Seeing, Thinking, Doing – Our TAG USA session on Friday!

Visit our session blog at http://seeingthinkingdoing.wordpress.com
Visit our session blog at http://seeingthinkingdoing.wordpress.com

For the past four months, Cat Cooper and I – with the help of our great friend and colleague Gareth Beale – have been putting together a multi-site session for TAG USA Chicago on ‘Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Archaeological Research’. Finally our planning culminates on Friday, when the session will run at 9.00am Chicago time, 3pm GMT.  We’ve got our fingers crossed that the technology holds up…

I think we were all overwhelmed by the response we received to our call for papers – so much so that we’ve devised various means to allow as many people as possible to contribute to the conversation. Whilst we can only steam the event between Chicago, Southampton, San Diego, and Victoria Canada (where I’ll be remotely helping to chair the session), we have

(1) set up a Twitter account (@visualarchaeo)

(2) Cat has put together a blog (http://seeingthinkingdoing.wordpress.com – & here you can find details of our diverse contributors)

(3) we’ve created a digital poster accompaniment to the session for some of those who weren’t able to give talks (see the posters & their abstracts here)

(4) we’ve put together a series of discussion questions that we’re hoping anyone with an interest in the subject matter will comment upon either via our blog (comment here) or by tweeting us at @visualarchaeo. We’d like to keep the debate going beyond the conference, so please do contribute!

Our discussion questions are prompted by the fact that various initiatives in recent years (including the recently-completed, English Heritage-sponsored Visualisation in Archaeology (VIA) project) have testified to a series of tensions and challenges confronting those who engage with archaeological visualisation. We would like to consider to what extent you find yourself negotiating with these issues, how you’ve worked to manage them, and where you see visualisation practice (in the sense of producing, circulating, receiving, and remixing visual media) taking both archaeologists themselves and general archaeological audiences in the future.

  • What do you consider the biggest challenges facing the archaeological visualisation community in the upcoming years?
  • Does the archaeological community embrace or encourage creativity and innovation in (visual) practice? If so, how so? If not, how might these be cultivated?
  • To what extent do existing publication formats constrain or enable visual practice?
  • How can the widespread desire for impressive, impactful visual outputs be balanced with intellectual integrity? Are stunning imagery and rigorous research objectives mutually exclusive?
  • What do we know about archaeology’s viewing audiences? Who is interested in our work? How are they interpreting our outputs? What are they looking for? What inspires them?
  • What is the relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media in archaeology? What are the most powerful visual tools today (new or old) for facilitating archaeological research?
  • How are we training the next generations of archaeological specialists? Should we be concerned about a loss of visual skillsets? How can we equip students to productively make and use visual media?

In sum:

Where do we go next? How can we continue to nurture a vibrant community of visual researchers and practitioners in archaeology? Who can we look to for inspiration?

We look forward to hearing your views!

Heritage Field School at York

As some of you know, this term I’ve designed and launched the department’s new ‘heritage practice’ module, intended to train the first cohort of York’s BA in Heritage Studies students in the field methods of heritage work. It is the equivalent of an archaeological field school, but focused here on hands-on heritage practice and assessment of key related skills. We are in the fortunate position of being able to collaborate with the Yorkshire Museum in the curation of the museum’s new exhibition After the Ice, opening later this month (24 May). In that context, the students (in two groups) are producing two short – 3-minute – videos for display both in the exhibition itself and online.

Some of our field school team working at the Yorkshire Museum with YMT staff in designing temporary displays and recording that design process.
Some of our field school team working at the Yorkshire Museum with YMT staff in designing temporary displays and recording that design process (Photo by me).

For various reasons, I cannot post the full class outline/syllabus until later in the term, but the module has been crafted to provide students not only with experience in filmmaking, but so too with collections curation (designing temporary displays for several of the Yorkshire Museum’s display cabinets), archival research (re-presenting aspects of a large site archive which will soon go online with the ADS; as well as related media archives), qualitative and quantitative data collection and audience research (in the context of studying visitor reception of the After the Ice exhibition), excavation work itself, collaborative design (with 50 archaeology students) of interactive displays for the department’s own year-end exhibition, and full planning, promotion, and implementation of that latter event on 19 June.

The students are also blogging about their experiences of engaging with curatorial work, filmmaking and general heritage practice on two group blogs which they built and released yesterday. True to the nature of social media, we are circulating links to these blogs below so that others can follow our progress and comment – constructively – on that progress. To date, the students have been actively shaping their ideas in response to the feedback of YMT, filmmakers from around the world, other staff at York, heritage practitioners in Yorkshire, their peers and lecturers. We would like to invite you to contribute to this process of idea development via engagement with the students’ blogs. As I and others have discussed elsewhere, blogging is part of the wild side of public engagement, and my students have never blogged before nor exhibited their scholarly work in any public forum, so we appreciate your kind and constructive participation in our experimental efforts.

http://yorkstudentheritage.blogspot.co.uk/

http://tentativestepsheritage.blogspot.co.uk/

I have to acknowledge the many people who have come together to help facilitate this field school including Natalie McCaul (Curator of Archaeology at YMT), Martin Fell (Digital Team Lead at YMT), Gavin Repton (independent filmmaker), Tom Smith (Collaborative Software Specialist at University of York), Simon Davis (E-learning Adviser at University of York), Eve Firth and team (AV Centre at University of York), my colleagues in Archaeology at York, my two stellar teaching assistants who graduated from our MA in Cultural Heritage Management course last year and both now work full-time in the professional heritage sector in Yorkshire – and, in particular, the many filmmakers from around the world who have given their time to my students including Teri Brewer, Joe Tong, Stephanie Vierow, Sarah Fletcher and her team: Raven and Teesha; plus Angela Piccini and Howard Williams who generously directed me towards these filmmakers).

As you might be able to gather, it has been an adventure in coordination to bring together this module. Whilst I have implemented a new module every single term since I started my job (and there are 3 terms per year here), this has been – by far – the most difficult. That difficulty relates not only to the time commitment, but also (1) the fact that I am the sole coordinator of the module with an associated sense of deep responsibility for its success, and (2) the lack of other heritage fieldschool models (implemented in a university context) to help shape the course. There is a real feeling – both satisfying and frightening – of crafting something new entirely out of nothing, and I continue to seek examples of other people who have done the same thing elsewhere and who might be able to share their best practice.

I originally thought that my four years of work at Çatalhöyük would have been sufficient preparation for the creation of this module, given that we do very similar things in the field each summer with a team of new undergraduate students. But what’s become obvious is that, at Çatalhöyük, I am one of two or three other supervisors who are usually present with me for a short period of time at the start of our fieldwork to help set up that season’s efforts. And, of course, on top of that, there is the entire Çatalhöyük project team – now managed by the incredible Yildiz Dirmit – to facilitate such efforts and support me after the rest of the team departs. It wasn’t until this week that I became conscious of the importance of such support, because when all the little problems that inevitably manifest themselves in the field – problems with travel to site, or a misplaced piece of equipment, or a breakdown of technology, or personal matters that affect members of the team, etc. – do indeed manifest themselves, you have a series of other supervisors to call upon. I’m lucky to have two teaching assistants helping with some aspects of the module, and a small, insightful and enthusiastic cohort of heritage students. Nevertheless, I am always looking for advice on helping to manage the many responsibilities associated with such work, so if you have any tips, success strategies, troubleshooting recommendations, etc., I’d be so keen to hear them.

Your support of both me and my students’ efforts is always appreciated – thank you so much ++