Dissertation Story

Toward the end of my dissertation writing, I posted a short story on Facebook each time I finished a chapter, describing my victory and advancing a simple storyline. It started in jest, but I began to really enjoy the updates–they were a perfect way to describe the relief I felt at each chapter’s close. While I was struggling through thick, academic verbiage I was imagining what the next bit would be like, the next genre I’d steal from. I’m not sure that the best reward for writing is more writing, but I had fun. Oh and if they appear out of order, it is because I didn’t write my chapters in order, and didn’t do a FB update for the introduction or chapter three. Enjoy!

Chapter Four:

Slowly our heroine drags herself free of Chapter Four’s steaming corpse, pausing for only a moment to consider the 20 photos, comic strip and 13,600 words that comprise the pustulent hulk that she has just slain. Though the journey remains long, and the rewards sparse, she soldiers on–sunny skies now, but the darkness of Chapter Six looming ever closer on the horizon. Alas.

Chapter Six:

With a grim twist of her blade, our heroine gutted the immense, serpentine corpse of Chapter 6.

First she had lost her closest companion to a tiny island in the North, then she lost her home in a fit of insanity. After an eternity of sailing dark tides on a tiny craft, she moored next to a great cave where the beast slept, its oddly pixellated head barely visible in the dim light. With easy confidence she cut off the head, “snicker-snack” but instead of expiring, the beast’s baleful green eye opened and shone with the light of a million computer terminals. The ground shuddered as the rest of the beast lurched into view. Not just a simple dragon–the beast was a hydra. The earlier hope, that this would be an easy part of the quest, was shown to be deeply, deeply foolish. 19,000 words later, she was done.

In the morning she would make sure the hydra was completely dead, but for now she was exhausted. She would continue to the tiny Northern island to retrieve her companion, then plot her course for Chapter 5. The nefarious Chapter 5 lived in the distant shadow mountains, where she would have to clamor up the slopes in the pitch dark, feeling for invisible obstacles as she went along. She had put off this journey, as the hydra was well-known, or so she had thought. Maybe this next one would be easy. Probably not. But now it was time to move on, as time was running out.

Chapter Five:

Her eyes fixed on the giant, flashing display and she cursed and bit her lip. Moving her little silver ship through the edge of the nova had, of course, been a bad idea. She was not ready for the wretched Chapter Fiveians to launch their attack, but she had no choice. After all, they were the prey.

She shoved the display out of the way and cut the blaring alarms. The Fiveians were coming in fast and her visibility was next to nothing, outside of the primitive sensing capabilities of her ship. She took a deep breath, then hit the thrusters hard, the entire craft shuddering around her. Something clanged out of place, probably the dinner that her co-pilot prepared and then forgot. Where was he, anyway? Probably headed off to a side-mission again.

Finally, she got a visual on the Fiveians. Their ship was lean and mean, better equipped with bigger guns, but she caught sight of a massive lacuna–there was virtually no literature on the subject! She aimed the guns on her little silver ship right at the sweet spot and fired, fired again and braced herself for the impact of the return fire, squinting her eyes and turning her head.

There wasn’t any. Our heroine, for once, had caught a lucky break. Chapter Five winked into nothingness in space, and she was free to journey on to her second-to-last destination: Chapter Two.

See you, Space Cowgirl.

Chapter Two:

The dark outline of the saguaro cut into the orange-pink desert skyline, oddly unmarked by the shotgun blasts that disfigured most of the proud cactuses in these parts. The heat of the day had passed, and I tipped the last drops of water out of my canteen to my lips. I had a bottle of whiskey in my pack, but that would wait until later.

The nag under my saddle was once a proud filly, chestnut hair shining, fractious and unforgiving. Her lank tail twitched toward a fly on her flank, but it was an empty reflex, and the fly went on undisturbed.

The shadow beneath the saguaro in the dim evening light was like looking into space without the stars. A figure slowly oozed out of the shadow, until a man was looking up at me, tall boots, battered hat. He spit into the dust. “I know what you came for. Let’s get ‘er done.”

I swung down from the old, faithful nag, patting her on the cheek as I retrieved the long rifle from where I’d strapped it across her shoulders. I unbuckled her saddle and let it drop to the ground, evoking only a mild nicker from the beast. With a sigh, I walked a few paces away, squaring off across from the man.

“It’s a shame, really.” He spit again. “But it has to be done.” I felt around in my heart for something, some hint of emotion like love or guilt or pain. Came up as dry as my canteen. I shouldered the gun, widened my stance, and shot, bracing my shoulder for the impact.

The horse fell heavily to the ground. The man took off his hat and wiped his brow. His familiar features were a comfort. “What was ‘er name, anyway?”

I cleared my throat. “Theory. Chapter Two.”

He gave me a terse nod, replaced his hat. “Well, she’s horsemeat now.”

Poor dead horse. It was time for the conclusions.

The Conclusion:

Battered, bruised, and alone, she approached the giant iron door. She knocked, three leaden tones that rung out in the silence. A very small window opened and a bored and slightly vacant face stared at her.

“You rung the bell?” The doorkeeper frowned.
She crossed her arms. “No, I knocked.”
“Good, the bell is out of order.”
“Whatever. I want to see the wizard.”
“He’s busy, nobody can see the wizard.”
“Look.” She pointed at her feet. “I have the shoes.”
“The ruby slippers! Well come right in!”
“Typical.”

The huge door swung open, revealing a massive throne. A purplish cloud of smoke obscured the top of the throne and suddenly she felt dizzy, nostalgic. Was she really ready?

“I AM THE GREAT WIZARD OF OZ.” A great voice thundered and flames burst from behind the throne.

Instead of being impressed by the display, she was suddenly completely unafraid. With a small shrug, she marched up to the throne and threw a folder full of paper at the seat.

“There it is. Finished. Now give me what is my due.”

“SILENCE.” The papers ruffled slightly, as if a breeze had swept through the throne room.

“STEP FORWARD.” She threw back her shoulders and thrust her chin in the air. Who cares if there was a comma splice in the abstract?

The placid face of the doorman reappeared. In a nasal voice he droned: “Congrats. You’ve got your Ph.D….NEXT!”

She was quickly shuffled out of the throne room and into the hall.

“Well, that was anticlimactic.” She looked down at the ruby slippers. “I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”

She smiled, clicked her heels three times, and disappeared.

Just like that.

Emancipatory Digital Archaeology on Academia.edu

It finally occurred to me to post my thesis on Academia.edu. Proquest seems to be taking their sweet time to index it. Here’s the abstract and download link:

As archaeologists integrate digital media into all stages of archaeological methodology, it is necessary to understand the implications of using this media to interpret the past. Using digital media is not a neutral or transparent act; to critically engage with digital media it is necessary to create an interdisciplinary space, drawing from the growing body of new media and visual studies, materiality, and anthropological and archaeological theory. This dissertation describes this interdisciplinary space in detail and investigates the following questions: what does it mean to employ digital media in the context of archaeology, how do digital technologies shape inquiry within archaeology, can new media theory change interpretation in archaeology, and can digital media serve as a mechanism for an emancipatory archaeology? To attend to these questions I address digital media created by archaeologists as digital archaeological artifacts, understood as active members of a network of interpretation in archaeology. To give structure to this understanding I assemble three object biographies that identify the digital archaeological artifact’s context, the authorship of the artifact, the inclusion of multiple perspectives involved in its creation, and evaluate the openness or ability to share the artifact. The three object biographies that constitute the body of this work are a digital photograph taken of a teapot at Tall Dhiban in Jordan, a digital video of an unexpected excavator participating at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, and a 3D reconstruction of a Neolithic building excavated at Çatalhöyük within the virtual world of Second Life. In these object biographies I weave together narrative, imagery and rigorous, theoretically informed analyses to provide a reflexive investigation of digital archaeological artifacts. Drawing from this research, I advocate a critical making movement in archaeology that will enable archaeologists to use digital media in an activist, emancipatory role to highlight inequity, bring the voices of stakeholders into relief, de-center interpretations, and to make things and share them.

And here’s the link on Academia.edu:
http://www.academia.edu/2997156/Emancipatory_Digital_Archaeology

Acknowledging, the Thesis Edition

I was searching for something else on my computer and came across my thesis acknowledgements. I wrote them in that wild and woolly period last December where I was white-knuckling through the necessary fore-and-aft detritus of the thesis. As always happens, I accidentally left a few people out, alas. But I included a building, the ARF, which is surely very fashion-forward contempo-materiality-networky-thingy thinking, right? 

Acknowledgements

The decorations adorning the atrium of the University of California, Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility strike me as slightly macabre. The polyester “snow” is strategically covering the fake archaeological excavation in the corner, dripping from the plants that are always neglected, and lining the framed photographs of graduate students doing outreach with children. It’s the beginning of December, and the semester is winding down around me, the students finishing their finals and getting ready for the holidays. Though the strung lights and nutcrackers are a bit much, the atrium holds an airy loveliness that is lacking in so many academic buildings. The stately red brick and windows retained from when this was an outside area of the building, the fantastic Paleolithic mural covering the west-facing wall, and the strict geometry of the earthquake-proof girders bracketing the walls, and the transparent pyramid-shaped roof all come together in a place that is the heart of the department. In this atrium I’ve attended functions honoring many of the professors, receptions after talks, convened meetings with advisors and other graduate students, taught undergraduates how to plot artifacts in an archaeological drawing, and even taught the history of the building, its status as a frat house and the subsequent occupants, each living in the space and remaking it as their own. It is the appropriate place for nostalgia, for remembering and acknowledging the previous occupants of this building, and how I got here, and how this dissertation came to be.

My committee members, Ruth Tringham, Meg Conkey, and Nancy Van House have generously and enthusiastically opened their lives and research to me, and I cannot imagine my graduate career without their wisdom, humor, and indulgence! I have no small amount of awe for these pioneering women in academia who fought relentlessly for recognition of their research in the face of normative patriarchy. My advisor, Ruth, stood with me and kept pushing me to be more reflexive, to challenge my own preconceptions, and to have ridiculous amounts of fun. Meg was always ready with incisive comments that exposed uncritical thinking and fostered introspection and enlightenment. I deeply enjoyed my long conversations with Nancy Van House at various coffee shops around Berkeley, and always came away delighted and inspired by our shared digressions and passion for photography.

This dissertation would also not have been possible with the fantastic energy, love and support from professors who were not on my committee. Rosemary Joyce’s white-hot brilliance always inspired me, but it was her mentorship and tremendous kindness that got me through some rough times. Steve Shackley helped me find several great resources on early archaeological photography, and always had a sly political quip and a half-grin that made me genuinely regret that I could not somehow work obsidian into my dissertation research. A writerly debt is owed to Laurie Wilkie; I hope that I can inspire with words half as well as she can some day. A big thank you to Benjamin Porter for allowing me to work at Dhiban, and to Ian Hodder who allowed me to work at Catalhoyuk. Also, I would be absolutely remiss not to express my gratitude to my undergraduate professors Samuel Wilson and Maria Franklin at the University of Texas, who are both wise and radical in their very own ways. A special thank you to Jamie Chad Brandon, who was the first one to tell me that I too could be an archaeologist.

I have learned just as much, if not more outside of the brick walls of the Archaeological Research Facility as I have within. My mentors in the field, Roddy Regan, Lisa Yeoman, Michael House, James Stewart Taylor, Freya Sadarangani, Shahina Farid, Cordelia Hall, David Mackie, and Gareth Rees taught me so much and put up with the ridiculous American with big ideas and a big mouth. To all of my friends, colleagues, stakeholders, and stake-wielders in the field, I miss the starry skies, the campfires, the cold, the hot, the beer, the antics, the storytelling, and your company. May we all be gainfully employed, somehow.

I had the tremendous misfortune to move away from great friends, the fantastic good fortune to gain new friends, and then the inevitable let-down of having to move away from all of those friends too. John Lowe and Dan Machold, you are honest, true, and amazing people all around. You are my strength. Thank you to Rob Browning for living and growing with me for so long. My brilliant, invincible posse of lady friends, Shanti Morell-Hart, Doris Maldonado, Nicole Anthony, Kathryn Killackey, Sara Gonzalez, Burcu Tung, Cheyla Samuelson, and Melissa Bailey are without parallel. I treasure and admire each of you in perhaps unhealthy amounts. My community of fellow archaeologists, academics, and good friends, James Flexner, Andy Roddick, Esteban Gomez, Nico Tripcevich, Rus Sheptak, Tim Wyatt, Jun & Charlotte Sunseri, Heather & Eric Blind, Michael Ashley, Cinzia Perlingieri, Orkan Umurhan, Jason Quinlan, Dan & Yesim Thompson, David Cohen, Jesse Stephen, and Guy Hunt, thank you so much the inspiration and support over the years. I would also be remiss to leave out my colleagues online throughout the years; you have leant such enthusiasm to my research that I could not let you all down!

Thank you to my lovely mother, Elizabeth Kelly, who always likes it best when I “talk about people” in my writing and is always my inspiration for strength, kindness and love. Thank you to Don Freeman, my father with a big sense of humor and a bigger heart. My love and thanks to my brother Matthew and to his darling son Raiden. My love and regards to my English family, the Eddisfords, who continually delight me with their kindness and who have welcomed me with open arms. Finally, words cannot express how much gratitude I have for my husband, Daniel Eddisford. You are the cup that was waiting for the gifts of my life. Thank you.