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.  


Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis-Chrysochous

Tomorrow I head off to the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. You can check out the full program here (.pdf).

Our panel is at 8:20 AM on Friday morning:

5C City of Gold: Archaeological excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus

Theme: This session details the exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus (Princeton University Art Museum, October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013), about the cities of Marion and Arsinoe that underlie modern-day Polis Chrysochous, and some of the research developed during the period leading up to the exhibition.

CHAIR: Joanna S. Smith (Princeton University), Presiding

8:20 Daniel Kershaw (The Metropolitan Museum of Art),
“Design Process and Evolution for the Exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus, in the Princeton University Art Museum from October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013” (20 min.)

8:45 Nikitas Tampakis (Princeton University),
“Digitally Reviving the Buildings of Marion for Museum Display” (20 min.)

9:10 William A. P. Childs (Princeton University),
“Cypriot Aesthetics” (20 min.)

R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania),
Brandon R. Olson (Boston University)
Tina Najbjerg (Independent Scholar),
“Chasing Arsinoe: A Reassessment of the Hellenistic Period” (20 min.)

William Caraher (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks)
Amy Papalexandrou (The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey),
“Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis Chrysochous” (20 min.)

Of course, I know my dear readers expect a sneak preview of our paper. Our paper is essentially a slightly tweaked and truncated version of the Polis section of my paper delivered at the University of Texas earlier in the fall. (If you must, you can compare it here.) This paper reflects four seasons of tireless work by some very dedicated collaborators (R. Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and, of course, Amy Papalexandrou) and the enthusiastic support of the project director Joanna Smith and her predecessor Willie Childs. The ideas in this paper are heading toward a 10,000-12,000 word report for publication that summarizes four seasons of work at the South Basilica. Each iteration involves sharpening our ideas just a little bit.


iPads in the Field and Reflections on Archaeology’s Digital Future

This is a post that might appear sometime in the next little bit on the ASOR Blog!

This past summer my excavation on Cyprus experimented with using iPads to document our excavations in the field. Since 2003, I have co-direct the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project with Prof. R. Scott Moore of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Prof. David K. Pettegrew of Messiah College. Over this time, the three of us designed our archaeological methods, in-field procedures, and data structure. During the 2012 season, we embraced the opportunity to test and refine a web application developed by Prof. Sam Fee at Washington and Jefferson College. Messiah College generously loaned us the iPads. Our trench supervisors and excavators embraced the experiment. And Sam was willing to work within with our existing data structure, databases, and ontologies.

By iPad standards, the cleverly named PKApp was simple in design. It drew upon relatively little of the iPad’s sophisticated hardware or processing power. We did not have the resources or the funding to develop a robust server-side or mobile digital infrastructure. In fact, the simplicity of our application’s design and the limited resources available to our project is probably the most significant aspect of our work. If a small and otherwise unremarkable project can develop a bespoke iPad application, it prompts us to consider how the techniques, procedures, and methods used to collect archaeological data are no long just the purview of digital project or technophile excavators. Digital archaeology is no long a particular subset of archaeological practice, but fundamentally coterminous with careful documentation in the field.

That we could develop and deploy an application demonstrates that we have officially entered a period of rapid technological change for archaeological data collection. Mobile computing has well and truly begun to replace old fashioned pen and paper notebooks. Responses to this change range from nearly unbridled enthusiasm to concerns about how the technology actually works and how our current infrastructure will continue to adapt to rapidly growing digital archives.


Here are my three thoughts along these lines:

1. Practical Realities.

Sam Fee presents the technical details for our application in the March 2013 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology. From the user’s perspective, however, the application is straightforward and uncomplicated. It provides places to enter the basic data collected over the course of excavation as well as open text fields to record descriptions of the stratigraphy and features.

The application ran on iPad tablets, but could have run on any tablet computer (or laptops) with only some small tweaks. The iPad proved durable and effective in the field. The screens held up against the glare of the Mediterranean sun, and the batteries survived the rigors of a full field day without any issues. The application worked flawlessly as well, collecting data entered by student and depositing it nightly in a designated email account.

Just to be certain, we continued to document our trenches on paper forms. This made sure that we had a complete record of our trenches in the event of a technology failure. None occurred.

2. Methods and Procedures.

The most remarkable thing about collecting data in a digital form at the side of the trench is that we have much better control over the quality of data that our trench supervisors records. We can control the entries into the database to ensure, for example, that soil descriptions are done according to standard Munsell categories, we can prevent anyone from incorrectly numbering a stratigraphic unit, or we can ensure that trench supervisors record elevations in an appropriate format. This ability to smooth data on the side the of the trench and to avoid problematic entries improved the quality of data from the moment that we began to use the application.

At the same time, however, we created an environment where the trench supervisor typed his trench descriptions. For most academics typing – even on the cramped, on-screen keyboard of the iPad – is at least as fast as writing so speed of recording was not an issue. What did pose a challenge was understanding how a typed record of a trench might differ from a handwritten record. We noticed for example that it was easier to delete a description that proved to be incorrect or inaccurate than it would be in a notebook. In fact, as many projects, we encouraged trench supervisors to strike through mistakes in their notebooks and forms to preserve a record of how their thinking changed over time and to share scratch paper and even informal notes prepared in the field. When a trench supervisor deletes a record that change is gone. Technical details like this gave us pause as we considered how digital tools could inadvertently change the kind of data we record from the field.

3. Digital Archives.

Once we produced data in digital form, we had to think hard about how we plan to preserve it for future generations of researchers. Traditional archives exist for the preservation of paper and pen documentation, and while a new generation of digital archives has begun to emerge, the standards and technologies needed to preserve and make available digital records remains in flux. We haven’t necessarily settled on a digital repository for our data, but we will almost certainly save our data to a number of institutional repositories.

The need to have a long term digital archive, however, is just part of the issues surrounding born-digital data in archaeology. With born-digital data, the process of archiving goes from being something that occurs at the very end of the project to an ongoing concern. Each day on PKAP, for example, we sent the data recorded on the iPads to a cloud service for archiving. For the daily archive, we sent our data directly from the iPad to the commonplace service of Gmail. The data was then accessible to the project directors who could back it up on their laptops and create multiple copies ensuring that our excavation data almost simultaneously exited in multiple places. This was a satisfactory and free short term solution, but hardly a long term step to ensuring a persistent record of our work.


The remarkable thing about our use of iPads, development of a web application, creation of methods and procedures to facilitate data collection, and use of a digital archive is that none of us on the project – except Sam Fee – are “digital archaeologists”. Despite our only rudimentary familiarity with the complexities of application development and implementation, the entire experiment was remarkably painless, low cost, and produced results that were better and more secure in most ways than our use of pens and paper. The democratization of digital data collection in archaeology marks a sea change in how the field works in basic ways. Digital tools are no long the domain of sophisticated projects with substantial budgets and dedicated specialists, but there for any project willing to create strategic alliances and to take the plunge. As I noted at the top of this blog post, the days of digital data capture in archaeology are no long in the future, but upon us.

Two Notes from the American Schools of Oriental Research

I am on the program committee for the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting and have had the good fortune to be “in the loop” on some of the cool things that ASOR has done over the past several years. 

One of the coolest is the their March Fellowship Madness fundraising drive. This is driven by the blog and its an effort to expand the amount of money available to distribute as the ASOR fellowships. These fellowships help students at all levels participate in archaeological projects, graduate students conduct research in the Near East, and projects fund new initiatives. Here’s a link describing the fund raising drive.

In addition to this page, they are also featuring blog posts on how theses fellowships made an impact on the recipients’ lives, research, and careers. My project on Cyprus – the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project – received a Harris Grant to fund some equipment at a key moment in the project’s development. We were a tiny project of maybe 3 scholars and 6 students conducting a survey at the coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Our funding came from a hodgepodge of sources including our universities, private donors, and places like ASOR. Every dollar was crucial to be able to achieve our research goals, so the Harris grant allowed us to get a printer and a scanner so we could digitize our results in the field.

In my capacity as a member of the program committee for ASOR’s Annual Meeting, I also want to spread the word that we’re looking for some more papers on the Byzantine period. The Byzantine period in the Near East coincides with what the Aegean and Western Mediterranean calls Late Antiquity. The deadline is March 15 and there will be no penalty for late abstracts. There remains much to be done to explore issues of the economy in the Near East and its relationship to the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean. The remarkable character of Late Antique/Byzantine settlement in the Near East has tragically come to the fore through recent events in Syria which has seen the reoccupation and shelling of well preserved village on the Limestone Massif. Religious architecture, particular Christian Churches, is on the verge of a major step forward in the Near East owing to the recent careful, stratigraphic excavation of a number Byzantine churches. The quality of recent archaeological work provides an well-documented assemblage that deserves careful attention. I could go on…

So please, take a moment to think about giving to ASOR’s Fellowship Drive and, if you’re a Byzantine archaeologist, think about sending in an abstract to ASOR. Also check out my post yesterday and give me feedback!