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The Heritage Jam

Poster by Ian Kirkpatrick

(Note that this post was produced for the Day of Archaeology & has been re-blogged here.)

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our websiteblogTwitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”).

And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature GameBuried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart EveKerrie HoffmanColleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan, http://www.heritagejam.org

Detail of a storyboard produced by a team of heritage practice students at the University of York

Detail of a storyboard produced by a team of heritage practice students at the University of York

My 10-week heritage fieldschool for first-year undergraduates was launched at the end of April, and since then, we’ve been engrossed in its many elements, which (like all field training programmes) entail a major commitment of time and energy: more than 32 hours per week of making, doing, learning, revising, accounting and critiquing. As per last year, I designed the course to provide students with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the full spectrum of heritage practice, from excavation and recording through interpretation, collections handling, audio-visual production, museological display and curation, to archiving, promotion, audience evaluation, reporting and critical self-reflection. The structure is similar to that from 2013 (read more here), but it’s benefited from a massive amount of feedback offered by the students themselves, by our many collaborators, and by generous members of the public and readers of this blog.

The students are documenting their process on group blogs, which you can access through the links below.

Head over Heels into Heritage: http://headingintoheritage.blogspot.co.uk/

Moving Forward into the Past: http://movingforward-past.blogspot.co.uk/

I continue to be amazed by the amount that can be achieved in such a short timeframe, and by the phenomenal progress demonstrated by these students who, just a few weeks ago, had virtually no experience with planning interpretative content, nor with audio-visual production and editing, archival research, blogging, presenting to non-academic audiences, or curation. We invite others to follow along as the next 7 weeks of their training unfurl and they evolve into filmmakers, exhibition designers, audience evaluators, promoters, event organisers, and digital media technicians. I’m really proud of their accomplishments, and I hope you might consider offering your constructive input on their outputs and experiences as we move forward.

This year’s fieldschool is particularly interesting for me, as it coincides with a larger personal research project (part of my PGCAP certification) that I’m doing on the efficacy of digitally-mediated pedagogy. I’ll be presenting on that research several times over the next couple of months, including at the Google Apps for Education (European User Group) conference, and the York Learning and Teaching Conference (please come along – there are some amazing presenters featuring at these events), and I’ll hopefully—fingers crossed—also be publishing some aspects of it in an exciting forthcoming issue of Internet Archaeology (more details soon).

In preparation for these outputs, I’ve been conducting 30-60 minute interviews with my undergraduate and Master’s students who’ve kindly agreed to give me critical feedback on their experiences of my courses. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response that I received from everyone when I emailed to ask for their time—nearly 100% consented to being interviewed, meaning that I’m now in the course of conducting these interviews and processing thousands of minutes of associated qualitative data. I’m very indebted to my students because they’ve offered me much food for thought—and some needed positive reinforcement too. Perhaps the most revelatory of these interviews so far have come from last year’s cohort of fieldwork students, because I can reflect immediately on the relationship between their experiences and my current cohort’s evolving experiences.

I’ll quote here from one such interview:

I think it really did [have an impact on my understanding of heritage]…Before, all year, we were learning a lot of the background of archaeology which was really literature based, so I think we all really enjoyed the module because you had the chance to be creative and think outside the box of what heritage and archaeology have been built up for you to be…[And] it gave me more confidence…gave me confidence to apply for internships, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise…[And] we produced something at the end which we were all really proud of…And also I talked to people outside our sphere of the degree course…What was great about it [the module] is that we were given the task…and we just ran with it. It was great to be given the opportunity to do what we wanted with it, and I think that definitely gives you ideas for the future…Definitely I take different creative experiences from it, and I’d use the ideas in the future…

I engage with digital media in my teaching because I think they have the potential to transform the research that we do, as well as our fundamental conceptions of the nature of archaeology and heritage studies themselves. These media can facilitate (and, of course, hinder) the pedagogical experience, but my concern is not so much their impact on teaching itself as the effect they can have on how my students practice, interpret, and create our field of enquiry in the future. If they leave the classroom feeling enabled, equipped and confident to test out these tools in different contexts, then I feel like I’ve made a constructive contribution to their professional trajectories—and to the profession itself.

Scholarly discussion of the creativity that is made possible through digital media work is recognised within educational (e.g., see Smith and Burrell 2013), media studies (e.g., see Gauntlett 2012; Losh 2012) and archaeological (e.g., see Morgan and Eve 2012; Richardson 2013) circles, but arguably among the latter the conversation is primarily driven by professionals speaking to other professionals or to the interested public, without the benefit of extensive and reflective student input. The digital humanities literature on ‘critical making’ or ‘building’ as a form of scholarship and training is more advanced (e.g., Ramsay and Rockwell 2012; Ratto 2011), and I am hopeful that my research (alongside the work of, for example, Shawn Graham, Terry Brock and Lynne Goldstein, among others) will offer an avenue to insert archaeology into that more substantial and influential line of thinking. At the same time, I am also hopeful that this work will contribute to and challenge the existing discourse on field schools/field work in (and beyond) archaeology, recognising the scope that creative, public, digital production has for narrowing the gap between theory and practice, and simultaneously empowering students.

I’ve much more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for my talks and forthcoming publication! I’ll end by expressing my great thanks to all those who are supporting the students on this year’s heritage fieldschool, including my fantastic teaching assistants Claire Price and Katrina Foxton; the unparalleled team at the Yorkshire Museum – especially Natalie McCaul, Martin Fell and Mike Linstead; filmmaker Gavin Repton; my colleagues on the Star Carr Project; and the many experts who’ve taught the students either in person, via Skype, or by otherwise sharing resources, opinions and good practice – including Colleen Morgan, Simon Davis, Tom Smith, Sophie Norton, Teri Brewer, Joe Tong, Tara-Jane Sutcliffe, Don Henson, Angela Piccini, and Nicole Beale.

As anyone who does fieldwork knows, our investment is long, intense, and filled with highs and lows and innumerable blunders and miscalculations; yet the outcomes are deeply rewarding because of the friendships, creative breakthroughs, and collective ‘ah-ha’ moments that are generated through its collaborative, experimental underpinnings. Thanks so much for following along on our adventures.

References:

Gauntlett, D. 2011. Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Losh, E. (2012) Play, things, rules, and information: Hybridizing learning in the digital university. Leonardo Electronic Almanac 17(2):86-102.

Morgan, C., and Eve, S. (2012) DIY and digital archaeology: What are you doing to participate? World Archaeology 44(4):521-537.

Ramsay, S., and Rockwell, G. (2012) Developing things: Notes toward an epistemology of building in the digital humanities. In Gold, M. (ed.) Debates in the Digital Humanities, Open Access edition: http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/11. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ratto, M. (2011) Critical making: Conceptual and material studies in technology and social life. The Information Society 27(4):252-260.

Richardson, L. (2013) A digital public archaeology? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23(1):10, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pia.431.

Smith, C., and Burrell, A. (2013) Creativity in learning spaces: We can all gain! Paper presented at the University Campus Suffolk Annual Learning and Teaching Day, Ipswich, 5 July 2013.

I’m excited to announce that we’re planning to host an in-person and online event on digital media and visual ethics in conjunction with the next American Anthropological Association conference in Washington, DC, 3-7 December 2014. This is a bit of an experimental adventure for the Society for Visual Anthropology – and an extension of our long-running visual ethics panels – so we’re looking forward to developing it and watching it evolve over the next 9 months and into the future.

Details on the event are below. The deadline for proposals is 5 April 2014. Please email your proposals to me, and don’t hesitate to contact me with queries.

DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS

Organizers: Sara Perry, Terry Wright & Jonathan Marion

More than ten years ago Gross, Katz and Ruby published Image Ethics in the Digital Age, a pioneering volume whose topical concerns – privacy, authenticity, control, access and exposure, as related to the application of visual media – are arguably just as salient today, if not more so, than in 2003. The ethical dimensions of image use within digital cultures are necessarily fluid and complex, driven by practical needs, institutional frameworks, related regulatory requirements, specific research and intellectual circumstances, not to mention individual and collective moral tenets. The nature of visuality itself has also been extended via digital technologies, therein further complicating our interactions with and applications of visual media. Ethical practice here, then, tends to be necessarily situated, depending upon recursive reflection and constant questioning of one’s research processes, objectives and modes of engagement.

This session aims simultaneously to expose practitioners to, and build a resource base of, visual ethics ‘in action’ in digital contexts. It relies upon two streams:

(1) an online forum hosted on the Society for Visual Anthropology’s webpages where, prior to the AAA meetings, contributors will submit short descriptions of the ethical dimensions of their in-progress or recently-completed visual/digital research. These will provide fodder for more extensive debate in:

(2) an open, live-streamed presentation and discussion session at the AAA meetings in Washington, DC in December where various contributors to the blog will present either on-site or via Google Hangouts, and contribute in real time to reflections/direct commentary on the online forum itself.

The former will provide a stable space within which ethical debates can be added to and developed in the lead up to, during, and after the 2014 meetings. The latter offers a concentrated opportunity to channel the collective wisdom of participants (both at the meetings and online) into the negotiation and rethinking of ethical visual practice in the digital world. 

Deadline:

For those interested in participating, please provide a brief description (max. 150 words) of the particular scenario or issue you wish to contribute to the session as soon as possible, and by 5 April 2014 at the latest. You will also need to indicate whether you plan on presenting in person or via Google Hangout at the AAA meetings in December. Decisions will be made by 10 April, and contributors will need to register for the conference via the AAA’s web-based system by 15 April. All correspondence should be sent to Sara Perry.

The session will take the form of a series of brief, 10-minute presentations by participants, culminating in an extended period of group discussion and debate. Contributors will be expected to submit content for the webpages by the beginning of September 2014.

Taking time to think

Still frame from a video interview used to inform “Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology”

Still frame from a video interview with K. Killackey – one of several artists working at the site of Çatalhöyük – used to inform “Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology”

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. I’ve been thinking about how I think, and the time I need to think, and the battle I have in safeguarding that time.

This issue has been on my mind for ages–it intersects with my research interests and features heavily (although relatively implicitly) in some of the publications and conference papers on which I’ve been working recently. What concerns me is that to create, to play, to invent, experiment, make, write, and do, takes time. Whether you’re a researcher like me, or a creative producer like those with whom I work and study, you need time to craft and hone your art. Yet time is so elusive. It is occupied by so many niggling and pernicious demands. It is always slipping away, and always disturbed by a perpetual series of tasks that leave you frazzled and longing for even just a couple of unbroken hours to think.

In my quest to understand the relation between time and creativity, and time and productivity, I’ve read a lot of disturbing things. This began when I was in Rochester in September and a colleague began to reflect on the connection between time and experimentation (he’s blogged about it here), which in some (often privileged) cases leads to innovation, and in others, harassment and deep, debilitating oppression. Then I was given a copy of Jonathan Crary’s new book 24/7. (I’m a big fan of Crary’s visual culture volumes, Techniques of the Observer, and Suspensions of Perception.) While I found 24/7 to lack some nuance and come across as overly deterministic in parts, Crary makes a passionate and worrisome argument about the “systemic colonization of individual experience”(52) by an increasingly unremitting pace that is destroying everyday life, and is now threatening to eliminate one of the only remaining times of respite: sleep. Crary talks about the consequent reduction of individuals into “a site of non-stop scrutiny and regulation”(32), and goes on to suggest that “24/7 denotes the wreckage of the day as much as it concerns the extinguishing of darkness and obscurity…24/7 is part of an immense incapacitation of visual experience…24/7 disables vision through processes of homogenization, redundancy, and acceleration”(33).

After reading Crary, everywhere I turned I saw a bleak tale about time. Philip Nel published a piece in Inside Higher Ed where he dissects the poisonous logic and structural systems that lead academics (but, really, people in general) to work so much. Then a friend referred me to Claire Shaw and Lucy Ward’s Guardian piece on the rise of mental illness in academia, which is here partly related to poor work-life balance. Then another friend posted a link to an article by Konstantin Kakaes in Slate about the “absurdist culmination” of academic evaluation and publishing expectations that both lead people to rush and over-produce written work, and allow nonsense articles to survive peer review.

The subject of time came to a head for me recently when one of my colleagues asked me what I actually do as a researcher. The question was well-meaning, but it made me sad to think that what inspires and motivates me intellectually—and what drew me into academia in the first instance—is perhaps invisible to everyone around me. It’s easy to see how this could happen. I direct 5 different undergrad and Master’s-level university courses, and instruct on 2 others, and these all have a necessarily general orientation, catering to those who tend to be new to the topics of museums, audiences, heritage practice, media, visualisation and quantitative and qualitative research methods. This means that I often have to instruct at a level of abstraction that only scratches at the surface of the meaty and provocative ideas that underlie the larger thematic areas. While this seems to be productive for students—who then find a thread that interests them and push off to explore its epistemic depths—sometimes it leaves me feeling lost and distanced from my own research because I don’t have the time to actually get into it.

My favourite class of the year, though, is the one that reminds me of what I’m passionate about. It’s part of my colleague’s Master’s course Analysis & Visualisation, and I have two hours to teach the students about the history and future of realism, photorealism and hyper-realism in archaeology. In what’s been a particularly difficult term for me with regards to teaching workload and lack of time, that two hours that I had a couple of weeks ago with these Master’s students proved an incredible reprieve for me. I could teach again about the specificities of visualisation in archaeology that have been my concern for the past 10+ years. And it also gave me the final propulsion to complete an article that I’ve been having to piece together in small chunks of time carved out over the last six months.

That article is an important one for me, not only because it’s for a forthcoming volume edited by the inimitable Robert Chapman and Alison Wylie, but because it brings together a series of theoretical tensions around visual practice (especially digital visual practice) that I’ve been trying to work out for a while now. What’s critical is that it’s impossible to sort through those tensions without time—without committing yourself to making time for thinking, and without the support and respect of others who help to protect this time for you.

The abstract of my paper is below. I’m interested in the devaluing of visual skill in archaeology, and the implication of visual practitioners themselves in this devaluing. Digital visualisation, for example, is often disparaged as being less soulful, less skilled and purportedly less meaningful than hand-drawn imaging in archaeology. But here I demonstrate the continuities between digital and hand-based crafts(wo)manship, and link this to the very long (at least half-millennium-long) history that visual producers have in pushing forward paradigm change across disciplines. I make the argument that visual production (whether digital or not) has deep consequences for the continued development and basic sustenance of archaeology. And to be ignorant of these consequences, I think, is to set the discipline up for obsolescence.

This chapter grows out of a larger project linked to my work at Çatalhöyük where I’ve been studying the nature of reflexivity as it’s played out among the site’s visual practitioners since the Mellaart era, but especially over the past 20 years. I gave a talk about these ideas at the Institute for Archaeologists conference last April 2013 (titled: Debating the legacy of postprocessualism: Visual reflexivity at Çatalhöyük, Turkey). There, I discussed the deleterious effects (which are somewhat ironic, given the 25-year-long excavation permit) of the lack of time and relentless, constant demands upon practitioners, and I ended with a proposal for a “slow archaeology movement” that would value time, rumination and the privileging and creation of spaces and methods to think. This built off of some conversations I’d had with colleagues at both Southampton and York about such a ‘slow archaeology’, and I’ve been keen then to see that the excellent Bill Caraher has separately begun to articulate some possible dimensions of such practice on his blog (here and here).

The topic of time and making time is one that I’ll come back to in the future, but I’ll end by saying that one of the most exciting things that’s happened recently is the institution of a new ‘Heritage & Play’ group here at York, which has been spearheaded by Colleen Morgan. As Colleen described it in our inaugural email about the initiative, the aim is “to creatively experiment with cultural heritage and expression. Each meeting is loosely structured around a topic, theory, or making session, but focuses on Play as a productive means to engage with heritage in a new way.”

What I see as at stake here is, to borrow from Crary’s (2013:92) discussion of the film La jetée, the “indispensability of the imagination for collective survival…a mingling of the visionary capacities of both memory and creation.” To put it differently, I think that it’s in these playful moments that the best and most important things come about: friendships, collaborations, ideas and inspirations. They are the breeding ground for intellectual revolution and change. And, as this is what I would argue is one of the principle mandates of the university system, I believe we need to invest some of our work time in actually making these moments possible. Our thinking depends upon it.

Perry, S. (forthcoming) Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology. In Chapman, R. and Wylie, A. (eds.) Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice. Abingdon: Routledge.

Archaeologists have long drawn on the skill of visual producers (e.g. artists, illustrators, designers, photographers, filmmakers, etc.) to enable and extend their expert practice.  The success of these alliances, however, is a matter for debate, as visualisers have often been consigned to the discipline’s sidelines, their epistemic credibility and relevance challenged even by the visual community itself.  Such tension is apparent with digital graphic producers whose craft skills, contributions to knowledge, and reliance on new technologies are not uncommonly subject to suspicion and misunderstanding.  Moreover, these producers are often unaware of the extant representational scholarship—a predicament that exposes them to critique and to the reproduction of foreseeable errors.  This chapter seeks to challenge the status quo and expose instances where practitioners are truly changing the nature of thinking. It considers digital reconstruction in action, tracing the collaborative knowledge-making process between artist and archaeologist, and by artist-archaeologists.  I aim here to demystify this process, and in so doing, speak both to best practice in the application of visual technologies and theory, and to the epistemic productivity of visualisation in archaeology overall.

Reference:

Crary, J. 2013. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London: Verso.

One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey

One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey (photo by me)

It’s the second anniversary of my academic post and I’m headed in momentarily for my annual assessment with my scholarly mentor. I continue to find the performance review process very meaningful both professionally and personally (albeit time consuming from a paperwork standpoint). This is not only because it allows me to lay out exactly what I’ve done over the course of a year and, in so doing, attempt to appreciate what is really a significant amount of work accomplished and actions achieved. But it also permits me an opportunity to reflect on all of those lightbulb moments and learning experiences that have changed me and my practice since January of last year, yet that often pass by so fast that I don’t fully recognize their impact on who I am as a human being.

2013 has been good for me, and I say this with much humility as I struggled deeply in my first year to find my way: to adapt to a new job, to new responsibilities with degrees of accountability so high they were truly frightful to me, and to a new city where I knew essentially only two people – friends from research projects – and spent a lot of time alone. More than this, I was very confused in that inaugural year on a personal level.  Andy Shuttleworth did a wonderfully candid and very resonant blog post earlier in 2013 which all new academics should read. It speaks to the kind of inner turmoil that many of us go through as we get more and more bound into our PhD and post-PhD lives – a binding that can lead you into a form of corrosive and relentless self-interrogation and absorption that is damaging both intellectually and emotionally. Escaping that vortex came, in part, for me via getting to work and enjoy time with others – students, colleagues, friends, the public, and especially my partner and family – and learning to see problems as potentially transformative moments (which isn’t easy and is an ongoing effort for me). Because of all the people that I interact with now, unanticipated differences of opinion or unexpected difficulties in implementing plans are the norm. I try to appreciate them now less as failures on my part and more as spaces for me to come out thinking in new ways – although, as per below, I will not compromise myself if these problems contradict the evidence base and my moral code.

The highlights of my year are many, and a lot of them are already documented on this blog so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. But I do want to acknowledge some of those people who have made an especial difference in my career over the past 12 months.

My students continue to be the greatest revelation for me as a new academic. I remember when I was finishing my Master’s degree back in Canada and I was teaching an anthropology tutorial to a group which was clearly not engaged with the subject matter. A member of staff told me not to get discouraged, but to rather invest my energy in the couple of students who did clearly care about the topic. Whilst this advice was well-meaning, I’m glad I never took it to heart. Because what I’ve found is that if I experiment with approaches, if I offer opportunities for students to explore the edges of their creative capabilities, if I push outside normative modes of teaching and assessment and aim to cultivate safe places for students to make and test out ideas and learn the dimensions of constructive critique, I’m actually investing energy in everyone. And those students who one might never have imagined would participate or care about the subject matter, in fact, begin to work through the most thought-provoking and potential-filled concepts. Yes, things go wrong and we make mistakes and the path doesn’t lead where we anticipated. But taking this path – I think – is critical, because in my experience (and in spite of frustrations) it leads us on the journey with the most ‘a-ha’ moments. Our reflexive exhibitionary work at Çatalhöyük is full of these twists, and I’m especially lucky to have been able to take some of our York students out this year to continue the journey during what was my best season yet (read a bit about our work in the most recent Çatal newsletter: pp. 7-8).

These collaborations with my students in the classroom and in the field are just one of a spectrum of productive working relationships that I have with a range of interdisciplinary specialists. Honestly, I couldn’t realise the vast majority of my plans without the ideas and assistance of many people, most significantly Tom Smith (Collaborative Software Specialist), who has been central to essentially all of the digital projects I’ve done at York to date. Tom is one of the most important individuals I’ve been able to work with in 2013, and my experiences have been further enhanced by meeting Simon Davis (E-Learning Advisor) and Ned Potter (Academic Librarian). These colleagues have variously advised me, taught my students, promoted my projects and challenged my ideas. They make my job not just interesting but fun and inspiring. And they are among a community of supportive people, some of whom I only know in digital form, who often provide critical feedback and much-appreciated positive reinforcement through channels like Google Plus, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook and Twitter. On top of this, I’ve also had multiple wonderful surprise introductions to individuals in different fields of practice, like digital identity specialist Abhay Adhikari, who have helped me to conceive of my own work in new ways.

The last highlight of 2013 that I’ll mention now has been the funding, data collection and preliminary reporting of our Gender and Digital Culture project. I am so deeply fortunate to have the privilege of collaborating here with Dr Lucy Shipley and (soon-to-be Dr) Jim Osborne – honestly, they are extraordinary people and I completely lucked out in getting them to work with me. We are all indebted to Dr Graeme Earl whose initial belief in the project provided us with a small amount of seed funding. In just 9 months time, that little seed has led to the launch of our project blog and Twitter account; to the full implementation and analysis of the data from our survey; to presentations at the Australian Archaeological Association’s annual conference, the University of Rochester’s Decoding the Digital conference, and the Integrity Project’s How to be a Public Intellectual conference, and an informal presentation to the University of York Feminist Society; to features in the Times Higher Education and the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog; to web-based and print publications in press or already released for Anthropology Now (forthcoming) and Forum magazine, plus a well-read blog post for Savage Minds. On top of this, we ran our online, multi-institutional seminar in November at York and Southampton; and we have an op-ed piece, two journal publications and another (maybe two more) talks already scheduled for 2014.

It is a testament to just how much can be accomplished when you have a collaborator (or two) and a few resources to help you out.

This is where some of my frustrations begin to surface, because I couldn’t have done any of that project on my own, without Southampton’s seed funding and without Lucy and Jim. I would never have wanted to do it alone, but this wouldn’t ever even have been a possibility: I just don’t have the time owing to the fact that it is consumed with endless other tasks that constantly interrupt your thinking, pulling you out of meaningful reflective moments and making it seemingly impossible for you to string together something coherent on your own. The greatest disappointment of 2013 is surely the 10 funding applications that were submitted for various projects and academic schemes on which I was either a PI or CI, but which were successful in only 3 instances. I am positive that part of the problem here lies in my lack of time to invest in the full intellectual development and refinement of these applications.

This is the demoralising catch-22 of the academic sphere (or one of them at least): I’m finding it hard to set in motion full research projects because I don’t have the time, but I can only find the time if I win sufficient money to buy me out of my other duties and fund research collaborators. But…I need time/support to articulate those funding bids in the first instance. That bit of money that Southampton offered to us led to two subsequent and successful applications to other funders, which speaks again to what might be achieved with the tiniest amount of investment up front. It is profoundly frustrating to recognise that, firstly, such miniscule investment is so elusive, and yet that, secondly, I must somehow secure it to ensure my own career progression.

I’m clearly not the only person struggling with this problem, but it leads me to another concern that surfaced in 2013: namely the now incalculable requests that I’ve received for myself or my students to offer their creative labour for free for causes that aren’t linked to any explicit learning objectives or to demonstrable and equal benefits for them. My partner is an artist, so this predicament is sadly not new to me, but it hasn’t been until recently that, via my field of expertise, I’ve also gained the status of creative producer and teacher of creative producers. In my despair about what seems to be exploitation couched as ‘good experience’, I’ve begun to do some research on the subject (which has been studied by many – amongst the better known as regards unpaid digital work is possibly Tiziana Terranova’s (2002) Free Labor – but also see the critiques being outputted now by archaeologists themselves, like Sam Hardy’s unfree archaeology blog and Emily Johnson’s #freearchaeology hashtag on Twitter). I’m distraught by the idea that in the seemingly ubiquitous search for funds and time, some (many?) heritage practitioners and practitioners-in-training appear to be taken advantage of as unpaid labourers who produce outputs that others then use for profit without providing any genuine reciprocity or compensation for such labour. Whilst I believe in the value of volunteering, I don’t want to reproduce this process, and I’m committed in 2014 to ensuring, where I can, that students volunteer their time to tasks with fair, equitable and well-defined goals which are truly pedagogically and intellectually meaningful. Ultimately, I see this as an opportunity, because long-term equal collaboration that intertwines creative producers with other professionals is a highly constructive pursuit on multiple levels for all parties involved. Indeed, this is the very subject that the last 10 years of my own research has centred upon.

I’ll end by saying that 2013 was made better for me by the many of you who, like Andy Shuttleworth, put your experiences out there for all the rest of us to learn from. Howard Williams’ reflections on the sub-Z-list celebrity status that comes with academic life was similarly meaningful to me. Please don’t hesitate to share other links and ideas!

I head into my review today feeling hopeful for 2014: committed to continuing to make a small difference in the world and, most importantly, standing up for my students, my research collaborators and motivators, my friends, family and my ethics.

Fingers crossed it all goes okay. Thank you so very much for your continuing support.

Just a brief note to say that tomorrow (Tuesday, 17 December 2013) we are hosting our second Seeing, Thinking, Doing session, from 14:00-18:00 GMT, at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference in Bournemouth, UK. We have a fantastic line up of speakers, who are presenting both in person and remotely–from the US, the north of England, Europe, and Canada (where I’ll be!). While we aren’t live-streaming the session, you can follow along via our Twitter account @visualarchaeo – and indeed, you can follow many of the speakers themselves who have their own personal Twitter profiles (e.g., Nicole Beale, Ian Dawson, Nicolo Dell’Unto, Matt Harrison, Mhairi Maxwell, Robin Skeates, James Taylor, Alex Zambelli; also Gareth Beale and Cat Cooper, my session co-organisers).

Our session on Twitter! Join us @visualarchaeo

Our session on Twitter! Join us @visualarchaeo

On top of Twitter, we have a blog that we’ve been building up since our first TAG session in May in Chicago. You can read contributors’ abstracts there, and you can also contribute yourself to the discussion by posting a comment to the site. We are very proud too of our growing digital showcase, which now hosts nearly a dozen posters from researchers and practitioners around the world. Three new posters have been added in the last week, from Tomasz Michalik, Chiara Zuanni, and Dragos Gheorghiu & Georgina Jones, respectively looking at eye tracking research, reception of displays of human remains, and imagination in archaeology.

We had twice as many submissions for our session than we could accept into the half-day conference format, and I take this as testimony to the ongoing currency of the subject matter. Just over a decade ago, when I first began studying the topic of visualisation in archaeology, I was met by a not insignificant number of skeptical voices who suggested there was little if any validity to this line of enquiry, and certainly no future in it. I’m not easily dissuaded and I was fortunate enough to have incredible support and counsel from my supervisors at UVic and Southampton, who at the time seemed to be amongst a tiny handful of kindred spirits.

It turns out, of course, that there is (and, indeed, there was) a fairly major community of like-minded individuals in existence in the discipline, as well as a deep history of experimental and critically-engaged archaeological visual practice. The problem arguably seemed to be that everyone was working in isolation, mostly unaware of or disconnected from others’ efforts. I’d like to think that this predicament has changed, and that we’re all now invested in building capacity in a subject area that continues to have massive intellectual, pedagogical and methodological potential. The diversity of contributions to our session, and to previous related events, publications and projects, would suggest the fruitfulness of such an investment.

I’ve posted the schedule of speakers below. Disappointingly, I understand that the TAG printed timetable doesn’t reflect our own timetable, so please follow the outline here. I hope we see you either at the conference or online!

14.00

 

Rachel Opitz

 

Reality based surveying, archaeological information visualisation, and the construction of archaeological reality

 

14.15

 

Maxwell & Goldberg

 

Virtual-Materiality: the digital re-creations made as part of the Glenmorangie Early Medieval Research Project

 

14.30

 

Hermon & Niccolucci

 

Real uncertainty and uncertain reality in archaeological visualization

 

14.45

 

Jamie Hampson

 

Is rock art research ocularcentric? Embodiment theory and somatic society

 

15.00

 

Taylor, Dell’Unto, Berggren & Issavi

 

Seeing Things Differently: the impact of digital visual technologies upon recording and the generation of knowledge at Çatalhöyük

 

15.15

 

Teri Brewer

 

Visualizing the Invisible: Pushing the Craft in Archaeological Screen Media

 

15.30 Discussion
15.45

 

Discussion

 

16.00

 

Matthew Harrison

 

Topology vs. Topography: Visualising the Islamic city in the medieval and modern mind

 

16.15

 

Neha Gupta

 

Geovisual perspectives on late 20th century Indian archaeology: putting “place” in visualization

 

16.30

 

Beale & Jones

 

The strange case of Dame Mary May’s tomb: deciphering the visual and biographical evidence of a late 17th century portrait effigy

 

16.45

 

Robin Skeates

 

Visualism and archaeology: the case of prehistoric Malta

 

17.00

 

Alex Zambelli

 

Rendering the Invisible Visible: The Moves of London Stone

 

17.15

 

Minkin & Dawson

 

Art and Archaeology: Figure and Ground

 

17.30 Discussion
17.45 Discussion
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