Polis Work

A bit of a hiccup the first day in the Polis storerooms gave us a chance to do some data work yesterday. This season will be split between doing work on physical material from the area of E.F1 on the Polis grid and preparing the data for publication. For readers new to the blog, Polis is a village in western Cyprus that gives its name to the site of ancient Marion and Arsinoe. We’re studying the Roman and Late Roman periods at the site with particular attention to the area called E.F1 in the grid of the original Princeton excavators.

Yesterday, I wrangled data. Among the priorities this summer is connecting pages from the scanned notebooks to data associated with inventoried finds and our larger collection of identified context pottery. Making databases talk to scanned notebook pages is a bit of a challenge because a scanned notebook page from the Princeton Cyprus Expedition are not only data rich, but also unstructured.

The scanned notebook page below is a good example:

EF1_R05_Trench_1988_0034

The recto includes four descriptions of excavation units defined by level and pass. While levels or passes do not correspond neatly to archaeological stratigraphy, they are the basic units of archaeological documentation at Polis. They represent the basic context for all finds from the site and so it is important that anyone studying material from Polis have access to the basic descriptions of levels and passes.

The verso provides the spatial information not only for the levels described on the recto but also for other levels and passes described elsewhere in the notebook. This includes features uncovered during excavations and described to varying degrees on the recto. More importantly, since excavators only occasionally and inconsistently recognize and describe the stratigraphic relationships between levels (and passes), the plans become one of the main ways to understand whether one layer is “above” or “under” or even occasionally “cut into” another layer. The plans become the key source for developing informal “Harris Matrices” (or as well call them Franco Harris Matrices in honor of their sometimes miraculous relationships between various contexts).

EF1_HarrisMatric_CROPPED

These matrices, in turn, demonstrate how messy and at times uncertain the combination of the excavation methods and the distinctive stratigraphy make the site. This makes it even more important to create a way for researchers to “drill down” from any interpretation into the “data” itself and to assess as transparently as possible the interpretative leaps taken to make particular conclusions.

The challenge to this, of course, determining just how much scaffolding a user needs to follow ones interpretations back to the sources. Over the next week, I’m going to experiment a bit with how much it is realistic, but also necessary to provide to allow someone using the archaeological data a useful window into our analysis.

Polis Projects

This summer, I’ll be once again in the field meaning that my regularly scheduled blogging might become a bit more intermittent. I’m not doing field work, but it’s a study season which will focus primarily on the site of Polis on Cyprus (with a brief side trip to Isthmia in Greece). 

As readers of this blog know, Polis is the modern name for the city of Marion/Arsinoe on Cyprus. Excavations in the city have produced evidence for almost every period from the Bronze Age to the Present and I work with a team of scholars tasked with publishing the Hellenistic to Medieval periods at the site. Our work thus far has focused on two areas. The neighborhood of the South Basilica and the area called EF1 and this summer we’re going to wrap up our work at EF1 in anticipation of submitting a volume dedicated to this site and the history of the archaeology at Polis sometime next year.

To get this done, we have to finish the analysis of the stratigraphy, the ceramics, and the architecture of the site which we started in 2019. This should only take us a few days.

We also need to prepare brief descriptions of each stratigraphic unit which also shows their relationship to other strata at the site and finds. This will become part of both the traditional EF1 publication as well as the digital backbone for EF1 on Open Context. The hope is that this can also become model for documenting more thoroughly the stratigraphic of the South Basilica area which is not only a more complex (and is the  history of excavation of excavation there) as well as more spatially extensive. 

This work will also involve linking the stratigraphic descriptions to the inventoried finds, the analyzed, non-inventoried pottery (also known as “the sherds” or “context pottery”), and the scanned notebook pages. Thus each stratigraphic description will also have a series of “one to many” links that will allow future archaeologists to query and critique our analysis.

While we’re working on this, I have to finish a couple of other Cyprus-related outstanding projects:  

First, I need to finish revising a paper that I submitted in the fall on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity. The editors of the volume (which you can check out here) made some good suggestions for revisions.

Second, I need to grab a few photographs of baptisteries on Cyprus for a long lingering project on Greek and Cypriot baptisteries being patiently shepherded through the publication process by Robin Jensen and her team. This means trips to Kourion and Ay. Georgios-Peyas over the next month (and invariably food at fish taverns with good views of the sea!).

Finally, I want to read and comment on Catherine Keane’s very recent Munich dissertation on Early Christian ecclesiastical complexes in Cyprus.

It’s going to be pretty great getting back into doing archaeology on site this summer (rather than at a 6000 mile remove). Stay tuned for some updates and “Foto Friday”! 

Three Things Thursday: Plagiarism, Laptops, and the End of Antiquity

I submitted grades, my summer plans are coming into focus, and I’m almost ready to decamp for the Mediterranean for the first time in two years. I feel like everything is going on at once, and this is more or less a good thing and it feels like a solid backdrop for a Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

Earlier this week, there was a moderately interesting long Twitter thread in response to an incident of plagiarism in academia. The situation was discovered at the peer review stage and other than a bit of outrage, the harm seems to have been minimal. That said, whenever someone talks about plagiarism in academia, they tend to complain about the crime rather than the underlying system that makes plagiarism both unethical and problematic. To be clear, I’m not condoning plagiarism and I realize that I’m writing from a position of privilege. At the same time, I wonder whether our tendency to become outraged at incidents of plagiarism serves to reinforce a system that is fundamentally toxic. Stoking outrage at incidents of plagiarism in academia reinforces as system that seeks to commodify knowledge and connect the public good that might come from new ideas, processes, and products to private gain.

Of course, we all like it when a colleague recognizes our contribution to our field and citation, in its simplest form, represents a kind of acknowledgement. Unfortunately, over the past seventy years, institutions and the market has weaponized this gesture of collegiality and turned it into a way of measuring and even quantifying impact, reach, and significance. As is so often the case, publishers and institutions have found ways to leverage our desire for collegiality and recognition to support a system designed to generate profits and prestige. The rise of i10 scores, h-indices, and journal rankings that leverage citations to track impact and influence is yet another effort to sort and rank academic labor and to find new ways to profit from both the media through which scholars gain influence and the tools that measure such influence and reach. Plagiarism in this context is as much an economic crime as a breach of scholarly decorum.

By sounding off about plagiarism, then, we both reinforce an age old system of academic recognition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also bolster system that allows individuals and institutions to profit from the working of scholarly networks. To my mind, over the last 30 years, the tail has come increasingly to wag the dog with the desire for measurable accomplishments increasingly shaping the landscape of academic work. At the same time, academics celebrate the call to be “against cop shit” in our classrooms and finding ways to subvert the status quo. We also have brought critical attention to the way that the COVID pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in the world. Maybe it’s this recent willingness to consider burning it all down that has made social media outrage over plagiarism ring a bit hollow or at least leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thing the Second

You might not be able to tell, but I’m writing this post on a Dell laptop rather than my trusty MacBook Pro. For better or for worse, I’ve been an Apple guy for the last 15 or so years and have appreciated the tidy integration between my phone (and especially its camera) and my laptops. Each summer, though, I switch over the my PC which I need to run Microsoft Access and ESRI’s ArcGIS which don’t have native Mac implementation. Usually, I bring along a MacBook Air when I go to the Mediterranean and use it for writing and blogging and to access my Apple ecosystem more easily and natively. My MacBook Air is pretty long in the tooth these days and while it can do what I would like it to do, it’s battery is no longer what it was, its pre-Retina screen is pretty underwhelming, and it’s tiny hard drive makes it more like an early-21st century netbook than a modern laptop. I just wonder whether this year is the year that taking my PC and using it for my writing.

This is a bit nerve wracking because I can’t help but feel that abandoning my Mac will make some part of my work more difficult, even if I’m not entirely sure what part of my work it will negatively impact. I suspect this reflects the success of the Apple ecosystem in making us feel dependent (or at very least comfortable) in their world. What is the most remarkable thing to me is how it descends to the gestural level. My years of working on Macs has shaped how I interact with the keyboard, touchpad, and applications and these habits are profoundly hard to break!

Thing the Third

Yesterday, I posted my annual “Summer Reading List” post and a number of friends reached out and said, in various ways, “whoa! so little ancient history!” This was mostly an oversight. I have considered reading Jack Davis’s new book: A Greek State in Formation: The Origins of Civilization in Mycenaean Pylos (2022) which is available Open Access from the University of California Press. I also want to read Alex Knodell’s newish book: Societies in Transition in Early Greece: An Archaeological History (2021). If I had all the time and energy in the world (and just a modicum of discipline), I would certainly read Nathan Arrington’s latest: Athens at the Margins: Pottery and People in the Early Mediterranean World (2021) from Princeton.

California has also continued its long tradition of publishing novel and significant works in the study of Late Antiquity and Early Christianity. Since it’s open access, I’d be keen to check out Mary Farag’s What Makes a Church Sacred: Legal and Ritual Perspectives from Late Antiquity (2021).

I also have a copy of Michele Salzman’s The Falls of Rome: Crises, Resilience, and Resurgence in Late Antiquity (2021) from Cambridge which is not open access, but would help me think about my class for next spring on Late Antiquity.

A Memorial for a Digital Friend: Diana Gilliland Wright

Yesterday, I learned that Diana Gilliland Wright had died earlier this month. I didn’t know her very well and, in fact, I can’t exactly remember if I had ever met her. I knew her mostly via email, comments on my blog, and her own voluminous blogging output.

Over the last decade, as my research interest shifted toward the Argolid, she and I corresponded a bit more regularly as she offered us the occasional insight based on her years of work on the city of Nafplion and its environs. From what I can gather she wrote her dissertation on a 15th century Venetian administrator at Nafplion, Bartolomeo Minio. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. Nor have I read any of her formal scholarship. What I did read, quite regularly, were her blogs.

Year ago, when blogging was still fresh and exciting and filled bloggers with hope, we envisioned a world where bloggers read each others’ work and reached out to one another and commented and shared each others’ work through hyperlinks and blogrolls and ultimately forged relationships across networks of blogs. Diana Wright did all that and was a regularly commenter on my blog from its earliest days (on Typepad!). And even as the promise of blogs as a corresponding medium faded a bit, she continued to reach out via email to offer comments and ask for publications. I remember sending her a few copies of North Dakota Quarterly at some point as well and hoping that she found the poetry and fiction in those pages interesting.

From what I can piece together she ran two blogs. The blog that I knew best was called “Surprised by Time” and it largely focused on the Medieval Morea (or Peloponnesus). Her interests were wide ranging and did much to make transparent murky waters separating the Medieval and Early Modern worlds. The scions of Byzantine elite families rubbed shoulders with Venetian administrators, on assignment, Ottoman officials, and Mediterranean diplomats, literati, and ne’er-do-wells. Palaiologoi cross paths with Italian merchants and Ottoman travelers, Pashas, and poets. Each of the over 200 entries, offered a startling glimpse into a world often overlooked by scholars preoccupied by tidier narratives of rise and decline of empire and neglectful of the messier interface of daily life among those most effected by political and cultural change. To Dr. Wright’s particular credit, the blog exists under a CC-By-SA license meaning that anyone can share her work as long as they credit her and make their work available under an open license. The blog appears to be fairly well archived by the internet archive, but I would be keen to entertain ways to preserve it more formally. 

For many years, she also maintained a landing page of sorts called “Nauplion.net” where she offered an index of her work and the work of her partner Pierre MacKay which featured regularly on her blog. It also featured links to many scans of hard to find primary sources some of which were translated on Surprised by Time. This site is no longer working and hadn’t been updated in many years, but it is preserved on the Internet Archive.

[By coincidence, I’m teaching Evliya Çelebi this week and using Pierre MacKay’s translation of Evliya’s visit to Corinth in my class. Diana Wright posted bits and pieces of Pierre’s translation and the story of his discovery of Evliya’s manuscript on her blog.]

Her other blog, Firesteel is an anthology of poetry gleaned from ancient and modern sources and from Greek, Ottoman, Arab, Italian, French and English language poets. I don’t know whether the poetry posted here and her more academic content crossed paths in some kind of formal way, but it really is an amazing collection of work (which I suspect violates all sort of copyrights, but I get the sense that Diana Wright just didn’t really care). 

~

As a small, digital memorial to Diana Gilliland Wright’s passing, I would encourage you spend a moment looking at her online legacy and recognizing it as a gesture of a kind of digital kinship that could connect individuals who had never met. For whatever reason, her profile included a link to John Coltrane’s 1957 recording of “While My Lady Sleeps.” It feels like an appropriate soundtrack for a visit to her digital world. 

. . . a little wine for remembrance . . . a little water for the dust.  

Two Things Tuesday: New Op-Ed and New Book

It’s the time of the semester, where resting on my laurels feels far more rewarding than making any kind of discernible progress on any number of projects that I currently have going. So in the spirit of laurel resting, I thought I would indulge in a little advertisement for myself.

Thing the First

Jennie Ebeling and I wrote a little Op-Ed for Near Eastern Archaeology titled “The Case for Digital Site Reports.” It doesn’t say anything that is particularly new or unexpected, for readers of this blog, but it puts out there the very basic observation that digital publishing of site reports is an overdue step toward producing more dynamic forms of archaeological documentation as well as an ethical response to the need to disseminate the results of archaeological work widely (especially among communities where Near Eastern archaeologists tend to work). Regrettably, the op-ed is behind a subscription pay wall, which is sufficiently ironic that I couldn’t possible provide a digital copy here.

Thing the Second

I’m really excited to promote the work of Kevin Garstki who has just released an edited book titled Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age with UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.  It’s open access, of course, and developed out of IEMA Conference held at the University of Buffalo in 2019. Kevin, as readers of this blog know, co-authored Visualizing Votive Practice which I published a few years ago via The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. More than that, he’s one of the leading voices in digital archaeology in the world right now. 

The book brings together a stunning, all-star cast of scholars to explore some of the latest developments in digital archaeology. Instead of being technology heavy, however, the book focuses on how technological change how we think about archaeological experiences, methods, and knowledge making strategies and practices. In other words, most of the contributors to this volume look to how digital archaeology has contributed to the production of a more critical approach to archaeology more broadly.

I’m honored to have been included in the conference and in the volume. You can read my contribution here, but honestly, I’d suggest the you just download the book and read everything in it. My paper is the first time I’ve put into words what I’m trying to do with the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and locates the entire project at the blurry boundaries of research and service to the discipline.

Here’s the cover:

Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age nbsp Proceedings of the 12th IEMA Visiting Scholar s Conference 2022 03 21 13 18 21

Three Things Thursday: Dining, Dancing, and Data

It’s been a pretty long week. I managed to teach my two classes via Zoom on Tuesday and made it through my night class face-to-face on Wednesday. Today, I’m bracing for the full slate of teaching and hoping (as much as anything) that the after shocks of my brush with The Omicron remain mild. 

With this as background, I figure my readers likely understand that a Three Things Thursday represents a path of least resistance as I get back up to speed.

Thing the First

Yesterday, I read Yannis Hamilakis’s recent piece in World Archaeology: “Food as affirmative biopolitics at the border: liminality, eating practices, and migration in the Mediterranean.” He argues that food represents a key element in the political discourse of displacement. Food provided to individuals detained on the island of Lesvos served to define their status within the complex network of cultural and social identities present in the Moria camp. Overcooked rice, for example, made some residents understand their status to be as sick patients. Undercooked rice demonstrated a lack of concern by the state, NGOs, and caterers tasked with preparing food. 

As a result, many camp residents took to preparing their own food. They removed the meat from the pre-packaged meals and combined it with spices and other ingredients. They constructed cooking fires and ovens, used their meager cash allowance to buy cooking supplies and spices, and in some cases planted gardens.

This latter practice gave me pause. We were struck by the construction of gardens at work force housing sites in the Bakken oil patch especially during the height of the boom. Recent work on the role of gardens at Japanese internment camps has shown how they served to produce a sense of community in the austerely functional carceral landscape of the camp itself (see for example Bonnie Clark’s book, Finding Solace in the Soil: An Archaeology of Garden and Gardeners at Amache (2020) or Connie Y. Chiang’s Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of Japanese Incarceration (2018) which I blogged about here.) Ann Elena Stinchfield Danis’s 2020 dissertation from the University of California, Berkeley, “Landscapes of Inequality: Creative Approaches to Engaged Research” notes the gardens built my residents of the Albany Bulb on the San Francisco Bay (more here). 

If I were to wring a bit more from our research in the Bakken, I would write something about the gardens we observed there and the way in which gardens and outdoor cooking spaces contributed to the creation of domesticity, community, and place making at temporary workforce housing sites.

Thing the Second

I’ve been reading Hanif Abdurraqib latest book, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (2021). The book is good and combines Abdurraquib’s poetic grasp of language with chapters that could easily stand by themselves as independent essays. I particularly enjoy passages where phrases spill out on top of each other connected only by the “&” and conveying the immediacy of his experience without introducing urgency. 

One of the best chapters in the book is titled “On the Certain and Uncertain Movement of the Limbs” and it explores the place of dancing or being able to dance on Black identity. Abdurraquib spills the beans when he tells us that Whitney Houston could not dance and then unpacks her rise as a black woman to pop super star status and how that shaped views of her Blackness. I won’t spoil the chapter or the book for anyone who has yet to read it, but this chapter alone makes it worth the purchase. It’s one of the best things that I’ve read over the past year. 

Thing the Third

 There’s been a good bit of buzz surrounding Piraye Hacıgüzeller, James Stuart Taylor and Sara Perry’s recent article in Open Archaeology: “On the Emerging Supremacy of Structured Digital Data in Archaeology: A Preliminary Assessment of Information, Knowledge and Wisdom Left Behind.” In the article, the authors take some of the narrative notes from the Çatalhöyük Research Project and convert them into structured data using the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model. 

The fit is predictably awkward and demonstrates for anyone who remains unconvinced that various structured data schemes always leave some information and even “wisdom” behind. I really like this article because it takes something that’s on the verge of being common sensical – i.e. narrative descriptions contain nuance that most ontologies and data capture models can’t reproduce – and makes it plainly visible. It also fits into a larger critique of “big data” or of just “data” driven analyses both in archaeology, narrowly, and also in contemporary society. I wonder, a bit, whether the COVID pandemic and the constant drone of data driven guidelines lurks in the back of these author’s thinking. There’s something about the limits of data as the basis for the analysis of COVID fatalities, spread, and efforts to mitigate COVID. 

An article like this serves as an interesting reminder that data driven analysis (and decision making) depends on methods of inclusion and exclusion and these decisions prefigured the kind of interpretation possible. Of course, this is known situation and hardly profound, but this article sets it out in the context of archaeology in a particularly elegant way.

What Do We Mean By “Digital” and “Publishing” When We Say “Digital Publishing”

This week is the annual meeting of the American Schools of Overseas Research in Chicago and unfortunately for the second year in a row, I won’t be able to attend in person because of the dumb COVID pandemic. If you wonder why I’m not going to Chicago, this article appeared as if on cueYou can check out the full program here.

Fortunately, the workshop  in which I’m scheduled to participate, “Best Practices for Digital Scholarship” has an impressive line up and the organizers of the panel have been particularly accommodating and I have some hope that I will be able to participate in the panel in some way.

That said, my take on the issue of best practices for digital scholarship is probably not really what they had in mind, but I hope it nevertheless contributes in some way to the conversation. In sum, I try to suggest that digital practices in archaeology and the  

This very brief paper offers a two casual observations on digital publishing based on my position as a sometime archaeologist and sometime publisher. For the last six years, I’ve directed a small (perhaps better ”nano”) scholar-led press, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, which has published over 20 books on a range of topics from the history of the Northern Plains to Mediterranean and world archaeology. The books are open access and available as digital downloads or as print-on-demand paperbacks.

My experience working as both an archaeologist and a publisher informs my first observation which I developed more fully in my contribution to a volume edited by Kevin Garstki that is currently in page proofs! (Here’s the conference paper on which this contribution is based.) In this chapter, I argue that digital practices in archaeology have increasingly blurred the line between field work, analysis, interpretation, and publishing. We now use databases that can seamlessly publish our data to the web. Most GIS software integrates with web-based interfaces or allows us to produce publication quality maps if not literally in the field, then at our laptop. Illustration software is at home in the lab as it is in the publisher’s office. And it seems to me, at least, that document preparation software such as LaTeX, which is increasingly standard in scientific publishing, is even blurring the distinction between word processing and typesetting in some contexts. The way in which these digital tools have shaped our archaeological workflow anticipates a time when such classic scholarly conceits as the “final report” become indistinguishable points along a continuum of digitally mediated knowledge making.

The second observation is more polemical (and I’m willing to make some of these claims because I’m not attending this panel in person!) and derives from the first. If the line between research, writing, and publishing is becoming more and more blurry, what is the ”value add” that comes from traditional academic publishing? Of course, publishers often ensure that our publications look elegant, professional, and attractive, but surely this is not enough to justify their role in academic life.

We might point out that publishers manage the peer review process, but most scholars would agree that contemporary peer review standards and practices are neither unproblematic nor entirely fair and probably do less to guarantee the quality and “truth” of a publication than we would hope.

We might note that many academic institution require academic publications for tenure, promotion, or merit raises, and this requires academic publishers. But as tenure, promotion, and raises become increasingly less common in academia it seems like this will not justify their existence.

We might point out that academic publishers facilitate the distribution of scholarly knowledge. But as institutional budgets dwindle and library funding declines, it is hard not to see this role as at least partly parasitic as it draws resources away from the very institutions committed to producing new knowledge. As institutional funding does not appear to be trending toward more equality either in the US or globally, it is difficult to imagine how the existing system will pivot so as not to continue to exacerbate the divide between a very small number of ”haves” and a growing number ”have nots.” Moreover, the recent impact of the COVID pandemic has shown that current system used to disseminate academic knowledge could be fairly easily subverted (or even replaced) by peer-to-peer networks of file sharing.

These observations may appear to be peripheral to the issues that this panel wants to discuss, but I would argue they’re not. On the one hand, digital tools, technologies, and methods are changing our ideas of fieldwork, analysis, and publishing in fundamental ways. On the other hand, the structure of archaeology as an academic (and professional) discipline and the role that publishing plays in institutional and professional standards and practices is (or at least should be) changing as well. In other words, when we ask questions such as: “what can individuals, institutions, and professional societies do to better support data publishing?” we might want to attend to the larger question of how individuals, institutions, and professional societies imagine the role of both digital and traditional publishing in our changing institutional and professional world.

Some Thoughts the Digital Tsunami

This weekend, I read with some excitement the forum in Antiquity following John Aycock’s thought-provoking article titled “The Coming Tsunami of Digital Artifacts.” The is the key text in a short debate section that features papers by Sarah and Eric Kansa, Colleen Morgan, and Jeremey Huggett. In other words, some of my favorite scholars in the field of digital archaeology. All their response are short and you should go and read them if it sounds interesting.

The gist of Aycock’s argument is that archaeologists have to do more to understand the world of digital artifacts if they want to be able to continue to apply archaeology to contemporary problems and objects. This is almost certainly true, although Aycock’s claim that archaeologists must become more digital literate and find ways to collaborate with computer scientists if they want to remain relevant is probably an overstatement. After all, most of human history did not involve digital technology and so knowing code, for example, may not necessarily change how we interrupt, say, Early Christian basilicas in Greece. 

That all said, the article did prompt me to think about how archaeologists make knowledge. On the one hand, Aycock is right that in many cases, archaeologists want to understand objects as thoroughly as possible. In most cases, efforts to extract as much data for an object, situation, context, or landscape involves a collaboration between as many specialists as possible. For a project devoted to a digital object, landscape, or context, then it seems like that a computer scientist might be part of the collaboration. 

On the other hand, I suspect that computer scientists also need archaeologists and experts on materiality as well. The detailed studies of video game machines and their context by Raiford Guins’s Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) and Michael Z. Newman’s Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America (MIT 2017) offered insights into the complex lives of games and game consoles both in the home and as objects that saw use, maintenance, and repair. Newman showed that the physical forms of gaming consoles, as an example, from their faux wood paneling to their low profile designs served to adapt them to middle-class domestic standards and to make space for masculine video game playing in less more feminine space of the home interior. Guins traced the evidence for game playing rituals, from the wear marks that show where spectators would hang on or rub against the game machine while watching another player. More than that Guins traced the challenges with repairing CRT monitors and circuit boards for games that are no longer manufactured. In any event, these are two easy examples of how we can still learn a good bit from the materiality of video games and this could productively inform how we understand the code of the digital artifacts that these machines embody. 

Aycock’s article and the notion of “D Transforms” introduced in the response by Sarah and Eric Kansa also got me wondering about the stability of digital objects. It is obvious that digital objects can survive outside of their primary cultural, material, or archaeology context. But it equally obvious that files become corrupted by either digital or material failures. These corruptions can be as spectacular as glitch art or as gut wrenching as lost data and hardware crashes. The interplay between hardware and software can likewise be incredibly ephemeral, as Andrew Reinhard has pointed out, and even an incredibly detailed understanding of code will not always make the material object easier to understand (and vice versa). The notion of “D transforms” feels like brilliant way to grasp our encounters with digital objects in their material, temporal, and social (political, economic, and broadly cultural) context.

While much of this goes without saying, the conversation did get me thinking back to my dissertation. One of the challenges that I faced with my dissertation is that all that we had left behind was the “hardware” for the rise of Christianity in Greece. We had very few textual sources and almost no sources for the ritual life of the Early Christian basilica-style churches that I studied. It seemed to me that the liturgy that took places in these buildings served as kind of software that made its architectural form work for the Christian community. Despite its absence, archaeologists have nevertheless worked out, to some extent, how the software of these buildings worked. In fact, this is what archaeologists tend to be pretty good at doing.

In the end, Aycock is right, of course, archaeology of the contemporary world would do well to collaborate with computer scientists especially when dealing with the complex interplay between digital objects and their material forms. At the same time, because the digital is no less fragile and dependent on context than the material, I think it’s safe to say that archaeologists will do just fine negotiating the material even when the digital remains beyond our grasp.

Three Things Thursday: Rhys Carpenter, Digital Archaeology, and Work

It’s been a long week and I’m looking at a day filled with meetings, teaching, and other adventures. In light of this, it seems like a good time for a Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

Last week, while having a conversation with one of my old Greek archaeology buddies, he casually mentioned that Rhys Carpenter had written poetry. I suppose this not a secret to the cognoscenti, but I didn’t know. Of course, I knew Rhys Carpenter as an architect and an archaeologist who had worked at Corinth and contributed in a powerful way not only to the development of a rigorous and diachronic American archaeology in Greece, but also in the systematic study of post-Classical and Byzantine remains. During my first year at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens as an aspiring archaeologist, I enjoyed the Rhys Carpenter fellowship (although I only gradually came to understand how cool a privilege to have his name associated with my career (albeit posthumously) was). 

In any event, a couple books of his poetry, published in the 1910s, is available via the Internet Archive. Check out The Sun-Thief and Other Poems (Oxford 1914) and The Tragedy of Etarre: A Poem (New York 1912)  The poetry falls just shy of feeling stuffy to me, but it is perhaps a bit too formal for contemporary tastes and it is unlikely to appear in a standard 20th century poetry survey course. That said, it does feel palpably modernist in its rather impersonal aspirations to the universal, in this case, cloaked in its Classical allusions and formal structures. Perhaps this style is appropriate for an architect and archaeologist who recognized the value in all periods (and even the beleaguered Byzantine) while still privileging Classical period. My colleague Kostis Kourelis, who introduced me to Carpenter’s poetry, make a similar argument in an article that he wrote several years ago now on the role that the archaeology of the Byzantine period in Greece played on Modernism and the avant garde. You can read it here

Carpenter also wrote a travelogue of a trip he took to Central America in the early 20th century. So it appears that his quest for the modern world in antiquity was not limited to areas and cultures traditionally articulated as the antecedent to modern European civilization. 

Early Candle Light (1914)

The low sweet melody of ancient song
Kisses asleep the heavy eyes of grief.
When autumn falls and withers every leaf,
When daylight shrinks and stormy nights grow long,
When winter-wind and winter-cold are strong,
And sorrow holds the weary heart in fief,
The low sweet melody of ancient song
Kisses asleep the heavy eyes of grief.

When golden love lies bound with iron thong,
And noble tales but mock our dull belief,
When mirth has garnered every radiant sheaf
And all the sickly world is harsh and wrong,
The low sweet melody of ancient song
Kisses asleep the heavy eyes of grief.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his invocation of the seasons seemed appropriate today as I look out the basement window of the NDQ offices onto the Collegiate Gothic quad and watch the timeless movement of students against the fading green of summer.

Thing the Second

About 20 (almost 25!) years ago when people talked about “The Digital Archaeology,” I, like many people, assumed that this was simply a temporary trend that traced our collective effort as a field to negotiate technological change. But here we are.

This past week has produced a bumper crop of works on the use of digital technologies in archaeology. These range from field oriented considerations of low-cost and DYI approaches to digital tools. Check out Edouard Masson-MacLean and colleagues’, “Digitally Recording Excavations on a Budget: A (Low-Cost) DIY Approach from Scotland” or in the JFA. For an approach to field recording that is more prog than punk, check out the most recent from the FAIMS team in the same journal: “Deploying an Offline, Multi-User, Mobile System for Digital Recording in the Perachora Peninsula, Greece.”

For a less field oriented perspective, I’m excited to tuck into the recent Debate in Antiquity surrounding John Aycock’s article, “The coming tsunami of digital artefacts” which includes responses from some of my favorite thinkers about the digital tools and practices in archaeology: Sarah and Eric Kansa, Colleen Morgan, and Jeremey Huggett

The interplay between increasingly sophisticated perspectives on the theoretical side of digital archaeology and the practical challenges associated with data collection in the field, management during publication and dissemination, and curation après le déluge (as the kids say) continues to be worth watching and a source of inspiration.

Thing the Third

Rebecca Futo Kennedy wrote a blog post this week that really struck a chord. You can read it here. She basically argues that it is hard to get anything done. I can’t help but think of Yogi Berra’s quotable critique of a famous New York City restaurant: “Nobody goes there any more —it’s too crowded.” Despite feeling like I’m working all the time, I never feel like I’m getting anything done.

For a long time, this felt like running on a treadmill, but then I realize that most running (even when it meanders through the local park or streets in my small town) is running on a treadmill. The goal isn’t to get somewhere (or get away from something), but to endure the challenge and maybe improve (or at least hold station!). This isn’t meant to be a critique of Futo-Kennedy’s blog post, but it prompted a personal reflection. I feel like my own happiness is not connected to how much I work. I can write and read and “think” (or whatever passes for thought) day and after day and still wake up excited to do it all again. If I get bored or burned out on one project or task, I can shift my attention to something else: from research to teaching, from reading to writing, from writing to book production, from scholarship to creative work, and so on. 

My happiness and satisfaction with my job has increasingly come to revolve around process. When I’m doing what I’m doing, even if it doesn’t lead immediately to a “deliverable” result, I find that my life settles into a satisfying routine which, almost by its own volition, leads to things that the bean counters (and my colleagues) can discern as results. In other words, not getting things done seems, for me, to result in things that appear as accomplishments for those who care about such things.

This has got me thinking about the strange economy of the work-life balance industry and their occasional argument that working less often results in getting more done. This seems to assume that for most individuals, the product is more important than the process which is only good insofar as it can be minimized. For academics, I’d contend, the process is generally more appealing and satisfying than the product or outcome which tends to be ephemeral and contingent. Process, in contrast, is persistent and even when practices changed, continuously defined by certain disciplines, attitudes, affects, and experiences. Thus, the call for people to rebalance home life over work life as a way to become more efficient in their work misunderstands the appeal of work life and creates a scenario that, at least in some industries (such as academia), is likely to produce greater apathy toward work.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the rise in rhetoric surrounding “life hacks” designed to make home life more efficient leads people, ironically, to change their attitudes to work. When the alternative to the efficient home is a place where individuals can experience process and certain attitudes toward tasks that bring a kind of satisfaction, efficiency oriented home life with its rhetorical emphasis on outcomes and accomplishments (the tidy lawn, the clean kitchen, the efficiently prepare meal, or the completed home repair) becomes strangely unappealing. I’d rather read another article, write another page, meet with a student, or reflect on a class than mow the lawn, do laundry, or complete some household chore even if these are made more efficient by labor-saving tools or other life hacks.

For me, at least, it’s telling that the most pointless work in my life — walking the dogs, going for a jog, riding my push-bike, or writing my blog — are also times when I think about work the most intently and with the greatest pleasure. I recognize that it is a luxury to have time to do pointless things and to think about my work and practice it in a positive and open way, but perhaps recognizing this privilege is a way toward revising how we think about work itself. Rather than celebrating models of work (and work/home balance) that look to improve the efficiency of our work life, perhaps we should re-examine how our attitudes toward work and expectations of accomplishments, efficiency, and product impact the quality of the work experience for people across society. Maybe the key to doing more is actually thinking about what gets done less. Making a kind of productive inefficiency at work a more appealing alternative to home will do more to address not only concerns of work/home, but also the anxieties that come with feeling like we’re never getting anything done.      

Photo Friday and a Few Random Links

It’s the start of the “Frog Days of Summer” when it’s so hot, we all become a bit amphibious to beat the heat. 

The dogs are doing their best to keep cool and hydrated.

The Barge in Summer

and to endure the terror of summer thunderstorms.

IMG 6312

I still don’t have quite enough energy for a full on “Quick Hits and Varia,” but a few links to some late-summer reading never go astray. Do check out Carl Schiffman’s essay posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog or reminisce about a summer on Swan’s Island with the late Donald Junkins.

If you have a digital project that you love, do consider nominating it for the AIA Award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology

If you’re looking for something at the intersection of poetry and photography, check out Kyle Cassidy’s Optimized for Likes: Kerning the Human Altered Landscape. It’s $3 and you can get the PDF here.

If you have itchy writing figures, do consider submitting something to this coming fall’s pilgrimCHAT conference. You can read the CFP here.

This is a neat little piece on jazz violinist Billy Bang.

I’m reading Rosemary Joyce’s The Future of Nuclear Waste: What Art and Archaeology Can Tell Us about Securing the World’s Most Hazardous Material. Oxford 2020.