OK computer? Digital Public Archaeologies in Practice

Posted on March 31, 2015

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So videoing has for the most part taken up most of my blogging time these days. I hope to get back to writing original content soon but until then …

From the 2014 TAG conference here is the OK computer? Digital Public Archaeologies in Practice session:

Session organisers: Seren Griffiths (Manchester Metropolitan University), Lorna Richardson (University College London), Chiara Bonacchi (University College London, UK) and Gabriel Moshenka (University College London)

Community or public archaeology has often emphasised communities defined by an attachment to place, often defined by the archaeological site (cf. Simpson 2008); increasingly digital technologies allow a breakdown of this privileging of physical place and the concept of ‘community’ (cf. Waterton 2005; 2010), to connect geographically disparate populations. Digital public archaeology projects have emphasised crowd-sourcing, engagment, dissemination, and publicity using blogs, social media, webfeeds and so on (e.g. Richardson 2012; Bonacchi et al. 2012). As well as the challenges and opportunities relevant to other public archaeology projects, work which includes a significant digital public archaeology component has a series of more specific concerns. Increasingly the need for archaeologists to engage thoughtfully with digitally technologies has been recognised by a number of organisations (Archaeological Data Service 2010; Heritage Lottery Fund 2012; Institute of Archaeologists 2012), and greater numbers of projects are defined by their predominantly digital work. As a result there are implications both for local site-specific practice by people working as archaeologists where we are “…progressively transforming a ‘‘world of scarcity’’ into one of ‘‘saturation’’, where space is no more an issue…” (Bonacchi 2012); the wider political context in which people interested in heritage operate (Richardson 2012); and how different interest groups including intelligent and critical consumers work in the historic environment “…without any professional or academic input whatsoever…” (Moshenka 2008).
As with other aspects of public archaeology, projects can include both ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ approaches (cf. Tully 2007; Moshenka 2008; Belford 2011) to engagement with aspects of the archaeological record. There are also webfora and projects which include the co-production of resources by interest groups who might define themselves not as archaeologists, but who have a strong interest in the historic environment (neopagans, historical re-enactors, and metal detectorists for example). This session will discuss aspects of digital public archaeology, including the challenges and opportunities offered by social media and webfora, ways of encountering and engaging with digital communities; the role of explicitly ‘digital public archaeology’ projects, how these communities are constructed and maintained; how a range of authoritative voices use the internet (cf. Hodder 2008; Faulkner 2000; Grima 2002); wider issues in terms of sustainability and management (cf. Moshenka et al. 2011); and how they interface with more traditional aspects of archaeological practices.

The ACCORD Project (Archaeology- Community Co-Design and Co-production of Research Data)

Mhairi Maxwell (ACCORD RA, Digital Design Studio, GSA), Stuart Jeffrey (ACCORD PI, Digital Design Studio, GSA), Alex Hale (ACCORD Co-I, RCAHMS), Sian Jones (ACCORD Co-I, the University of Manchester), Cara Jones (ACCORD partner, Archaeology Scotland)

The ACCORD project explores the opportunities and implications of digital visualisation technologies for community engagement and research. Our ethos is co-production and in partnership with communities, together we create three-dimensional models of heritage sites and objects. It has been said that we are all archaeologists now! (Shanks 2014), which leads to the question of why has this not yet rung true in the world of 3D modelling and 3D printing, despite the accessibility and ubiquity of many of these technologies? These techniques have remained firmly in the domain of specialists and expert forms of knowledge and/or professional priorities govern their usage. Expressions of community-based social value are rarely addressed through their application. ACCORD seeks to address this through the co-design and co-production (with the support of visualisation technologists, researchers and practitioners in community engagement) of a permanently archived and open-access research asset which integrates co-produced digital models, user generated contextual data and statements of social value. This paper will first address the barriers to community co-production of 3D visualisations and records; for example the language used and user-interface design can often be off-putting, know-how is not innate to those unfamiliar with digital platforms, and copyrights of the results are not well understood. We will then, however, go on to present the broad range of opportunities that co-production can offer; for the enhancement of community enskillment, ownership and sense of belonging.

Funded by the AHRC, ACCORD is a 15 month partnership between the Digital Design Studio at the Glasgow School of Art, Archaeology Scotland, the University of Manchester and the RCAHMS. ACCORD is one of eleven projects across the UK to be awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Digital Transformations in Community Research CoProduction programme and is a partnership between the Glasgow School of Art, Archaeology Scotland, University of Manchester and the RCAHMS. For more info email Mhairi Maxwell (RA on the ACCORD project): M.Maxwell@gsa.ac.uk

Paranoid Android? The future of archaeological research in the collaborative and digital economy

Brendon Wilkins and Lisa Westcott Wilkins-

Numerous community archaeology projects are undertaken every year in the UK on a wide range of sites by a variety of public, private and third sector organisations. Building on this provision, a new social, digital and collaborative economy is also emerging, creating an access step-change that has made it radically easier for communities to form. The emerging field of digital public archaeology has struggled to adequately theorise these new developments, assuming that all community archaeology projects can be simplified into one of two overarching methodological orientations: ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up.’ In the former, projects can be conceived as a stage-managed collaboration between expert and public, with the expert retaining control over design, fieldwork and analysis. In the latter, the agenda is set according to the needs of communities themselves, with the expert relinquishing control of the process into the hands of non-professionals.
Drawing on our ‘Digital Dig Team’ innovation, in this paper we will consider new approaches that enable archaeologists to co-fund, co-design, co-deliver and co-create value with their respective communities – innovations that make no sense in terms of top down or bottom up, and demand a rethink of community-based models that rely on economic theory. The digital and collaborative economy is more akin to an ecological system, where socially embedded technologies (often bracketed under the term ‘citizen science’) present archaeologists with a multitude of opportunities to do things radically differently; they open new vistas for archaeological knowledge creation, ultimately realising the value of research through a truly social method.

The Greatest Digital Public Archaeology Tool… that we never use.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen-

It was on a Monday in 2001, the 15th of January, when one of the greatest tools for digital public engagement in Archaeology was launched, Wikipedia. The term ‘great tool’ is a bold one but the first half of this paper will lay out how Wikipedia lives up to such a term through:

  • Reach
  • Funding
  • Digital best practices
  • Principle of co-creation

Yet, more than a decade later we archaeologists barely utilise this tool. The second half of this paper looks at how we can encourage and maximise use of Wikipedia by archaeologists and those interested in Archaeology. Some of the ideas presented include:

  • WikiClub
  • Wiki Loves Archaeology style competition
  • Integration into the curriculum
  • Wikipedia as part of commercial archaeology

Scaling the archaeological digital data mountain

Emily La Trobe-Bateman and Sian James-

With the majority of archaeological records in the UK being created in digital formats, there is widespread expectation that access to them should be open and user-friendly. For development-related archaeological work this expectation is embedded in the term ‘preservation by record’. Where academic work is supported by research and funding bodies, open source and linked data standards are required, along with the need to include costs for long-term data management. Despite this there is insufficient clarity across the discipline over digital data standards, including metadata standards. The mechanisms for ensuring access to information are poorly developed, and too little consideration is given to the responsibility of meeting the costs of long-term digital storage. Set in a context where there are scarce resources, specialist expertise in Knowledge Organisation is unevenly distributed, and the current reward structure within the discipline is based on individual authorship, how can the importance of archaeological digital data in the public sphere be secured?
This paper will discuss the way these issues have been negotiated as part of a recent collaborative project between the University of Bangor and Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (GAT). The project, Visualising the Archaeology of Gwynedd, sought to develop a way of managing and sustaining archaeological digital data held by partners based in north-west Wales. An online image-library has been created, incorporating large collections of analogue and born-digital photographs and other digital visual data, held by GAT, the University and the Snowdonia National Park Authority. The participation of volunteers in the digitisation process, including the creation of metadata, has been vital to its success, helping to shape the project and create a model for sustainable data management.

Digital heritage interpretation and engagement

Richard Lewis-

Among other outcomes, the archaeology sector aims to engage a wider audience with archaeological data. Increasingly, digital technology is used within the heritage industry to interpret sites, following a global trend towards increased digitisation. Rising sales of portable digital technology and members of social media websites have created a new audience for engagement with issues from politics to humanitarian causes. Accordingly, heritage smartphone apps and social media pages are becoming commonplace. These developments raise concerns regarding how digital technology engages the public. To measure this, several factors must be considered, including the nature of digital engagement strategies, their appropriateness within their settings and effectiveness in achieving their aims. This allows for modification of engagement strategies to better suit the intended audience. This talk examines various digital heritage interpretation techniques for promoting interaction with the public. Based on the studies conducted during my MA dissertation, I will highlight the issues raised through an intensive desk-based analysis of digital heritage interpretation techniques. For example, top-down versus grass-roots methodologies, the utilisation of social media and some concerns raised by so-called ‘techno-dystopians’ are considered. The points raised here will be analysed in conjunction with a central case study of the Stonehenge Audio Tour app, by English Heritage. Forming the basis for my dissertation research, this study compares site visitors with online social media respondents to understand to what extent the public utilise available digital interpretation tools. The conclusions will examine why digital engagement appears to be low, and what can be done to combat this.

Heritage Together: The Crowd-Sourcing of Digital Photographic Data for 3D Modelling

Ben Edwards and Seren Griffiths-

This paper will explore the results and methodology of the AHRC Connected Communities funded ‘Heritage Together’ project, a collaboration between Bangor, Aberystwyth and Manchester Metropolitan universities. The project, which is currently entering its final phase, is a crowd-sourced photogrammetric recording project focused on the megalithic monuments of north-west Wales and Anglesey. Members of the public join the project through the web portal, upload photographs of standing stones, burial monuments and other features, and the 3D models are automatically produced. The resulting textured models and the raw data are available open-access to members of the public and academics for their own unlimited use. Whilst the results of the photogrammetry are interesting in their own right, especially to prehistorians and surveyors, this paper will focus on the design and maintenance of the public element of the project, and the challenges and successes experienced in engaging people with digital archaeology.

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