Seeing, Thinking, Doing Reprised

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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Blogs as exhibitionary media

My senior-level undergraduate course on Visual Media in Archaeology has been running this term—the second time I’ve taught it since I started at York in 2012. As per last year, my students are working on the production of independent blogs, and whilst I previously left the specifications for those blogs quite broad (the students simply had to tell a story about a subject of their choice), feedback from last year suggested that the brief needed to be more tightly focused.

This year, then, I redesigned the task to centre upon the creation of public blogging campaigns to promote objects, sites, archaeological features or figures of the students’ choice for an audience who would otherwise know little or nothing about them. As you can see, the students have taken a variety of approaches, and I am truly impressed by what they’ve accomplished so far, for reasons that I articulate further below. Some are using their blogs as modes of inquiry into larger archaeological and anthropological ways of thinking (My Student House, One Nation Under CCTV), archives (The Pursuit of Mitfords, The Wonderful World of Dahl), and intellectual and methodological practices (The Archaeology of Painting, Virt Arch). Some are exploring the characters of historic figures (Turpin Time, Diary of a Wimpy King)—and/or are constructing their own such characters in order to comment on and narrativise about material remains (The Cloud Man of Peru) or heritage sites (Legend of the Connacta). And still others are interrogating the histories of different buildings (The King and his Manor), towns (Toton Histories), museums (The History Shop), human material remains (What’s this Mummy Doing in Bolton?) and historic documents (The Bill of Rights 1689).

For some, this marks their first independent experience in doing class work that goes beyond traditional essay-writing. The project, therefore, has not always been easy, because live, creative production for the public, that draws upon more media than simply the written word, is exposing. Indeed, it is experimentation in the sense that Tim Ingold (2011:15-16) uses it: “to do our thinking in the open, out-of doors…[to] place the investigator, in person, right in the midst of things.” As such, any mistakes are made obvious, and everything is laid bare to scrutiny and criticism on a scale that none of the students have experienced before.

But this project is important, I would argue, because to borrow from Darren Newbury (2011), it teaches us to care. Especially as regards visual media, we are often only taught to deconstruct and critique other people’s outputs—a caustic form of practice that might hone our argumentative eyes, but that simultaneously leaves us blind to the complexities of making. Ingold (2011:224) puts it nicely when he says that the “spectator who stands at a distance, in order to make an objective study, is observationally blind.” In other words, to truly understand a type of practice—to truly see—we have to DO; we have to both look and act; we have to observe and participate because, as per Ingold, one is conditional on the other. It’s dubious, then, to teach criticism in the absence of teaching creation—we couldn’t possibly carefully and conscientiously conduct (and comprehend the implications of) the former without an intimate familiarity with the latter.

I am very proud of my students, and I’m lucky to have such an engaged and engaging group to work alongside. I’m not sure that every teacher would say that they thoroughly look forward to their upcoming classes—but I do, because it’s never quiet; it’s never untimely or peripheral to current events; it never lacks in debate or informed dialogue. I hope you’ll consider joining in on our journey by providing your constructive thoughts on the students’ efforts and encouraging them with their projects by commenting directly on their blogs and associated Twitter and social media sites. These have been risky endeavours for the students, but it’s also opened up spaces for them to push their expertise further—to create, to do, to care. I’ve been at the American Anthropological Association conference in Chicago this week where Maria Vesperi (professor and editor at Anthropology Now) said it nicely: to produce for public audiences is how you learn–you write to let go. It’s in this release, then, that real knowledge-making happens.

You can access our aggregate site here:

http://visualmedia-archaeology2013.blogspot.com/

Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London: Routledge.

Newbury, D. (2011) Making arguments with images: Visual scholarship and academic publishing. In Margolis, E., & Pauwels, L. (Eds.) SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, 651-664. London: Sage.

Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Archaeological Research, Call for Papers, TAG USA

Just a very quick post to advertise the session that the wonderful Cat Cooper and I are organising at the Theoretical Archaeology Group USA conference in Chicago – 9 – 11 May 2013. The Call for Papers is below. We hope you’ll consider contributing to it or forwarding details to your interested colleagues.

Screenshot of TAG USA 2013 conference homepage. Hope you can join us!
Screenshot of TAG USA 2013 conference homepage. Hope you can join us!

We are in the unique situation of being able to stream the session through 4 sites: from Chicago itself, from the University of Victoria (Canada), from the University of Southampton (UK), and from the University of York (UK); so there are various intercontinental options for where to join the session. This means we welcome papers from anyone who is interested in participating remotely from one of these sites.

Deadline for submission of abstracts to Cat & myself is 1 March 2013. Don’t hesitate to contact us with queries.

Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Archaeological Research
Research tends to begin with a series of observations on a site, object, monument or related space as it stands in the present, and leads to the construction of narratives which aim to craft a dialogue between that experience of the real today and the experience of the real in the recent and distant past. Visualisation is a critical methodology in such narrative creation—extending far beyond mere presentation of results into the actual constitution of data and the working and reworking of archaeological ideas. It is a key player, then, in the process of mediating the real. The visual tools we use (both new and old), their interactions with our ways of seeing, and the relationships between these interactions and our experiences on-the-ground — with collaborators, spaces, and other sensory engagements — affect how we do archaeology and conceive of the past. In other words, visual practices are intimately connected to different ways of thinking, and such connections can be (and have long been) exploited to productive effect.

This session seeks to explore such ideas via a session linked across two continents, broadcast online in the form of a series of ten minute papers followed by roundtable discussion. The discussion will be accessible to participants in Chicago, Victoria (Canada), and in the UK at both the University of York and University of Southampton. We welcome short papers introducing different methods of visualisation (including illustration, photography, survey, creative media or computer graphics) or different modes of collaborating visually. Our intention is to nurture a discussion around how vision and imaging impact upon archaeological knowledge creation, shaping our research and the future of our practice.

Many thanks for your interest and attention!