EJA Special Issue: Digital Archaeologies

EJA_Cover
EJA cover, courtesy of David Osborne

I’m thrilled that our long labor of love, this special issue of the European Journal of Archaeology on Digital Archaeologies has finally been published. Several of the articles were available ahead of time online, but seeing it all together like this is extremely gratifying. Marta Díaz-Guardamino and I wrote an introduction to the issue, here is a brief excerpt:

Current archaeological thought evokes a sparking Catherine wheel: spinning fireworks that detonate light, colour, and sound with every movement. These theoretical turns swirl alongside the ongoing development and adoption of scientific and digital techniques that have wide-ranging implications for archaeological practices and interpretations. Two particularly combustible developments are posthumanism and the ontological turn, which emerged within the broader humanities and social sciences. Posthumanism rejects human exceptionalism and seeks to de-centre humans in archaeological discourse and practice. Linked to this is the so-called ‘ontological turn’ (aka the ‘material turn’), a shift away from framing archaeological research within a Western ontology and a movement beyond representationalism (i.e. focusing on things themselves rather than assuming that objects represent something else).

(…)

Collectively, these papers are a provocation to rethink normative practices in analog and digital archaeology before they become comfortably ossified. The papers describe play, experimentation, transgression, hope, and care as forming the basis of a posthuman archaeology and invite future researchers to engage with this work as a form of resistance. Queer, weird, monstrous, fun archaeology will never be as lauded or rewarded as mainstream digging and lab work; but it is vital to the creative lifeblood of the discipline. The sparking Catherine wheel will keep turning, inviting a new cycle of archaeological theorists to (re)imagine the complexities of archaeological interpretation. But perhaps we can stop spinning through these endless turns and start kindling revolutions instead.

The individual papers have already started to make an impact, particularly Sara Perry’s on The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record, (which she has discussed in far better terms that I could manage on her own blog) and many of the other contributions are deeply important comments on the current state of digital archaeology, and point toward productive futures in the field.

Ruth Tringham’s article, Giving Voices (Without Words) to Prehistoric People: Glimpses into an Archaeologist’s Imagination, on the emotive power of storytelling, the importance of ambiguity, and evoking the past through experimentation weaves past and present together through…a basket! (obviously!) Her presentation at the EAA was breathtaking and completely inspiring and I am happy to see it translated into this article. Like most of her work, it’s a decade ahead of its time and informed by her deep experience in digital storytelling.

Bill Caraher’s Slow Archaeology, Punk Archaeology, and the ‘Archaeology of Care’ is also a particular inspiration, as he’s been thinking about, working through, and publishing about the risks of alienation in digital work and response to this alienation through low-fi, DIY, and punk methods. I’ve obviously been a deeply interested and invested fan of Bill’s throughout the years and appreciate his approach to an Archaeology of Care. As he states:

The awareness that tools shape the organization of work, the limits to the local, and the place of the individual in our disciple is fundamental for the establishment of an ‘archaeology of care’ that recognizes the human consequences of our technology, our methods, and the pasts that they create.

Annie Danis’ Augmented, Hyper-mediated, IRL is an incredibly engaging exploration of  how the indigenous teenagers of Pueblo de Abiquiú used digital technology during the community archaeology project but also in their personal lives. She provides an example of how collaborative work could and should be, but also the fantastic insight that the time saved by paperless digital recording in archaeology can be productively used to build community. In this case, it was a zine that:

represents a significant part of archaeological research by framing the methods for data collection within the interns’ personal experiences and providing an opportunity for young Abiquiúseños to tell the story in their own words.

Katherine Cook’s EmboDIYing Disruption: Queer, Feminist and Inclusive Digital Archaeologies reviews her engagement with digital projects and the professional risks of this engagement and examines problematic power relationships within the field. She discusses disruption and support networks established to help combat “the privileging of (Eurocentric) archaeological discourse, research, and interpretations.” Mobilizing what Cook terms Disruptive Digital Archaeologies “to defy, to confront, to derail, to remix, to subvert” is a clear call for change in the way that archaeologists use digital technologies.

I’ve discussed my contribution, Avatars, Monsters, and Machines: A Cyborg Archaeology previously on this blog, but it remains an initial offering in the ways to understand the place and potential of digital practice for informing theory and knowledge production in archaeology. You know, no big.

Please read, download, immerse yourself in this series of papers as I believe they collect some of the finest current thinking in digital archaeology.

NEW PUBLICATION: Animated GIFs as Expressive Visual Narratives and Expository Devices in Archaeology

I’ve been intrigued by the narrative potential of GIFs for archaeological explanation and outreach for a while; in 2011 I played on Mitchell’s famous article on photography in asking, What do GIFs want? My early attempts were pretty much just short videos, but I developed them into a small publication in 2012 for a graduate journal called The Unfamiliar, wherein I explored archaeological illustration conventions, particularly the Uncertain Edge. I left them alone for a while, even though I explored their utility within my dissertation as polyvalent media/digital readymades in my dissertation.

Since that time GIFs have grown ever more popular, and are still mostly ignored within archaeology. As such, I’m very happy to announce a new publication: Animated GIFs as Expressive Visual Narratives and Expository Devices in Archaeology. 

Abstract:

Animated GIFs are uncommonly well suited for representing archaeology. A shudder-start, temporally ambiguous fragment of sequential media, the animated GIF (just GIFs, hereafter) occupies the margins of formal discourse, visually annotating everyday life on the Internet. The creation of a GIF – compiling frames of action into a sequence – draws an easy parallel with the mode of atomizing that characterises excavation, treating archaeological deposits as discrete entities and their subsequent reassembly into a stratigraphic sequence (Morgan 2012; Morgan and Wright in press).

Complex cultural expression is distilled into a brief gesture, the digital equivalent of an archaeological trace. Yet GIFs are fleetingly rare in archaeological representations, with only a handful of examples since the introduction of the media format in 1989. In this GIF essay (modelled on a photo essay), we briefly review the history of the animated GIF with particular attention to archaeological GIFs, discuss their utility in representing archaeological remains and narratives, and argue for a more creative integration of visual media into archaeological practice.

The “GIF essay” was co-authored with Dr. Nela Scholma-Mason, who was a PhD student at the time. I was inspired by her fantastic use of GIFs to communicate how the Norse would have viewed the prehistoric landscape of Orkney. Nela led a Heritage & Play workshop on how to use GIFs and I immediately wanted to co-author a paper with her on the topic. I mean, check out this incredibly striking GIF:

The article was part of a series invited by Gareth Beale and Paul Reilly on Digital Creativity in Archaeology and we are honored that our article is in such good company! Check out the Open Access paper in Internet Archaeology and let me know what you think:

Morgan, C. and Scholma-Mason, N. 2017 Animated GIFs as Expressive Visual Narratives and Expository Devices in Archaeology, Internet Archaeology 44. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.44.11

New Publication: Afterword – The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games

I was happy to see VALUE’s volume The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games released today. There are several fantastic, thought-provoking chapters in it, and I highly recommend you check it out, and it’s free to read online. I wrote a short afterword for it:

West of House

You are standing in an open eld west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

>open mailbox
Opening the small mailbox reveals an invitation.

>read invitation
“WELCOME TO ARCHAEOGAMING!
ARCHAEOGAMING is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No computer should be without one!”

>|

The blinking cursor at the beginning of an interactive text adventure held all the expectation in the world. A universe of words waited for you, and simple commands propelled you headlong into a maze of spoonerisms, chasing ghosts, solving puzzles; the blinking cursor could lead you to meet Zaphod Beeblebrox or get eaten by a grue. Zork – the game referenced above – seemed endlessly complex, sending you to Hades and back for treasure. It is within this breathless anticipation of fun that we find archaeogaming, a term usefully coined by Andrew Reinhard. Archaeology’s constant collisions with digital media, storytelling, and co-creation made this eventuality inevitable, and archaeologists are rapidly forming the lexicon for understanding how to speak ludology. I find Janet Murray’s germinal Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) essential to this discourse; archaeogaming and other expressive forms of digital archaeology are what Murray terms as incunabula, an infant medium, untested and unwise in methodology and scope. Perhaps this is why they are so compelling….

(read the rest here)