Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time: A Response

My old pal Andrew Reinhard of the American Numismatic Society and a PhD candidate at the University of York kindly agreed to comment on my post from yesterday. Because he interwove his responses to my original post, I thought it would just be easier to repost yesterday’s post with his comments included. His comments are in italics.

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

This is something similar to what the American Numismatic Society has done with the notebooks of E. T. Newell. We have the printed notebooks, they have been scanned and tagged, are available as open access to the public, and give us insight into the first Golden Age of numismatics, both the people and the artifacts and related context. The trick is doing a third step: publishing what we’ve learned. We can do all of this cool, useful stuff post-digitization, but the results must be published both digitally and in print. More about the necessity of the analogue below.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future.

I’m coming at the issue of heritage-time from looking at active software use. Classical civilizations found the archaeologist thousands of years removed from acts of creation, use, modification, discard, and destruction. Digital archaeologists find themselves watching as digital landscapes, sites, and artifacts undergo those stages over the course of an hour, often less. The notion of digital time is so absurd that we must observe it at the quantum level, understanding that Deep Time happens concurrently with things occurring literally at the speed of light. How are archaeologists equipped to handle an archaeology of the immediate? This issue is not limited to digital data, but also to anything that is mass-produced. The speed of waste now when compared to what it was 2,000 years ago is logarithmic. Archaeologists are yet not able to keep pace

It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

I think it’s important to mention here that I see “digital archaeology” as having two major threads that are not independent of each other: 1) digital archaeology is archaeological investigation of anything facilitated by the use of digital tools, and 2) digital archaeology is the archaeological investigation of digital things, which can include, but is not limited to synthetic worlds, software of any kind, and the firmware, middleware, and hardware used to create, distribute, and allow access to those digital spaces.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

It shouldn’t matter why archaeological documentation is created, only that it is. At the point of its creation, archaeological documentation is of its own time, which can tell future researchers a bit about the conditions of the creation of the interpretation of archaeological data. Archaeological documentation, while of its own time, is also of all time, that is to say that it occupies past, present, and future all at once. Researchers at the initial point of interpretation will author documentation with conscious or unconscious political, social, and economic bias as they work to answer their research questions. They need to bear in mind, however, that while this interpretation is important in the present about the present and the past, that their interpretation will not be the only one. They will not have thought of all of the research questions. They will miss things in the data that only temporal distance from the project’s “conclusion” can yield. Ideally data should be agnostic and amoral, but data are anything but. Archaeologists can, however, write for the present knowing that future generations will revise the work and there’s nothing to be done about it.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data. 

All data are legacy data, which includes data created and interpreted today. Any data “preserved” digitally are fugitive. Databases serve the purpose of now, one year from now, and maybe ten years from now. I remember talking to Sebastian Heath about the future of filetypes. Should we be concerned about what types of files we use for data entry, for publication? His opinion (and this was several year ago and might have changed, but I agree with him now and still) was that it didn’t really matter. If we want to access a legacy filetype badly enough, we’ll find a way. But ultimately this all depends on persistent electricity, internet, the “cloud”, and functioning hardware. All are doomed in the long view. So what are we going to do about it? I’d suggest paper versions of record. Super-engraved blocks of permanent material that will outlive every server farm? But then, if data ever survive that long, will future humans and non-humans (including A.I. entities) care? I don’t think it matters. It’s the moral obligation of the archaeologist to record, interpret, publish, and preserve data from any given project with as much care as possible on the unlikely chance that someone 100 years from now will return to it and be able to do something useful with it.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

I find myself waiting for the publication of the historiography of 21st-century archaeological method and practice, but published in 2020, and not at the end of the century. Such an omnibus publication would surely advance the state of the discipline, prompting conversations about “best practices,” although what’s best for one type of practice might not be best for another kind.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code. 

I think video game archaeologists (myself included) continue to fetishize the artifact over its context, and that needs to change, perhaps decentralizing the role of the game itself and instead placing it within a ring-of-context: what forces caused this game to be created, and where does the game slot in with everything else that’s happening at the point of its creation. We study the game-artifact as a way of participating in the greater knowledge-making of the past 50 years.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

I don’t think so largely because in most(?) cases, the artifact or site once digitized still exists in its analogue form. Lots of copies keep stuff safe, so as long as copies of data are kept and openly distributed at the point of their creation, we theoretically should have “originals” floating around even as other copies are ported forward to other formats for contemporary use.

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices. 

 

True, but I worry about the speed at which the recent past creates massive piles of stuff for archaeologists to inherit and inhabit. This “data deluge” can be sanely managed through the use of bucket cores as an analogy for the  sampling of data flows. For example, a game I am studying (Death Stranding) contains human-created items (signs, towers, roads, etc.) that are created and destroyed several times an hour. The archaeologist would need to sit at the screen 24/7/365 to record all that is happening. Now, over time, the same events happen in the same places, although with subtly different placements, volume of creation, and names of creators. Is it necessary for the archaeologist to mine all of the data all of the time, or, in the case of human-occupied digital environments, can one take a sample every day, week, or month, and be satisfied that the sample is representative? I think so, but in doing so we might miss out on those anomalies—a day of no creation, or a day of the creation of something odd/funny. Perhaps by sampling data often over a very long period of time, those anomalies will appear just as part of standard sampling. The only way to find out is to try.

Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future. It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices.

Time, Legacy Data, and Flow

After a lazy couple of weeks with books, travel, and the holidays, I’m struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things. One step in that direction is starting to work “for realz” on my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in January. (I probably need to start writing lectures for my two new preps in the spring, but one thing at a time!).

My paper is in a panel on the re-use of archaeological data, and when I wrote my abstract, I was all pepped up on the idea of flow. This hasn’t entirely changed, but I’ve recently started to worry about how time and flow work together. In particular, I’ve become interested in the way in which the concept of “legacy data” has shaped our view of digital archaeology in practice.

It seems to me that legacy data is a pretty broad concept. In 2008, Internet Archaeology published a useful survey of projects using legacy data. In the introduction to that volume Penelope Allison noted that legacy data in Mediterranean archaeology could include anything from Pausanias to late-20th century excavations notebooks. In other words, data needn’t mean literal data – that is granular or fragmented bits of digital information gathered from survey units or trench side – but also analog sources like photographs and notebooks, narrative sources such as those produced by early travelers and archaeological publications, primary paper sources of varying kinds and granularity, as well as information produced and stored in obsolete or antiquate “legacy systems.” The common feature of all these sources of data is that the archaeologists using these sources did not produce them. They are legacy because they were passed down from one generation (however defined) to the next.

In many cases, the research questions of interest to scholars who chose to work in legacy data differ from those of the archaeologists who produced the original dataset. This discontinuity often emphasizes the need to adapt the data from the past to the goals of analysis in the present. At its most challenging, this represents a kind of methodological disconnect that speaks both to “advances in archaeological practice” to appropriate the name of the SAA’s methods journal as well as new questions of interest to the contemporary discipline. In other words, long standing projects with consistent practices, methods, and research questions over time are less likely to produce “legacy data” than projects that formally conclude, experience some form of institutional or personal discontinuity, or change how they approach their archaeological work.

Since 2010, I’ve been working with a team of archaeologists to publish some of the work done by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at the site of ancient Arsinoe in the village of Polis Chrysochous in Western Cyprus. We have focused on three main sources of data from the project – the excavated architecture, which includes two Early Christian basilica style churches, the ceramics and other small finds, and the excavations notebooks. These notebooks represent the legacy data component of our work at Polis and document excavation at the site over 20 years starting in the mid 1980s. These notebook constitute a kind of legacy data in part because many members of the team currently studying the excavation did not participate in the original work, but mostly because the excavations were not conducted in a formally stratigraphic manner. As a result, we have had to cautiously reconstruct stratigraphic relationships on the basis of descriptions in the notebooks and a general understanding of their excavation techniques which removed material on the basis of levels and passes which may or may not have clear stratigraphic definition.  

In this example, then, legacy data reflects a methodological discontinuity with contemporary archaeological practices. The progressive character of archaeological practices, then, creates the conditions in which legacy practices come into being. At the same time, we recognize that legacy data preserves evidence for past archaeological practices as well as for the deeper past embodied in the artifacts, architecture, and depositional processes that it describes. The deeper past that archaeology studies tends to be far more resilient than past practices manifest in legacy data.

~  

Our approach to the Polis notebooks has depended in no small part on the work of Joanna Smith who worked to have the notebooks scanned and made available to us in digital form. This allowed us to study the notebooks remotely and to begin the process of reconstructing stratigraphic relationships from non-stratigraphic narratives.

The first step in this work was to create a distinct identifier for each excavation event. This identifier combined excavation year, area name, trench name, (both according to the Polis grid) level, and pass. In addition to this identification, we might have also included notebook number and page number. Many trenches had multiple notebooks and because the excavators did not proceed in a “last in, first out” method, it was possible for multiple contexts to be open at the same time. The notebooks recorded the daily work of the excavator and moved from context to context depending on their work. As a result, the excavation of certain contexts could appear on dozens of different, non-consecutive, pages in a notebook.

The individual contexts, identified by their year, area, trench, level, and pass, can then be arranged in relation to other excavated contexts, in an informal matrix (that I call a “Franco Harris Matrix” because so rarely can we establish immaculate relationships). We can then associate with these contexts our analysis of the finds and, in many cases, architecture. This has allowed us to propose a chronology for several of the buildings at the site and to construct assemblages of finds that allow us to make arguments for the economy and connectivity of the Late Roman community. Most of this work is done with relational databases that allow us to connect different kinds of data in various one-to-many relationships. 

~

At the same time, we are aware that our approach involves disaggregating the excavation notebooks. This essentially disrupts the narrative of excavation that these notebooks preserve. On a practical level, this made it more difficult for us to understand cases when multiple contexts being open at once led to the contamination. It also tended to obscure aspects of the excavation process that developed over the course of a season. In the Polis system it was possible for a level to be excavated in a series of irregular passes over the course of weeks resulting in the latter passes through the level being informed by the excavation of other contexts in the trench. Fortunately, it appears for now that these kinds of issues had only a minimal impact on the kind of coarse analysis that we have conducted so far, but future work, particularly in more complex areas of the site, may require greater attention to the organization of the notebooks themselves as a form of information on archaeological practices. 

This example demonstrates the complex ways in which our effort to join legacy data to contemporary data collection processes runs the risk of obscuring the character of legacy data as evidence for more than simply contexts, objects, and features from the past, but also as evidence for past practices. Part of the significance of the linked-data movement, for example, is that it privileges the interoperability of data. By encouraging the production of granular data, we now have datasets that support artifact level analysis across multiple sites. Open Context, for example, has helped my excavation and survey at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus to create a corpus of artifact assemblages identifiable at scales ranging from the individual sherd to the type, chronology, or archaeological context. Unlike our work at Polis, however, we designed this project with this kind of data publication in mind.

The publication of data from Polis invariably requires the re-arrangement of the legacy data to allow it to contribute to the larger “flow” of data being produced by contemporary archaeological projects. This streamlining and disaggregating will result in the obscuring of past practices that contributed to the status of this data as “legacy” as we work to ensure that it integrates with contemporary expectations and research questions. In many cases, our growing dependency on digital technologies, tools, and practices are responsible for reshaping legacy data.   

~

There is little disputing the significance of this kind of work for our field. Renewed attention to legacy datasets have allowed us to publish two decades of excavation at Polis in ways that make it useful both to understanding our site, and hopefully, in the near future, understanding the larger region. We have also be able to avoid many of the challenges associated with new field work which range from the cost in time and resources in establishing a new project to the pressing and ongoing realities of artifact storage, site preservation, and publication.

The study of legacy data also presses us to engage in the multiple of temporalities present in archaeological work. We can largely agree that archaeology has focused on material from “the past” and recognize that archaeological practices have changes and – by and large – improved since the disciplines founding in the 19th century. Archaeology remains a progressive science.

Legacy data also makes us aware of a third kind of archaeological time which I’ve tended to call “ethical time.” Ethical time in archaeology recognizes the persistent value of artifacts and data from excavations even when these no longer coincide neatly with progressive ideas of archaeological practice or clearly defined archaeological contexts or provenance. The practice of repatriation, for example, represents the ethical time in archaeology in that it embraces the potential for the return of artifacts to restore a situation that existed a historical past.

The study of legacy data offers similar opportunities for archaeologists in that we can find new ways to restore the significance of past field work. Like repatriation, which must often recognize the compromised situation of the repatriated artifact and the limits to our ability to restore the artifact to its archaeological context, the reuse of legacy data faces similar limitations. Releasing legacy data into the world of contemporary data flows often requires us to strip aways parts of its historical situation as part of an archaeological past to accommodate the information in a disciplinary present. We can hope that this compromise restores the legacy of the field work both to the meaningful world of contemporary practice and to our disciplinary efforts to understand the past.     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Practices in Digital Scholarship at ASOR 2019

I’m sitting in the Best Practices of Digital Scholarship panel at ASOR 2019.

Chuck Jones leads things off with a librarian’s perspective on the need for open access for a thriving academic ecosystem with particular attention to the role of libraries. He’s stressing the need to read author contracts carefully and to make sure that it provides for open access. He has pointed out the resources available via the Open Access Directory and Peter Suber’s various open access author addenda.

He’s also talking about the role that institutional repositories play, but also their limitations for scholars who are increasingly mobile and contingent. Disciplinary repositories then play a role in this system (e.g. Propyleaum DOK for largely German Egyptology scholarship). Now he’s offering a clear critique of Academia.edu and emphasizing that it’s not an open access repository and it’s making commercial use of content and serving as a node in the surveillance economy. Instead, we should consider Zenodo which does not have wide use among scholars of the humanities (but it welcomes the humanities). He also gives a shout out to the MLA’s Humanities Commons, which I personally use. We need to actively manage our identity (get an ORCID ID and use VIAF!). Also, check out this list of active open access journals

ASOR needs to take a stand on open access and, perhaps, have an open access statement!! Let’s do this. Plus some shout outs to Peter Suber’s work (which is available for free)

And CITE open access!

Now Kevin McGeough is speaking as chair of the publications committee and introducing the draft digital publication policy for ASOR. We’re collecting comments on this document right now. McGeough is demonstrating how the network of interoperable services provide a network in which digital (and analogue) scholarship can exist. 

Advertisement for myself: we started working along these lines with our linked volume of Pyla-Koutsopetria. You can download it here. This book does not necessarily adopt best practices and it has limitations, but it was a start in order to demonstrate what is possible with digital and analogue data.

McGeough is outlining some of the real limitations that ASOR needs to address moving forward with a system of digital and analogue publishing. Costs, technological issues, institutional frictions and other challenges remain real barriers to digital publishing of archaeological data. Financial barriers are, in particular, significant, but the benefits are as well.

Next steps, include making the content of this policy statement known, integrated with ASOR-CAP, critically engaging with our existing publication workflow, and, of course, money… It may be that ASOR is a bit on the “cutting edge” here, although the AIA statement on the role of digital publications (especially of data) in their tenure and promotion guidelines. There is a way to show that producing digitally rich archaeological publications needs to be aware both of best practice and working practices.

We need to remember that archaeologists have never found a wheel that we can’t reinvent.

Now Eric Kansa is talking about the exciting new world of surveillance capitalism! Highlighting the case of Cambridge Analytica and Russian advertising buys using analytic data from archaeological posts, particularly those in contested places, on Facebook. Open Context does not sell data. It also exists in a multinational ecosystem that provides both digital framework and a professional and disciplinary framework for disseminating archaeological data.

Excavations are not data mines!!! Instead, Kansa stresses that data is constructed. Now he’s showing a entity relation diagram to demonstrate the complexity of archaeological knowledge, data, and the knowledge making project. Open Context attempts to manage complexity using a series of common schemas, which still maintaining flexibility.   

Kansa is going to stress reproducibility and integration with publications. He shows an example of Early Bronze Age NumayraTel Dor, and PKAP. He’s also demonstrating how we can integrate data across platforms and projects to produce more dynamic, robust, and consistent datasets for analysis.

Now he’s bringing in the intellectual property context published data and FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reuseable supported by Creative Common licenses.

Kansa is showing how data from Open Context is being re-used in a wide range of contexts from archaeological publications to computer programs, teaching (c.f. in particular Shawn Graham’s ODATE textbook project), government reports, augmented and virtual reality. 

Kansa is calling on us to increase our bootstrapping capacity through data literacy, increasing the quantity and quality of archaeological data, and normalize the publication of data. Also how do we ensure sustainability of our data (and their attendant institutions)? And how do we make sure our practices around data reflect our shared values.

Finally, Suzanne Pilaar Birch who is serving as a discussant with particular attention to open access publishing and publishing data on the tenure track. She noted that ASOR is in the forefront of digital publishing conversations and how important that the support from groups like ASOR is for moving forward. 

She points out that for-profit publishers are double profiting on open access articles when they charge a fee to publish a open access article in a non-open access journal. It’s not just that we publish open access is how and where we publish open access. While it’s easy enough to encourage scholars to publish in open access (just do it!), we must also recognize that at present, there’s a risk. Once again, institutions like ASOR needs to push to mitigate this kind of risk. There are real benefits to a willingness to take a risk, that includes visibility and being on the cutting edge.

There are also real ethical issues. Journals that are not open access often make it harder for research to get to scholars, activists, and communities where archaeologists work (particularly in the “global south” (my term, not hers).

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!!