How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? (…) Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.
This article attempts to address some of these questions through social media metrics and the online interactions of heritage institutions associated with difficult heritage: The Holocaust, 9/11, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with a focus on the latter. Additionally, we looked into existing online communities surrounding difficult heritage that are independent of these larger institutions.
Spoilers: there was little-to-no interactivity between official institutions and online places where people chose to “remember together.” Social media was used by official institutions purely to broadcast, not to interact.
Institutions and experts were also pretty scarce where there was the most interaction, debate and arguably a need for an informed opinion. It’s a complete cliche online, but we ventured where nobody dares to go: THE COMMENTS.
These were on a YouTube series for Africans in America, on the “Little Dread” YouTube channel. Even when a link to a reputable source is posted, it is countered with a reference to the van Sertima pseudoscientific book “They Came Before Columbus.” More importantly, there are several online places and communities that are obviously taking up issues of heritage, race, and origins and these are overwhelmingly NOT in ready-made, sanctioned arenas for such discussions. As we state in the paper:
Authoritative voices are absent in non-specialist discussions of heritage online, as experts frame their conversations within official settings.
From the conclusions:
The distributed network of the internet would seem to be an ideal venue for discussions with and between members of the diaspora formed by the descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet, there is little connectivity apparent on either websites or social media between academics, heritage interpreters, and the online stakeholder communities…identifying where meaningful performative collective memory is exercised, then engaging with stakeholders on their own terms, may be more impactful than websites or campaigns of outward-facing social media.
Despite the 2015 publication date, the article has just been published by the Journal of African Diaspora and Heritage:
We ran a “Virtual Dig” event for Yornight again this year, refined and improved from last year’s effort. The event was wildly popular once again, and utterly wiped out the researchers participating.
I re-structured the event so that there is something for each of our expected demographic–we had kids that had never played Minecraft who participated last year, as well as a few bored parents. We were able to address the former with a papercraft event, but as the papercraft was based around Breary Banks, we decided to eliminate it this year and focus primarily on Star Carr, for consistency across the activities.
For the younger kids we expanded on our “real tools of Minecraft” event last year. It was very successful for connecting the analog world to the digital world, and gave us a way to talk about the spectrum of archaeological tools. Minecraft has pickaxes, shovels, buckets, a compass, and flint, and we had the kids match up the tools from a print-out. Of particular interest was the flint, as many children did not make the connection from the digital representation to the rocks in their backyard.
We also had our usual server running with the Star Carr landscape installed, which I wrote about making last year. I actually had to re-make it this year in a single day, due to the old version accidentally getting wiped out. Ooops!
Once again we also showed Anthony Masinton’s Yorkshire 9000BC on the big screen in back. It’s made in Unity, so we tied it to Minecraft by saying they were both video games AND both of them were based on the same digital elevation model. I’d point at the houses he’d placed on the landscape, talk a bit about how hard it was to reconstruct houses based on postholes, then end with an entreaty:
Can you build a 10,000 year old house in Minecraft?
For the older kids and adults we had Marie Curie Fellow Fabrizio Galeazzi present Star Carr data on his ADS viewer, to show the detailed visualizations of stratigraphy within a research database. It was a great link for showing the research potential of archaeological visualizations.
Overall it was chaotic but fun–we didn’t always have a chance to collar the kids with research before they started bashing through Minecraft. I’ve yet to have a chance to see what kind of carnage they enacted upon the Mesolithic landscape. I look forward to it though, as it’s an archaeology of its own.
We had a chance to check out the Pop-Up Museum a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve done an impressive job with temporary displays with finds from the site. The site was in the London city ditch, so all manner of artifacts came out of it. At the Pop-Up Museum, you can open up the displays and have a chat with the archaeologists who worked on site.
The displays were impressive, and in a great location–right next to a standing part of the old city wall! The excavation was very close by as well, and Guy Hunt the director of the project was providing site tours.
You can still visit! July 17th & 18th, 2015 are the last two days of the Pop-Up Museum. It’s a great, innovative experiment in public archaeology. For more information:
Archaeologists have been playing with Minecraft to present the past and the play around with reconstruction. Shawn Graham, as always, is at the forefront of developing archaeological landscapes in Minecraft and if you’d like to try it out, I suggest you read up on Electric Archaeology. I used his instructions to import a digital elevation model (DEM) from the famous Mesolithic site of Star Carr, currently being investigated by Nicky Milner at the University of York.
After a few tweaks, I managed to get a fairly nice, smooth landscape–Star Carr, now a lovely undulating field, was once on the edge of Lake Flixton. Organic materials such as wood preserve very well in the waterlogged peat and so they find lots of spear points, platforms and a deer frontlet or two.
Sadly we did not reconstruct the frontlets–building things in Minecraft is a lot like using Lego. Not fancy, specialist Lego like they have these days, but the basic set. So I got a reasonable model of Star Carr up and running for Yornight, which highlights European Union-funded research at York. I had a lot of help from other people in the department affiliated with the Centre for Digital Heritage.
We had several computers running on our own local server and kids (mostly boys) went pretty crazy for it. Our set up:
Well, archaeologists working at Star Car have found these circular houses with evidence of postholes, and we’ve made reconstructions based on that. But we aren’t actually sure what exactly the houses looked like. Can you help us think of different ways the houses might have looked?
That was pretty much it. A few of the kids tried to build round houses, but as you may have guessed from the Lego-ness of Minecraft, they were still pretty blocky. Some built other houses, out of brick, some built giant flaming towers, and a few somehow made guns and started shooting at each other! I’d say it was a success.
We also had a papercraft Breary Banks, another University of York excavation site, and kids colored and cut out models of the camp. I found that having a mix of tactile and digital activities was more inclusive–kids didn’t have to feel forced into doing anything they weren’t used to or were uncomfortable with.
Finally, we had the “real tools” of Minecraft, and that seemed, oddly, to be the most popular. It made the connection between tools that archaeologists used and the virtual tools in the game. We had a big nodule of flint, which is used in the game but many kids never made the connection to rocks.
We’re running it again for the local Young Archaeologists Club and for the upcoming Yornight, which will also feature some experimental Oculus Rift visualization. Digital shenanigans continue apace!
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.