October 2006

Here is some welcome news for people interested in digital media, archaeology, digtial communications, and community programs surrounding cultural heritage. The new University of California campus at Merced has recently announced a new, and relatively highly ranked (full Professor or Associate Professor), faculty position for their interdisciplinary program on “World Heritage”. Part of the announcement reads:

World Heritage is an interdisciplinary area that include architecture, history, archeology, art history, geography, anthropology, planning, law and other disciplines. Applications from scholars in any relevant field are welcome. We seek applicants who specialize in international policy and preservation of world heritage resources, with interests in cultural studies and digital media preferred. Candidates with ongoing fieldwork or community partnership projects are also preferred….

…Qualifications: Completion of Ph.D.; post-doctoral experience. Demonstrated research excellence and potential for future productivity in world heritage management, representation, or policy. Demonstrated experience working in or consulting with governments, NGOs, heritage sites, or other relevant institutions. Commitment to and leadership in the development of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and education programs; teaching excellence; contribution and commitment to education and outreach for students of diverse backgrounds, particularly disadvantaged or underrepresented students.

Here’s a link to the full announcement (http://jobs.ucmerced.edu/n/academic/position.jsf?positionId=694). This is an interesting development in the scholarly job market, one that may reflect growing recognition in the significance of digital media and how new communications frameworks articulate with “cultural heritage” policy, law, research, and representation across the globe. Please help this new university attract some well-qualified talent and share this announcement with your colleagues!

Given that there are several teams working on data sharing initiatives, it is helpful to share perspectives and ideas that can potentially cross-fertilize efforts and hopefully facilitate collaborations. Chuck Jones and the Stoa Consortium alerted me to the impressive work underway on the Nabonidus project. Sam Wood of the Nabonidus Project kindly agreed to an interview to discuss their efforts with the DDIG community.

[Question] What is the rationale behind Nabonidus and what needs do you see it fulfilling? Is it primarily a project data management tool or a system for digital publication of project datasets?

[SW] Nabonidus was built to make the task of gathering and analyzing archaeological excavation data easy. We hope that Nabonidus will not only be a data management tool and a system for digital publication but will go much further.

The more data there is in Nabonidus the more useful a tool it will become. Firstly the archaeological community would gain access to this raw excavation data which is not an easy thing to do currently. And secondly we would get a new angle on the data with Nabonidus reporting tools and multiple excavation analysis. In our opinion the ability to search across multiple excavations with just a few clicks is very compelling.

There are also “by-products” of the development of Nabonidus. It has a typology section for pottery which could prove to be a powerful tool for archaeologists in the future. As data is collected this online typology of pottery from around the world grows, integrating excavations from different countries, showing distribution, trade as well as being extremely useful for identifying finds in the field.

[Question] Describe its features and how archaeological users currently integrate (or will integrate) this resource into their workflow.

[SW] We believe that Nabonidus can serve multiple roles in archaeological research and could change the way archaeologists excavate, record, publish and conduct research. We hope it will be in use from trench-side* to archaeological research years post excavation. Nabonidus offers users the ability to store all raw excavation data but it also offers reporting and analytic tools capable of aiding real time excavation decisions. It manages all excavation data and offers publication quality reporting. It also functions as a research tool for future generations to be able to access primary data and compare and analyze excavations.

* [We are currently working on a desktop version of Nabonidus for archaeologists working in the in the field without an internet connection.]

[Question] On your blog (http://nabonidus.blogspot.com/), you make it very clear that investigators retain ownership of content in your system. You also emphasize data privacy protection on your site. Is this in response to specific concerns from your user community? Do you think that most users have strong intellectual property concerns, and is this an important factor in shaping your development efforts?

[SW] Yes and yes! All our users have strong feelings about the ownership of their data. On the one hand they need to keep their data private to enable them to publish findings and papers. On the other hand they realize the need and benefits of sharing that data.

So we built Nabonidus so that users can decide how public or private their data will be. This can be set at an area or site level so projects can make some or all of their data public as they see fit. This means initially we won’t have a great deal of publicly available data but as users become comfortable with the system and publish their findings this public archive will grow.

[Question] What were the main technical hurdles you encountered when developing this resource?

[SW] Technically we are very lucky. Our technical lead (who volunteered his time for the project) is a professional software developer with over 10 years experience in the industry. He has guided us though the production of Nabonidus and we really haven’t come across any hurdles which have slowed us up too much. My previous experience of database creation has been mainly archaeologists creating archaeological software or archaeologists trying to adapt software not specifically built for them. So we really are very lucky to have professional developers on our team.

[Question] Nabonidus aims to provide tools to support cross project analysis. How do you work to this end given the lack of standardized archaeological recording systems, vocabularies, typologies, etc?

[SW] This is a problematic issue which we thought about very hard when designing Nabonidus ” to be honest we still think about it regularly. Our theory was to create a system adaptable to many different types of excavations. Our methodology involved doing a broad survey of excavation recording methods across the world and rather than choosing one of these recording methods we attempted to incorporate them all. This does not mean that Nabonidus users have to use all of the fields offered by Nabonidus, rather it means that when they setup an excavation they have the choice of many fields for their recording forms and they also have the ability to add their own fields. This may sound excessive but in practice it works well and provides enough commonality between excavations to make cross project analysis easy.

Our philosophy with Nabonidus is not to enforce any standards or dictums, rather to create a framework within in which archaeologists can make their own decisions. We envisage that as more archaeologists use a system like Nabonidus they will see the benefits of different recording systems and the benefits of cross site analysis so standards describing archaeological data will evolve.

[Question] The Digital Data Interest Group is a new interest group in the SAA. What role do you think it should play to promote and enhance this kind of work?

[SW] I think DDIG can play an integral role in being a central point for fostering collaboration, communicating progress in archaeological technology and research and to help bring together interested parties to define data sharing standards. There really is a need for this now as archaeologists embrace technology and start to take advantage of online tools like OpenContext and Nabonidus. We believe there is so much to be gained by adopting and enabling technology in archaeology so hopefully the DDIG can encourage everyone to work together and get the most out of these emerging technologies.

Thanks to Sam Wood and the Nabonidus team for sharing their thoughts with the DDIG community!

Here is yet another interesting development in the world of Anthropology as it relates to the FRPAA (Federal Research Public Access Act). As many will remember, the American Anthropological Association came out in public opposition to FRPAA. In part, the AAA based its opposition to FRPPA because of a perceived threat to the financial sustainability of AnthroSource, its digital dissemination system (see their FAQ). As reported in the “Savage Minds” blog, the AnthroSource Steering Committee was not consulted on this decision.

Now, in an interesting turn of events, the AnthroSource Steering Committee itself has made a public statement strongly and unambiguously in favor of FRPAA. Many of the reasons they cite to support FRPPA mirror discussions shared by Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad and many others (also echoed in this blog here and here). Their endorsement of FRPAA is in direct contradiction to the public position of the executive staff of the AAA. In fact, the AnthroSource Steering Committee is urging the AAA to now reconsider its opposition.

Wow! This is indeed a major development for open access in anthropology and related fields. It also shows how the executive staff of learned societies is often at odds with its membership over these issues. I think it is very significant that a major digital dissemination initiative that works on behalf of a learned society has now issued a strong public statement in favor of FRPPA ’s open access mandates. The AnthroSource Steering Committee is obviously very well placed to understand these issues. They understand publication business models, sustainability issues, etc. They also understand how openness can be a great tool to further the interests of anthroplogy and anthropologists. The endorsement of this expert and experienced body is therefore an important development that highlights the value of this legislation.

Kudos to the AnthroSource Steering Committee for their clear and powerful stand on this important issue!