It seems like every time new research field or method is created, muffled wave of outrage ripples through the academia, triggered by skepticism, disbelief and fear of drastic change it could bring. Although very few scholars would admit it, it’s visible in heated arguments exchanged in reviews and articles. It’s only natural – when Bronislaw Malinowski introduced ethnography as a ‘must use’ tool, the anthropological scene in the UK (and in the world) was shocked and VERY uncomfortable with the idea. Yet, with years it did became a standard.
The problem with Digital Archaeology – and indeed Digital Humanities – is, that it takes the revolution one step further, by crossing the habitual border between humanities and science, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I would argue, that this shift towards real interdisciplinarity is natural and much needed. With technology being present in every other aspect of our lives, it is surprising that humanities still cling to their more ‘traditional’ way of conducting research, focused on ruffling paper and trips to the archives. Reluctantly, databases such as JSTOR have been accepted by humanities as useful resource, yet other, more technologically advanced solutions are still ignored. It is often a wasted opportunity not to use the available technology as a resource to enhance one’s research skills, conduct advanced analysis and access the data that could be gathered by embracing new approach that merges the digital and the analogue (Huggett 2016).
It is logical to discuss Digital Archaeology and Digital Humanities in the same argument. Both discipline face similar charges from their opponents: that of ‘technology trap’ and increasing distance between the researcher and the (material) object of their studies. Innovative technology has its nearly irresistible charm of novelty, which can tempt the researcher to ‘overuse’ it not only during the research, but also in resulting outcomes of given thesis, which in turn can influence how e.g. digital cultural heritage is presented to the general public. The technology can often outshine the actual object of study making it more interesting and memorable to engage with a technological novelty, while forgetting about the main focus on the material object (Champion 215). ‘Traditional’ archaeologists or humanists don’t have to face this risk – they are always close to the object itself, which preserves healthy distance to technological temptation. Engaging with the object through use of digital technologies provides opportunity to conduct better analysis of the matter, access to the details which might not be visible for the naked eye and gives opportunity to check various data sets for relevant information.As Huggett points out, digital archaeologist (and humanist) possesses skills that prevent him/her from falling into the technology trap and detachment from the materiality of the researched subject, thanks to necessary skills to understand both the computing technologies as well as the material culture they belong to (Huggett 87).
Champion, Erik Malcolm. “Otherness of Place: Game-based Interaction and Learning in Virtual Heritage Projects”. International journal of heritage studies : IJHS. 14.3 (2008): 210-228. Taylor & Francis. Web.
Huggett, Jeremy.“Let’s talk about Digital Archaeology”. Blog Post. Introspective Digital Archaeology. Jeremy Huggett, 10 May 2016. Web.