SAR Prize Entry

I just finished my entry for the SAR prize this year.  If our session gets chosen, we get to have a special seminar in New Mexico.  These seminars often yield publications and are great collaborative sessions, so it would be great to be able to go!  I reworked my WAC session (here’s the previous version) abstract a bit:

Archaeologists have been rapidly integrating new media technologies into their interpretive schemes through a variety of methods.  Virtual worlds, social networking websites, blogs, wikis, and digital photo mash-ups are becoming legitimate alternate ways to present archaeological information.  The greater availability of inexpensive equipment and software that is powerful and easy to use has provided a lower entry point for remixing photography, film, and databases into multimodal presentations and increased the potential for archaeologists to use these media to tell their own stories.  This, combined with the growing ubiquity of online, collaborative media platforms has allowed us to reach out to new audiences by integrating archaeology into a greater social sphere.   Archaeologists have built too many technological islands in the form of isolated websites, soon abandoned after the project ends.  While new media technologies do provide a venue for ongoing dialogue in a broader public context, what are the implications of this for archaeology?  In a conference that is fully engaged with questions regarding the future of archaeology, this session explores interpretive projects inspired by new media art and technology.  In this exploration we will discuss alternate narratives, collective actions and what it means to be an archaeologist in the digital age. Alternate forms of papers and presentations such as films or websites are welcome.

My entry was typeset by my friend Jesse, who does great design work.  It’s attached here, and you can see all of the other papers that are in the session.

Editing will get less excruciating someday, right?  Right?

Personal Histories at Cambridge (2 & 3)

Though they don’t seem to be terribly popular, here are parts two and three of the series:

Personal Histories at Cambridge

Meg Conkey, Ruth Tringham, Henrietta Moore, and Alison Wylie were asked to speak at Cambridge for the Personal Histories in Archaeological Theory and Method series, and happily there is video of the talk.  If you’ve never had an archaeological theory class, these women are all formative thinkers in feminist, structuralist and post-processual archaeology.  I uploaded the first part to youtube and will upload the other two parts later today, but if you are impatient for the rest, go here for the files.  I chose to go to Berkeley in part because of the presence of women in the department at all faculty levels, two of whom are speaking in this video (and, incidentally, are on my dissertation committee!).

This first segment is great–Meg Conkey and Henrietta Moore introduce themselves (they decided to go in alphabetical order, but also by height) and there’s a pan to Colin Renfrew in the audience.  I wish I could have been there, but even more I wish I could have been out to drinks with all of them afterwards!

So if you have any interest at all in feminism and archaeology, you might want to check these personal stories out.

Four Stone Hearth

Hey, one of my posts made Four Stone Hearth:

I love the Sci-Fi imagery.

What is an Archaeological Photograph?

 Lee Panich

Several of my fellow archaeology graduate students are also skilled photographers, and we’ve gone out on photo-taking expeditions together, usually to places that yield a certain amount of gorgeous decay.  I do not consider myself to be a photographer of any skill–my practice in this regard is just snapping things that I think are interesting–but I find the concept of the archaeological eye and the creation of archaeological media objects fascinating.

Andy Roddick

So what makes a photograph archaeological?  Since we’re trained archaeologists, does this change our photography?  There’s some discussion of professional vision in more formal venues, and my “elder brother” in the program (a past student of my advisor) based his dissertation around this question.  Still, I’m not sure that the question has been answered to my satisfaction.


I’ve asked several of archaeologist-photographers to sit for short video interviews, which I will cut and post on youtube.  I’ll be using a mix of straight-interview and photo elicitation, with a particular focus on their use of flickr in building a community of photography-oriented archaeologists.  None of this is particularly formal, but it’s good practice for my proposed serial video project in the summer.  Anyway, let’s get to some of the questions:

What cameras do you use?
What kind of photos do you take?
How do you choose your subjects?
Do you think your photography is affected by your work in archaeology?
Can you walk me through your practice?
How many photos do you usually take?
How many of these do you upload to flickr?
How do you decide which to upload?

Any other questions I should ask?

Vertov, Remixed

After writing a hundred pages or so for my field statements, due a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been a little short on words.  It’s slowly coming back to me though, and Spring Break is helping immensely.  I’ve been reading and taking notes in preparation for my orals, and it’s been a luxurious break from the usual hustle of the semester.

I often wish I had Bill and Ted’s phone booth so I could steal away to read, say, Derrida’s corpus, or watch a few hundred ethnographic films, but when I actually do manage to free up some time, I’m often too exhausted to do very much.  So this break has been nice–I’m actually taking time to absorb some of the things that I read through in a rush to finish my field statements.  And while the ethnographic films are out of reach (there’s nothing deader than an out-of-date ethnographic film on VHS in the two-hour-loan section of the library, I swear) I have been finding a few gems on youtube.

So, a rescored, remixed The Man With the Movie Camera, one of the few movies made as an explictly theoretical exercise exploring cinematic language.  I’m delighted that it’s been chopped up and put on youtube–a relaxing break from these pesky words.

Archaeology from Around the World

Some great new photos have been popping up at Archaeology in Action, the flickr group dedicated to showing archaeologists doing their thing:

What dedication!

From alverstonedig, a muddy dig on the Isle of Wight. They found well preserved Iron Age timbers (with visible axe-marks), a Roman causeway and–this kills me–a hazel leaf, pressed into the bog.


From shovelingtom, a project in Sudan, where there are gorgeous vistas and interesting rock art.  I like his photos of the surrounding community as well.

Name that mineral

Finally, a photo of a ceramic thin section from a fellow Berkeley PhD student, Andy Roddick. If you click on the photo, he identifies some of the various minerals with notes.  I love this aspect of flickr–annotating photos to provide explanations guided by professional vision adds so much to presenting archaeology to the public.  And for that matter, to other archaeologists–I surely didn’t know what a biotite looked like!

Benjamin, McLuhan, Foys


As we experience the new electronic and organic age with ever stronger indications of its main outlines, the preceding mechanical age becomes quite intelligible.  Now that the assembly line recedes before the new patterns of information, synchronized by electric tape, the miracles of mass-production assume entire intelligibility….What will be the new configurations of mechanisms and of literacy as these older forms of perception and judgment are interpenetrated by the new electric age?

– Marshall McLuhan, excerpted by Martin K. Foys.

Martin K. Foys’ work on medieval tapestries as “hypertextiles” is an enormous influence on the way I have been conceptualizing new media and archaeological interpretation.  Many people have used new media to communicate archaeological interpretations, but not as many have used new media theory to interpret archaeological materials.  I see it as a co-constructive process–to create new media objects to aid in interpretation is to create a narrative of archaeological interpretation, which changes the way that we see the material record.

Can you tell that I’ve been writing my dissertation prospectus? I keep telescoping between great excitement and great dread, all in the small space of my chair in front of the computer.

Yourself, Categorized.


Something in me had snapped, was broken beyond repair. My taste had been central to my identity. I’d cultivated it, kept it fed and watered like an exotic flowering plant. Now I realized that what I thought had been an expression of my innermost humanity was nothing but a cloud of life-style signals, available to anyone at the click of a mouse. How had this happened?”

From Raj, Bohemian by Hari Kunzru.

This particularizing of human taste is fascinating to me. I stopped filling out social networking profiles with the lush tidbits of my listening and viewing preferences a couple of years ago, figuring that the marketers had me pegged anyway, why make it even easier? Still, I look through profiles of my friends and acquaintances, watching people perform their tastes, watching the doppler effect between subculture and popular culture become more condensed until it is no longer visible.

While I knew that this was happening with the ongoing (and perhaps ever-present) commercialization of subcultures, it seems to have reached a fever point of real-life folksonomies mixed with lifestyle branding. Take, for instance, the rapid ricochet of Stuff White People Like, a blog that explains some of the most prevalent and popular “tags” of upper-middle class white folks in America. I got the link from wordpress a couple of weeks ago, sent it out, received it back from various people the next day, then heard that they highlighted it on NPR only a few days later. I detest NPR, almost as much as I hate the NPR conversations at parties, when you realize that everyone around you is spouting the same party line or quirky story they heard on the radio that morning.

So all of this has left me with some of the same questions (but not quite the same amount of melodrama) as posited in the story by Hari Kunzru. Where does the commercialization of our own taste begin, and the selling it to our friends end? Is it possible to define taste without branding?

I know, sincerity is so naive, so humorless, and what was I doing reading the New Yorker anyway? I love Texas, I live in California, and I need to go back to studying for my oral exams!

Tactile Maps and Imaginary Geographies

Inuit Carved Wooden Maps

A story on NPR about Braille city maps for the blind instantly reminded me of some artifacts I had read about during one of my literature surveys for my oral exams (Place as Recently Imagined by Archaeologists, to be exact).

Peter Whitridge wrote a brilliant article titled Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place” and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries that queried the binary set up between space and place wherein space is portrayed as empty, scientific, geometrical, and place is embodied, historical, culturally-constructed. To do this, he demonstrated Inuit placemaking in songs, myths, legends, even tongue-twisters where Unalakleet place names are strung together–mnemonics of places along travel routes. Personhood encorporates place, and every personal name corresponds with a place name; both people and places are signified as important by the very fact of being given specific names.

The Inuit made songs, but they also made maps. These were often sketched in snow or sand, but some of them were sketched on paper with pencil for European explorers, and were intelligible to these Westerners. These are interesting in comparable abstractions of space (thus directly addressing Whitridge’s question about the space/place binary) but I am more interested in the 3D wood carvings of the East Greenland coastline, with the details of inlets and islands in sculptural relief. These could be employed by at night in conjunction with the stars, feeling your way along the coastline, navigating at an intimate scale.

I wonder if tactile maps could be extrapolated to other domains–what would a tactile BART map feel like? What about an archaeological map? Would the relief become sharper under our fingertips as we came closer to concentrations of artifacts, living spaces? Would it become hot as we came closer to the hearth, cool as we traveled to a periphery? I’ll have to try it sometime–the reaction of a field director as I handed her a carved stick after survey might be worth it.


Here’s a slightly better picture–my pdf-scrape to jpg job above didn’t turn out very well: