Teaching They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson’s collaborative documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old was released for the centennial anniversary for the end of WWI. Using archival footage from the Imperial War Museum, Jackson and his legion of effects wizards stitched together a 99 minute long take on soldiers’ experience of the front in color, filling in frames to smooth out motion and adding a voice-over that was drawn from oral histories. Happily, miraculous restoration of archival footage was released the week before my “digital futures” lectures in Communicating Archaeology (second year undergrad) and Analysis and Visualisation (Master’s module). I switched up the syllabus (don’t tell teaching committee) and added the documentary.

The purpose of assigning the documentary was to incite discussion around three major points:

  • The creation of narratives with archival materials–whose story is being told and for whom? Who is being omitted and why? How is this similar to the ways we tell stories using archaeological remains?
  • What can we do with digital technologies to tell stories about the past and are these effective? Should we just leave it to the professionals, ie forming collaborations with Peter Jackson instead of trying to do it ourselves?
  • What are our responsibilities to the people that we are digitally resurrecting? As these technologies become more accessible, it is easier to use dead people in ways they have not imagined or authorized.

The students were up to the challenge, and we also discussed the “Wizard of Oz” moment when the soldiers arrive at the front and suddenly transform from ragged, black and white figures from the distant past to full-color, real people with faces and names. Archaeologists are familiar with this feeling of the past becoming more real to us through our multiple encounters with traces of the past, and Peter Jackson was able to bring that feeling to general audiences.

To accompany this discussion I also played this “making of” video:

The video shows the painstaking process involved in colorizing the footage, and the creation of the sound effects–my postgraduate students, deeply involved in creating multimedia interpretations of the past for their assessment, groaned in recognition. Peter Jackson’s description of retiming the footage, of the excitement of the filmmaker in the field as they cranked their camera and the unscientific way that they had to translate this irregularity was an excellent lesson on learning how to look for embedded meaning in media archives. Finally, will Jackson’s “restoration” of this film be seen as a new archival standard, sought after to meet our HD standards for the visual record?

They Shall Not Grow Old was not uncontroversial; this excellent discussion from Historian Alice Kelly highlights the film’s use of the propaganda magazine The War Illustrated to illustrate battle scenes. Kelly also rejects the word “documentary” for the description of this film, which I found a bit curious. From my experience in making interpretive media about the past, I wondered what her threshold was for authenticity in these narratives–was Ken Burns okay, even though his “animation” of still photography, (now a staple of documentary filmmaking) instills these photographs with a sense of urgency and life? If you let me film you for an hour or so, I could probably recut it to make you look incredible or despicable just through editing,  not to mention using cutting edge technology:

They Shall Not Grow Old was timely and good to teach with and it was nice to be able to take advantage of very current popular media to discuss the use of technology to make interpretive media.

EAA 2018: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies

I’m very excited to announce that Catherine Frieman, Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe and I are co-organizing a session at the European Association of Archaeologists meeting in Barcelona, 5-8 September. We’d love you to join our session!
Title: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies
Abstract:
Our engagement with the digital is reformulating the ways in which we (post/humans) engage with/create our worlds. In archaeology, digital processes and media are affording new practices of production, consumption and reception of knowledge, while throwing new light on existing analog methods. The digital is extending our cognitive and sensual capabilities, allowing us to explore previously uncharted grounds, giving us tools to envision the past in different ways, and enabling large datasets to be processed, distributed, and engaged with interactively. During this process, critical appraisal of the archaeological-digital has been relatively limited. 
In this session we will evaluate the growing paradigm of digital archaeology from an ontological point of view, showcase the ways digital technologies are being applied in archaeological practice—in the field/lab/studio/classroom—in order to critically engage with the range of questions about past people and worlds into which digital media give us new insights and avenues of approach. We ask how digital media and technology are being applied, whether they are broadening access to the archaeological record and how they are shifting relationships between archaeologists, the archaeological record and the public. 
Papers should have a theory-based approach to digital archaeological methods and set the agenda for future investigation. They should discuss the ways digital archaeology is affecting, disrupting and/or enhancing archaeological fieldwork, public archaeology, education and the publication/dissemination of archaeological data. Of particular interest are papers that engage with creativity and making, digital post/transhumanism, query analog methods through digital media, and feminist, indigenous or queer digital archaeologies.
For the session we have determined to pre-circulate papers and have a more general discussion panel at the conference. This will provide us more time and space for truly grappling with the questions at the heart of the session.
We also expect to publish this session in the European Journal of Archaeology. To that end, the following timeline would be applicable
1 February: Let us know that you are interested + provide a title for your paper
15 February: Submit your paper abstract to the EAA
1 August: Precirculated papers due
5-8 September: EAA Meeting
10 January: Final draft of paper due

Is it ethical to use social media for teaching archaeology?

Taken in 2009.

In 2008 I wrote a fairly shiny, wide-eyed treatment of the use of Facebook in the classroom, arguing that it provided an opportunity to discuss online privacy and a unique way to engage with archaeology. I gave the option for students to create a fake profile for a 19th century resident Zeta Psi fraternity house, a subject of research for one of the classes, when one could still do such a thing. To wit:

A critical pedagogical engagement in archaeology offers the potential to serve as an emancipatory practice, in that dominant political and historical narratives are challenged with the material record, providing a way for students to examine these narratives within their specific historical context and provide their own interpretations (Conkey and Tringham 1996; Hamilakis 2004).

Social media was a great way to get students to translate taught material and research into a sphere that they are more familiar with and use it to query the historical and archaeological record. Great, fabulous…I wrote the short piece for a teaching prize, which I didn’t get. Oh well, add it to my failure CV ala Shawn Graham.

Fast-forward a decade and I receive a notification specifically calling for examples of innovative use of social media within the classroom. Always too early. Oh well. Anyway, I’ve used social media ever since to disseminate archaeological information in various ways, to an almost tedious extent. This autumn I taught a course called Communicating Archaeology wherein the students used blogs as a platform to host archaeological media that they created themselves. I don’t consider this to be radical in any way, just a convenient way to cohesively host content.

….except. Except that I’ve asked them to use WordPress. I quite like WordPress, perhaps obviously, but my (and my students’) content creation provides their bottom line. I can justify this to a certain extent with my own work in that it is a bit like (wince) academic publishing. Would I feel the same if WordPress was funded by adverts and posts actively helping to undermine elections, ala Facebook? Do I know that they are not?

Would I feel comfortable asking my students to perform their content on Facebook or Twitter these days? I’m not entirely sure. There has been some discussion regarding the ethics of use of social media amongst archaeologists, several of which are linked from my department’s webpage, but none of it engages with the fact that we are assigning students to create monetized content on for-profit platforms, OR that by making our students engage with these platforms they are getting their personal information harvested and re-sold. Never mind that, during an untold mental health crisis amongst our students, we are encouraging them to engage with media that actively makes users feel worse about themselves.

During my last lecture of Communicating Archaeology I emphasized to the students that on social media, the product is YOU. If you choose to engage with social media you may as well try to use it in a way that will benefit you, as those companies are profiting from your participation. For now the pedagogical balance may fall on a structured, critical engagement with social media, but any use in the classroom needs to fully consider the monetization of content and personal information provided.

The Lessons of Pokémon Go for Heritage

Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)
Pokémon Go at Stonehenge (re: Stu Eve)

I have to admit, I was mostly ignoring the emergence of Pokémon Go, as I have probably the most gorgeous baby girl in the world to attend to these days. But after my favorite co-conspirator Stu Eve wrote a rather grumpy piece about augmented reality and Pokémon Go, I couldn’t resist.

Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology.
Stu and I are basically the Statler and Waldorf of digital archaeology. Especially if you don’t cite us.

Stu implores people to go outside, to use augmented reality to enhance and enchant heritage sites or even to ditch technology altogether and preserve and observe the wildlife that is already there instead of cartoon creatures. Stu then goes on to demonstrate that Pokémon Go distracts from heritage, citing a girl on Twitter catching a Pokémon at Stonehenge.

I contend that people playing Pokémon Go at heritage sites are simply extending their performance of identity on social media. It is not enough now to have an Instgram-filtered photo of you and your bestie at Stonehenge. There is a rather interesting one-upmanship in the attempt to capture unique content in the digital visual morass. When everyone has a photograph of Stonehenge, how can yours be the most unique, the most quirky or authentic performance of self in respect to the backdrop?

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

An interesting example–in the Volte Face series of photographs, Oliver Curtis deliberately turns away from the heritage focal point to capture the reverse view. This is provocative and compelling in its simplicity; the photographs reveal a blind side, a kind of back-stage for heritage at the same time as anthropomorphizing the heritage site–this is what the heritage “sees.”

Adding a Pokémon Go overlay adds a new element of interest, an unexpected juxtaposition of cartoon characters in a solemn (potentially boring) place. I, for one, welcome the Charizard on top of the Vatican–though I certainly share Stu’s concern for the complete monetization of experience.

The first lesson from Pokémon Go for archaeologists and heritage managers is that people are looking for novel, collective ways to experience and perform heritage. I think it is particularly important to note that Pokémon Go is obviously not a bespoke heritage application. It corresponds with my digital archaeological practice in that instead of attempting to build wholly new heritage-based applications and such, I try to use what people are already using as a form of interventionism, or even, at a stretch, détournement.

Memory maps at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.
Flickr memory maps for geolocative interpretation at the San Francisco Presidio, 2008.

It is a hacky approach and everything breaks all the time–though bespoke heritage applications might actually have a worse track record–but surprising people by putting archaeology where they are not expecting it is its own reward. Be reactive, try to place archaeology in unexpected places, and don’t be too surprised when it blows up or it is ignored and it slowly fades away.

Perhaps the second lesson from Pokémon Go is that there is a corresponding retreat from digital media in archaeology from some of the most forward thinking digital archaeologists. It may be that the next challenge is to create interpretation so compelling, or so self-actualized that they put aside their phones and completely immerse themselves in experiencing heritage sites. Right? Devil’s advocate though–even if we managed such a monumental post-digital interpretive experience, we’d have to take photos of people engaged with it for the eventual publication. After all, pics or it didn’t happen.

 

 

Manifest Destiny: Colonialism, Archaeology, and…Video Games?

You are the monster.

In her brilliant Story Collider podcast, Uzma Rizvi perfectly captures the rupture of graduate school, when, as she states, it becomes obvious that archaeology is “a colonial, racist, epistemically unjust system of knowledge production” and you ask yourself “how did I get here?” It is a question that archaeologists should be asking themselves every day. How did I get here? And how do I proceed?

It’s a bit of a wobbly path–unstable, uncertain, PROCEED WITH CAUTION black & yellow tape dangling in the wind. And yet, as cautious and de-centering and as sensitive as you can be, you are, often, still the monster. You are investigating the remains of the past, sometimes in another country, sometimes in your back yard, and you are navigating through your own cultural perceptions and the colonialist, racist foundations of your discipline to tell a story that might or might not be “true” or even important. This instability, I think, makes a lot of archaeologists & heritage scholars actually hate archaeology. It is actually not an entirely irrational decision, but I can’t agree. It’s too important.

It’s important that there are archaeologists who carry around the millstones of our own discipline’s past, that we have critical self-awareness and continue to engage anyway. It is our challenge to confront these disciplinary monsters and come away humbled yet still persistent. Because we need to continue to intervene in grandiose narratives, to rub dirt and stone and rubbish into histories that exclude women, indigenous people, people of color, the poor, the “othered” and to remove the props that hold up the crap politicians and power structures who use the past to justify present oppression.

And…guess what? The magical thing is that we can do this through traditional & alternative venues of publication, teaching, public outreach and…video games!

Manifest Destiny is an entry into Ludum Dare, a regular online video game jam wherein participants take on a challenge to create a game alone or with a team in 72 hours. Go ahead, fire it up and have a play and then come back.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.48.16 AM

This entry was made by Tara Copplestone and Matt Sanders and is described as “a ‘hack n slash’ with a twist.” The name, Manifest Destiny, is an expansionist impulse to conquer, to colonize, one that is associated with the spread of white settlers across the continental United States in the 19th century.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.51.13 AM

You are a towering figure with a cape, crushing tiny people and structures in your path, getting more points for your efficient destruction. And you have a trail of blood behind you. Sounds pretty accurate, right?

The game goes through four levels with different reconstructed cartoon landscapes, each corresponding to a season. You gain points and you gain dominion, partly represented by the devil horns that point out of your head. You also destroy structures and people with death spikes that come out of the ground. It’s not terribly subtle, but neither was Columbus.

Manifest Destiny is an incredibly detailed game for a 72 hour game jam. The music, upbeat but still slightly sinister, turns dire when you find out the truth of it all.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.52.46 AM

I tried to play the game a few different ways. Yes, first I blew up all of the structures and people, then I tried just exploring without destruction. Finally I just stood there, and waited through the levels. The result was the same. In this last play-through where I stood and didn’t do anything, I noticed that the small people were at first running toward you, then milling around, then finally would run away from you.

The result is the same in each case–perhaps the only way to win is not to play at all. Though this message might have been reinforced by a different result if the character just choose to do nothing.

A “Learn More” button on the final screen points toward the EUROTAST webpage, which is a slightly unwieldy match, though appreciated. It did make me think that we need more in-depth online resources that are easy to point to that are arranged around current issues. What does archaeology have to teach us about state oppression? What does anthropological study have to say about forms of marriage?

Manifest Destiny is a creative, appreciated intervention that explores game conventions to highlight historic injustices.

A Decade of Archaeology in Action on Flickr

Nya lödöse 150312-2439.
Nya lödöse 150312-2439. Sweden.

I’ve been using Flickr for photographs since 2005, and have administered a group “Archaeology in Action” for almost as long. There’s 630 members and almost 4,200 photographs of archaeologists doing that thing we like doing so well.

Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event
Archaeologist Mary Weahkee during an Education Outreach event. New Mexico, USA.

Interestingly, being the admin for the group helped me define what it meant to be an “archaeologist in action”–what does our discipline cover? It also helped me define what an archaeological photograph is, exactly. HINT: NOT YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOS OF THE PYRAMIDS. I delete those mercilessly.

Shilla, South Korea - archaeology, planum
Shilla, South Korea – archaeology, planum

Why? Why should I censor the tourists? Aren’t their experiences of the site just as legitimate as ours? Perhaps. But it wasn’t archaeology. The Flickr group was cultivated to be a resource for educators, and to show a diversity of people doing archaeology. That last, active part was also important. Someone in the photo had to be doing something. Even if that someone was behind the camera. The photographer had to make archaeological seeing visible.

Modele Numerique de Terrain d'un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).
Modele Numerique de Terrain d’un chantier archéologique à Fleury-sur-Orne (Calvados-FR).

The group has been motoring on, attracting spam, but also, occasionally, surprising me with gorgeous, raw, photos from around the world of the incredible, strange, delightful tasks of archaeology.

Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.
Archaeologist Karen Wening surveys the highway right-of-way at the top of San Augustin pass on US Highway 70, about 10 miles east of Las Cruces.

Recently Flickr took away one of my most favorite functions–note taking. I loved this function as I was able to annotate maps and photographs to explain different features–it was great for outreach. I heard that they’ll add it back soon. Let’s cross our fingers!

Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.
Nya Lödöse Project, working on a Harris Matrix.

In the meantime, if you have any photos of archaeology in action, sling them toward the group!

Previous photo-based posts highlighting Archaeology in Action. I probably should have made it a series at some point. Or at least had a consistent naming scheme:

Archaeology in Action on Flickr
Archaeology in Action Update
Archaeology in Action, Another Update
Archaeology in Action Around the World
Archaeology Around the World
Community Archaeology in Action

Archaeology Hack-a-thon! The Heritage Jam, Cemeteries & Audioscapes

Heritage_Jam_upload
Alexis and Sam, hacking away!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I knew the basic outlines of what a “Jam” should be in the tech/gaming world–everyone comes together to hack on a project together to see what kind of results you can get with very intense focus for a short amount of time–but how would that play out in the world of interpretation and heritage? I just knew that I was excited to finally have a chance to work on something with other visualizers, some of whom I’d known for years. We started out bright and early at 9:00, went through introductions, got an outline of a plan together, then went to York Cemetery to gather primary data…

(Read the rest of the post written by me and Stu Eve at the Day of Archaeology website)