Digital and My Awakening

As an archaeologist we spend most of our time looking at the past. Recently, I’ve been spending more time looking at ourselves as archaeologists. Who are we, where do we come from and why do so many of them look like me? And it is even more homogenised when I look at those that specialise in digital archaeology. While attending more generalist conferences there are a large proportion of women, this number is reduced at digital archaeology specific conferences. This troubles me and I think it should trouble you.

So like many days recently, I’ve been working on being awake. Awake to my privilege as a white, European and male. Awake to how I can amplify the voices of others and my duty to do so. Awake to my behaviour and how it can keep other people down.

Perhaps you are still wondering what does this have to do with archaeology? Archaeology is a reflection on the past of those who are doing it. If this continues to predominately white, European males then we will fail to be relevant. My questions and research reflect me and even my privilege, many times in ways that I am still working on being awake to.

So today I took a break from my normal digital tasks and plotted a journey I took many times from my hometown Richmond, Virginia to where I went to university in Evansville, Indiana. Using the amazing New York Public Library’s Navigating the Green Book While I will never fully understand how difficult this trip would have been for an African American during Jim Crow, it is amazing tool for looking at this experience. Finding safe places to eat and sleep would have only been one of the concerns travelling through the south but this tool for visualising this trip and interacting with The Green Book helps me to better understand what this would have been like and how invaluable a tool this guide would have been for African Americans.

ADAPt or Disappear

As part of the Historic England Archaeological Archives Team, part of the Excavation and Analysis Team, at Fort Cumberland Claire Tsang, Alice Forward and I have been looking at how best to manage and archive all of the digital data that we collect.

Digital files are now replacing paper records and we have to ensure that the data we create is managed and protected effectively if they are going to last.

Screen capture of digital plan and data tables

Screen capture from Intrasis, the digital recording system used by the Excavation and Analysis Team.

It is no longer possible to just sort these things out at the end of projects or hand them over to the archives team, a life cycle approach must be adopted. To deal with this challenge we started a project called Archaeological Digital Archiving Protocol or ADAPt.

Before I go into what I’m spending today doing it is worth giving a bit of background as to how we got to this point. To start with we spoke to colleagues and looked at current practice. From our colleagues we wanted to know:

  • the types of data they collect
  • where they store it
  • what challenges they face in managing their data
Two people one doing paper work and another enter data into a computer

Staff creating digital data

Then we surveyed the sector to see how these issues were being managed within the commercial archaeology sector. Once we had a fuller picture of what the challenges are we looked at guidance from:

With all of this new information we went away and worked out how best to use existing tools. Quickly we realised that there are a gaps between some of these tools and everyday practice. If we were to support our colleagues in looking after their data then we would need to develop new tools. To see how these tools would work Alice Forward carried out a several case studies to understand how well the tools would work on:

  • A new project
  • A backlog project
  • A project that is nearing archive completion

Now we have all of this information and new tested tools it is essential that our colleagues:

  • Understand the importance of data management
  • Know how to use all of the tools
  • Understand the benefits to them of managing their data in this way

And this is where developing good training comes in which is what I’m working on today.