Sabbatical Games

This day of archaeology I’m on sabbatical. This does not mean, contrary to the popular belief amongst my family, that I’ll be sitting at the pool sipping margaritas.

I prefer rum and coke.

But seriously folks…

I’m gearing up for year two of the NEH Advanced Institute in Digital Archaeology at MSU. Over the winter the 30 participants have been learning various digital skills and outlooks, and creating some amazing projects. You should, once you’re finished with this site, go over and check out what this talented group have accomplished. My contribution this year will be to talk about failure. Failure is complicated, and like any good archaeologist, I’ll be using a taxonomy of fails to help the participants understand the ways a ‘fail’ can be turned around. This involves a bunch of text analysis of the participants blog posts & tweets from over the year (as a group, we’ve tweeted over 6000 times at one another, displaying in the open how we learn and support each other!)

A topic model sliced by post and user from the #msudai gang

So that’s the first thing I’m doing, gearing up for #MSUDAI yr 2.

I’ve also been working on ways of communicating the past that are playful and game-infected. Not necessarily games, but using game platforms or mechanics. Pokemon Go? Pshhaw. Here, build your own AR game! (These are the materials I put together for the first iteration of the Advanced Institute. Fork ’em! Build on ’em!)

This is a bit more exploratory, a bit more experimental. I’m not sure where it’s leading, but I’ll share it with you right now. For starters, I’m trying to keep an open research notebook of everything I get up to this sabbatical year at Somewhere along the line, I began transcribing a traveller’s diary to Egypt; the unnamed woman travelled through Europe in the autumn of 1874, on her way stopping at Pompeii and other wonderful places. I was interested at first because I wanted to see how she understood these places, what she looked for, how they affected her. I’ve been using various digital humanities’ type tools as I explore the diary. I’m also starting to explore how to share what I’m finding. I’ve even made a wee prototype of a smartphone or tablet app that’ll do this (although it’s very bare bones at the moment). If you’d like to try it out, go to my owncloud site and download and install the package (Android only at the moment; 22 mb). If you’d rather see it on your computer, you can download here for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

It’s a work in progress, but lots of fun. I might even sonify the topics in the diary someday, and add that to the mix. (sonify, you ask? basically, you find patterns in the use of words such that discrete-ish topics can be found; then you map the relative proportions of those topics against the 88 key keyboard. The results can be strangely compelling; if this sort of thing floats your boat, I wrote a tutorial here). In this digital day and age, I see no reason to always adhere to print-modes of scholarship.

And that’s what my sabbatical is all about, and that’s why this year’s Day of Archaeology finds me daydreaming about what might be…

(and lest ye think I’m not doing any so-called *proper* archaeology, I’m also doing research into the very dark world of the illegal trade in human remains with Damien Huffer, tracking and tracing some really nasty stuff. More on that later, perhaps).