New Publication: Drawing and Knowledge Construction in Archaeology: The Aide Mémoire Project

We begun with an understatement: “Drawing is a problem within archaeology.” This research follows up on our earlier paper,

Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording” wherein Holly Wright and I comprehensively reviewed and queried the literature on “by hand” and digital drawing:

Colleen Morgan & Holly Wright (2018) Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording, Journal of Field Archaeology, 43:2, 136-151, DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2018.1428488

Several questions remained, and the more we tried to understand the use of digital tools for archaeological knowledge construction the more we found that we didn’t really understand the place of analog recording and media making in archaeology.

We had lots of well-founded hunches, but nothing to really prove it. So we reached out to Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) expert Professor Helen Petrie, our Colleague in the University of York Computer Science Department
to collaborate on a rigorous series of qualitative and quantitative investigations.

We performed several field & lab-based investigations where we had participants fill out questionnaires, perform think-aloud protocols, and focus groups. We threw the whole qualitative book at the problem. Finally we used the NASA Task Load Index to assess difficulty of drawing. We also conducted a large online survey to try to understand what archaeologists thought about drawing. Basically we had way too much data, but tried to squeeze it into a 10k word article.

Our conclusions:

  • Drawing by hand helps archaeologists create mental models of archaeological remains better than digital recording (so far) BUT any drawing (digital or otherwise) is better than no drawing.
  • Archaeologists should not only keep drawing but they should draw MORE. Other disciplines are successfully using drawing to improve pedagogy in their fields.
  • By moving to digital mediums and methodologies that require constant care and mitigation for the data to be accessible in the long term, digital short-cuts can privilege short term gains at the expense of longevity of data and enskillment in archaeology.
  • We created a generative cognitive model of knowledge construction in archaeology (based on Van Meter and Firetto 2013) that demonstrates how archaeologists use media creation to make mental models to understand archaeology.

We’re still working on the future of digital drawing in archaeology. We urge the use of robust methods for understanding the impact of these technologies on archaeological knowledge construction and how to provide for the long-term care for that data. And finally we came across some interesting data regarding craft, resistance and labor with regard to fast capitalism in archaeology as well as disability and accessibility with regard to drawing that could certainly use further investigation.

The paper is Open Access, so download and disseminate as you wish! Let me know what you think:

Colleen Morgan, Helen Petrie, Holly Wright & James Stuart Taylor (2021) Drawing and Knowledge Construction in Archaeology: The Aide Mémoire Project, Journal of Field Archaeology, 46:8, 614-628, DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2021.1985304

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