July 2006

The Alexandria Archive Institute (AAI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and developing open resources of world cultural heritage, has just announced an “Open Archaeology” prize competition.

The “Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology” prize will be awarded the best open-access, open-licensed, digital contribution to zooarchaeology from papers presented at the ICAZ 2006 meeting in Mexico City. This competition is open to all ICAZ meeting participants who are graduate students or have received their PhD within the past 10 years. The best contribution will be determined by a panel of judges, based on its scholarly merits and its potential for reuse in research or teaching.

The AAI will organize a series of other “Open Archaeology” competitions in the next few months. Please check back for future announcements.

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences recently issued a detailed report that explores “cyberinfrastructure” challenges and opportunities for the humanities and social sciences. Since much of archaeology falls in these domains of scholarship, this report is very relevant to DDIG members.

I have only had a chance to skim through the report, but it looks very interesting. Some highlights include:

(1) The report contains some very interesting discussion about the problems posed by the current copyright regulatory environment both for the conduct and the preservation of research.
(2) The report also calls “upon university counsels, boards of trustees, and provosts to provide aggressive support for the principles of fair use and open access, and to promote awareness and use of Creative Commons licenses.” (see page 43)

Wow! These are very exciting developments from a very influential group of scholars and policy makers. Again, openness and access seem to be key concerns in making valuable scholarly resources. Moving this forward requires action not only by rank and file researchers, but also by their sponsors. Seeing some of these ideas enacted as policy by NSF, NEH, and other granting agencies that support archaeological research will probably have a dramatic effect on data sharing in archaeology and beyond. Successful passage of FRPPA (see here and here) will have additional catalyzing effects.

Study and understanding of this report will probably be important in the next few years for anyone developing a granting proposal for NSF or NEH. I”ll be sure to write more about this landmark report, since it seems to have several elements worth comment.

Some Important Links:

ACLS Website
Creative Commons Website
ACLS Humanities and Social Science Report (warning big .pdf file!)

DDIG members and others should note the approaching deadline for comments on the important new policy guidelines for the treatment of burial remains proposed by the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation’s Archaeology Task Force. The comments deadline was extended to July 28, and this date is quickly approaching.

Please read the draft policy, and if you have concerns regarding this issue, remember that Friday is the close of the comment period.

Links: ACHP Archaeology Task Force

There are several pressing deadlines now, more travel, and blogging will be light until later next week. In the mean time, I’ve just ordered “The Long Tail” (Chris Anderson, editor of Wired). It’s worth exploring some of the general shifts in the economics of communication and examining them in light of our goals for archaeological data sharing. Much of this exploration will no doubt prove very useful for thinking about open content sustainability strategies, the economics of data aggregation, and the impact of powerful commercial services such as Google. My impression from reading reviews of this book and looking at Chris Anderson’s blog is that we should spend more effort looking for ways to make data/content more usable (i.e. easier to find and apply). Since content is becoming cheaper, finding ways to surface the interesting, relevant, and high quality material become more important.

While much of this is already quite cliche, it is still worth discussing in the context of data sharing. It is going to take a great deal of thought and experimentation on finding ways to meaningfully organize the mass of primary data that we generate as archaeologists so that the interesting and relevant information become apparent. Perhaps many of the “Web 2.0″ approaches can help here (folksonomies, recommender systems, etc.) but these need thoughtful adaptation for use in more formal contexts, especially with primary structured data.

One aspect of the international access to knowledge movement that strikes me as particularly appealing is that many people that work in this movement are open to critique and different ideas about what should constitute a “digital commons”. This was made very clear at the iCommons summit in Rio de Janeiro.

In some ways, one would expect the access to knowledge community to want to shy away from rights issues surrounding traditional knowledge and indigenous cultural heritage. Typically, many in the access to knowledge community are committed to protecting the public domain from exploitative commercial interests and other pressures that threaten the public domain with intellectual property “maximalism”. They see the public domain as space essential for supporting creativity, innovation, and free expression.

Enter traditional knowledge. Because of the way our law shapes the public domain, most “traditional knowledge” legally falls into the public domain, and is therefore (typically) open for anyone and everyone to use and exploit as they see fit. This definition of the public domain and its boundaries strikes many as unfair, especially to some people in indigenous societies. International regulations defining the public domain often don’t map well with local and indigenous rules about how knowledge is communicated. Also, not everyone benefits from the public domain equally (see a fascinating discussion by Chander and Sunder). The issue of “biopiracy” exemplifies this point, where public domain indigenous knowledge is used to find new pharmacologically significant compounds, often resulting in very valuable and patented (privatized) intellectual property.

It may seem counterintuitive that members of the access to knowledge community would want to look at the public domain with a critical eye. However, many people in the access to knowledge movement are also deeply interested in privacy and choice. The Electronic Frontier Foundation exemplifies these concerns. This organization fights against commercial and government interests to manipulate copyright and other intellectual property laws in ways that encroach on free expression. They are also very active in fighting for privacy protections and exposing sometimes unwanted commercial and law-enforcement breaches of privacy and trust.

In many ways the “commons” is envisioned as a context to re-imagine communication, knowledge sharing, science, and the public sphere and how they relate to new, empowering technologies and forms of social organization. This re-imagination explores the protection of privacy, the importance of consent and participation, and the notion that communication is embedded in social realities. These are many issues centrally important to making the commons empowering to members of native communities. iCommons works towards these ends internationally, so I think it is very appropriate for iCommons to explore how the digital commons intersects local and indigenous systems of knowledge sharing and communication. My home organization, the Alexandria Archive Institute, is partnering with iCommons to help move this forward. Our goal is to bring stakeholder communities together to shape ethical, licensing, and other policy recommendations for sharing indigenous knowledge and heritage in the global commons. Please contact us if you are interested in participating!