Knowledge Vs. Action: Respecting the Transdiscipline

In a recent post on the established presence and practice of digital archaeology Andre Costopoulos laments what he sees as an over-analyzed and excessively theorized field. For Costopoulos the established presence of digital archaeology as a practice has earned the discipline the right to forego the typical extensive discussions which accompany methodologies within the humanities (Costopoulos). While I can appreciate Costopoulos’ restlessness his lament is in many ways a reflection of an old argument, science versus humanities, practice versus theory, knowledge for action versus knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Perhaps this conundrum is a reflectance of Costopoulos’ position in a transdiscipline, one which seeks knowledge through action, however, I believe his desire to simply do digital archaeology in the absence of discussion is to do an injustice to the properties of both fields.

historiographyAs any student of the humanities could probably tell you the study of their subject is never simplistic and always incorporates the theory of that discipline. As a history student I took at least three modules on interpreting history and historiography over the course of my four year degree, this doesn’t even account for the hours spent on the same subject within other modules. Therefore, the humanities is pervaded by its ambition to fully understand itself, it is a discipline which is increasingly self aware and seeks to analyse the methodology and interpretation of every community member in order to understand the practice and results. As a member of this community archaeology, digital or not, will likely always be a contributor to these discussions. Many archaeologists have sought to confirm archaeology as the epitome of transdiscipline, a study which incorporates both scientific methodology and the humanities even before the digital is applied (Huggett 87). However, Costopoulos’ desire to remove this theoretical component, or to at least move on from it, is to ignore a fundamental characteristic of the humanities element of his discipline, and, therefore, will not improve his field but work towards changing it in such a way that it no longer represents its original self.

The first Cornell Electronic Analog Computer (COREAC), circa 1960s
The first Cornell Electronic Analog Computer (COREAC), circa 1960s

Similarly, Costopoulos’ desire to forego the usual discussions which accompany the practice of digital archaeology seems to omit the necessity of these discussions due to the rapid acceleration of technical abilities. While demonstrating himself that multiple technologies have been applied to the field over time Costopoulos fails to acknowledge that with each new technology there are new issues discuss and applications to be decided. Similarly, has Huggett has argued, while all archaeologists may be digital archaeologists the degree to which they incorporate the technology varies across the field. Just as not all archaeologist specialise in bone not all archaeologist specialise in software or digital capturing (Huggett). Therefore, in order for the field to progress and strengthen each specialist must reveal the advantages and complications of their respective specialty so that progress can be made as a whole. As Robert Groves has argued this theorising, gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake allows the formulation of principles in which specialists will seek to push concepts further and students will strive to comprehend and manipulate to the field.

In conclusion, while sitting, discussing, debating and theorising may not feel like the kind of action that Costopoulos seems to think the field of archaeology deserves it is part of the process. It is simply not enough to do digital archaeology. To do so would undermine the field it originates from and the one which it has long since incorporated.


Costopoulos, Andre, ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’ Frontiers in Digital Archaeology 3 (2016). Web. 01 December 2016.


Huggett, Jeremy, ‘A manifesto for an introspective digital archaeology’. Open Archaeology, 1/1 (2015): 86-95. Web. 01 December 2016.

Hugget, Jeremy, ‘Let’s talk about digital archaeology’ INTROSPECTIVE DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY. Web. 01 December 2016.