Material Culture, Material World

In the readings leading up to the discussion with Dr. Sayers, words like making and proto-typing are used in conjunction with re-investigating the past.  These same methodologies can also be applied to the questions and cultures of the present as well as those of the future.  I am largely a creature of the past, so I will focus on that.

The study of material culture of the past can give us a window into human activity and culture temporally, as well as spatially.  Art, architecture, literature, housewares and tools regardless if they are made from lithics, metals, ceramics, or organic material helps us investigate the past.  Wait, wait, wait.  Am I writing a post on an Archaeology forum or a Digital Humanities forum?  Well, yes.  The concept of using ancient documents for the purpose of making material objects to prove a hypothesis has been happening in archaeology for many years.  This experimental archaeology is a systematic and controlled method of interpretation of artifacts discovered in the archaeological record.  By testing the validity of archaeological assumptions, archaeologists are expanding the database of empirical knowledge about ancient humanity.  For example, Thor Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.  His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so.  Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where they constructed a raft out of native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores.  The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall on Raroia, in the French Polynesians, on August 7, 1947 (Heyerdahl 1950).  There are too many experiments to list here, but this is the earliest that I have knowledge of and Digital Humanities can and should adopt these methodologies to interrogate and enhance their own questions.  Using 3D modeling, scholars have been able to make detailed analysis of material from the archaeological record, commensurate with their full dimensionality, that would be impractical because of the limited accessibility of the original artifacts.

The interplay of game theory and scholarship intrigues me.  Video games have been a popular way of bringing the past to life.  For example, in Halo 4 the consumer gets introduced to aspects of life in the 1950’s.  This knowledge transfer happens, albeit mostly unbeknownst to the user, while playing in a virtual world.  A more recent example is the popular game Assassin’s Creed where, I am told as I have yet to play the game, the user can enter a mode of the game where tours of ancient spaces can be engaged.  These tours involve historical fact and are said to come with a list of source materials included that users can explore on their own outside of the game.  In the long list of tabletop games that Dr. Sayers provides, I have played nearly half.  I am very excited to see the ways in which I can bring one of my favorite leisure time activities into not only my classroom, but my scholarship as well.


Works Cited

Heyerdahl, Thor
1950    Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft. Rand McNally & Company.



Conversations: Interdisciplinary – Style

Digital Humanities cuts across a range of fields, and as such it draws its lexicon from all of these disciplines.  As I continue to read DH articles and attend DH discussions, I am assailed by this concept of a shared vocabulary.  Although the individual words may be the same, each discipline has added its own nuance to the concepts behind the words.  This week’s articles are no exception.  Nony “asks us to face a decisive rite of passage” in our battle of the Anthropocene and goes further by telling us that “the liminal is simultaneously here and there.”  I had to pause as the anthropologist in me winced at this.  This is where the lexicon breaks down.

Anthropologically speaking, a rite of passage has three stages: First, the separation stage; Second, the liminal stage; Finally, the reaggregation stage.  The liminal entity is in a transformative state and is neither here nor there.  They are between cultural statuses.  To complete this rite of passage the entity must reincorporate themselves into the society after the culture accepts the new status.  Even if we assumed that the culture itself was the liminal entity, it would have nothing to reaggregate with because the totality is in the liminal state.

Instead of a rite of passage, and in keeping with the battle theme stated at the beginning of the article, perhaps we should fight and assimilate to a politics of care.  Am I missing the argument while getting caught up in semantics?  Possibly, but as we all know, the devil is in the details.  Yes, we should just assimilate as resistance is futile.

In Nony’s other article, the section about digital storage and memory formation was intriguing.  I could not help the evil giggle that escaped me when I read that the programmer is the gatekeeper to memory.  Although, has this not happened throughout history?  When writing was invented, did not the storyteller lose his place as gatekeeper?  When the printing press started printing in the vernacular, did not the monastery lose its role as gatekeeper?  Why does “get off my lawn” come to mind?

The fight for diversity in Digital Humanities is crucial.  The consequences of losing are dire.  We not only lose history and culture, but we lose the future possibilities that these groups bring to the table.  The question is: should we win or should the battle for improvement itself be the goal?  If we win, is there a loser and do they then get pushed to the margins?  Does the issue stay in active thought, if we win, or will it recede to memory?

GIS – Through the Archaeological Lens

Spatial analysis in archaeology today encompasses a wide range of experiential, fieldwork-based, and deterministic approaches that vary considerably in their intended purpose and theoretical underpinnings.  The rapid uptake of computational methods such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and related methods in archaeology from the late 1980s and early 1990s marks a disciplinary change, for enthusiasts and critics alike, increasing by an order of magnitude the quantity of spatial data that could be managed and analyzed, especially for those working at the scale of entire archaeological landscapes.

Over the past few decades there has been a large debate between two strands of archaeological theory.  A very brief summary of the argument follows.  Proponents of post-processual, qualitative, experientialist, or phenomenological landscape theory in archaeology have argued that quantitative or empirical techniques, which include GIS-based mapping methods and predictive techniques, effectively dehumanize and distort the past through an ethnocentric gaze.  In response, strong criticisms have been raised about the validity of evidence presented in the qualitative, experiential, or phenomenological frameworks, especially research methods that are characterized as highly subjective attempts to empathize with the lives of long-dead human beings.

Several of these readings illustrate the gap in theories.  As I reflect upon this divergence of theories, GIS becomes collateral damage.  The underlying argument is not about GIS, it is about the interpretation of the data that is evaluated.  GIS, by definition, is a system that keeps track of where events happen or exist and when.  It is a platform for creating and maintaining maps and a tool for querying, editing, and analyzing spatial data.  I sense in the arguments and in the preliminary articles leading up to discussion, that the keyword “analyze” is the culprit for GIS to bear the responsibility of interpretation.  While analysis is the groundwork for interpretation, data collection is the groundwork for analysis.  Any visualization of data is always dependent on the underlying data collected.

Virtually every attempt to economize process—with GIS or not—presents certain challenges to interpretation and knowledge production, and thus all attempts should be analyzed critically in terms of their methodological or interpretive efficacy.  As scholars we must ask: are we getting the right data; are we asking the right questions?  As archaeologists, we must not only consider our immediate questions, but we must be mindful of the entirety of the data collection process.  Are we limiting our data collection to the immediate research or are we collecting enough data so that future scholars can ask new questions?  This is especially true of excavation sites.  Once excavated we have changed the site and cannot restore it to its undisturbed state.

I look forward to the chance to learn about Dr. Craft’s project.

The Reality of the Virtual

The most recent group session on February 16, 2017, centered around 3D printing, virtual reality, maker spaces, and provided the opportunity for those in attendance to actually “test” the technologies.

In handling the 3D printed material, it is hard not to get excited about the possibility of using this technology as a pedagogical tool.  Now, not only can we teach visually and audibly, but also tactilely.  As Clough states, 3D technology not only promotes education but also profits scholarship.  Clough’s example of the Cosmic Buddha, denotes how a well-scanned object can further scholarship.  The articles from both Clough and Knowlson focus on public outreach and engagement with museum artifacts.  They envision 3D technology as the incubator that will encourage more people to visit museums.  The availability of 3D renderings will also allow for inspection of objects long after the exhibits have closed or the original objects have been placed into the museum archives.

Conversely, one must ask if this technology will encumber scholarship.  If a scholar has only to download a file and print out an object, will this hinder or enhance collaborative work?  The humanistic disciplines that utilize physical objects can see an immediate benefit to 3D printing, but what about those disciplines without the tangible materials.  Can we ask and answer the humanistic questions of thought, experience, and emotion through 3D printing?

Virtual reality may be one way in which those disciplines not involved with material objects can explore the humanistic questions.  Scholars and non-scholars, alike, can be given the opportunity to experience the humanities, not just by lecture or video, but by using their own hands.  As suggested by the Unimersiv article, one can walk through a performance of Shakespeare’s plays or Ancient Greek tragedies, or immerse oneself in the difficulties of historical travel, as Davis suggests.  Virtual reality has huge potential, but can we unlock this potential for humanistic purposes?  There is a caution to this tale as Davis points out.  Without critical reflection, this potential will fail.

Finally we come to maker spaces or innovation centers in a campus setting.  As the Delaney article explains, by providing a comfortable environment with high-tech tools, visitors will hang out, collaborate, learn, and become inspired to build innovative creations.  This is a laudable goal and one that I am proud to note that FSU is striving to attain.  There are obstacles to consider.  These spaces are for relatively small groups of people.  In addition, training in the technology is essential, equipment is expensive, and space is at a premium on most campuses.  How quickly and easily can these spaces grow in scale?  The capacity of these spaces seem to fit a small classroom setting, but what happens when the class size is 50, 100, or even 200 students?

As I reflect on the discussion, I am left with more questions than when I entered.  Did our discussion engage the main point of Drucker’s article?  What impact does the humanistic disciplines have on 3D technology?