On the heels of SOPA, a bill that will make libraries vulnerable to lawsuits and felony charges for trying to do essential library functions (preservation and access to cultural works), comes another worrisome piece of legislation. The problematic bill is H.R. 3699, the “Research Works Act“.

Basically, the aim of the bill is to step back from recent reforms advocated by the “open science” community and prohibit federal agencies from requiring open access to the outcomes of grant funded research. For example, the bill would stop the NIH from requiring public access to $20+ billion in NIH funded medical research.  The bill would further entrench the current system and hugely costly system of scholarly communications, that works as a lucrative subsidy for [increasingly monopolistic] commercial publishers.

Commercial publishers, like Elsevier see huge profit margins, on the order of 35%. They have an excellent business model, since they don’t pay their authors or reviewers. The vast bulk of the blood sweat and tears behind a publication comes from grant funded research, presented (for free) by researchers, and reviewed and edited by other research peers (as a free service to their community). The publishers get all that effort and the copyright, then they lease it all back to universities (many of which are public institutions) under huge subscription regimes with draconian access and intellectual property controls. The costs of serial publications has exploded over the past two decades, and we even see some academic publishers suing faculty and universities for including works in course websites behind login barriers. The title of a recent article in the Guardian sums it up nicely: “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

University libraries deal with crushing price escalation by reducing services and passing costs to the rest of the university, which means tuition hikes, reduced faculty salaries, reduced research budgets, and reduced faculty hiring. It’s part of the reason why higher-education is such a dreadful mess. Disciplines like archaeology suffer disproportionately, since archaeology is relatively low in priority in terms of funding and facilities, and is more likely to see cuts.

The fact that so many archaeological researchers routinely and uncritically continue to participate in a manifestly broken system of closed-access scholarly communications is ultimately self-defeating. If archaeological researchers want to see their discipline thrive, they really need to pay much more attention to how their research is communicated. This bill would make it harder to reform the status quo and reduce the costs, access restrictions, and intellectual property encumbrances that stifle research.

So please speak up and actively lobby against this bill. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a non-profit coalition of libraries, has an invaluable set of resources for contacting your legislators about this misguided bill.


It looks like the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has a disturbing response to this, by putting the interest of its publishing wing ahead of the interests of its members.  Jonathan Eisen does a brilliant critique of the ESA’s confusion on these issues. The ESA’s position reminds me of the American Anthropological Association’s high-profile (and highly problematic) lobbying against open access 5 (!) years ago. (Savage Minds also has some good, pointed critique of the open access opponents, keeping up the same good work they’ve been doing for over 6 years!)

In some ways I can’t believe that we’re still having these fights; the broken status quo is very, very deeply entrenched. I wonder what would happen if libraries would just cancel subscriptions in mass. Perhaps then we’ll see some pretty rapid adoption of open access.


Update 2

Wow! Lots of blogosphere / Tweetosphere activity about this bill. Jason Baird Jackson provides some great links, including a post by UC Berkeley’s Michael Eisen noting how one of the bill’s sponsors Rep. Maloney gets lots of donations from Elsevier (no less!). Search and web-services on those data are provided by MapLight, a leading open government / transparency organization. It looks like the Research Works Act represents one of the best laws money can buy.

I’m mulling over developments around the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA, warning a PDF), a new bill going through the US Congress regarding copyright and the Web.

The American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries wrote a very alarming letter about the harmful impacts of SOPA. In case any archaeologists out there haven’t noticed, archaeological research is very dependent on libraries. This is increasingly the case for digital archaeology, where digital archaeological projects greatly benefit from the expertise, infrastructure, and collaboration of our colleagues in digital library programs. For example, Open Context benefits from digital preservation services provided by the California Digital Library. Similarly, tDAR also taps into library infrastructure, as it uses the CDL’s EZID service for managing persistent identifiers.

Librarians are mainly concerned about how the bill defines “willful infringement” of copyright. The bill expands the definition of “willful infringement” to include activities that don’t have a commercial purpose. Even non-commercial infringement would be a felony crime (with very draconian penalties), and that means libraries will be at great risk for being dragged into court.

What does this mean for digital archaeology and open science? It’s really hard to tell at this stage but I think we should worry, and worry a lot! As I wrote about, archaeologists depend upon libraries. If libraries run the risk of facing criminal prosecution for doing their job, then their costs will balloon and they will become risk adverse – to say the least. Those costs will be passed on to researchers and students, meaning library services to our discipline will suffer. We would see less access to archaeological literature and data, less innovation in digital data sharing efforts, and lots more confusion about what is or is not criminal infringement.

Mainly, I worry about what this means for data archiving and dissemination, an issue at the heart of my professional interests. Are these projects at risk for felony charges if there’s a copyright dispute? Would projects like Open Context get shut down and get blacklisted if someone makes an accusation of copyright infringement? What digital libraries want to run the risk of backing up these projects and archiving our data should this bill pass? Since nobody but lawyers really understand what constitutes copyright infringement, this is a major concern.

Anyway, these are my initial thoughts and worries. If anyone has better information and analysis of this bill, I’d love to see it! In the meantime, I think the picture below says it all:

A librarian at an Occupy protest (Source: kimyadawson via http://theillustratednerdgirl.tumblr.com/post/11149745396/its-true-you-guys-librarians-know-whats-up)





Yesterday was Archaeology Day organized by the AIA. (BTW. In case you didn’t notice, despite some prophetic warnings, the world apparently did not end to ruin Archaeology Day).

It’s also Archaeology Month here in California. “Archaeology Months” are sponsored by various state historical societies and various state and federal government agencies. They help spotlight local archaeology and archaeologists, and offer a focus for organizing, reaching out to a larger community and highlighting accomplishments and challenges. The Society for California Archaeology runs an annual great poster competition that helps encapsulate some of the activities of an Archaeology Month.

Which brings us to the last alignment of the calendar that I’ll note. Next week is Open Access Week! Which brings us to a fortuitous alignment in the calendar, especially with respect to the themes long explored by this blog, namely, archaeology and open access.

I see open access (and open data) as an important aspect of making archaeology broadly relevant and a more integral part of scientific, policy, and cultural debates. Open access is a necessary precondition to making archaeology part of larger conversations. It’s also an important issue when so many of our colleagues work outside of university settings and have to live, work, and make their research contributions without access to JSTOR or subscriptions to other publishers. While there’s been lots of discussion about how “grey literature” (that is, research content that’s hard to discover and sees very limited circulation) is bad for the discipline, few in archaeology have noted that many mainstream archaeological journals are “grey literature” to people outside the academy.

Of course, most people, including most archaeologists, are outside of the academy. If we want our publicly supported (through direct funding and grants, or through regulatory mandates) research to have any positive impact to our peers inside and outside of our discipline, we need to consider access issues. At the same time, we need to consider access issues when thinking about how archaeology relates to many different communities in the larger public. From the outset, it’s clear open access is not sufficient in itself to make archaeology intelligible to the public.  It often takes lots of work to help guide non-archaeologists through often very technical archaeological findings.  But at the very least, open access to archaeological literature can make it easier for outside communities to learn, even through simple Google searches, that archaeology has something (though probably very technical) to say on many different issues and many different places.

So, I’m glad these chance calendar alignments help put some focus on these issues.

BTW: In keeping with these themes, the e-journal Internet Archaeology (an essential resource for some of the best in digital archaeology) is going fully open access this week! So fire up Zotero and go get some great papers while you can!

(Cross posted on Heritage Bytes)

We’re delighted to announce that Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration is now available via the University of California’s eScholarship repository, at the following link:http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1r6137tb 

This book explores the social use and context of the World Wide Web within the discipline of archaeology.  While the Web has radically altered journalism, commerce, media and social relationships, its sees very uneven adoption in professional scholarly contexts. Case studies discussed in this book help illuminate patterns of adoption and resistance to new forms of scholarly communication and data sharing. These case studies explore social media, digital preservation, and cultural representation concerns, as well as technical and semantic challenges and approaches toward data interoperability. Contributors to this volume debate the merits and sustainability of open access publishing and how the Web mediates interactions between professional and nonprofessional communities engaged in archaeology.


Archaeology 2.0 is the first book in the Cotsen Institute’s new Digital Archaeology Series (http://escholarship.org/uc/search?entity=cioa_cda). The editors want to thank all of the book’s contributors, and also the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, especially Julie Nemer, Carol Leyba, and Willeke Wendrich. The printed version will be available for purchase shortly.

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.







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.


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.

Another country, same upheaval, same “opportunities” for looting of archaeological patrimony (sites, museums, storage facilities): after Iraq, now it’s Egypt’s turn. Hopefully, this will only be an unfortunate but short-lived episode. A specialized Facebook group has been started to attempt to gather news, Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!, an upgrade from the Iraqcrisis mailing list approach—in 2003, Facebook wasn’t yet the mass phenomenon it is now. Also, an ad hoc website, Egyptological Looting Database 2011, has been thrown up to try to keep track of what (and to which extent) we know about looting in different regions of the country. Compared with The Iraq War & Archaeology, this site endeavors to be a bit more systematic. I applaud all initiatives. Again, my sincerest hope is that all this will prove to be “overkill” but history has taught us to be prepared for the worst.

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