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!

Moviemaking at Çatalhöyük

Feb 27 Brown Bag

Ruth and I are giving the Berkeley brown bag this Wednesday; it should be fun. I wish I had more time to make movies.

Building Archaeological Narratives With New Media

Advances in social media allow archaeologists to interpret, transmit, and remix archaeological data in new and exciting ways. In engaging with these new technologies, archaeologists reflexively interact with the archaeological record and with the greater public. Along with this expanded potential there are considerable problems when these new technologies are applied without an understanding of new media theory and its utility in conceptualizing digital data in the social world. Using current projects performed at the Presidio of San Francisco and from Çatalhöyük, I will provide examples of simple, inexpensive, and practical ways to integrate new media practice into archaeological methodology at all stages. Finally, I will critically examine future directions for new media practice in archaeology.

I might withdraw this abstract though, as it’s for my own session, which is over-full with 8 papers.  Scroll down for the first WAC abstract.

GET REAL: A Manifesto for Virtual Reality in Archaeology

Submitted to the “Experience, modes of engagement, archaeology” session organized by Krysta Ryzewski, Matt Ratto and Michelle Charest.

Virtual reality has been a “killer app” within the realm of archaeological computing, as evident from the number of books, journals, and conferences dedicated to the subject. Though often presented as a single entity, virtual reality is more of a spectrum, from the fully immersive environments famously posited in William Gibson’s Neuromancer to telepresence, or the space “where you are when you’re talking on the phone” (Rucker, et al. 1992). In this paper I will explore the range of these offerings and discuss their relative merit as interpretive and heuristic devices by asking a few uncomfortable questions. Should the people of the past serve as your digital tour guides? Is sitting behind a computer screen truly interactive? What do people learn about archaeology by walking through a virtual model? Does virtual reality contribute to a social archaeology? Finally, I will argue for an augmented reality model for interpretation in archaeology.

This is the first of my two abstracts for WAC. I’m not deeply happy with them, as they were both dashed off during this completely exhausting week.

I’ll post the other one tomorrow–but for now, beer.



“In The Practice of Everyday Life, the astonishing structuralist Michel de Certeau examines the hidden movements beneath the surface of the Production-Consumption pair, showing that far from being purely passive, the consumer engages in a set of processes comparable to an almost clandestine, “silent” production.  To use an object is necessarily to interpret it.  To use a product is to betray its concept.  To read, to view, to envision a work is to know how to divert it: use is an act of micropirating that constitues postproduction.  We never read a book the way its author would like us to.  By using television, books, or records, the user of culture deploys a rhetoric of practices and “ruses” that has to do with enunciation and therefore with language whose figures and codes may be catalogued.”

From Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction.


This photo of a “Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. switchman demonstrating signal with a fusee, used at twilight and dawn when visibility is poor” was taken in 1943, and found on Click on it to view the incredible beauty of the full size.

These traces of light are so evocative and so ephemeral–as anyone who ran around with a sparkler and traced their name into the sky could attest.  Urban lightwriting first appeared on my radar from my interest in graffiti and placemaking, a subject I touched on briefly in previous posts (and in a few papers).

It seems that there is now an open source instrument for live performance drawing and animation called Tagtool that I am trying my best to spec out for this summer for some live, night-time annotation of a certain Neolithic mound.

Picasso, lighwriting

Being able to lightwrite what once was on top of what is could be a fascinating opportunity for interpretation and performance in archaeology.  I’ll reiterate something I’ve been saying for a while:

I want to haunt the present with the past.


WAC Facebook Announcement

I just posted this to the WAC group on Facebook and thought I’d share it more generally:


We have had several CFPs for the upcoming World Archaeological Congress posted on our discussion board–I encourage you to check them out as the February 22 paper abstract deadline is fast approaching.  Submit your paper topics to:

We are having a Facebook meet-and-greet night, so stay tuned for the where and when!  If anyone in Dublin has a favorite pub nearby, please let me know.

We are also looking for local (and non-local) attendees who might be willing to twitter-blog their WAC experience.  Again, let me know.

One last thing–coordinating lodging and hotel suggestions are absolutely welcome topics for discussion on the facebook group.

See you in Dublin!

WAC Social Networking Coordinator

It’s right in the middle of the field season, but what can you do?  Fly from Istanbul to Dublin and back again, I guess.  oof.

Color and Sound

I uploaded another one of my videos to youtube so that I could show it in class tomorrow. I’m taking over half the lecture from Ruth, to tell the students a bit about archaeology and new media, since that’s the way that most of them will experience archaeology, outside of television.

It’s not my best editing job (it’s from Fall ’06), but it will have to do for now.  Remind me to take a better microphone to Turkey next year.


I’m reusing my 2007 SAA slides, even though they are woefully outdated. (Banksy? Who cares about him anymore?)

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