Shooting Stock Photos for Archaeology & Heritage

This photo of Alexis has been used in millions of marketing things. Poor Alexis.

Occasionally one of my photos will surprise me. I’ve been uploading miscellaneous high-resolution photos online for over a decade, all licensed CC-BY, lots of archaeology and travel, and some even tagged with metadata. So they’ve been used all over the place to illustrate blog posts, travel websites, various and sundry. I’m a fairly rubbish photographer–well, the skill comes and goes as I go in and out of practice. I’d probably be even better if I could be bothered to photoshop my photos. I give them a couple of tweaks then release them online.

Screenshot of one of my photos used for the COST ARKWORK, with my blessing, obviously.

One of my admin roles in the lectureship is media creation for marketing the department. So a lot of my photos are used for various things, a prospectus, postcards, social media decoration. On weekends away with my family I inevitably drag them to a Local Heritage Attraction(tm), snap some photos and sometimes they’re reused as a nice background to a recruitment campaign, or textures in powerpoints. They’re mixed in with lots of photos of my kid…keeping a work/life media balance is a ship that’s long sailed.

I still use a funky old version of Lightroom.

I don’t find enough time to take photos, though it’s part of my role as a lecturer. It’s difficult to participate in events and have to photograph them at the same time. I had a fairly hilarious exchange with a condescending parent at the last graduation who asked if I was “just the photographer.” I was mostly annoyed at the diminishing of the role of photographer. I tell my students over and over, that old internet chestnut: “pix or it didn’t happen.” Anyway, the happy side effect of doing event photography and taking 100000 photos of my child is that I’m getting a little bit better at photographing people. Still not amazing though.

Finds hut.

I still take most photographs with my phone, which does a fair job for Instagram, but I dusted off the 50mm and took the Big Camera into town today to try to take a photograph for the Cultural Heritage Management MA. I wasn’t able to get the specific one I wanted as the light was bad, but I took a few others that may get used for one thing or another.

Holy Trinity is easily my fav church in York, even before I knew it was associated with Lister.
At the Holy Trinity.

It’s not a bad thing to ramble around York, taking photos and calling it “work.” It is, obviously, but it’s also work–it’s getting harder to see new and interesting angles in York. I just breeze by, headphones in, watching everyone else take photographs of the lovely city.

Teach-Outs and the Progressive Stack

Amidst the incredible student-led gun control movement in the US and the completely sickening slaughter in East Ghouta, the USS strike amongst (some) UK university workers seems rather unimportant. The surface cause of the strike—fighting for our pensions—sounds downright quaint even within the UK context, but it is within a landscape of intensive, predatory neoliberalism that has been eroding the UK university system for the last 20+ years.

This strike action has been a rapid education for me—though I’ve been teaching in universities since 2006, my lectureship so far has basically been firefighting, with developing new courses and getting used to new responsibilities while conducting top notch research (right???) and occasionally seeing that child that I’m rather fond of. I didn’t really think I’d have to learn the specifics of my pension, the timeline of escalating student fees (beginning to understand why Tony Blair is so thoroughly despised), and the subtly different rules of protest and industrial action in the UK, but here we are. We are two days into a strike action that could potentially take out 14 days of teaching from a critical time of the student year, the end of the spring term.

I’m no stranger to protest; my mother took me to an anti-nukes rally in the early 1980s, I protested the build-up to the 9/11 (forever) wars and took action in Berkeley many, many, many times, as perhaps one might expect. One of my photos of these protests made the cover of the 2010 University in Crisis issue of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ The Habit of Courage is published in that issue, and much of it still rings true for the UK actions:

The first act of civil disobedience doesn’t come easily to most people of good conscience. We are raised, with good reason, to be obedient; it requires a great deal of discernment to decide what matters enough to justify going against our more sociable inclinations to conform….

…the call to direct action was not limited to ‘safely’ tenured faculty – but included undergraduate and graduate students, and untenured faculty, drawn into sometimes uncomfortable confrontations with the administration by their sense of integrity and drawing strength from what I am calling “the habit of courage.”

This habit of courage and willingness to engage in ‘non-violent resistance’ has weakened in recent decades, replaced by a self-interested and protectionist academic ethos. A more politically cautious faculty have followed a neoliberal notion of decorous and quiet civility….

Meanwhile, there is a resurgence of anti-intellectualism, the infiltration of corporate business models to every aspect of academic and university life, the devaluation of the arts, humanities and the social sciences, increasingly seen either as a luxury or as intellectual enemies of the global economy. The Enlightenment idea of the university as a voluntary community of teachers, researchers, and students dedicated to the open and disinterested pursuit of knowledge and learning is being rapidly replaced by the idea of the university as a corporate enterprise whose primary functions are to provide a skilled workforce and to generate profitable and usable research for industry and global commerce.

Scheper-Hughes points out that, ironically, during these strike actions we actually do more teaching and admin than we would have done otherwise, through organized teach-outs, strategy meetings, and public outreach on the radio, print and television.

We’ve been organizing Teach-Outs (as opposed to Teach-ins, which would cross picket lines) at our local archaeology pub who immediately and fervently declared their solidarity. I was afraid that our first Teach-Out would find me and a handful of fellow lecturers having a lonely pint, but…we had standing room only. There is a hunger for action amongst students and staff that is refreshing but honestly unsurprising.

During the Teach-Out, we had questions and discussion guided by the progressive stack, a tactic used for group meetings during Occupy. Sara Perry and I had been talking about ways we could use it in the classroom, and I had written it up for review by our teaching committee. The progressive stack in the context of the Teach-Out was invigorating; POC spoke before white people, LGBTQ+ people before cishets, students before lecturers, women before men…to the best of my ability, at least. It relied on my own biases and foreknowledge, so it was (deeply) imperfect, but foregrounded voices that were critical to our discussion. We’re doing it again on Monday, and hopefully gathering momentum–getting more diversity on our speaking panel, etc.

It was and will continue to be, completely exhausting. Organizing on the fly, standing out in the bitter, bitter cold, and keeping up the emotional energy left me with very little to give my family afterwards. So…basically like academia, right?

But, again, as Nancy Scheper-Hughes states:

Nothing good happens without struggle, without solidarity, without a readiness and a willingness to court controversy, to take risks, and to expect and to sustain retaliation….

There’s a very real chance that this, my first UK industrial action, might be the last. If it fails, a toothless union isn’t worth much, except to be laughed down by ridiculously overpaid VCs sipping “pornstar” martinis in expensive hotel suites while our precarious associate lecturers and other university workers struggle to make ends meet. It’s critically important to support the strike and to take back our universities.

Heritage Jam 2015!

The University of York Archaeology Department is hosting the Heritage Jam on 25 September at the King’s Manor. Last year we hacked cemeteries, and this year it will be Museums & Collections.

You can see why I’m usually behind the camera. Tara & Paul did a great job with it, but I can’t actually watch this whole video without running screaming out the room.

Photo by Dun Deagh
Photo of a doorway at King’s Manor by Dun Deagh

BONUS: If you participate in the Heritage Jam, you have the option of sleeping over at the King’s Manor, a fantastic Grade I listed building.

There’s a huge amount of information available on the website, sign up before it is too late:

http://www.heritagejam.org/

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Breaking Blocks and Digging Holes: Archaeology & Minecraft

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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.

Red deer antler head-dress from Star Carr at the British Museum.
Red deer antler head-dress from Star Carr at the British Museum.

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.

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Outreach!

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?

The virtual world of Star Carr!
The virtual world of Star Carr!

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.

The dungeon-like barrel vault added to the atmosphere.
The dungeon-like barrel vault added to the atmosphere.

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.

Breary Banks in papercraft!
Breary Banks in papercraft!

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!

Mornings in the Manor

 

It was all so new, a year ago, when I described the over and under and through of my commute to work, walking through a microcosm of English history. Now it passes in a blur, I’m either in my headphones listening to a podcast or buzzing by on my lovely Gazelle–the sturdy Danish bicycle that I steer over frozen cobblestones and muddy, overgrown pathways.

I was delayed this morning by a brief flurry of snow, predicated by an Easter pink and yellow sky. I don’t notice my commute much, and a lot of the culture shock has worn off. Now I hear my previous self in other Americans, going on and on about the subtle differences, the quirks, the realignment of world view, and I hope that I wasn’t that completely tedious. I probably was.

I can understand most of what people say these days, even the most York-shure, and I don’t get as many looks of utter incomprehension when I ask for eggs or butter. Verbal code-switching has become comfortable and useful, though there’s still the occasional confusion with “shop” and “store” and a few other things.

So I was in my at-least-partially-acculturated haze this morning, wheeling my bicycle over the big stone pavers of King’s Manor, when I crossed paths with one of the lovely porters. We don’t really have porters in the States, they’re sort of watchmen/caretakers of the building, but not janitors or rent-a-cop security. They are constantly kicking me out of the building, as I often work until closing time–19:00 (7:00PM)–shockingly early in academia-land. But they do it with a smile, especially after I engaged on a military-esque campaign of extreme friendliness until even the most curmudgeonly porter relented.

As usual, I greeted the porter with a big smile and wave, and, code-switching without a thought, asked him if he liked the snow this morning. He returned my smile and said, in the most charming of accents:

“No, no. We never like the snow.”

Something about his cheerfully brusque response, the big old medieval walls rising around me, and the clatter of my bicycle wheels over the pavers pushed me out of my acculturation and made me notice again, back to being a stranger in a strange land. But I’m okay with that. If anything it made me happy to be reminded of how far I’ve been, how much I’ve changed, and how many adventures are yet to come.

Heritage Jam: Dr. Julie Rugg

What do you think about when you see cemeteries? I had an illuminating session in York Cemetery with Dr. Julie Rugg, and she had some wonderful insights about how cemeteries change over time. Gareth Beale, Florence Laino, and I filmed Julie for the upcoming Heritage Jam, and I threw together a short preview.

It was interesting filming again, and getting up to speed with Final Cut Pro X. I primarily worked with FCP 7, and X had several surprises for me. I also noticed that archaeologists (and people in general) are not putting out quite as much media content under the Creative Commons license that allows me to reuse and remix resources. I really had to hunt around for that burial register image. I’m not sure if it is that people have stopped using Flickr for archives or that newer media makers are not as familiar with Creative Commons. Regardless, please consider licensing your media with Creative Commons so they can be reused for other outreach projects!

Finally, if you have not yet registered, please consider joining us for the upcoming Heritage Jam on July 11-12. Even if you do not consider yourself an artist or a maker, we are pairing people with complimentary strengths to work together to create new, interesting interpretations of heritage. Check it out:

http://www.heritagejam.org/

Digital Heritage 2014: Digital Communities in Action

DH Poster-348-494

I’m chairing a session at this year’s Digital Heritage conference at the University of York–it should be really interesting! Here is the line-up:

Mhairi Maxwell – The ACCORD Project (Archaeology- Community Co-Design and Co-production of Research Data)
Sara Perry – Cultivating democracy and good citizenship via digital visualisation in archaeology
Carrie Heitman – Facilitating Communities of Collaboration: A Case Study from the American Southwest
Gareth Beale – Digital Imaging, Heritage and Participation at Basing House
Lorna Richardson – Digital Activism, Digital Volunteerism

The conference will be on July 12, 2014, for more details check out the event page:

http://www.york.ac.uk/digital-heritage/events/cdh2014/

And you can register here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/digital-heritage-2014-digital-communities-in-action-registration-10647524031