Flow and the Digital Press, Part 2

Last week, I presented part of a final, albeit working, draft based on a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure.  

Here’s the final 1000 words or so of the paper, where I try to bring The Digital Press into conversation with the larger conversation about workflow and flow in a digitally mediated environment. It’s starting to take some shape.

As the fluid world of digital archaeology is creating new opportunities and challenges for publishing the results of our work, it also seems likely that it will transform entrenched attitudes toward publishing in our discipline. Digital Press at the University of North Dakota offers one example of how new boundaries between publishing and research emerge from the growing interest in digital workflow and its impact of the social organization of disciplinary practice within the field. To be clear, scholar-led projects such as the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers (Ober 2007) offered models for publishing that depended upon the digital affordance of production and distribution. The emergence of platforms like University of Minnesota Press’s Manifold which supports the transparent and interactive production of academic work likewise relies on the interoperability of digital flows from author’s laptop to the print-on-demand book. The digital affordances of our current scholarly workflow can be as simple as the practice of most academic papers taking shape in word processing software which can be easily converted for distribution on the web. Scholar-led platforms such as Open Context, which publishes peer-reviewed archaeological data, essentially makes artifacts of the digital flow susceptible to review through close attention to metadata and linked data standards.
The Digital Press is a rather more conventional project in comparison, but perhaps the conventional character of its work reflects the maturing of digital practices and a tipping point in how these practices shape professional relations within our discipline. Our current publishing model is fluid, but follows certain relatively consistent conventions. First, we use digital tools to produce and distribute our books at a low cost using print-on-demand printing for paper books, we distribute also through PDF downloads on a low cost website running WordPress, and finally, archive our books at UND’s institutional repository and the Internet Archive. Second, we publish mainly under various open access licenses. This eliminates some of the institutional friction that limits the circulation and distribution of our works. Finally and most importantly for this paper, we strive to collaborate closely with authors on all aspects of a publishing process. While none of these things are particularly radical or innovative, we feel like we are harnessing the flow of the the digital world and territorializing it as a conventional and familiar looking book. The involvement of archaeologists in the production of publishable data at the edge of the trench opens the door to a more dynamic model of archaeological publishing.

The Digital Press is almost entirely run by academics who lay out manuscripts, prepare marketing materials, use their own and their colleagues’ social media reach to promote the books, and manage acquisition, peer review, and copy editing. We even try our hand at cover design (with varying results). Our ability to perform these functions is possible largely because the basic publishing tools common to most presses – Adobe InDesign, the PDF format, Adobe illustrator – are available for relatively minor costs and they are increasingly simple to use. It is now possible to link descriptive text to discrete pieces of archaeological data, to create familiar and portable media rich documents, and to produce and archive these digital objects easily. In short, the development of digital infrastructure allows archaeologists to extend their workflow from trench side to final publication while remaining involved in all aspects of knowledge making. To be clear, my work at The Digital Press does not, necessarily, emphasize the creation of standardized, linked data. We leverage the kind of interoperable data the flows freely across the discipline only inasmuch as our works are largely open access and available for disaggregation. Instead, it leverages the breakdown of certain barriers present within the discipline, particularly between research and publishing, to expand the process of knowledge making and complicate the traditional black boxing of the publication process.
In short, we emphasize to our authors the opportunity to see knowledge making as extending from the earliest work in the archive or in the field all the way to its final presentation as a publication. In some cases, the Press is invited to participate as a publisher from the first efforts to conceptualize a project in much the same way that data archiving or publishing is now an expected part of a data management plan for any new research project. This integration allows us to work with authors to understand how best present their research and acknowledges that issues of presentation often have a direct impact on the perceived value of academic work.

Conclusions

To conclude, The Digital Press – and digital publishing practices in archaeology (and I’d propose in academia more broadly) – offers at least one way to think about the tension between the fragmenting of digital archaeological data and social practices at the core of knowledge making. The concept and practice of archaeological workflow in a digital environment has a social impact on our discipline. In publishing, digital tools and practices have contributed to a collaborative environment that is not grounded simply in the relative ease of using mainstream professional design tools and the basic interoperability of digital wordprocessors, but in the concomitant transformation in the social and professional context for creating new archaeological knowledge. Following the fragments of digital knowledge along the rhizomic streams connecting field practices to final publications challenges some of the traditional forms of organization that define archaeological work. The ease with which objects, human remains, and even buildings can move through digital media demonstrates, at some level, how digital workflows can transform the social and disciplinary limits on archaeological practice. This work to reterritorialize the digital workflows goes beyond producing a digital object with the familiar form of a book and extends to attempting to re-create the convivial spaces of premodern craft in an effort to wrest archaeological knowledge from the flow of fragmented data. In the end, the Digital Press aspires to contribute to the creation of new critical models for digital archaeology that both unpack by the black box of publishing and create a new, digitally mediated model for the production and dissemination of archaeological knowlege.

Flow and the Digital Press

For the last few weeks, I’ve been slogging through a revision and expansion of a paper that I gave last spring at the annual IEMA conference at Buffalo. It’s due at the end of the month, and right now, I’m starting to feel deadline pressure. 

Here’s my revised introduction.

Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

Over the last two decades, there has been the growing use of the phrase ”digital workflow.” As you might expect, the Google ngram plot for this term looks like the proverbial hockey stick. The term ”workflow” has its roots in the language of early 20th century scientific management, and the notion of “digital workflow” appears to have first emerged at the turn of the 21st century in the field of publishing. In this context, digital workflow spawned a series of “how to” style books that described both the role of computer technology in the production of print media and the new way of organizing practice. Among archaeologists, the concept of digital workflow has emerged in the early 21st century with the widespread use of digital tools, technologies, and practices in the discipline, and, as a result, digital workflow has come to occupy a distinct place within archaeological methodology.

This paper considers the idea of a ”digital workflow” in the context of archaeological publishing. Recent work on archaeological writing and publishing has started to explore the reciprocal relationship between archaeological work and the publication process. Ian Hodder considered how the character and structure of archaeological description and narration shape the kinds of arguments possible in the field (Hodder 1989). This anticipated a growing emphasis on craft in archaeological knowledge production with work on illustration, for example, demonstrating the embodied nature of the processes of translating archaeological knowledge from the field to the published page (Morgan and Wright 2018). This finds ready parallels with recent critiques of archaeological photography that have recognized how media affordances shaped the kind of arguments that archaeologists make from their data (Gartski 2017). With the emergence of digital practices in archaeological field work, scholars have come to understand the data produced through a growing range of digital tools required thoughtful curation and, increasingly, publication under the terms of various federal grants. As a result, archaeologists have started to extend the notion of archaeological workflow from data collection in the field to the archiving and dissemination of data on platforms like Open Context, TiDAR, or the ADS.

This move among archaeologists will have, I propose, wide ranging impacts on the nature of archaeological publishing especially as academic publishing itself has entered a period of considerable change. Most large academic publishers now have digital publishing platforms of various descriptions and have supported various efforts at creating more dynamic and interactive ways to engage with archaeological description, interpretation, analysis and data. The best known and perhaps most innovative of these is the University of Michigan’s recent publication of the Mid-Republican House at Gabii. While this work received some significant criticism from reviewers for the limits of its functionality, the authors have been commendably reflexive in the motivations and processes surrounding its development (Optiz 2018). Publishers have also sought to embrace Open Access publishing models as pressure from authors, libraries, and institutions has sought to make publicly funded research more widely available, remove profit margins from the consideration of academic work, and pushed back against escalating prices for library resources. These initiatives often inform the development of new publishing platforms — like Luminos from the University of California Press, Fulcrum from the University of Michigan Press, and PubPub from MIT. In some cases, such as the Manifold platform from the University of Minnesota Press, these platforms are open to new compositional strategies for authors that expand the character of the academic books as living documents susceptible to revision and to accommodating responses within their fabric. These significant changes to publishing intersect with a growing reflexivity in archaeological workflow to create the potential for new ways of understanding archaeological knowledge making.

This chapter offers my modest contributions to these conversations based on two things. First, I have two slightly unusual points of departure. One is a passage from an article by Michael Given in which he applies Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality to an understanding of the premodern agricultural landscape of Cyprus (Given 2017, 2018). Illich proposed his idea of conviviality as a way to describe the creativity that arose from the fluid interaction and interdependence between individuals in the premodern world, and he articulated it as a critique of an impoverished modern condition. Toward the end of the article, Given suggested that a convivial collaboration between archaeological specialists from soil scientists to ceramicists, bioarchaeologists, architectural historians, and field archaeologists would produce a deeper understanding of the convivial landscape in which premodern Cypriots lived (Given 2017, 140). My first reading of that passages was relatively uncharitable (Caraher 2019, 374-375). Illich’s notion of conviviality was anti-modern and attempting to reconcile this idea with the assembly line practice of archaeological work and specialization seemed as doomed to fail as the plantation style sugar works established by the Venetian colonizers on Cyprus’s south coast. If convivial relationships mapped the seamless sociability of premodern production, specialization and workflows created Frankenstein creatures which have the superficial appearance of reality, but are, in fact, mottled monsters of recombined fragments (in the vague sense of Freeman 2010).

At the same time that I was thinking about Illich and Given, I read Anna Tsing’s work, The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015) and Deborah Cowen’s work on logistics, The Deadly Life of Logistics (2014). Both books, in their own ways, describe the fluid of movement of people, things, and capital around the world. They explore the tension between the local and the global, places and movement, and the Deluezian “dividual” and the Enlightenment individual (Deleuze 1992). While Cowen’s work is, as the title suggests, practical and pessimistic in tone, Tsing’s work offers the rhizomic world of the matsutake mushroom holding forth the “possibilities of life in capitalist ruins.” She draws freely (and playfully) upon Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas of deterritorialization and flow adding a new conceptual layer to our concept of workflow (Deleuze and Guattari xxxx). While I dread bringing too much theory to this chapter, I do think that Deleuze and Guattari offers a way to understand Given’s use of conviviality as a rather radical way to conceptualize the reterritorialization (perhaps the recoding) of modern archaeological knowledge making. This chapter will swing back and forth between these two poles and offer both an angst-filled critique of archaeological practice as well as some more optimistic reflections on why maybe Michael Given was right (and maybe I knew that all along) and convivial social practices in archaeology are possible, even in our digital age.

The second pillar supporting my arguments in this chapter is my experience founding and operating a small university press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, which I co-founded about five years ago. At the risk of being solipsistic or self-referential, my experiences talking with authors, book makers, archaeologists, and other publishers has helped me to formulate ways of producing books that bring them closer to the convivial practices associated with archaeological work. To be clear: The Digital Press is small with no permanent staff; our budget is based exclusively on the generosity of donors and a slow drip of paper book sales; and we have no experience in the publishing industry at any level. These things are both features and bugs. On the one hand, we had no expectation for how a press should work other than those that we had acquired as publishing scholars. We have also developed a strong sense of common ownership over the books that we have published with our authors. This has emboldened us to think about the Digital Press as a model for other publishing projects in the digital era. On the other hand, we do rely more heavily on the experiences and energies of our authors than a conventional press and this has not only complicated certain features common to academic publishing, including peer review, but also created a greater professional burden for our authors (and, indeed, our publisher) in an environment already crowded with obligations. In short, this chapter is not offering The Digital Press as the model for the future of publishing, but rather offers our experiences as an example for how the landscape of academic production is changing.

Refined and Revised: A Response to Andrew Reinhard’s Assemblage Theory for Epoiesen (part 1)

This weekend, I worked on refining and revising my response to Andrew Reinhard’s piece, Assemblage Theory, on Epoiesen. The response is a bit long so I’m breaking it into two pieces.

It’s also a bit complex, but by playing with these ideas, I’m hoping it’ll help me refine my thinking for an article that is due at the end of the month. Last Spring, I gave a paper at the annual IEMA Conference at the University of Buffalo. The paper was titled “Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics” (plus this coda) and it marks my first effort to create an academic argument what I’m trying to do with The Digital Press

It’s a bit rough around the edges, but as always, I’m more than open to any criticism or feedback!

 

 

Responding to Andrew Reinhard’s Assemblage Theory is difficult on a number of levels. The greatest challenge, for me, is recognizing in Reinhard’s work a response to the recent attention to the assemblage in archaeological thinking (see the various contributors to 2017 special issue of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Harrison 2011; Martin 2013; Fowler 2013; Haggis 2018). This work is remarkably diverse and theoretically informed. Much of taps into the vital current of thought concerning the limits of material agency both in the past and in our own work as researchers. At its most exciting, critical engagements with the concept of assemblages, relational ontologies, and scientific practices (especially in the hands of thinkers like Karen Barad (2007)) offer new ways for understanding the “social life of things” (Appadurai 1988), “stuff” (Miller 2009), and “vibrant matter” (Bennett 2010). Bruno Latour has explored how in its broadest definition, the concept of the assemblage can inform how we think about our world in the fits of the Anthropocene (Latour 2017). This is heady and important stuff.

At the same time, I was drawn to Reinhard’s album and article because of my interest in music. In the past, I’ve thought about how music can inform archaeological thinking (Caraher 2019; Caraher, Kourelis, and Reinhard 2014). I also just really like music. In fact, as I write these words I’m listening to Ornette Coleman’s “Monk and the Nun” which was originally recorded in 1959 during the same session as his iconic The Shape of Jazz to Come. “Monk and the Nun” did not appear on that album, and resurfaced only on some compilations released in the 1970s. This afternoon, however, I was listening to it on Ornette Coleman’s box set of recordings from his year on the Atlantic label (1959-1961) called Beauty is a Rare Thing and released in 1993. The tracks on this box set are arranged in the order that they were recorded rather than in the order that the tracks would appear on any of Coleman’s Atlantic albums. This means that they only they loosely follow the organization of the albums and do not follow the order of the tracks as they were originally released. Coleman’s well-known track “Lonely Woman” is track 5 on the first disc of Beauty is a Rare Thing and comes immediately before “Monk and the Nun.” It originally appeared as the string first track on his The Shape of Jazz to Come. To my mind, this is important: the bass line, then drums, and finally, those magically awkward, melancholic, and deeply engaging lines from Coleman and his long-time collaborator Don Cherry introduce their new approach to jazz featured on this album and definitive for Coleman’s long career.

While the box set offers an exhaustive survey of Coleman’s work during his most exciting and productive period. It is markedly different from the assemblage offered by the six albums released over this same period (The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Change of the Century (1960), This Is Our Music (1961), Free Jazz (1961), Ornette! (1962), and Ornette on Tenor (1962)). The different order of the tracks alone give the 1993 box set a different vibe and the faithfulness to the order of recording provides new opportunities for insights into the development of the songs and albums that world make Coleman famous. Reading Reinhard’s reminded me to think about albums as assemblages, and to think (and eventually write) about music.

Reinhard’s Assemblage Theory is a remarkable experiment in thinking and performing an assemblage. Sculpted from found sounds on the internet, Reinhard’s album—and the article that introduced it on Epoiesen—makes visible the work of a musician, archaeologist, and individual in bringing order to the fragmented realities that surround us. The seamlessness of Reinhard’s beats does not intend to represent or reproduce the cacophonic and discordant character of the original group of samples. Instead, he seeks to resolve their differences through the cutting away and carefully arranging the sounds into recognizable songs. Reinhard makes one group of his found sounds available for us to understand his process, and this is a generous way to make clear the methods that Reinhard used, in general, to produce order from the chaos of even his opportunistic assemblages. Reinhard’s work reinforces a point made by Rodney Harrison (2011): assemblages are “assembled” rather than discovered and while the act of finding sounds on the internet playfully mimics the modern serendipity of excavation, it does nothing to detract from the obvious work of assembly that is crucial to Reinhard’s piece. We can safely assume that he discarded and rejected sounds that were not suitable for his project making the act of finding even less about revealing something that existed and more about creating something that was necessary.

The goal of my response is explore the nuances of Reinhard’s Assemblage Theory as he created it and as I have encountered it and to trace the limits of his assemblage beyond the bounds of the album into the sinews of our culture. In this way, I want to emphasize an Assemblage Theory as a point of entry into a wider meditation on the ways in which assemblages provide a medium for the critical engagement of our contemporary world. In this way, Reinhard’s project reflects his (and my own) longstanding interest in the use of archaeological methods and metaphors as a way of excavating and constructing critical perspectives on the contemporary world.

(I’m now listening to The Comet is Coming’s Complete Studio Recordins 2015CE-2017CE. The tracks on this album, through some accident of markup lost their metadata and even their original order, when I uploaded this album to my Roon music software library.)

~

Reinhard is an archaeologist and like so much archaeology, the smoothness of his final production serves as much to obfuscate the original character of his assemblage of samples as the methods and practices that brought them into seemingly meaningful relationships. His description of this process evoked for me Elizabeth Freeman’s interpretation of Frankenstein in her book Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010). In a short digression, Freeman considers Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a model for understanding the role that time played in the processes used to create verisimilitude in media. She argues that in creating his creature, Victor Frankenstein’s aspired to assemble a being whose seamlessness manifests the experience of reality in the present. His creature, however, was characterized by its seams and sutures that combined the assemblage of scavenged parts necessary to bring it to life. The visible seams demonstrated that it was impossible to eliminate the abrupt and affective character of its pastness that is intrinsic to awkward and profoundly human assemblages. In effect, the seams made Frankenstein’s creature authentic and, ironically, alive. Our modern efforts to create a smooth and seamlessness experience from found things, at best, mimics our experiences of the present, but more likely anticipates a perfectible utopian future that disregards our own encounter with the past. The discipline of archaeology with its debt to modernity (Thomas 2006) consistently attempts to create seamlessness from the disparate fragments assembled from past experiences. This echos the modern promise of seamless integration in the internet of things, of augmented and virtual reality, and in various transhuman fantasies of technologically enhanced humans.

Reinhard’s selective remixing of his samples to produce a smoothly contoured present ensured created a juxtaposition that both located the samples in the past but also created their pastness. The dissonant, discontinuous, and found character of the samples defined them as something other than the contemporary experience. This distancing made the act of re-assembly possible and, indeed, necessary even through we realize that the digital samples at the core of Reinhard’s songs are from an archaeological strata that could also be contemporary with the songs themselves. As Smith has noted in her response to this album (2018), Reinhard’s effort to assert and demonstrate the disparate parts of these songs while simultaneously obscuring how these parts fit together to create a sonically consistent whole is a key role in locating Reinhard’s creative power in the present. The tension between an asserted pastness and recognizable present is a common feature of our diverse, digital, post-industrial and modern world in that we often seek to eliminate the jarring disjunctions between parts of the assemblage that remind us of the past’s messy abruptness. The tragic and all-too-human character of Victor Frankenstein’s monster made it the deeply sympathetic victim of the modernity’s distain for the incongruity and flawed character of the past and the false hope for a seamless and perfected future.

~

To his credit, Reinhard, like Victor Frankenstein, is honest about how he created his assemblage. He arranged his found sounds according to the structure of traditional pop songs and accentuated the sounds that evoked contemporary guitar rock, beats drawn from trap, house, and EDM, as well as other sonic conventions. These various structures are part of this assemblage as well, and it is probably safe to assume that these structures allowed Reinhard prefigure his album in the sounds on the internet. Hayden White, for example, famously argued that a series of tropes and forms of employment shaped the way that historians produced narratives, explained causality, and produced assemblages of evidence. Neville Morley’s response to Reinhard’s piece reminded us that pop sensibilities are only one potential way to emplot this assemblage. As long as pop music has existed, there have been those who have sought to challenge the self-evident character of its structure.

(I just put on the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime which was famously recorded and mixed for $1100 (Azzerad 2001, 82). Despite the effort to make this into a concept album, it still retains the band’s anti-commercial, rambling style of the band which was the very antithesis of pop music.)

Despite Morley’s critique, which Reinhard invited by making his original assemblage available for examination, Reinhard’s arrangement still models our own approach to archaeological knowledge making. Narratives of all sorts prefigure the assemblages that we encounter in archaeology. These narratives and processes constitute parts of these assemblages the same way that a traditional pop melody or familiar sound on the web prefigured the songs possible at Reinhard’s deft hands. Different hands introduce different elements to the assemblage and Reinhard’s generosity with his samples has resulted in at least one new encounter with some of the same basic elements.

There are other elements present in Reinhard’s assemblage that offer more insights into the process that produced the final album. Two struck me as immediately visible.

First, the album has the unmistakable character of contemporary music making in its unfailing and precise rhythmic structure. Generally, a “click track” imparts this structure on a song. The click track is a tool that allows a musician to precisely synchronize sounds in various recordings. The click track is eliminated during the production process, but the regularity of the beat that it imparts persists. Damon Krukowski, the former Galaxie 500 drummer, has recently observed that the “click track” regularizes the interplay between musicians in recordings. Prior to the use of click tracks and in live performances, musicians would listen to one another and adjust their tempos in minute ways that allow a song to hold together. Musicians also would be influenced by live audiences to accelerate or slow their tempo in response to the crowd, the moment, and the shared experience of the performance. Thus the audience and performers responded to one another and the listener’s response to a performer would follow the performers responses to one another in the process of music making.

I’m now listening to Cannonball Adderley’s album Something Else (1958) and as I bob my head in time to their version of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves“ waiting for the entry of Miles Davis’s muted trumpet, I’m literally moving in sync with the musicians as they listened to each other. I’m locked into the interplay between Art Blakey’s drums, Sam Jones’s bass line, and Hank Jones’s sparse piano. These are real musicians whose subtle cues and gestures I attempt to imagine as I listen deeply into this classic album. Reinhard’s album is a different affair, but it would be an odd effort to seek human interaction in the mechanical regularity of the click. Krukowski has suggested that lack of intimacy in contemporary recorded pop music comes from the standard use of the click track which has eliminated the subtle variations that may be undetectable on a conscious level, but nevertheless draw us into the experience of music as a human art. Whether one agrees with the argument of a former dummer is less significant than the more obvious observation that when we move our body in time with Reinhard’s thumping beats, we are not sharing in the generative interplay of the musicians who recorded the song, but falling in sync with precise beats of a machine.

The other artifact of Reinhard’s assemblage that captured my attention was the driving beat of trap music. Over the last decade, the rhythms of trap have become essentially synonymous with hiphop. Trap is usually associated with the beats that emerged in the South, and particularly Atlanta, in the 1990s and by the early 21st century these beats became increasingly common in the EDM. Essential to the style of trap is the sound of the Roland TR-808 drum machine which became so closely associated with this style of music that hiphop duo Outkast recognized it by name in their 2003 hit “The Way You Move” which connects the 808s distinctive cymbal and bass that is characteristic of trap.

So click-it or ticket, let’s see your seat belt fastened
Trunk rattlin’, like two midgets in the back seat wrestlin’
Speaker box vibrate the tag
Make it sound like aluminum cans in a bag
But I know y’all wanted that 808
Can you feel that be-A-S-S, bass

Outkast here is making fun of the 808-produced trap so typical in early-21st-century Atlanta hiphop by describing how it sounds played through a car stereo with its powerful subwoofer rattling the license plate and the poorly attached plastic trim. The reference to it sounding like “aluminum cans in a bag” is not simply an innocent simile but a playful suggestion that the sound of thumping base evokes the image of the urban scavenger with his assemblage of recyclable cans in plastic trash bag. In the hands of Outkast, the ubiquitous sound of trap and the Roland TR-808 slyly evokes the lower class near-suburbs of Atlanta and the “dirty” neighborhoods which made this sound famous. This superficial reading of trap does not do the complexities of this genre justice (see for example, McCarthy 2018; Kaluža and Študent 2018), but since Reinhard’s album is not so much trap as trap-inspired EDM, the relationship between his beats and the assemblage of trap driven hiphop is probably distant enough for us to abandon it at this point in my review.

The more proximate context for trap inspired EDM is, of course, is the club. As I have already noted in my discussion of the “click track” in contemporary electronic music, the use of trap beats in the club creates a bodily response not just to the beats, but to the automated processes which order the beats into a systematic tempo. The club is also a place of consumption and display where music is not only consumed, but individuals produce distinctive assemblages to manufacture both group and individual identities. EDM is social music designed to be played in public places and a constituent part of the assemblages that define club culture identity (Classically explored by D. Hebdige 1979; more recently Jackson 2004; Wilson 2006).

The intersection of style, music, and the movements of bodies in the club locates Reinhard’s album amid a larger assemblage of manufactured experiences that define identities within consumer culture. A particularly intriguing aspect of our experience with Assemblage Theory is the loudness of the album. Loudness in this context does not refer to the volume of the tracks which the user can control, but the relationship between the quietest and loudest passages on any track. The compressed dynamic range of the tracks on Assemblage Theory is a sonic artifact of the late-20th and early-21st century. Reinhard’s album has a dynamic range of around 6 db, which is consistent with the 5 db present on Migos platinum-certified album CULTURE and slightly less dynamic than Daft Punk’s 8 db range on Random Access Memories. To put this in perspective Orbital’s highly regarded second album (often called “The Brown Album”) released in 1993 had a dynamic range of 13 db. Tribe Called Quest’s iconic Low End Theory from 1991 had a range of 12 db. The recent increase in loudness has its roots both in the desire or record labels to have songs that stand out on the radio, but it also ensures that tracks sound hyperreal when played through highly amplified sound systems at dance clubs. The flattening of dynamic range ensures that all frequencies and passages are equally audible above the throbbing bodies of a dance club. On home systems, particularly low efficiency speakers and headphones, this loudness creates an impression of fidelity that has little in common with the sound of live instruments. In many ways, the loudness of EDM contributes to hyperreality of the genre (and increasingly of all pop music) that has no or few referents in performed music. Our encounter, then, with loudness, the regimented experience of the click track, and the seamless integration of the found sounds in the assemblage offers an experience of the real with only the barest of relationships with our lived experiences. To use Baudrillard’s language, the structuring of this assemblage offers a simulacrum that lacks a clear point of reference (Baudrillard 1994).

(Part 2 tomorrow!)

Doing Some Data

As I’m struggling to get some momentum in the new semester, my attention has turned to a few data projects. These projects are either at their very early stages where it’s pretty easy to get a false sense of progress or sufficiently mature and robust that I can begin to pose some testable hypotheses. All data projects, though, reveal something of how the data was made.

Here’s a little window into some of my ongoing data work.

1. Isthmia Data. This summer, I spent some time with Jon Frey and Tim Gregory at the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia. We discussed how to get various datasets from various sub-projects at that site to communicate with each other. Like most archaeological sites, each archaeological context has a unique number and this number should be part of the data associated with each object or group of objects from that particular context.

One of the challenges with Isthmia data, however, is that inventoried objects – and these are finer examples or historically or archaeologically significant finds – receive a sequenced number that is based on the year that the object was inventoried and the type of object. So we have IPL for lamps, IPR for Roman pottery, IC for coins, et c., and for each inventoried object we have an inventoried card, which looks like this. These cards may or may not have a “lot number.” The lot number defines the archaeological context for the object. Isthmia used a version of the Corinth system in which each archaeological context is a “basket” (or sometimes “box”).

This is where it gets fun. Each lot number consists of three numbers. The first part of the number is usually a two-digit indicator of the year: 78-. The second part of the lot number refers to either the excavator or the area excavated.This is sometimes represented by the initials of the excavator (which correlate with the initials of a notebook). Each initial is made into three characters. The initial CV then becomes CVO. In some cases, however, instead of the initial of the excavator, a lot gets initials from an area. This often happens when several excavators dig in a particular area over the course of year. So the south area of the Roman bath gets the initial RBA associated with those lots even though the notebooks have the initials EM/KK associated with them. This is important because the initial EMK is used in lots excavated in another area. Finally, the basket gets a three-digit number starting with 001.

This is clearly an ad hoc system designed to eliminate confusion at the time of recording. Later, however, it adds to the confusion because to add lot numbers to inventoried artifacts, one must trace the initials of the notebook, excavator, and area to determine the name of the lot assigned in that particular situation. Most of the time, this is possible. Some of the time, it is not. It’s important though to be able to tie together inventoried finds with context pottery.

2. Modern Landscapes of WARP. I’ve been working on an article with my colleague Grace Erny that documents the Early Modern and Modern site of Chelmis in the Western Argolid. As part of that work, I’ve started to think about the Early Modern and Modern ceramics across the survey area. For our project – and in most of Greece – the Early Modern period dates from around 1821 and the Greek War of Independence (or more usefully for archaeological artifacts 1800) to the early decades of the 20th century.

I’ve become particularly interested in the relationship between Early Modern ceramics and settlement in our survey area. Our survey area included three villages: Schinochori, Sterna, and Lyrkeia. What initially struck me as odd is that only Lyrkeia (formerly known as Kato Belesi) had a clear halo of Early Modern fine and table wares. The little triangles are Early Modern fine and table wares on the map below and the cluster around the village of Lyrkeia is clear.

Basic GIS Final
 This pattern baffled me until I remembered a conversation with project director, Dimitri Nakassis, who noted that in the early 18th century Venetian maps and records the villages of Sterna and Schinochori were listed in Venetian documents as deserted. While we know that both villages existed by the early 19th century, they were smaller than the village of Lyrkeia/Kato Belesi and lacked prominent roles in the regional administration in the 20th century. In this historical context, perhaps the data makes more sense. The presence of the halo around Lyrkeia likely attests to its size and prominence in the region. Sterna and Schinochori, in contrast, remained smaller and almost certainly less wealthy during this period.

The even smaller area of Chelmis lacks much in the way of Early Modern fine ware as well. Not only is this settlement smaller still than the villages of Sterna and Schinochori, but it was also a seasonal settlement. By comparing its rather limited assemblage of Early Modern table ware with others in the region, we have a basis to at least understand the variations present in the density and character of Early Modern material across the survey area.

3. PKAP 2 Data. Over the last six months (and six years), David Pettegrew and I have been pulling together the data from our excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. Moving data from something that’s central to “in-house” analysis to being available to the public is always a revealing process. We have now submitted our dataset to Open Context where our the data from our survey was also published. During the data preparation and publication process, for example, we discovered, for example, some records that preserved some experimental recording practices using so-called “iPads” in the field. We also found some little incompatibilities between our catalogued artifacts, which receive much more scrutiny, and our “context pottery” or finds that are read as excavation is taking place.

Finally, we’ve thought a bit more carefully about how to prepare our data to support the kinds of analysis that we want to publish. For example, we want to group our stratigraphic units from across trenches at Vigla into phases, and to do this, we need to include a Vigla phase number to each SU entry. We also need to be attentive to other opportunities to aggregate our granular data into digestible assemblages. For example, last spring, we asked for a stable identifier to all Late Roman fine ware from the survey phase of PKAP.

This kind of fussiness is important because we’re publishing our data in advance of publishing our monograph on the work at Koutsopetria and Vigla. This should allow us to finish our manuscript with substantial and consistent links to our data.     

Dissecting Digital Divides: Mostly Final Draft

There’s one more week before the start of classes, and I’m trying to wrap up some small projects that have been lingering around all summer.

The first one on the list is putting together the “almost final version” of my paper for last fall’s DATAM: Digital Approaches for Teaching the Ancient Mediterranean conference at NYU’s ISAW (I wrote a little review of that conference here). The Digital Press is going to publish a small, but intriguing collection of papers from that conference with a short introduction and conclusion. 

My paper considered the various digital divides in my classrooms at the University of North Dakota. The first divide is the conventional difference between students who have access to technology and those who do not. This shapes how they engage and use technology in their everyday lives. The second-level divide involves the willingness of individuals to produce as well as consume digital media. Finally, because I really can’t help myself, I offered a critique of how prosumer culture has shaped the way that I taught in a Scale-Up style classroom. Some of this critique came from an unpublished paper that I wrote with a graduate student many years ago (you can read that unpublished paper here).  

If you’re interested in my paper, “Dissecting Digital Divides,” you can check it out here and stay tuned for the volume later this fall!! 

Resilient Scholarship

Yesterday afternoon I took some time to read Jeremy Huggett’s most recent article, “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age” in the latest issues of the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology. Huggett is one of my favorite scholars and this article demonstrates why. Not only is it complex and sophisticated, but it also zeros in on a crucial place where digital scholarship can make a difference. The article considers how digital scholarship can foster resilience, but not in the sense that has made the term popular among university administrators. Instead, Huggett has argued for a resilience that protects and cultivates a sense of community and individual strength and security even as digital tools have increasingly come to define the relationship between the individual and their institutions.

Huggett contrasts the use of digital tools in the neoliberal university to control, assess, and surveil faculty, researchers, staff, and students with the work of digital scholarship particularly in archaeology which has increasingly set itself in opposition to digital practices in society and in the 21st century university. Lorna Richardson’s take on punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, and most importantly  Katherine Cook’s recent call for more radical and inclusive digital archaeologies seek both to amplify individual agency, identity, and affective practices while at the same time recognizing the often problematic relationship between digital tools and our goals. That so much digital scholarship emerges from university settings and it is frequently coopted by administrators who wish to harvest metrics, to demonstrate “cutting edge research,” and to pay lip service to their latest vision of cross-disciplinary academic practices. At the same time, Huggett reminds us that our work in digital practices and with digital tools can be subversive and care for individuals and communities that the rapid grind of the neoliberal university wishes to reduce to interchangeable parts. 

A few months ago, I got into a debate on The Facebooks about whether digital humanities had fulfilled its potential. (To be clear, I don’t consider myself a digital humanist, but some of my work is “digital humanist adjacent.”) I argued that the digital humanities were too beholden to the neoliberal technocratic culture that gave rise to them. Others argued that this is exactly what made the digital humanities so potent and gave them the potential to be so subversive. As a scholar, I’ve tended to regard this promise with some skepticism and critiqued rhetoric in digital scholarship that smacked of technological solutionism or the like. Huggett’s piece (and my discussions with colleagues on social media and in person) has given me pause and pushed me to trace the implications of my own work in digital archaeology into more productive spaces. I need to digest this article more fully in the coming weeks. 

A Visit from the E-Curators Team and Digital Time

Yesterday, Costis Dallas and Seamus Ross from the E-Curators project visited the  Western Argolid Regional Project study season to talk to us about our use of digital tools and digital practices. We spent most of the day in either formal interviews or informal conversations about how we used technology to produce know on WARP from the practices of our field teams to our analysis and plans for archiving, publishing, and disseminating our datasets. The conversations were honest, practical, and balanced between a formal script and a casual conversation. The interview was part of a larger collaborative project to document digital practices among archaeologists in the field and in their interpretative strategies.

The interviews offered a chance for me and Dimitri Nakassis to reflect on not only how we used digital tools, but the larger strategies that we employed to collect information in the field, how we converted this information to data, and how we analyzed this data. The most revealing thing was how much, in hindsight, we relied on the shared expectations and understandings with our remarkable team leaders. Our team leaders ensured that the information collected in the field was rigorous and consistent, but also managed the day-to-day functioning of the project from making maps to guide their teams to deciding which team would survey which fields.

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One of the simple pleasures of field work is revisiting sites. This week we returned to a small tower at the site of Ay. Dimitrios that stands in a pass that leads into the Inachos Valley. 

IMG 4001

We flew the drone for the third time at the site and have worked to refine our technique for creating highly accurate orthomosaics (<.20 m) of sites for illustration and study. Needless to say, flying the drone is not overly technical, but it takes time and is pretty boring. The third time, in particular, is tedious and probably is the tipping point in terms of using newfangled tools to do things quicker and more efficiently. We probably could have drawn the dang thing in about 8 hours.

I mentioned this idly on Twitter and got the usual round of fascinating responses. As part of my new, more relaxed, Caraher 3.0 reimagining, I sort of regret posting something about this on The Twitters, but I will say that I don’t think that there’s much of a difference in the traditional output between a hand drawn top-plan on site and one produced through dronoscopy. Maybe some bleeding edge publications could host a 3D model of the site based on structure-from-motion images produced from our drone photos, but these kinds of publications are relatively few and far between. Hand drawn plans remain the standard form of publishing fortifications in Greece. The drone images offer a more robust dataset for the future, but most archaeology – for better or for worse – focuses on documentation methods geared toward the now.

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Chatting all day with the E-Curators folks, I came to appreciate the links between how we worked and sometimes unconscious or at least unarticulated ideas of outcomes. These outcomes are mostly conventional and it becomes easy to fall back on conventional practices as a result. Changing the kind of outcomes that we expect from archaeological work – whether its in terms of dissemination or the kinds of knowledge produced – will invariably change the social organization and technologies that we use. 

End of Blogs?

Last week Neville Morely wrote a little piece on his declining blog statistics over at his Sphinx blog and has since followed it up with a new podcast. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet and I should have commented on his blog post when he asked other bloggers to chime in on their statistics. I feel like I let the community down.

If I look closely, I can tell that my visitor and page view numbers are down. At the same time, my monthly averages appear steady (or even slightly improved) over the past five or six years. My March numbers, for example, were 106 page views per day which is the highest since 2015 and the fourth highest total in the last 9 years. Two very popular posts, however, in the first half of the month drove a good bit of the traffic. These posts circulated rather widely (for me) on Twitter and Facebook, and social media platforms accounted for over 500 page views (or about 18% of the traffic). In an ordinary month, Twitter and Facebook account for 5%-8% of views. Despite my erratic use of social media to promote my blog, it is notable that for 10 of the last 12 months, my page views have been high than the previous year and for 8 of the last 12 months, they’ve been the strongest since 2015.

It is worth noting, however, that my 2014 and 2015 page views were also buoyed by a series of very prominent posts that led to spikes in traffic. Most of these spikes, like the publication of Punk Archaeology or Visions of Substance, tended to have a much longer tale and while they were abrupt, they attracted readers to my blog for months. 

It may be that the shorter term spikes in my blog’s page views reflects the function of blogs within at least American academia has changed. When I started my blog I wanted both to draw the public into my research and give them a bit of a perspective on how scholars (and, in particular, archaeologists) build their arguments. In fact, I celebrated the fuzziness of the knowledge making the process and the ragged edges of what we know. This seemed like a good thing to do at the time when fetishization of “facts” was undermining the careful work of scholars in the humanities to present a world where structures, power, and practice matter more than black and white judgements. Today, this mission seems more problematic and my audience, perhaps, less interested and sympathetic.

Today, my most popular posts serve as open letters which attempt to address issues that face my discipline and academia more broadly. The audience is more academic, more engaged with social, political, and economic situation within academia, and less curious about how knowledge is made in my little corner of the discipline. This isn’t meant as a critique or even criticism of my readers, blogging, or academia, but speaks to the shifting landscape of blogging as practice. Instead of blogs maturing into a less-formal and more intimate complement to the scholarly discourse, blogs have become places where we negotiate the social conscience of our fields. This is not a bad thing, but it creates a different rhythm of blog viewing. 

Quick Thoughts on Open Access

Over the past week I’ve been thinking a good bit about publishing and disseminating archaeological data and yesterday I had some thoughtful conversations with Becky Seifried who was fresh from a recent conference in Athens on the topic (pdf).

I don’t really have anything profound to say about data except the observation that for archaeological projects, the more stakeholders involved, the harder it is to determine how best to disseminate project data. On the one hand, it is easy enough to envision how open data will allow our data savvy community to “dig into” the results of our field work. Moreover, those of us publishing both data and analysis of our projects can understand the value of making the link – no mater how fuzzy – between field work and interpretation clear. In fact, our field increasingly embraces this kind of transparency and openness as both a way to allow researchers and communities to engage with what passes as “raw material” in archaeology.

At the same time, we also recognize the rights of communities to control their own pasts and realize that the past – and its material and digital surrogates in the present – operates within diverse spatial, political, economic, social, and discursive regimes. As a result, openness in data can at the same time be decolonizing and colonizing, progressive and regressive, and collaborative and “going rogue” all at the same time. In fact, the more stakeholders invested in the data and the work, the more openness is seen as a challenge especially among communities who already feel that their control of their own past is vulnerable. 

What’s interesting, of course, is that we often position open, digital heritage as a way to engage more diverse communities in the process of understanding their own past. For archaeology, sharing archaeological data invariably engages those who want to use public data for personal gain (e.g. looters), those who see the digital surrogates of archaeological objects as deserving the same protections as the objects themselves (e.g. limited or highly curated access), and those who see the tools necessary for digital dissemination of archaeological data as a barrier to access.

I recognize that people have thought seriously and expansively about the challenges  of open publishing and digital heritage in practical and theoretical terms. I tend to be so deeply immersed in the data themselves (and the processes of moving data from the survey unit to the final database) to think very hard about these issues. It’s only now as parts of our dataset has taken on its final shape that I’ve had reason to think about its open or not so open after life. 

Plans and Tables

Yesterday was uncharacteristically muggy her in Ancient Corinth and that fit my mood. Not only did I forget to save an ArcGIS project and lose a good bit of work when it crashed, but I also found myself mired in some curious database quandaries that while fun to work through, were frustrating. Whatever the weather here, I’m facing a few more days of similar data oriented challenges.

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On the other hand, staring at data from both my own project – the excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria – and the half-century old project at Isthmia in the Corinthia (not to mention the Polis on Cyprus) has pushed me to think about the future of archaeological publishing in new ways. Our data isn’t tidy because archaeology isn’t tidy. More than that, linking our not-so-tidy data to efforts to make compelling (and tidy arguments) reveals the inevitable disconnect between the data that we have and the arguments that we (ideally) believe. 

Nowhere in the archaeological process do we feel this disconnect more intensely than when we’re preparing material for publication. I wonder how much the aesthetics of our efforts to prepare data obscure the reality of archaeological knowledge making…