Peter Jackson’s collaborative documentary, They Shall Not Grow Oldwas 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 is upon us and we have an absolutely incredible line-up of papers for our session, Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies. We’ve decided to pre-circulate the papers amongst ourselves (and a few more publicly) and provide 5 minutes of presentation followed by 10 minutes of discussion. This was a bit of a compromise to stay on time, but still leave as much time as possible to discuss the ideas, as we are expecting to publish the session in the EJA. So, here’s the sesh:
Friday 7 September, 14:00 – 18:30, UB220
14:00 Introduction (Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe, Cardiff University; Colleen Morgan, University of York; Catherine Frieman, Australian National University)
Title: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies
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.
Last week I submitted my CAA paper, The Death (and Afterlife) of Archaeological Photography, for publication in the proceedings. It’s the second paper on photography and archaeology that I’ve submitted this month; the first was Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement and covered the analog to digital transition, with some added content/semiotic analysis thrown in for good measure. It’s nice finally submitting some of this stuff for publication, and I still have a fairly large unpublished chunk to go. Let’s hope it gets through the peer review process relatively unscathed.
The Death & Afterlife paper deals with a second “wave” of digital photography in archaeology. I argue that the first wave was essentially skeuomorphic–that it replicated composition and content from film photography, just more and faster. The second wave has moved into what has been termed the post-photographic, and I explore what this means in terms of 3D photogrammetric reconstruction, drone photography, and geomedia. Though photography in archaeology is becoming increasingly algorithmic, with more layers processed and varying results at the end, the output at the end still points toward photography. For example, your nice 3D Photoscan model is still presented as a 2D image in your report. What will be truly revolutionary is when publication no longer flattens archaeology.
Photography in archaeology is, as Martin Lister states, “a residual cultural practice…technically dead but still animate,” a trait I cite in the title of my article. Photography is incredibly useful to think with, especially as we try to understand the place of digital media in archaeological interpretation. Photography is deeply implicated in the history of archaeology, both as products and projects of modernity. In my conclusions, I discuss the post-photographic in terms of the post-digital; I cite the post-digital as a shift akin to the postcolonial, what Florian Cramer calls a “critically revised continuation” rather than a turn toward the analog. Jeremy Huggett has posted some thoughts regarding the postdigital as well.
I was still thinking of all of this when I came across Eron Rauch’s A Land to Die in, a momento mori for video games–photographs of all the corpses of other players that he came across in World of Warcraft. His photographs remind me of those taken on Mount Everest, of people felled in mid-adventure, “a constant reminder of the masses of other people and their stories; some who conquered, some who fell, a million virtual Beowulfs”. I think about this as I make avatars of past people and machinima of past landscapes that end up becoming still images in powerpoint slides. Not-quite-photographs of not-quite-right reconstructions of dead people, all coming together in pixels. Can we still ask: what does the archaeological post-digital photograph want?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The inimitable Sara Perry and I have been working on the archaeological excavation of a hard drive, for science! We’ve been writing about it on Savage Minds, the Other blog about Savages. Here are the blog posts in order:
I’m also very excited that the Punk Archaeology volume has landed, be sure to download it–there’s a photo of me holding a trowel! A leaf trowel, BUT STILL! Many thanks to Bill Caraher, Andrew Reinhard and Kostis Kourelis for bringing the project together and allowing me to make my small contribution. Download it! Love it! Share it!
Finally, with huge amounts of help from our vibrant community of digital archaeologists here at the University of York, I organized a Minecraft & Archaeology event as part of Yornight. I actively did not promote it much, as it was a pilot scheme and I wasn’t sure how it would play out. It went very well though and we were at capacity during much of the evening. I’ve been asked to write it up in a journal, so more details will be forthcoming. You’ll get a sneak preview if you happen to be in Shawn Graham’s class this evening, as I’m a remote guest in the classroom. If it works. We’ve been trying to remotely collaborate since 2006, so fingers crossed!
Your powerpoint slides are probably okay, especially if you forbid anyone from taking photographs of your talk. The video of your excavations, that hilarious one that your intrepid students made that uses the popular song that you all sang while shoveling? Probably okay, as long as you never share it on YouTube. But to be able to publicize your efforts, and to share online with others, you must be cognizant of this great (and often unspoken) rule:
With great public archaeology, comes great responsibility…to copyright law.
“But I’m an educator! I’m not doing it for profit! I have only the very best of intentions!”
Sorry, folks. There are very strict laws about copyright in the US and the UK, even for the most angelic of researchers, teachers, and students. Did you know that in the UK you have to wait 70 years after the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and composer of the music ALL DIE until you can use a movie without restrictions?** 70 freakin’ years. I know my artful multimedia museum display won’t wait that long. Are these laws sane, just, and better for innovation & society? No. But until the day that Lawrence Lessig rules the world, we are probably stuck with navigating copyright. Sure, you can fly the pirate flag, copy and distribute everything, but at least be aware you are doing it.
We could get into a horribly complex dissection of the disgusting entrails of copyright, but I’m going to assume that: 1) you don’t care about copyright law 2) BUT you’d like to keep your nose clean and 3) that you may actually care about contributing to the wider media discourse about archaeology. So let’s talk basic best practices.
There are a few varieties of CC licenses, and you can read about them in detail here, but I’ll quickly go over them:
Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) This means that you are free to use, share, remix, as long as you attribute the original work. My favorite license, as it asks (okay, tells) you to attribute my work, but please use it as you like.
Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) This means that you have to attribute the work, and that you have to share the work under the same Creative Commons license. Many people (including myself in the past) thought that this was a good idea so as to spread the CC around, but ultimately it limits the ways that your work can be used. Screw it, just use (CC – BY).
Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) This means that others can distribute the work but others can’t change it. This is a stupid license, don’t use it.
Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) This means that you must attribute the work, but you can’t use it commercially. A lot of educators use this one, but I try to avoid it. What about the professional archaeologists among us? They need media too.
Public Domain – Jackpot! This media has no known copyright restrictions. Most of the media labeled with this comes from our most worshipful friends, the enlightened librarians and archivists who have identified works that are in the public domain and then twisted the arm of their institution to digitize them and host them, for free. I love these people. With that in mind, it is kind to thank the institution. And buy your activist librarian/archivist friend a drink.
(added 30 July 2014)
No Rights Reserved (CC0) – As was rightly pointed out, I forgot CC0! Unlike the Public Domain license above, this is for folks who have made something recently and want to opt out of copyright protection altogether. It’s an amazing, gutsy license–I still like to keep my attribution attached. It’s probably one part wanting to respect intellectual lineage and one part ego-based.
2) CREATE – Once you know what the different licenses mean, you can start using CC media to create all your finest scholarly outreach. But where do I find such a thing?
You can also tweak your settings in Google Image Search to look for CC content.
I try to credit all of the photos actually in or near the photos, but if they’re in a movie, a list of credits at the end will suffice. I nearly fall out of my seat when I see an academic presentation that properly credits the authors of the media. It shows a commitment to authorship and multivocality as well as professionalism. Love your media makers. They make you.
3) SHARE – To me, using Creative Commons for sharing is at the very heart of public archaeology. You are explicitly sharing your academic or professional labor and giving permission to others to use it to build upon. Simple, but beautiful.
Flickr, Soundcloud, and Youtube all allow you to share your media under Creative Commons in a relatively easy fashion. The benefit to using “free” social media-based corporate hosting is that more people will see/use your content, and that it is better distributed to protect against catastrophic data loss. If you host it yourself, you can just put a CC license on the media webpage and share that way. Better yet, put the CC license in the object’s metadata and it will more likely stay intact. But don’t worry if that sounds too complicated.
Also, keywording your content makes it much easier for people to find and use. Happily, there is a pretty good guide on how to do this HERE. Sharing your excavation images online with good keywording can also save your bacon if you have massive data loss at 3AM on the way to your conference. whew.
Stu Eve and I talk briefly about some of the issues around Creative Commons and Open Access in our 2012 article HERE, but to be brief, archaeologists should use CC media by default, and adopt CC licensing whenever and wherever possible.
Do it because you want to stay within copyright laws. Do it because you want to show respect for fellow archaeologists and media makers. Do it because you want to make photos of archaeology available to everyone. Do it because you fear for the longevity of the archive. Do it because you had the worst time last week finding an example of a grave register to reuse in a short film. Do it because you hate stock photos of archaeologists with clean clothes and plastic whips.
Do it to put the past into the future.
* I realize that there is some complexity here with indigenous knowledge, and with sharing precise archaeological locations, but for simplicity, we’re going to side-step it for the moment.
** The UK law is changing as of October 2014. Hopefully for the better, but it’s generally for the worse.