Open Access, Digital Archaeology, and the Future of Publishing at ASOR 2019

Academic conferences remain one of the trickiest problems in our disciplinary practice. Not only are conferences expensive to attend (and this alone makes them potentially exclusionary for our contingent, alt-ac, and precarious colleagues),  bad for the environment, and physically and mentally exhausting, but they also reinforce the complex web of personal, institutional and professional connections that forms the “deep structure” of academia. In fact, so much of what goes on at an academic conferences happens over the course of casual conversation at the ends of panels, at committee meetings, at things overheard in the crowded hotel bar and lobby, and on various social media feeds. 

The future of archaeological publishing emerged as on of the most interesting conversations that traced its way from the Thursday meeting of the ASOR Committee on Publications, the Friday morning panel on best (or at least pretty good) practices, and in various planned and chance encounters throughout the meeting. Several things emerged from these conversations:

1. Archaeological publishing has a pretty significant “value add” to the knowledge making process. Putting together an archaeological publication, and particularly one that presents new archaeological “data,” is not a simple process. Ensuring that figures, photos, illustrations, tables, and catalogues consistently involves a high degree of editorial attention, a significant amount of design and production work, and almost continual correspondence with authors. This is time consuming, technical, and specialized work and that tends to make it very expensive.

The cost of high quality archaeological publishing even in the digital realm creates a distinct – if not unique – challenge to funding archaeological publications. This, in turn, requires that any open access model for archaeology include provisions for significant and sustained funding.  

2. Publishing and Revenue. Another challenge facing open access publishing in archaeology is that many non profit publishers (to say nothing of for profit publishers) and organizations see publications as a source of significant revenue. The revenue for journal subscriptions and book sales allows organizations – like ASOR – to fulfill their mission in other areas. As a result, there is a very cautious approach to providing any content for free. 

At the same time, the cautious approach may make organizations like ASOR particularly vulnerable to the growing pressure to make publications available via open access. My concern for ASOR is that in the next decade, whether they like it or not, revenue from publishing will change and likely decline as more and more scholars expect to be able to publish their works in open ways. As editor of the ASOR Annual, I’m already hearing that authors and editors want their work to be open access. We need to find ways to accommodate this. Plan S is looming and it’s going to have different impacts on different disciplines and institutions

3. Distributed versus Centralized Distribution. A key component to current models of open access publishing is “green” open access. In practice, green open access often takes the form of archived pre-prints or off prints. The former have the advantage of separating the scholarly work for the final value adds of the publisher (see my first point). The latter can often be negotiated by scholars as part of the publication agreement. 

The downside of this kind of open access practice is that it tends to be highly distributed across various repositories (archival and otherwise) with publications following scholars rather than following the organization brought together by publishers and editors. The downside of this practice is that it tends to link discoverability to some familiarity with an author (or at least their home institution). At present, there is a much greater investment (on any number of levels) in ensuring that limited access works are discoverable than the distributed array of open access works housed in institutional repositories. 

4. Open Access, the State and Colonialism. Archaeologists have long been aware of the colonial aspects of our practice. Open access publishing has positioned itself as one way to make sure that the communities in which we do archaeological work have access to our findings and results. To my mind, this is only good.

At the same time, this line of reasoning as a justification for open access publishing is easily anticipated by those who argue that open access publishing is a radical solution to a relatively simple problem. Many of the large for profit (and non profit) publishers already accommodate this critique by having policies that make content available at deeply discounted prices (or even for free) to “markets” in the so-called global south.     

This argument overlays usefully with the critique that by limiting access to publicly funded scholarship we’re forcing public institutions to pay twice: once for the research and again to have access. Of course, the response to this from traditional publishers is to find ways to ensure that constituencies responsible for funding certain research have access and that other audiences remain available for monetization. Such geoblocking is already fairly standard practices for online content.

In other words, while I don’t disagree with the two lines of critique, the outcomes hardly require open access as a solution. The responses available for non open access publishers are well established and unlikely to make the situation better.   

5. Skepticism, Confusion, and Analytics. One fo the most painful responses that I encountered this weekend to our efforts to develop open access models is a kind of skepticism based on the argument that impact factors and other forms of “advanced analytics” used by universities will continue to favor limited access journals. This, of course, conflates limited access with impact factors in a way that is unhelpful. It parallels a tendency to confuse the issue of open access with that of peer review by needlessly questioning whether open access publications CAN be peer reviewed. It also has similarities to the tiresome assertion that open access somehow is antithetical to print. Somehow open access has come to mean exclusively digital. This is crazy. It is entirely possible to publish an open access publication in print form. It also assumes that you can’t charge for open access publications. This is also not any truer than the idea that all free publications are open access. 

This persistent confusion — and not just among “senior” scholars, I might add — demonstrates how much work we still need to do to make sure that our disciplines embrace open access scholarship in a systematic and thoughtful way. 

 

Wide-Ranging Wednesday: ASOR, Alcatraz, and Failing Gloriously

I’m heading out west today to the annual meeting of ASOR in San Diego. As per usual, I’m pulling together a gaggle of books to keep me company on the flights and during down times at the conference.

For the flight, I’m going to read Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing as I prepare myself for a winter of rather remarkable fights starting on Saturday with the Wilder vs. Ortiz heavy weight tilt, December 7th with Joshua vs. Ruiz, and on December 14th with Bud Crawford, Mick Conlan, and Teofimo Lopez in action. I’m pretty excited.

I’ve also packed along a copy of François Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015) as I think about the practical, methodological, and ethical time of legacy data. Along similar lines, I’m carrying with me the intimidating works of Reinhard Kosselleck, but I’ll probably start with Niklas Olsen’s History in the plural an introduction to the work of Reinhart Koselleck (2012) before dipping my toes into Futures Past: on the semantics of historical time (2004) or Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories (2018). This was mostly prompted by Laurent Olivier and Marek Tamm’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019).

As per usual, at the 11th hour I added David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education (2019) to my Kindle on the recommendation of Richard Rothaus.

The flight to San Diego will also be a great chance to think through some strategies to promote the newest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that is set to be published on December 1. Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is a series of reflective pieces on his life as a digital archaeologist and a digital humanist in the first decades of the 21st century. The book is part archaeological autobiography and part commentary on ways to make academia a safer place for failure.

Advanced copies of the book are in the wind and the feedback has been really positive (which I’m sure is as much a relief to Shawn as it is to me!). We were both really excited to read Quinn Dombrowski’s thoughtful review of the book on the Stanford DH blog. Check it out! 

And stay tuned to this page for a sneak peek of the introduction next week.   

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t nudge folks to read Gayatri Devi’s short essay on the North Dakota Quarterly blog on the 50th anniversary of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz. For many reasons, this event has not garnered the same public awareness as other episodes of protest in the late 1960s. That it occurred at the same time as protests by African Americans, anti-war protestors, and other movements that exposed the hypocrisy in late-20th century American political, economic, and cultural life, offers a clear reminder that the story of Native Americans remains deeply entangled in the complex critiques of contemporary America. It is hardly surprising then, that Tommy Orange’s There, There (2018) which is set in the Native American community of contemporary Oakland, looks back to the occupation of Alcatraz as a key moment in both the novel and that community’s story. Reading Tommy Orange or Dean Rader’s Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI (2011) over the Thanksgiving is a nice way to ignore the white-washed portrayal of Native Americans so closely associated with that holiday.  

Accessing the Annual of ASOR

This past month, I was named editor of the Annual of ASOR. It’s a book series organized into annual volumes on various archaeological topics. Historically, it would appear that the Annual began as an outlet for research from the various members of the schools of Oriental research. How it differed from the contemporary Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research is a bit unclear except that the Annual was in its early years more substantial and included longer, more lavishly illustrated articles. These two publications of ASOR represented the technical and professional output of the American Schools in distinction to Biblical Archaeologist (now Near Eastern Archaeology) founded in 1938 and dedicated to more accessible and popular writing about archaeology in the Middle East.

Today, the function and scope of AASOR is a bit less clear. Work on contemporary sites has increasingly appeared in the Archaeological Report Series which began in 1991 or in BASOR which is a modern and well-edited professional journal. As a result, AASOR has become the outlet for legacy projects and edited collections of articles that deal with topics broadly of interest to ASOR members. I find this eclecticism appealing especially in a world of increasingly specialized publications in our field, but I also recognize that this eclecticism might be confusing to scholars who are looking for an outlet for their work. It seems like the 100th anniversary of the AASOR in 2020 might be an opportunity to make the series more visible and to reflect on its history, contributions and potential for the future.

Along similar lines, the eclecticism of AASOR has made it a bit of a challenge to make the series more available in open digital forms. ASOR has been fortunately to benefit from the efforts of Chuck Jones who led the committee on publications for over a decade and worked to release back ASOR content in relatively open, digital forms. 

The first 20-some volumes of AASOR are available for free download various places (with some obviously in the public domain):

The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1919/1920, vol. 1 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Google books).
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1921/1922, vol 2/3 (jstor)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1922/1923, vol. 4 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1923/1924, vol. 5 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1924/1925, vol. 6 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1925/1926, vol. 7 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1926/1927, vol. 8 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 9 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 10 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1929/1930, vol. 11 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1930/1931, vol. 12 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1931/1932, vol. 13 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1933/1934, vol. 14 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1934/1935, vol. 15 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1935/1936, vol. 16 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1936/1937, vol. 17 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Explorations in Eastern Palestine, III, vol. 18/19 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Introduction to Hurrian, vol. 20 (Hathi Trust)
The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. Vol. III: The Iron Age 1941 – 1943, vol. 21/22 (Not Available)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1943/1944, vol. 23 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1944/1945, vol. 24 (Hathi Trust

After volume 24, things get a bit more irregular, with the exception of volume 32/33:

The excavation at Herodian Jericho, 1951, vol. 32/33 (Hathi Trust)

Things get better again, however, after volume 55:

Preliminary excavation reports and other archaeological investigations : Tell Qarqur, Iron I sites in the North-Central highlands of Palestine, vol. 56 (Hathi Trust)
Across the Anatolian plateau : readings in the archaeology of ancient Turkey, vol. 57 (Not Available)
The Near East in the southwest : essays in honor of William G. Dever, vol. 58 (Hathi Trust)
Results of the 2001 Kerak Plateau Early Bronze Age survey AND Two early alphabetic inscriptions from the Wadi el-Ḥôl: new evidence for the origin of the alphabet from the western desert of Egypt, vol. 59 (Hathi Trust)
The archaeology of difference : gender, ethnicity, class and the “other” in antiquity : studies in honor of Eric M. Meyers, vol. 60/61 (Hathi Trust)
The middle Bronze Age IIA cemetery at Gesher : final report, vol. 62 (Hathi Trust
Views from Phlamoudhi, Cyprus, vol. 63 (Hathi Trust)

The three most recent volumes (64, 65, and 68) are only available via Jstor with a subscription. All in all, 27 of the 66 published volumes are available for free download (and a few more can be viewed at Hathi Trust, but not downloaded). This is something that should be easy enough to sort out and it would be outstanding to try to get all 66 volumes of AASOR available for free download by 2020 (or at least those still not generating some income for ASOR).

The existing content available from AASOR offers an intriguing body of data that could, for example, be analyzed for the history of the publication or the discipline, mined for spatial data and plotted on a map, or queried for references and citations. While the earliest volumes have entered the public domain making them available for all sort of remixing and classroom use, the latter volumes are often under a CC By-NC-ND license making them a bit harder to play with. 

(If you notice a mistake in this list, please drop me a line in the comments. I’ll post a list of AASOR volumes and their accessibility to Google Sheets when I tidy up my own spreadsheet.)

I’m also scheming up some ideas for new AASOR volumes, but I’ll share that with the ole blog when they begin to get a bit more focus (and when I have a better sense for whether people will be interested!).

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.  

ASOR 2016

Apparently I got a nice shout out at last night Sarah Parcak’s plenary talk at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. I figured it must be about my blog (or various other ventures). So I felt like I should have something posted this morning for people wondering who I am.

I have enjoyed new ASOR logo:

IMG 0008

Revised from this:

The American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeology in the Near East

The lowercase letters are a nice touch in a lovely seriffed font with just enough formality to convey the weighty history and purpose of the organization tempered by the lowercase letters with just a touch of whimsy on the terminal (I think?) of the “r”. 

I like the Canaanite jar as a symbol and maybe it marks a shift toward the Mediterranean from the Mesopotamia and Egypt? Whatever the reason it’s an elegant update.

Archaeology Mediated by Technology: Gibson, Dick, and Archaeologies of the Future

Last week, I posted a draft of my ASOR paper, and today it is more or less done. It think I originally titled the paper “Excavating in the 21st Century: A Fictional Biography Mediated by Technology,” mostly because it rhymed. 

Enjoy.

OB III THE OBJECTS

For my brief remarks today I’m intentionally misunderstanding the assignment for this panel. Rather than discuss the artifacts presented in the pdf file that Rick and Nancy circulated, I want to consider the pdf document as an archaeological artifact. As I looked at the pdf file and its metadata, I recognized that the pdf format was introduced by Adobe System around 1990 and this pdf file appears to have been created using Microsoft Word apparently on a MacIntosh using Apple’s Quartz PDF and running OS X 10.10.5. So we know something of the provenience of this digital artifact. 

OB III THE OBJECTS2

I knew a good bit less about the artifact visible in the pdf document. So I wrote an admittedly fanciful abstract for this session thinking about all the companies and brand names associated with this single digital document and channeling my inner William Gibson. In particular, I indulged in Gibson’s recent tendency to name everything, which perhaps found its most pervasive expression in his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. Frederic Jameson called this tendency “postmodern nominalism” in his 2007 collection of essays on science fiction titled (aptly enough), Archaeologies of the Future. Of course, the naming of things is not new, but it takes on special visibility in our hyper-commodified culture. The naming of things is significant for the concept of object biography because, we recognized – as did Igor Kopytoff – that objects initially exist with general names as commodities (even in our late capital world) – before they enter our world as artifacts. As artifacts, they go from being general types to things that have meaning in a singular way – a process Kopytoff calls singularization. Singularization transforms the commodity into something that has a social life, which gives rise to a biography. 

OB III THE OBJECTS3

In the three previous object biography sessions, the papers have generally focused on the life of these singularized things and have paid particular attention to the objects that archaeologists study or recover. As the papers in these sessions have recognized, for archaeologists, the process of commodification is more complex as objects are commodities, have lives, and are then discarded (and become rubbish and striped of all value to use Michael Thompson’s imagining of that term) before once again entering the world of value and life. 

OB III THE OBJECTS4

In my contributions to these sessions, I’ve tended to reflect on the tools that archaeologists use and tried to understand how these objects intersected with the objects that we study. I’ve thought about technology and been impressed by some recent work by Eric Kansa who has emphasized the role of branded, commodified, interchangeable tools in archaeological practice. If archaeologists in the 1970s prized their (branded!) trowels, today digital cameras, iPads, laptops, and software join traditional field gear as vital for the archaeologists work. Archaeology has been even more enmeshed in the commodified world of Gibson where products and brands intersect with archaeological things. 

OB III THE OBJECTS5

As I thought about this, I was drawn to the novels of Philip K Dick particularly as interpreted by Bill Brown in his most recent book Other Things. Brown emphasizes what even the casual reader of Dick’s novels knows: the authenticity of objects is a central concerns for the author as he explores the future of the past. In Time Out of Joint, the idyllic surroundings of a 1950s American town slowly falls apart when the protagonist discovers a cache of magazines describing an alternative present that appears every bit as real as his surroundings. In Ubik, objects drift in and out of chronological focus in a netherworld between life and death. In The Galactic Pot-Healer, Dick contrasts the deeply -fulfilling, artisanal work of a pot-healer who repairs damaged ancient vessels, with the emptiness of modern existence. For Dick, the authenticity of an object – its shift from a commodity to a singularity – depends on time.

OB III THE OBJECTS6

As commodities like iPad, software programs, and drones become increasingly ubiquitous in archaeological practices but also more remote, disposable, and depersonalized, archaeological work becomes mediated by “things out of time” (to use a Dickian phrase). It is strangely alienating for archaeologists to come to depend so fully on objects that barely have biographies. It would seem that archaeologies of the future and the future of archaeology is only more enmeshed in this commodified world through which we give objects life.

OB III THE OBJECTS7

Digital Objects at the ASOR Annual Meeting: A Draft of a Paper

In a few weeks, I’m giving a paper at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. I’m giving a paper in the Object Biography for Archaeologist Workshop which this year focuses on objects as magnets. The abstract for my paper and the panel is here. If last year is any indication, this should be a fun panel with some good papers.

Last year, the papers went a bit long and that cut into our opportunities for conversation. This was too bad because the conversation seemed lively and, in some ways, more engaging than the papers. Even worse, my paper is the fourth of five papers and I’m set to go on after 5 pm. In other words, my paper will happen during cocktail hour.

To compensate for this, I’ve decided unilaterally to keep my paper short hopefully ceding a bit of time for conversation, and to keep my paper relatively simple. My target length is about 1500 words and I hope I can bring that in at around 12 minutes.

Here’s the first, roughedly-rough-ruff draft: 

Objects, Clones, and Contexts

The idea of an object as a magnet is compelling. It evokes the idea of the object as a node in a network of attractions and relations that draw together objects, associations, individuals, institutions, meaning, and even events and time. In fact, some scholars have suggested that objects are more than isolated nodes, but actually represent the network itself. In other words, the object does not attract meaning to it, but is meaning itself. It may be that magnet and the effects of magnetism are inseparable.

Of course the idea of the object as magnet also got me thinking about the role of magnetism in the creation of digital objects (even if magnetic storage is giving way to solid-state technologies which are not a magnetic medium). Instead of messy magnetic metaphors, my paper today will consider a wide range of digital archaeological objects. These digital objects play a vital role in archaeological practice and occupy a unique place in how we conceptualize object biography.

Digital objects are ubiquitous in archaeological practice. Archaeologists regularly produce thousands of digital objects each season and unlike excavated or collected artifacts which may only seem to proliferate, most archaeologists take active steps to ensure that digital objects are cloned and distributed across a wide range of locations and contexts. These objects exist in dense networks of both technological relationships, practice, space, and the archaeological discourse.

Despite the prominence of excavated or collected artifacts in archaeological publications and arguments, most of these objects enjoy relatively little attention from the archaeologist. They get uncovered or recovered, washed, identified, sorted, counted, recorded, and stored in trays or boxes or maybe even dumped. The archaeologists with whom I’ve worked on Cyprus refer to these most common artifacts as “sherds” (and it must be said with a dismissive sneer). In Greece (and on my project), we refer to them – problematically – as context pottery. I suppose this is meant to indicate that this pottery is so ordinary that it only offers context for the really important stuff or perhaps it should be regarded contextually along with other features in the trench like the stratigraphy. As a survey archaeologist with a bit of a quantitative bent, I always felt sorry for these “sherds” and most of my real archaeological work has focused on recovering these objects from “the enormous condescension of” most archaeological practice.

In our work, these sherds tend to be the smallest and most granular objects recorded in archaeological practice and the most common objects assigned archaeological significance. As an aside, I’ll overlook the work done to document the chemical make up of sherds which while important remains quite rare in Mediterranean practice and particularly unusual on a large scale. It is interesting, however, to note that scientific study of artifact whether through thin sections, XRF, or neutron activation, does recognize that archaeological objects exist on the molecular level. I don’t have much familiarity with these practices, but I introduce them as a little bit (see?) of critique on the idea that an object is a magnet. To my reading, this might imply an unnecessary division between the object itself and meaning (that is attracted to it from elsewhere?). It might be simpler to understand an object as only existing with meaning. Without meaning (or relationships) objects may well exist, but not in a useful or recognizable way.

Whatever the specifics, any process used to document these “sherds” involves the creation of at least one digital object. Our project at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, recorded each sherd as a record first on a sheet of paper and then in a relational database. At Polis-Chrysochous, we skipped the paper phase and recorded directly into the laptop computer. The entry in the database involves creating a record of the object’s weight, color, and place in established or local typologies. In some cases, this record is accompanied by another digital object, a photograph, and in exceptional cases, we use a series of photographs to create a 3-D structure from motion image of the artifact that is itself made up of a series of digital objects including photographs, a point cloud, a wireframe, and a textured 3D object. Each these individual parts of the 3D object represent stand alone objects that each have particular archaeological values.

At the end of the recording process, the archaeological artifacts go back into their trays or boxes, are placed on shelves in massive storerooms, and return to relative obscurity. In all, an archaeologist might spend 20 seconds handling, identifying, and recording a sherd on one of these trays. For the sherd, as object, the process (and in many ways the utility of the object) is over, but for the digital object that comes from this interaction its usefulness has just begun.

Over the course of my surveys, excavations, and study projects, we have produced tens of thousands of these digital objects in relational database as well as digital photographs each inscribed with vital metadata and assigned a file name meaningful in our recording system. This is standard practice.

These digital objects have innumerable advantages over the fired clay objects. These digital objects can be sorted instantly. They can be duplicated almost flawlessly. They can be transported over national borders and cloned so that they appear in multiple places at the same time. They can be published on the web and in books, and linked to by other folks to form new networks and relationships. Finally, the conservation and storage of digital objects in the short term is relatively inexpensive compared, at least, to the expenses and challenges associated with the so-called storage crisis in archaeology. In so many practical ways, the digital object is more useful to the work of the archaeologist than the excavated or collected object.

In conceptual ways, digital objects are more useful as well. For example, the digital world in which we work is so much simpler. It relies upon ontologies that make at least some relationships and definitions explicit and it cuts through the unsightly messiness associated with archaeological artifacts. In fact, for a digital object to have meaning, it depends upon a dense, but legible network of relationships that define not only how a digital object is expressed, but what it expresses. Moreover, the network of useful relationships between various digital artifacts tends to be more visible as well. For example, in contrast to cloudy network of associations generated by an archaeological artifact, the associations linked data relationships follow defined pathways either within a data set (for example linking two similar objects together within the same dataset) or between datasets (an artifact to a location in GIS for example or two objects discovered at different locations).

Digital objects rely upon more than merely bits and bites to communicate meaning. They exist within a networks of physical objects as well. Hard drives are every bit as hard (in physical terms) as solid state drives are solid. The cloud may seem ethereal, but it too is made up of routers, servers, storage, racks, chips, wires, and buildings. The devices we use to access our digital objects are made of silicon, aluminum, rare-earth, and plastics and function best in enclosed spaces with solid surfaces and comfortable chairs. Problems with the various material interfaces with digital objects will, of course, compromise the utility of these objects for archaeological analysis.

At the same time, the physical media upon which digital objects depend represent a vital component of the material culture of archaeology. These archaeological objects which have – quite literally – a magnetic relationship with objects produced in the field have only recently received significant scrutiny as objects. The use of iPads in the field and their innovative, yet familiar, interface has renewed conversation regarding the material form of digital recording devices. Archaeology of the contemporary world and the allied field of media archaeology have likewise showed renewed interest in material form of digital media. The most recent volume of the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology explored these intersections in a most productive way. An NEH sponsored conference titled “Mobilizing the Past” and sponsored by ASOR members at the Atheinou Archaeological Project encouraged critical reflection on the intersection of digital and material tools used in archaeological field work.

The focus of today’s panels was on objects as magnets. I have taken this a bit too literally in reference to the myriad little magnetic charges that constitute so much of our digital world. At the same time, I hope my paper brings to the fore some simple examples of how archaeological work and archaeological artifacts depend upon digital objects. These digital objects have their own biographies that require us to adjust our understanding of life to allow for frequent cloning, periodic reincarnation, spontaneous bilocation, and, as with so many objects, lengthy periods of suspended animation.

These objects have important social lives as well. They depend upon hardware, software, and a wide-range of other technological infrastructures and protocols to be useful and understandable to each other and to archaeologists. These objects, in turn, rely upon the support of economic relationships, political and institutional structures, and ideological commitments to have value. Not every digital object has equal value and we all know of digital objects that have died unmourned on a faulty hard drive, a decommissioned server, or with the obsolesce of a particular application.

With the passing of a digital object, we lose part of the network of relationships that connect our analysis with the archaeological artifact. This is not a call to keep every related digital object alive on life support, but to recognize for objects like our poor, marginalized, sherds, the continued vitality of the digital artifact is more important than baked clay.

Lessons from a Sabbatiquoll

Despite my effort to keep a balanced perspective on sabbatiquoll, I slowly but surely lost my mind as the end of the my year of freedom, rest, and recovery approaches.

1024px Dasyurus maculatus

So, I’ve learned five lessons and these largely echo the lessons that I learned (and tried to avoid) last time I took a year of leave. I guess I’m incapable of learning.

1. Time, time, time. Over the last 80 days, I diligently used Nick Feltron‘s Reporter app on my mobile phone to document what I did with my days. Reporter asked me approximately 4 times a day (a mode of 5) what I was doing. I would then answer a simple survey that would provide data for analysis.

The most simple question it asks is whether I’m working or not. I answered yes 64% of the time. Since I generally was awake at least 14 hours a day (conservatively), I reckon I was working about 8 hours a day, maybe a bit more. That means that I worked around 60 hours per week. 

2. Write, write, write. Of that 60 hours per week, I wrote about 65% of the time. I spent the rest of the time editing, reading, and in meetings which all account for over 5% of my work time. In hindsight, I probably spent too much time writing and not enough time reading (6.6% of my working time) especially as I look at a stack of unread books for the summer field season, but it was a conscious decision to get as much writing done as possible and load up my folders full of written text for the long, dark time between the end of this sabbatical and the next. 

3. Alone, so alone. I was alone 60% of the time this year, and 32% of the time I was with my wife. That leaves 8% of my time with other people. While I’m not particularly bothered by being alone, I did come to find it a bit oppressive. I suspect the main reason that I was alone so often is that I rarely left the house. I spent 80% of my time in my house and 37% of that time in my home office (29% downstairs in our family room and 12% in the kitchen or workout room). This coincides well with my leisure time activities. 34% of my leisure time was spent eating or drinking primarily in the evening in the kitchen and another 30% of my leisure was spent watching television. 16% of my time was spent on walks either in the workout room on the treadmill or with the mighty Milo-dog. I counted time with Milo as being alone.

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4. Preloading my next two years. I promised myself that I would get things done over sabbatical, but I did not promise that I’d finish things. I was really hard to move a number of projects along without wrapping any of them up (well, except this one). I think I succeeded in keeping my eyes on my next couple of years when I’ll return to teaching full time (or at least university life full time!), and setting up a slate of projects that I can finish while occupied by other responsibilities. 

a. Learning Layout. I spent a good bit time over sabbatical learning how to layout books using Adobe InDesign. I was able to work on some manuscripts without interruption and learn techniques to streamline the production of books. This will allow me to keep my little press moving forward next year. 

b. Digital and Analogue for PKAP. I made steady progress working on preparing a digital copy of PKAP I and am working on getting support from ASOR. We also made a good start on finishing the work with PKAP II. We will need to do some data normalizing over the next 6 months and some editing and revising on the manuscript, but much of it is complete. 

c. Man Camp Projects. Several significant parts of the North Dakota Man Camp Project have moved forward including an edited volume with Kyle Conway, a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, a roughed out edited version of our interviews (Voices of the Bakken), some outreach, and an almost completed manuscript for submission to Historical Archaeology (or someplace similar). All of these projects will require attention in the fall, but most of them have significant momentum.

d. Polis-Chrysochous. Unfortunately, my work at Polis-Chrysochous became the awkward step-child of my scholarly attention. I did not move it forward as much as I would have liked this year, but I did get some preliminary commitments to publishing both the notebook data and the finds data in digital forms. Plus, we have a manuscript for an article that is in pretty decent shape (I think) and will help us guide our 3-week summer study season and will set up some work for next year.

5. Service. As an academic, I tend to be pretty self-involved. My projects trump almost everything else in terms of setting priorities and absorbing energy. Over sabbatical, however, I allowed myself a bit more mission creep. I committed myself to several new, and hopefully productive, service projects that range from stepping up my commitment to institutions that mean something to my various communities – like the American Schools of Oriental Research and the North Dakota Humanities Council – and taking on some new responsibilities with North Dakota Quarterly and (pending a vote) the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute. A colleague of mine here at the University of North Dakota and I discussed how rewarding it has been to work within our scholarly communities in ways that advanced the work of others as well as our own. I took that conversation to heart and want to continue to seek out opportunities to build communities with shared academic interests and goals.

Three Thoughts on the ASOR Annual Meeting

I spent two, busy days at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting last week. It was great to catch up with old friends and spend some time surveying both recent trends in our field and the state of academic conference. 

1. Ban Archaeological Site Reports as Conference Papers. I enjoyed most of the papers that I heard last week and invariably learned something from even the most tedious. This is a good thing. At the same time, I got antsy and irritated during archaeological site reports that detailed the results of every trench at a site over the previous one or two field seasons. The level of detail offered in many of these papers made the work difficult to visualize. The absence of clear general research questions (e.g. what are the influences on the development of Cypriot cult in the late Iron Age?) and the preponderance of hyper-specific research questions (e.g. does the north wall continue west?). These questions are interesting, perhaps, from an archaeological perspective, but this rarely translates to an interesting paper.

I recognize, of course, that there is a tradition of these kinds of site reports in archaeology, so I’m not blaming the authors. I also realize that these reports can provide useful updates to the scholarly community, former volunteers and collaborators, and specialists interested in these sites. Moreover, I get that with funding to attend conferences become more competitive, many scholars feel pushed to give papers of dubious academic value just to get funding to attend. 

At the same time, I am pretty sure ASOR could publish academic site reports online, perhaps behind a firewall if project’s are concerned about the safety of their sites, and eliminate what is far and away the least intellectually rewarding part of the conference while still providing a venue for the dissemination of detailed information. This would allow conference organizers to present a more focused conference with more substantial papers over a shorter period of time. It does not, of course, resolve the issue of scholars who present less than remarkable papers simply to get funding to attend.  

2. The Digital Divides. I am becoming more and more alarmed by the divide in archaeology between the digital haves and have nots. As research funding contracts and expenses of fieldwork continue to increase, the presentations documenting significant digital innovation came almost entirely from large, well-funded projects with the backing of large research universities. I recognize that innovation requires funding and that many aspects of this work will “trickle down” into digital tools and technologies available to smaller, more financially ordinary projects, but there was little discussion of how this process will take place or what smaller, less generously funded projects can do to participate in the process of digital innovation (or little discussion that I saw at the panels that I attended).

The digital divide bothered me because so many of the coolest digital projects seemed far from being sufficiently scalable to have a widespread impact on the field. Moreover, some of the data driven digital initiative seem to require the widespread adoption of their complex platforms to assemble the kind of data required to allow for archaeological “big data” initiatives. The truth behind big data in archaeology, however, is that it derives not from technological innovation alone, but through the combination of technology and social networks (of the human kind) to generate the kind of collaboration necessary to produce significant change in the discipline. 

The digital divide, then, marks not just the digital “haves” and digital “have nots,” but an approach to digital archaeology that continues to privilege innovation over application. As an archaeologist open to digital tools and techniques, I am far more interested in understanding how innovators can provide access to digital tools and support the meaningful adoption of technology to produce significant bodies of data. In other words, I was impressed by the highest of high tech (e.g. virtual archaeology in immersive 3D environments, dynamic bespoke platforms supporting large-scale collaboration between interrelated projects, and sharks with laser beams who could destroy even the most aggressive archaeocyberpirates), I was much hungrier for digital initiative that had significant adoption rates or that produced meaningful results across multiple projects of different scales and resources. It seems to me that the future of digital archaeology is in collaboration and adoption more than innovation. 

3. Conferences as Non-Places. Upon returning home, I was shocked to discover that the conference had been in San Diego. The Westin Hotel was fine. The weather was nice from what I could gather from outside the hotel and taxi cab windows (I did notice the absence of blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures). 

I recognize that part of this was my fault. I could have planned more time for excursions or at least took a cab to a good local restaurant rather than settling for rather ordinary fare available near the conference hotel. At the same time, I felt significant pressure to use my time wisely, attend as many sessions as possible, and be punctual and engaged at various meetings. By my early morning departure, I realized that the location of the conference was almost completely irrelevant.

The commercial carpeting, Starbucks’ coffee, institutional pastries, familiar hotel rooms, and polite staff all made the experience of attending this conference nearly indistinguishable from any other, and made me all the happier to get home. 

Gender at the American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

Last week Dimitri Nakassis wrote an insightful post documenting the percentages of men and women at member organized panels at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting last year. This post was a response to a short study on Doug’s Archaeology blog which highlighted the disparities between men and women in  NSF archaeology grants. As a member of the program committee at ASOR, I thought I should run the numbers from our annual conference and the good folks (especially LeeAnn Barnes Gordon!) obligingly sent along the participants, panels, and papers in table form for the 2013 annual meeting. You can check my numbers against those in the 2013 annual meeting program here.

My findings from ASOR more or less parallel Dimitri’s from the AIA. First, I looked at Member Organized Panels. These are panels where the organizers of the panel participate directly in inviting, evaluating, and organizing sessions. 44% (N=12) of these panels were organized by men, 30% (N=8) by women, and 26% (N=7) by both men and women. These numbers are similar to the numbers from the ASOR sponsored panels. These are essentially standing sessions at the annual meeting and the chairs are selected from among the willing: 49% (N=17) were chaired by men, 40 (N=14) by women, and 11% (N=4) by both.

At member organized panels chaired by men, 66% of the papers were given by men and 34 % were given by women. This is identical to the numbers Dimitri produced for the AIA annual meeting. At panels chaired by women, 46% of the papers were given by men and 54% were given by women. In panels organized by both men and women, 82% of the papers were given by men.   

The numbers produced above refer to only the presenter as listed in the ASOR program, but because I had the program in a tabular form, I was also able to look at coauthors of papers. I didn’t break these down according to session type because I wasn’t sure that it was relevant. It is interesting that of the 56 papers listing a man as the primary authors, 45 had male coauthors (80%) and 19 had female coauthors (33%) with 9 (16%) having both. (These numbers do not add up to 100% because it is possible to have both a man and a woman as a coauthor!) Overall numbers are a bit more charitable with the 54 papers had 82 male coauthors and 27 female (75% versus 25%).

For 51 papers authored by women with coauthors, 57% (N=29) had female coauthors, 53% (N=27) had male coauthors, and  14% (N=7) had both. 56% of the total coauthors on women authored papers were men and 44% were women.

Finally, I can offer some overall numbers. 58% of the named authors on papers are men and 42% are women. 55% of papers list men as the primary author and 45% list women. 

Some final thoughts. Since I’ve been on the program committee there has been a consistent interest in using the annual meeting to influence the shape of the profession. For example, we have implemented an appearance policy designed to ensure spots are available in the conference for a wide range of perspectives and to prevent the conference from becoming dominated by a small group of ambitious and aggressive presenters. I wonder whether we need to think a bit about how to use the annual meeting to promote a more gender balance in the profession.