A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action Please?

In Huggett’s article A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology, he quotes Floridi who uses the analogy of a tree when talking about the advancement of the use of technology in the humanities. He states ‘the technology tree which has grown so rapidly that it’s conceptual, ethical and cultural roots have become shallow and weak, threatening the health of the whole.’ (Huggett 88) The analogy I feel perfectly visualizes the many debates which surround both digital archaeology and by association digital humanities. Digital Humanities is interdisciplinary and as a result needs both the methodological approach and the technological aspect to thrive. Traditionally as a subject archaeology has (since the 60s and 70s) always used technology, so the “digital” aspect to the subject is nothing new. Now as there has been such technological advancements so too have we taken it in our stride and adapted to these. It is now used in every aspect of an archaeologists life however what Huggett argues in his article is there isn’t enough conversation around this topic, the impacts that these new tools are having on every stage in the process of ‘knowledge creation’ (Huggett 89) There is the argument here that we need to think beyond the tool and critically look inwards at the subject of Digital Archaeology and they types of tools that are used and the impacts they have on the outcomes of our research. This continuous focus on the tools being used, their construction and operation can sometimes leave less focus on the objects being examined.   There has been perhaps a lack of conversation surrounding the self-criticism of digital archaeology which has left criticism and accusations about digital/ technological fetishism. He argues ‘the objective is to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of these technologies within their disciplinary context, and in the process advance the exercise of Digital Archaeology. (Huggett)

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In contrast to this argument Costopolous argues in Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While) that there is essentially too much talk and not enough action when it comes to digital archaeology. He argues that archaeologists going “digital” is certainly not a new concept and it is now ingrained in the very fabric of the subject. Costopolous even goes so far as to say that he is embarrassed by the amount of “sterile” meetings which he has attended about the digital turn in archaeology and as a result digital humanities with very little result to show for it. He suggests an alternative to all this debate and discussion, action. Many advancements have been made in the field, as we know, but these are advancements are happening outside of this constant debate. Of course with these advancements, as with all academia, there are going to be challenges and difficulties like standardisation, copyright, ethics etc… These are certainly not new challenges and they come part and parcel with both traditional archaeology and the humanities. Costopolous argues that instead of critiquing these constantly we as digital archaeologists need to move forward with our work and not let these discussions impede on the work itself.

Although I agree with both sides of the argument I would like to go back to the analogy that Huggett mentioned of the technology tree. The ‘shallow and weak cultural, conceptional and ethical roots.’(Huggett 88). It is the very nature of the humanities and by association archaeologists to have these self reflecting, critically analysing theoretical conversations, it is probably the grounding characteristics of the subject. To skip over this or to not have these detailed conversations, in essence, takes out one of the core elements of what it means to be a student of the humanities. Perhaps, like Costopolous argues, some of these conversations seem meaningless compared to the practical work that is being done and potential to what could be done? This is also a valid point, however I truly believe that in this field one cannot be done without the other. We need this self reflecting theoretical approach to the digital before we progress.  These conversations, I believe, need to happen as it lays the very groundwork from where digital humanities and archaeology have originated.

 

Costopoulos, Andre, ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’ Frontiers in Digital Archaeology 3 (2016). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004/full December 2017.

Huggett, Jeremy, ‘A manifesto for an introspective digital archaeology’. Open Archaeology, 1/1 (2015): 86-95. https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0002/opar-2015-0002.xml December 2017

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2 thoughts on “A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action Please?

  1. I completely agree with your statement, that ‘we need this self reflecting theoretical approach to the digital before we progress’. This background work I believe is essential for, as you said ‘laying the very ground work’. To progress in digital archaeology, I believe skills from the traditional approach of archaeology need to be incorporated into the digitalised approach.
    I also agree with your statement that these technological tools can be so focused on, that the objects examined are less concentrated on, or perhaps they are being investigated through an entirely different approach, using these advanced tools. It is evident that these progressing tools have made abundant advancements in the field of both archaeology and the humanities, but conversations are still essential as to discuss ‘the use of these new digital tools’ (Huggett 2016). ‘Those conversations in other fields have tended to facilitate rather than impede the setting up of things’, it is clear as you said, the two contrasting sides that Huggett and Costopoulos discuss are crucial to the end result of a project either in digital archaeology or digital humanities. I believe that it is part of the process, as you also said you cannot have one without the other.
    Technology is forever advancing and becoming more innovative by the day, reflections on how we can progress in the field of digital archaeology need to be made. The creation of virtual spaces in the 1990s is an important tool for both archaeologists and also a way for the public to engage with the past. Along with creating these fantastic models, we also need to discuss the ‘realism’ of the models, to their historical background and what can be derived from the information gathered about it. To conclude, I also like the analogy of a technology tree that Huggett suggests, we need to ‘strengthen the roots of the archaeological technological tree’ by communicating dilemmas and conflicts in the hope that problems are easily resolved (Huggett 88).

  2. Is it Time to Prune the Technology Tree?
    Thank you for drawing my attention to Floridi’s analogy of the ‘technology tree which has grown so rapidly that it’s conceptual, ethical and cultural roots have become shallow and weak, threatening the health of the whole.’ (Huggett 88)

    I hadn’t paid much attention to that analogy, and when considering it through your blog, I found the imagery and message to be very powerful and relevant.

    While I can understand the weariness that Costopoulos must have experienced which leads him to question the likely ‘carbon footprint of some of these meetings’ (Costopoulos). He goes on to say

    “All the right people were at the table (I mean that sincerely), all the right things were said, all the right anxieties were aired out, and all the right authorities were cited. But I do not think the expense so far has been justified by the outcomes.”

    My reaction is that this statement is surely an argument that not all the right things were said, and so on. It says to me that the approach to discussion may be wrong and not that the discussion isn’t needed.

    Archaeology has a tradition of examining and justifying its methodologies within its own communities as well as outside and this is as it should be. Just as a craftsman chooses or adapts the right tool for the job, or a surgeon argues for the use of a specific technology for diagnosis or treatment, so should archaeologists be able to defend the use of the tools they use, recognise the potential bias in the technologies and the cost, not only at the time the technology is deployed but also the cost of maintaining digital formats.

    Analysis of individual projects should be standard but there is a greater need at this point to examine the roots of the technology tree in greater depth, looking at each of its parts by way of in-depth, active research projects that will show the benefits and also the pitfalls of specific technologies currently in use. There may be a need for some pruning but I suspect the expense would be justified.

    Huggett, Jeremy, ‘A manifesto for an introspective digital archaeology’. Open Archaeology, 1/1 (2015): 86-95. https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0002/opar-2015-0002.xml December 2017

    Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities, vol. 3, Mar. 2016. CrossRef, doi:10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004.

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