March 2011


As many of us know, the annual SAA conference is about to begin in Sacramento, California. Like all large conferences, scheduling represents a complex and difficult juggling act. So, it is not too much of a surprise when awkward schedule conflicts emerge. Unfortunately this year, two digitally themed sessions coincide in the schedule (see the Saturday schedule, 1-3ish PM slot).

The silver-lining is that these two sessions are digitally themed and both make excellent use of the Web. That means you can connect with the ideas and people involved in these sessions asynchronously. Colleen Morgan organized a session on blogging in archaeology. As one would expect from the subject matter, a great deal of excellent and fascinating discussion can be found online, contributed by many thoughtful archaeological bloggers. Here’s a link to a post that kicked off the discussion. The other digitally themed session was organized by Josh Wells, convener of DDIG. This session, an electronic symposium, also has excellent Web content published on Visible Past. Visible Past is an electronic publication platform built off WordPress, a powerful blogging application. These papers (and since they are more formal and less conversational, so I’ll call them “papers”, not “posts”) can be found here: http://visiblepast.net/see/archives/939

 

 

DDIG members may be interested in learning more about Omeka, a simple and open source collections / content management application developed at George Mason University. I took part in using Omeka as the basis of the “Modern Art Iraq Archive” (MAIA). In this particular case, we used Omeka to publish a collection of modern art lost, looted, or destroyed during the US invasion. The same software can be very useful to publish small archaeological collections, particularly since Omeka has an active user and developer community that continually makes new enhancements to the application.

For a bit of background, MAIA started as the result of a long-term effort to document and preserve the modern artistic works from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, most of which were lost and damaged in the fires and looting during the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As the site shows, very little is known about many of the works, including their current whereabouts and their original location in the Museum. The lack of documents about modern Iraqi art prompted the growth of the project to include supporting text. The site makes the works of art available as an open access database in order to raise public awareness of the many lost works and to encourage interested individuals to participate in helping to document the museum’s original
and/or lost holdings.

The MAIA site is the culmination of seven years of work by Project Director Nada Shabout, a professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas. Since 2003, Shabout has been collecting any and all information on the lost works through intensive research, interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art gallery owners. Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) in 2006 and 2007 to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a California-based non-profit organization (and maintainer of this blog!) dedicated to opening up global cultural heritage for research, education, and creative works.

The team won a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities to develop MAIA.

DDIG member Ethan Watrall (Asst. Professor of Anthropology @ MSU) sends us the following information about his upcoming Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) field school, which is part of the CHI Initiative at Michigan State University.

Excerpts quoted. For full details, please see this PDF LINK.

Site Link:<http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool> Email:watrall@msu.edu

We are extremely happy to officially announce the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool (ANP491: Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics). Taking place from May 31st to July 1st (2011) on the campus of Michigan State University, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will introduce students to the tools and techniques required to creatively apply information and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials and questions.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is a unique experience that uses the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology). Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will come together to collaboratively work on several cultural heritage informatics projects. In the process they will learn a great deal about what it takes to build applications and digital user experiences that serve the domain of cultural heritage – skills such as programming, user experience design, media design, project management, user centered design, digital storytelling, etc. …

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. There are no prerequisites (beyond an interest in the topic). Students from a wide variety of departments, programs, and disciplines are welcome. students are required to enroll for both sections 301 (3 credits) and 631 (3 credits) of ANP 491 (Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics).

Admission to the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is by application only.

To apply, please fill out the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool Application Form <http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool/chi-fieldschool-application>. Applications are due no later than 5pm on March 14th. Students will be notified as to whether they have been accepted by March 25th.

There are many items of interest to DDIG members at the upcoming meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The following is a list of sessions from the preliminary program, and is not meant to be comprehensive. If you would like me to add another item to the list, please comment on the blog so everybody may see it immediately.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON:
[45] FORUM – MULTIPLE DATA AND ACCESS: EFFECTIVE MEANS OF INTEGRATING ARCHAEOBOTANICAL DATA IN BROADER ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH PROJECTS
[64] POSTER SESSION – ARCHAEOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS OF GIS, GPR, AND REMOTE SENSING

THURSDAY EVENING:
!!! 5-6PM, DIGITAL DATA INTEREST GROUP MEETING !!!

FRIDAY MORNING:
[115] GENERAL SESSION – ARCHAEOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS OF GIS, GPR, AND REMOTE SENSING
[118] FORUM – USING THE DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD (TDAR) FOR MANAGEMENT AND RESEARCH

FRIDAY AFTERNOON:
[143] SYMPOSIUM – MORTUARY PRACTICES IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST: META-DATA ISSUES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A REGIONAL DATABASE
[144] FORUM – PLANNING FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGITAL DATA MANAGEMENT
[145] SYMPOSIUM – RESEARCH UTILIZING THE MAYA HIEROGLYPHIC DATABASE
[146] SYMPOSIUM – THREE-DIMENSIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MODELING: THEORY, METHOD, PRACTICE

SATURDAY AFTERNOON:
[213] ELECTRONIC SYMPOSIUM – CONSTRUCTING A DATABASE OF LATE PLEISTOCENE/EARLY HOLOCENE ARCHAEOLOGICAL C14 DATES FOR SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
[214] SYMPOSIUM – BLOGGING ARCHAEOLOGY
[216] ELECTRONIC SYMPOSIUM – FROM THE GROUND UP: BEST PRACTICES FOR BALANCING USABILITY WITH THEORETICAL UTILITY IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DATABASES

SUNDAY MORNING:
[250] FORUM – GIS MODELING AT THE SITE OF JOYA DE CERÉN

The following is the final draft of the DDIG report to the SAA as seen in the preliminary draft dated Jan. 28 (link).

Annual Report of the SAA Digital Data Interest Group, 2010

The Digital Data Interest Group (DDIG) had a productive year in 2010. The expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) creating digital data from archaeological practices appears to continue at a rate relatively equivalent or higher than that generally found within the social sciences. This year saw the publication of a number of items pertaining to digital data use in archaeology in SAA periodicals. The annual SAA meeting in Saint Louis contained a variety of symposia and general contributions specifically pertaining to the implications of ICTs and digital data in archaeological practice, including a DDIG-sponsored digital symposium. This report will address SAA activities related to DDIG, and then provide a general assessment of digital data developments in general with the potential to affect American archaeology as construed in the SAA mission statement.

SAA periodicals published several items this year directly addressing digital data practices. Three items were in the SAA Archaeological Record, “Transforming Archaeological Data into Knowledge” (McManamon and Kintigh 2010), “Fieldwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Review of the Potentials and Limitations of Google Earth for Archaeologists” (Meyers 2010), and “Open Context in Context: Cyberinfrastructure and Distributed Approaches to Publish and Preserve Archaeological Data” (Kansa 2010). One article was published in American Antiquity, “Computational Modeling and Neolithic Socioecological Dynamics: A Case Study from Southwest Asia,” (Barton et al. 2010). A number of articles in both publications also indirectly included ICTs and digital data as part of their subject matter. Outside the SAA, two articles were published in the journal Heritage Management by DDIG members (Kintigh and Altschul 2010; Richards et al. 2010) in a special issue devoted to “The Dollars and Sense of Managing Archaeological Collections,” edited by DDIG member Terry Childs.

The 2010 SAA meeting in Saint Louis contained a large amount of activity related to ICT and digital data use. This included sessions on the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), digital curation, and digital publishing. The DDIG-sponsored digital symposium at the SAA, “Practical Methods of Data Production, Dissemination, and Preservation,” contained 13 individual presentations created by 27 contributors; the symposium highlighted results-driven applications of digital data management undertaken by DDIG members which could serve as examples of best practices in the field. Outside of specific symposia, at least 13 other presentations and posters appeared at the meeting with direct focus on ICT and digital data practices in their titles and abstracts.

This past year saw the emergence of two important developments on the subject of digital data, with the potential for profound influence on archaeological practice: (1) The National Science Foundation (NSF) implemented a requirement for a data management plan to be included with all proposals beginning January 18, 2011; and (2) the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) called for commentary concerning how a new policy similar to that of the National Institute of Health (NIH) might be generally constructed for other agencies, creating a requirement for public access to data resultant from publicly-funded research.

The NSF requirement, now active, will have an immediate effect on archaeological practice in that all proposal writers now must make their data management plans explicit in less than two pages. This is a generally positive development. In order to help mitigate the most onerous step for proposal writers, the NSF has proactively suggested (but not required) that proposal writers avail themselves of the expertise of two non-profit, research organizations run by DDIG members, the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), and Open Context. However, in order to realize the best benefits of this new requirement and subsequently derived practices in other funding and regulatory agencies, the American archaeological community will need to engage in a substantive dialogue about data management standards, ethics of data sharing, and citation practices. This is not a call for prescribed, one-size-fits-all requirements, but for recognition of the fact that the ongoing development of open community standards takes explicit work, both behavioral and technological, so that researchers will produce data management plans with high levels of interoperability.

Fortunately, it is good to see multiple initiatives attempt to tackle the complex issues surrounding data sharing. For instance, Open Context’s model differs significantly from tDAR. Open Context positions itself as a publication venue and less a repository like tDAR. It emphasizes Web oriented “data sharing as publication”, and relies upon digital preservation services offered by the University of California’s digital library system. A recent electronic document which provides a good example of general-use instructions for interoperable digital data, Guidelines for Web-Based Data Publication in Archaeology (Kansa and Kansa 2010), was produced for Open Context training at the 2010 meeting American Schools of Oriental Research. Furthermore, a Canadian initiative, “Sustainable Archaeology” (a joint program of the University of Western Ontario and McMaster University), is being developed with similarities to both tDAR and the United Kingdom’s Archaeology Data Service; this project will include digital curation facilities and best practices guidelines which will be used to, among other priorities, formulate an organizational solution to a glut of cultural resource management data.

The OSTP call for comments closed on January 21, 2010. The last update on the subject was March 8, 2010, which indicated that input was still being reviewed. Five PDF files are available on the OSTP website, with the contents of emails and other materials sent in response to their call. Comments from the archaeological community included a generally supportive letter co-authored by DDIG member Francis P. McManamon, executive director of tDAR, which also recognized the need for some measure of disciplinary cohesion around to derive benefits from such openness. Similar statements were made by many commenters representing a wide swath of the sciences and humanities. This OSTP initiative also will raise significant questions about what constitutes proper citation, and other recognition of contributions made by previous researchers, in professional reports of new findings involving curated public data.

The expansion of professional outreach and communication on digital data issues remains a top priority in DDIG. Such expansion is devoted to development of greater awareness within the SAA community of the ways in which ICT use and resultant digital data both structure work while simultaneously creating new affordances. The ability to capitalize on these new affordances is increasingly dependent upon the development of recognized data standards and (note: not necessarily mandated) collaborative networks of users (researchers, managers, educators, etc.). The position of tDAR and Open Context as institutional points of reference will be exceedingly valuable in the near- and medium-term. However, without the appearance of a more engaged community of archaeological data practitioners in the medium- to long-term, the expansion of broad efforts like those at the NSF and OSTP may not be highly beneficial. Similarly, in order to ensure that the population of archaeological practitioners remains prepared to create and maintain interoperable data sets and standards it is time for disciplinary conversation and concerted action on what constitutes appropriate technical training at various levels of educational and professional development.

Sincerely,

Joshua J. Wells, Ph.D., R.P.A.
Convener, Digital Data Interest Group of the Society for American Archaeology
Assistant Professor of Social Informatics
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
& Department of Informatics
Indiana University South Bend

References Cited

Barton, C. Michael, Isaac Ullah, and Helena Mitasova
2010 Computational Modeling and Neolithic Socioecological Dynamics: A Case Study from Southwest Asia. American Antiquity 75(2):364-386

Kansa, Eric C.
2010 Open Context in Context: Cyberinfrastructure and Distributed Approaches to Publish and Preserve Archaeological Data. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(5):12–16.

Kansa, Eric C., and Sara Whitcher Kansa
2010 Guidelines for Web-Based Data Publication in Archaeology. Electronic document, .

Kintigh, Keith W. and Jeffrey H. Altschul
2010 Sustaining the Digital Archaeological Record. Heritage Management 3(2):264-274.

McManamon, Francis P., and Keith W. Kintigh
2010 Digital Antiquity: Transforming Archaeological Data into Knowledge. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(2):37–40.

Meyers, Adrian
2010 Fieldwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Review of the Potentials and Limitations of Google Earth for Archaeologists. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(4):7–11.

Richards, Julian, Tony Austin, and Catherine Hardman
2010 Covering the Costs of Digital Curation. Heritage Management 3(2):255-63.