Seeing with archaeological eyes

2.30 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

4.00 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

6.00 am. Tell toddler to go back to sleep. Change diapers just in case. Fed the cat… or was that the baby? Woops, put diapers on the cat.

8.00 am. Go to work.

Having a baby and a toddler has completely changed our lives. It’s also changed the material culture of our house. Diapers! Who knew they came in so many different varieties? What is common to all of them is that they are branded. Here an Elmo, there a Big Bird, woops, here’s a Dora and Diego… These are the things I notice in the early morning, as I sing ‘Morningtown Ride‘ for the umpteenth time. Does the branding go with age? Is there a gender difference? In the store, do Elmos get better shelf space than Oscars? There’s certainly a spatial component within our house…

Archaeology isn’t just a job, it’s a way of seeing the world.  You start to look for patterns, you start to see patterns, in places where others see nothing at all. You wonder why is it that *this* building faces *that* way, when the rest of the street seems to be on a different alignment. You stand in forest clearings and notice the presence of lilac bushes, indicating an abandoned farmhouse. It’s a bit like poker – the landscape, the social environment, all have little tells, and we’re trained to see ’em.

I’m now the first – and only – archaeologist in my department at my University. We’ve got a long hallway on the top floor of the building. There’s no common area (if you don’t count the stair landing). The layout of the department reflects the way that historians have often traditionally worked – in isolation. The contrast with the archaeology department at Reading (where I did my PhD work) is striking. There, all of the offices and work spaces are arranged around a communal atrium. From one office door you can see pretty much anyone else’s door, and the workrooms – and the doors have windows in them.

Atrium in the Reading University Archaeology Department

I’m still new here at Carleton. There are other archaeologists squirreled away in other departments, somewhere on this vast sprawling campus. I really must make contact, some day.

On the other hand, being the only archaeologist amongst the historians means that my archaeological eyes are seeing things they wouldn’t otherwise see, which has its benefits! One of which is a project I’m working on this morning, ‘HeritageCrowd’, a project using the Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform to solicit memories and knowledge of the historic landscape. It’s a crowd-sourced map of the tangible and intangible memories and erasures in this region. Of course, the map is as wide as the world, so if anyone else wanted to use it in their own neck of the woods, there’s no reason they couldn’t – please check it out!  This project is an outcome of the great conversations I’ve been having with the oral history folks and public history folks here at Carleton.

My student assistants and I were to go out to the ruins of the Ottawa Electric Company, (Google map pic) but it looks like we’ll have to reschedule. In which case, I guess I’ll spend the rest of my day planning my syllabi for next year’s courses: Digital Antiquity; The Historian’s Craft; and Augmented Reality & Public History. Screenshot