time, to engage with mid-career scholars writing at the edge of their comfort zones to a supportive and critical audience, and to celebrate with the community the work and wisdom of senior scholars. It was also nice to see old friends and to meet folks from social media for the first time, face-to-face. I made plans with colleagues and discussed professional opportunities and challenges. 

At the same time, attending the conference was expensive and exhausting. As a scholar at a relatively poorly funded mid- to lower-tier university, it also felt decadent and there was the palpable sense from quite a number of attendees that these kinds of events were unwise and inefficient in the current culture of austerity. If nothing else the optics of events like these were not good because they not only made clear the racial, gender, and class inequalities at the core of our disciplines, but also created a venue for any number of cringe-worthy displays of public and professional power which seems increasingly Byzantine as our fields of study fight for survival in the changing landscape of higher education. I don’t really have an answer for whether the good that comes from these kinds of conferences continues to outweigh the bad, and I obviously realize that this kind of annual event is likely to continue into the future long after it has outlived its usefulness. I think, however, that attending the conference every couple years does push us to reflect on their continued value to our fields.

Finally, there’s this amazing advertisement from the SCS program. I spent a good bit of time admiring book covers in the exhibition hall, but none have created the buzz of this advertisement:

2020SCSProgram 2 3 pdf 2020 01 06 08 23 55

The text on features a quote from Edith Hall: “I’ve never been asked by a reputable journal [TLS] to review such a bad book as Jeffrey Duban’s The Lesbian Lyre.” 

I’ve always considered Edith Hall, the Lester Bangs’ of Classics world, so it’s fitting that the quote from her review of Duban’s book evokes (obliquely) the rock critic’s famous liner notes for the Mekons’ album, The Mekons’ Story:

“The Mekons may now assume their proper place in the highest bowers in the hallowed halls of Rocque (co-leased by Wolfman Jack and Sid Bernstein). THEY ARE BETTER THAN THE BEATLES. They are better than Budgie and REO Speedwagon combined, they gave me $1500 for writing these notes. They come not to bury rock but to gourmandize it. All their Daddies are rich which is why they get to keep putting out this swill.”

I only wish that I had thought of this marketing strategy first.

Three Quick Things on a Snowy Monday

The sound of snowblowers woke me this morning because despite everything in town being closed someone just had to remove the snow at 6 am. 

Since I’m up and at my laptop, here are a few quick things for over the new year holiday.

First, I’ve finished the paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting next week on legacy data. I struggled with this paper a good bit because I tried to wed my practical experience of working with legacy data to my somewhat underdeveloped interest in time. The results were predictably messy, but I feel instinctively like this line of thinking is heading somewhere. Here’s the paperHere’s the abstract to the paper. I’ve posted ideas (with a little help from my friends) here, here, and here and a draft here.

Second, I’ve started to do layout on Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in
North Dakota, 1958–2018 edited by Kyle Conway. A few years ago, I had this idea of a “Bakken Bookshelf” which would include links to significant books on the Bakken. At the center of the “bookshelf” would be a trilogy of books: The Bakken Goes Boom, The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (from our friends at NDSU Press), and, now, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust. I’d like to think that these three books – whatever their limitations – form the cornerstone for any academic engagement with the Bakken oil boom.

More than that, these three books provide a nice testimony for why regional presses matter. As far as I can tell, there has been no book length academic publications on the social conditions, history, and experience of the Bakken oil boom published outside the Northern Plains. Without NDSU Press and The Digital Press (and it’s predecessor, The University of North Dakota Press), the Bakken would have received far less scholarly attention. For a bit more on Sixty Years of Boom and Bust go here.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I took a flyer and bought a novella published by a small press, Soft Cartel Press. The book, Craig Rodger’s The Ghost of Mile 43 is bizarrely wonderful, and if you have the time to read its 80 some-odd pages, you should. The narrator writes with the stilted diction of film noire voice over (which for better or for worse, serves the plot just fine), but the descriptions of abandonment are really quite remarkable. In fact, the entire book stands more as a meditation on the abject and the archaeological than as a vehicle for a narrative (much less a plot).  

The Bakken Hundreds (Almost Final)

Over the last few weeks, Bret Weber and I have been working to refine our “Bakken Hundreds” piece for a volume called Archaeology Out-of-the-Box. 

Since our invitation to be part of the volume was pretty vague, we took advantage of the freedom to do something a bit different. We previewed an earlier draft here a couple of weeks ago, here’s the final draft.

This introduction is below followed by a link to download the entire paper.  

The Bakken Hundreds

The Bakken Hundreds describe seven seasons of archaeological fieldwork in North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch (2012-2018). The North Dakota Man Camp Project focused on workforce housing through archaeological documentation and authorized interviews. Here, the co-authors alternate 100-word statements from project notebooks, interviews, and publications loosely following Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart’s composition style in, The Hundreds (2019). Our assemblage reveals the material and social conditions of the Bakken by emphasizing the frenetic, dreamlike, precarity of boom times. For entries with specific dates, we also include the West Texas Intermediate Crude oil price per barrel as a rough indicator of Bakken prosperity.

Here’s a link to the entire paper.

Draft of Reflowing Legacy Data from Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus

I’m trying to finish my AIA paper before the end of the week!! So, instead of blogging this morning, I’m going to write my paper and then post it when a draft is done! Here’s the abstract to the paper. I’ve posted ideas (with a little help from my friends) here, here, and here.

If you’re not into this topic, maybe you’d prefer Storey Clayton’s recent essay in the latest NDQ?

Or maybe you’d rather read a bit of Shawn Graham’s excellent new book, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays, from The Digital Press?

Here’s my AIA paper draft. It’s a bit rough and sort of ends with a whimper, but it’s just about the right length and approximately what I wanted to say. I also get to introduce the concept of Franco Harris Matrices.

I’d love comments, criticisms, or otherwise:

Reflowing Legacy Data from Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus

Legacy Data

Legacy data, like archaeology, is a renewable resource. Every technological, methodological, or practical change in archaeological practice, analysis, software, or hardware creates the potential for more legacy data just as the continuous work of depositional processes creates more archaeology.

It goes without saying, of course, that not all depositional process are considered worthy enough to create archaeology, and not all old data is legacy data. The conditions that allow for the creation of legacy data hinge on the significance of the site, our ability to access the data, the methods by which archaeologists originally produced the data sets, and, perhaps most importantly, the questions that we intend to ask of the data. When technology, access, and research interests align, we produce legacy data from the body of information collected over time that remains dead data. Dead data are forgotten while legacy data live in the present.

My paper today will reflect on my experience producing legacy as part of a team of scholars in the village of Polis tis Chrysochous in Western Cyprus where we’ve been studying the ancient site of Arsinoe which was excavated for about 20 years by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition beginning in 1984. My hope is that this paper will drawn on my experiences to define the distinct character of legacy data as part of the late modern concept of flow, and then reflect on how thinking of the flow of legacy data offers an opportunity to think a bit about archaeological time. I’ll admit from the start that things get a bit messy, but maybe that’s always the story with legacy data. It might even be part of its charm.

Polis

Since 2010, the Polis team’s attention has focused on the trench notebooks from the areas of E.F2 and E.F1 in the Polis excavation grid. These notebooks offer a guide to the excavation methods and the various deposits associated the architecture preserved at these sites. E.F2 produced an Early Christian basilicas style church, a Late Roman well-house, Roman period roads, a lamp kiln, and various earlier walls and features especially associated with water management in the area. We began to study the Polis notebooks mainly to determine the chronology of the “South Basilica” at the site and its transition from wood-roofed to barrel vaults. As our work developed, however, our research question expanded and we are now studying the smaller, apparently industrial, site of E.F1 as a window into the changing uses of the northern edge of the Late Roman city.

Narrative trench notebooks are not an uncommon form of legacy data. In fact, we were fortunate at Polis that Joanna Smith, the project’s current director, had the notebooks scanned and made available to teams in the U.S. and Cyprus. The greater challenge in the study of Polis notebooks is that excavators used a hybrid method that was not strictly stratigraphic. Excavators dug in levels and passes. The former coincided loosely to stratigraphic deposits or, just as frequently, distinct areas in the trench. The latter were either literal passes with the pick or episodes of excavation bounded by time, features, a prescribed depth, or some other distinctive character. Confusingly, passes sometimes corresponded to stratigraphic changes while in others, they did not. Excavators also allowed for multiple levels in their trench to be open at the same time disregarding a “last in, first out” approach that so often defines stratigraphic excavation. In fact, some levels could be open for virtually the entire excavation season with excavators removing deposits and defining features from time to time as workers and attention allowed.

The excavation notebooks preserved the daily excavation notes from all the active levels and passes in a trench. As a result, the description of a particular level (or even a particular pass) could appear across multiple days and notebook pages. This not only made it hard to understand the character of any single level, but also to grasp the relationship between various levels and passes. Because neither levels nor passes had to be stratigraphically defined there need not be a depositional relationship between various levels, but our ability to discern deposition in the data relies on the careful interpretation of the description of levels and passes to reveal depositional processes. From these descriptions, we produce what he affectionately called a “Franco Harris Matrix,“ after the recipient of the similarly miraculous ”immaculate reception” in the 1972 AFC playoffs.

Once we had prepared our Franco Harris Matrices, we analyzed the pottery from contexts that appeared to be defined stratigraphically and were useful for shedding light on architectural features in the various trenches. We recorded the ceramics according to the year of excavation and trench as well as the level and pass even when we were aware that the level and pass were not depositional unique. We then combined this new data with a database that recorded so-called inventoried finds, which described artifacts inventoried because they deserved more detailed descriptions, conservation, or special storage. To make this database “talk to” our analysis of context pottery required some additional recoding of the inventoried finds database. In most cases, this allowed us to produce assemblages that we could map back onto our stratigraphy, but in some cases, it demonstrated the disjunction between our stratigraphic analysis and the original recording method. For example, if the excavator only records the object by level and not by pass and we have discerned a change in depositional context within a level (say between pass 3 and 4), then this artifact fits only awkwardly within our interpretative scheme rendering it less useful in our effort to date contexts and associated architecture at the site.

Flow

Our goals in analyzing the legacy data from Polis naturally shaped the flow of data through our system. The concept of dataflow, of course, appeared in the 1990s as a term for the organization of fragmented processes in parallel computing. The more general term ”workflow” became common at about the same time to describe the sequence of processes used to produce a particular outcome. Dataflow and workflow privilege the organization of data in ways that allow them to move smoothly through networks. It is hardly surprising that social and critical theorists Deleuze and Guattari found the concept of flow emblematic of the late modern condition and symptomatic of the fluid movement of good, capital, and people that defines neoliberalism and contemporary logistics. Flow plays a distinct role in how we think about the value of data in archaeology and is central to distinguishing dead data from legacy data. As a number of critics have recently observed, data that cannot or is not (or in some cases should not) be used, can die. In fact, it seems to me that the designation of legacy data only applies to data that required adaptation to be reused. Dead data is just dead data without a legacy, and data still moving about existing workflows is just archaeological data that has acquired no legacy. To make a simple point unnecessarily complex, legacy data is data that is already adapted somehow to contemporary research. Recombining old data with new data sets involves deciding which elements of the legacy dataset links to new data or serves to address new research questions.

At Polis this process revealed certain unexpected complications. While the notebook data that we studied remained safely locked into its notebook, to make it useful for our research, we attempted to break it out of its scanned-paper prison by transcribing some of the level and pass descriptions to make it easier to understand various contexts. It soon became apparent that these transcriptions created new problems. In our effort to understand levels and passes in a depositional context, we separated them from their daily context. In an excavation where multiple contexts might be open simultaneously and that later contexts were not necessarily removed before earlier ones, understanding which contexts are open at the same time provided clues to understanding the potential for contamination between levels and passes. In other words, as we re-contextualized the levels and passes so that we could understand the depositional contexts, we also started to de-contextualize the excavation itself. This tension between the original medium and methods and our efforts to reuse the data clearly established the Polis notebooks as legacy data both in that it maintained an original context that is separate from our contemporary needs and nevertheless remains susceptible to the requirements of contemporary data flow.

Legacy Data and Time

At this point, this paper could speak to the importance of metadata and paradata in ensuring that archaeological data flows do not distort, misrepresent, or obscure the character of older data. Eric Kansa’s call for “Slow Data” as an antidote to our rush to homogenized Big Data. Instead, I’d like to explore how the concept of data encourages us to think about time in the context of digital archaeology. My tentative foray into the issue of time in digital practice is a very modest attempt to fill a lacuna in recent discussion about time in archaeology which have largely overlooked digital artifacts such as those that constitute legacy data. Moreover, it seems like legacy data is worthy of additional attention because it exists, by definition, between the past and the present.

Most of us accept that archaeology studies the past (and for simplicity’s sake I’ll exclude archaeology of the contemporary world which is not only complicated by the concept of contemporaneity, but also by the rather defuse and challenging body of theoretical literature). In other words, we tend to define the object of archaeological study as temporally and chronologically remote from archaeological work. We might also accept that the prevailing paradigm in archaeological practice is one of progress through time. After all, the journal of methods from the SAAs is called Advances in Archaeological Practice. We can, of course, acknowledge that since the mid-20th century there are any number of valid critiques of the paradigm of progress and archaeology has embraced many of these critiques. Legacy data, however, doesn’t really care about that because it requires the paradigm of progress for its definition as part of a methodological and technological past that can be adapted to present needs of our discipline. We can perhaps leave to folks like Francois Hartog to debate whether our concern for utility in the present marks a departure from a regime of historicity that emphasizes progress.

I wonder whether the flow that defines legacy data offers insights into the move from one temporal state – that archaeological past – to another – our present research goals and questions – while still complicating views of archaeological methodology that privilege progress. The temporal fluidity of legacy data which require it to be both past and present simultaneously reflects an obscure quality present in most archaeology. In this way, it echoes the view of archaeology advanced by Laurent Olivier in his The Dark Abyss of Time. The interplay between the past and the present in the Polis notebook data, for example, shares Olivier’s (and others’) recognition that the irreducible character inherent in the materiality of the data as notebook pages and underscores how this burden makes any translation and transformation incomplete and problematic. The flow of legacy data, then, is not just toward the present, but toward the past as well.

In this way, legacy data shares an important temporal character with the objects and monuments at the center of debates over archaeological heritage, conservation, and repatriation. In many ways, legacy data invites us to engage fully with more than just the past as the object of archaeological study or the ostensible progress of archaeological methods, practices, and technology. Legacy data as both in the past and present, shares an ethical time with calls for repatriation which emphasizes the flow of objects from the deep past of archaeology, through various colonial, commercial, or other encounters, to the contemporary space nations-states and communities. As a post-colonial gesture, repatriation is not about restoring a past that has been somehow disrupted or disturbed, but about recognizing the flow between past and present as an inherent feature of the repatriated artifact.

Perhaps the similarity between legacy data and repatriated artifacts allows us to think about the study of legacy data as a kind of ethical opportunity. By reflecting on the past and the present as a flow and recognizing this flow as what constitutes legacy data as well as the complex issues surrounding heritage, we can witness first hand how archaeological knowledge can exists only in the continuous negotiation between the past and the present.

Politics, Utopias, Heritage, and Publishing

This weekend I read and really enjoyed Lynn Meskell’s recent-ish book, A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018). The book argues, in remarkable detail, that UNESCOs origins in a modern post-war view of the world instilled with an irrepressible faith in progress has created an organization that not only has failed to use culture, sincere, and heritage to bring peace, but also become a tool in political and economic conflicts. The rise of a bureaucratized technocracy within UNESCO reinforced its status as an institution committed to reinforcing the colonial relationship between European states and their former colonial possessions. In short, the book is a sophisticated indictment of the UNESCO project laced with the subtle suggestion that some of the issues associated with UNESCO in the late 20th and 21st century emerged from the marginalization of archaeology (and anthropology more broadly) from an increasingly politicized UNESCO mission.       

Meskell’s work focused in particular on the rise of the World Heritage sites as a kind of brand that countries sought to acquire for a range of political and economic reasons. In many ways, the inclusion of a site on the World Heritage list was a kind of virtue signaling that marked the site, a particular kind of heritage, and the nation as part of an official past that could then be leveraged for outcomes ranging from tourism and development to border disputes.

Meskell’s book reminded me a good bit of Richard Poynder’s recent critique of the Open Access movement in publishing. Like UNESCO, the open access movement emerged from the the giddy triumphalism of the first decade of the internet. Budapest Open Access Initiative document offers the same utopian perspective that Meskell traced in the early years of UNESCO. For the Budapest group, the idea that the internet would provide the basis for the free and unfettered flow of scientific knowledge, offers eerie parallels with the optimism that shaped the potential for international collaboration in the early post-war years when UNESCO managed the massive archaeological and heritage projects associated with the Aswan Dam project on the Nile. In subsequent decades, both the open access movement and UNESCO became pawns of national and corporate interests who seek to manipulate the status of these increasingly powerful brands for their own goals.

For UNESCO, Meskell documents any number of projects saturated with political intrigue. The inscription of the Preah Vihear temple complex in northern Thailand, for example, revealed the close connection between U.S. interests, oil companies, and the disputed border between Cambodia and Thailand in the vicinity of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The refusal to designate the old town of Panama City, Panama as in danger despite the encroachment of development demonstrated the willingness of nations and developers to collaborate in the diplomacy of heritage and blatantly overlook the risks facing sites. In effect, the successes and failures of UNESCO trace the currents of diplomacy in the post colonial world with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) often working together as a counterweight to the European powers in efforts to advance diplomatic goals.     

It’s hard not to expect the battles over Open Access publishing to see similar political and corporate contours. Already, as Poynder has identified, China has seen the value in open science initiatives and used it to accelerate their technological development in certain fields. At the same time, there is real concern over whether China will be willing to reciprocate and provide open access to their own research and literature. Communities in the “Global South,” who often depend disproportionately on publishers located in the “Global North” who are rapidly working to align themselves with open access publishing initiatives. As a result, the strategies of these publishers (including the problematic Plan S) look poised to make it more difficult for authors and communities in the Global South to protect and monetize their labor and to create situations where North American and European publishers profit from their work. The power of major publishing houses (both non-profit and, more predictably, for profit) to aggregate open access content, manage its distribution, and to continue in a gatekeeper role makes it possible that the open access utopia envisioned by the Budapest Initiative could metastasize into a publishing world even more heavily shaped by corporate interests.  

Of course, this isn’t the only scenario possible for open access publishing, just as there exists a potential for heritage that while never unpolitical is at least more diverse, more responsive to communities, and less technocratic and colonial. The incisive critiques of Meskell and Poynder serve as a useful reminder that politics of capital are constantly adapting to transform our world.

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.

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.

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. 

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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.   

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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.     

Archaeology Out of the Box

This spring, Bret Weber and I were invited to contribute to a volume called Archaeology Out-of-the-Box edited by Hans Barnard. Over the past nine or ten months, we’ve turned some ideas around in our heads in an effort to find something genuinely creative to say about our now mostly concluded field work in the Bakken Oil Patch

During the summer, I had the chance to read Lauren Berlant’s and Kathleen Stewart’s book, The Hundreds. The book entirely consists of short (hundred words or so) essays that bounced back and forth between Berlant and Stewart during the book’s gestation. As one might expect from these authors, the fragments throughout the book are affective and elegant. They don’t so much produce an argument as draw the reader across a range of emotional states and entice us to peer through narrow windows into the complex emotional lives of others.

While the substance of this book probably is not suitable for archaeology (although recent arguments for an affective archaeology are compelling), the form continues to intrigue me. So much of archaeological work deals with fragments, and archaeologists spend most of their time organizing these fragments of and from the past into relationships. This got me and Bret thinking about whether we could present our work from the Bakken in a way that preserved some of the fragmentary nature of both our evidence and our understanding of the oil boom, the folks who worked there, and its material culture. 

Over the course of our field work in the Bakken we collected over a hundred hours of interviews with workers, residents, and officials. These interviews have largely been transcribed. We also have a series of notebooks describing individual “man camps” that include counts of units, the condition of the facility, and various other notes that allowed us to track the changing material landscape of the Bakken. These notes and interviews have resulted in a series of publications. We also have over ten thousand photographs and hours of video shot during our time in the Bakken as well as the art produced through various collaborating photographers and visual artists. 

A plan for our “Out of the Box” project will be a series of 100 word (or less) passages mined from our interviews, notes, and publications. Because of limits on the number of figures, we can only use 3 to 5 images. The editors have asked that our article be between 3000 and 5000 words. This means that we can have no more than 40, 100-word fragments, to allow space for bibliography and a short (100 word!) introduction. 

Part of the what made our work in the Bakken successful (or at least intellectually stimulating) is that the team travelled together between our often dispersed study sites and talked about what we saw and how we understood the changing landscape of western North Dakota. The back-and-forth between me, Bret Weber, and Richard Rothaus shaped our perspectives and ultimately our publications. To capture this interaction as part of how we constructed and understood the Bakken, Bret and I will offer alternating fragments. Just as our conversations bounced back and forth ideas, evidence, and perspectives, our “hundreds” will also show how our different ways of reading, experiencing, and expressing the Bakken create meaningful assemblages.

Unlike traditional archaeological publications which connect evidence through various arguments for causality, our approach will be to allow the reader to connect our fragment of evidence speculating on our thinking, in part, or supplying their own understanding of the relationship between the fragments. A brief introduction will present the notion of parataxis and how it contributes to how we understand archaeological assemblages. I’d like to argue that an archaeology of the contemporary world relies particularly on parataxis in assemblages because it locates the archaeologist in the same time as our evidence. Because our ideas of causality rely on the diachronic nature of evidence and our own position outside of the time that we study, situating objects as contemporary with ourselves and one another makes constructing the traditional patterns of causality impossible. In its place, we invite the reader to respond to our fragmented assemblage immediately, to empathize, to allow evidence and experience to affect our perspectives, and to see the contemporary world not as the culmination of the past or as basis for a particular future, but as a series of encounters that can be emergent as well as foreclosed. 

Our archaeology out of the box is both a critique of archaeological epistemology as well as an offering of an archaeology grounded in the shifting ground of personal and shared experiences.

Sneak Peek: Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays

Next week, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is really excited to publish Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays.

As a bit of an appetizer, we’re making the introduction to the book available this morning as a download.

Failing Gloriously and Other Essays documents Shawn Graham’s odyssey through the digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university. At turns hilarious, depressing, and inspiring, Graham’s book presents a contemporary take on the academic memoir, but rather than celebrating the victories, he reflects on the failures and considers their impact on his intellectual and professional development. These aren’t heroic tales of overcoming odds or paeans to failure as evidence for a macho willingness to take risks. They’re honest lessons laced with a genuine humility that encourages us to think about making it safer for ourselves and others to fail.

A foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword by Neha Gupta engage the lessons of Failing Gloriously and consider the role of failure in digital archaeology, the humanities, and social sciences.

If you want to read more about this book, check out Quinn Dombrowski’s Review on the Stanford Digital Humanities blog.

“I intend to keep a copy on my office bookshelf, and a second under my desk, in order to promptly replace the bookshelf copy when it’s been given away to a grad student, staff, or faculty colleague who happens to come by. If you’re a digital humanities “veteran”, you’ll laugh and cry and shudder alongside Graham’s tales of failure. If you’re a grad student or newer to digital humanities, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays provides a rare, honest, inside look into many facets of doing digital humanities. … There is much more work that needs to be done, on many fronts, to encourage, support, and reduce the personal risk associated with thoughtful analyses of failure, for everyone […] Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is one step towards that better future.”

If this sounds interesting to you, go and download the introduction to the book now!