Archaeology: Let’s Build Something New

Colleen throws down the gauntlet:

We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past. Change it. Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do. This is my charge to myself and to other archaeologists and to anyone who wants to join us.

What are you doing to Participate?

Good question. What am I doing? At the very least, I hope that what I write in this blog rises to that challenge. Rob MacDougall, in his tribute to Digital History Hacks, writes

…one meta-idea which Bill [read his work now! – SG] taught me is that the loftiest questions about what we do are not separate from the nuts and bolts of how we do it. As above, so below: lofty philosophical issues are practical technical questions and vice versa. Change the tools available to the humanities and you have the opportunity to rethink what the humanities are.

That’s what I aspire to do. I try to find the leading edge of what’s happening in new media, tech, games, society at large, and I try to wonder, intelligently, about how these things intersect with archaeology. Sometimes, it’s archaeology at the edge, sometimes not. Bill is passionate about getting historians to do their own coding. Archaeologists should do the same. Moreover, Bill’s pushing the historians and the humanities people more generally to get into making the digital devices themselves:

In my new research program, I’m exploring ways to build historical interpretations into physical devices and environments. This work is backward looking, in the sense that it engages with the histories of measurement, materials science and machine tools. It is also very present-minded, since I am approaching the project as a form of critical technical practice, building on new developments in ubiquitous / pervasive computing and desktop fabrication. To support this work, I have put together a modest Lab for Humanistic Fabrication with an associated Fabrication Wiki.

Read the wiki. Let’s build something!

At the very least, why not let’s try an open-source approach and make the most excellent Iphone Archaeology App ever? (Link thanks to Colleen)

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3 thoughts on “Archaeology: Let’s Build Something New

  1. That’s a great line in Colleen Morgan’s post:

    “We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past. Change it. Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do.”

    I might change “what we do” in that quote to “the past”, since I don’t actually think the public owes us any particular interest, but other than that, rock.

  2. Not to hijack the original, but I think the need to get the public interested and involved in “what we do” rather than “the past” reflects the cultural resources management side of archaeology. After all, it’s laws made by the public, or our representatives, that essentially created CRM. Furthermore, most CRM is in some way funded by public dollars, and it’s fair for people to want to understand why their tax dollars are being used to fund surveys and excavations that may delay what they perceive as important, timely projects.
    I think it’s also important for us as archaeologists to think about why we do what we do, and why it’s important. Sure, we all like finding really interesting things, but so does everyone else who’s ever picked up an arrowhead while walking through the woods (to use a United States perspective). Why is archaeological research important? Is it simply a matter of acquiring and preserving knowledge about past lifeways? If so, how can we convince the public that this is a pursuit worth their money and inconvenience? Is the knowledge that we acquire something that can be useful to the present or the future? I think that it’s not the past that’s important, but what we can learn from the past and how we can relate that to the present, to the essence of being human, and how we can use that in looking to the future.
    Can we express these things to a public without using jargon, but also without talking down? People are horribly interested in what we do, but I don’t think they really know much about it, mostly because most archs are too busy bitching about what people DO know or are too busy trying to avoid any public interaction outside of a poster or a powerpoint.

  3. While archaeology should fully embrace the potential of new technology, being technology led is not without its pitfalls.
    Imagine ‘public’ archaeology was a business, which to some extent it is, what basic questions would we be asking?

    Who are our customers?
    Which products do they use / like?
    Who are our potential customers?
    How can they be identified and marketed to?
    What products do they want / use / demand?
    What new products can we develop to expand and broaden our market?
    How do we ensure our products remain compatible with the broader market for digital information?
    What range of products can our existing facilities produce?
    What are the training and equipment implications of these new products/ market?
    Etc….
    This is a bit of a thumbnail sketch, but I’m sure you get the idea.

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