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Lesson: Reading Sacred Space

Many of us have had the experience of going to an art museum. We might see a painting we like, identify the artist’s techniques and symbols, then interpret the image. How do we approach a space filled with images? Where do we begin to look? How do we interpret the spatial relationship between images and objects? The following lesson will demonstrate my approach to establishing context and interpreting sacred space.


Lecture Handout

Bureaucracy Battles

Navigating through institutional bureaucracy is rarely easy. Doing it remotely is even more difficult. As the Conflict Cultures interns are wrapping up our internship, we’ve been asked to synthesize our two semesters of work into a map visualization. I’m very excited to work on this part of the project. When I first started this internship, I assumed all the drudgery of spending hours combing through webpages to find accurate information about museum locations would culminate in a mapping project. I am so glad that I was right! The greatest obstacle is coordinating all the work from afar. At the moment, the biggest hang-up is who will have administrative control of the mapping software, which boils down to figuring out who within the bureaucracy has to sign off on what form.

From my perspective, this final project should take all of thirty minutes. We’re using Google Fusion Tables for our penultimate map. Essentially, users upload spread sheets with X,Y coordinate information and other metadata, and the software populates a map. An administrator creates what the software terms “views” for collaborators. Views are just specific parts of the root spread sheet that individual collaborators have permission to edit and view. Once the administrator has assigned views, each collaborator just needs to upload their data and, voila, Google makes a map. Since we’ve all been using the same spread sheet format and data standards, our spreadsheets should merge seamlessly. The hard work is already done. All that needs to happen is for one person to assign the views and everyone to upload their data. This could happen in an evening. Done.

But, it’s not going to be so easy. Because we’re working with the Smithsonian, we have to figure out what entity will own the administrative account. The decision will be made based upon departmental budgets and authority. Although I understand these considerations are important for the longevity of the product beyond our cohort of interns, it is frustrating all the same. I feel that if we were in a typical, physical working environment I could have shown everyone on my computer how to fashion the map together, then Brian could have just walked down to the appropriate office, had a five-minute conversation, and walked back with an administrative account. Granted, that process might be spread out over a few days, but I still think it would be more efficient. What’s going to happen instead is a tangled chain of e-mails littered with confusion and misinterpretations that will delay the final product.

Although the only way I could reasonably complete the internship requirement is virtually, I definitely prefer traditional arrangements. While it is convenient that I can go to my nine to five and fit in my internship hours around it, so many details get lost over the wires. While my internet connection is high speed, bureaucracy never is, especially without the ability to be an in-your-face squeaky wheel.

Propsal: Object Study Exercise

My final project will be a lesson on reading an object. The goal is for students to not only identify and examine an object correctly, but understand artifacts as evidence towards historical questions. The primary learning outcomes will be 1) to conceptualize the artifact in physical and historical space. 2) to understand the capabilities and limitations of using objects as evidence. 3) to utilize artifacts in constructing an historical argument.
The historical question students will explore is: “Why were Christians unable to integrate into larger Roman society in the third century?”
Towards this end, students will be asked to examine an epigraphic graffito from the city of Rome ca. 200. Through a series of activities, they will construct and revise an object study as they explore evidence and are led through guiding questions. As they proceed through the exercises, they will be continually be asked whether or not their work is relevant to the initial research question.
After they have completed their final draft of their object study, they will be provided with a second artifact from which they will independently construct an object study. At the end of each object study students will draft and revise an essay in response to the initial historical question.Â
The exercise might be used towards choosing a historical question for a final term paper.

An Attempt at Annontating an Oral History Recording

For my Digital Public History class I was assigned to annotate an oral history interview with OHMS. I didn’t have one of my own, as I found one on YouTube. At first I wanted to annotate a baptism story, but they typically weren’t long enough and functioned as witnesses to Christ’s saving power, rather than witnesses to historic traditions of baptism. Since I knew I’d have to listen to the audio over and over again, I wanted to find something I’d at least enjoy. So I thought I’d find oral history about nuns. In my experience they’ve been given a bad wrap as mean school teacher and have been some of the nicest, loveliest people I know. I stumbled upon “Sister Stories“, an oral history project across Catholic campuses to collect the vocation stories of nuns.

Having known a few nuns and being familiar with Catholic terminology made this interview fairly easy to annotate. Although Sister Nolan never says the phrase “Vatican II”, many of the reforms she talks about are the result of that council. I’ll let you be the judge of how well I did:

Introducing Me, the Digital Public Historian

This semester I am enrolled, as part of George Mason’s Digital Public Humanities Certificate, in a course titled “Digital Public History”, which I am very excited about. If you’ve read the preceding entries, you already know that I am a professional cultural resource management archaeologist, traveling throughout the eastern seaboard leaving a trail of test pits behind me. To achieve this illustrious career, I received a BA in Anthropology (focus on Archaeology) from Temple University in ’13, followed by an MA at Brandeis University in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies in ’16 and finally a stream of rejection letters for PhD programs. Left wondering what I was supposed to do with my life without school, I joined the private sector and immediately found a way to stay in school by joining this program.

In truth, I enrolled in George Mason’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Public Humanities for more than the comfort of scheduled classes and term paper deadlines. My last year in graduate school I had discovered the digital humanities and sought to learn more about the field. I attended a THATCamp to this end and was inspired. I wanted my research to have the ability to reach thousands of people and engage them the way the projects at the “unconfrence” did. Before my course work for George Mason began, I taught myself to 3D model and print, code and web design- with varying degrees of proficiency.  I became more comfortable with the skills during the Introduction to Digital Humanities class and picked up GIS as well.

So, after the ground work, I am very, very excited to get into the public aspect of this certificate program. In academia in general, but in archaeology in particular, scholars tend to hoard their data, publish rarely and distribute to a select, elite, few. What is the point of doing humanities research if most of humanity never hears about your project! I think digital public history is a wonderful answer to this problem. Unlike many public archaeology programs that require the public to physically go to an excavation, just to watch the experts from behind glass, digital public archaeology would allow for a deep, richer, more personally enriching experience.

My greatest hope for this semester is to learn how to better communicate with people who are not archaeologists or academics. I want to learn how to make my research appeal to a larger audience than  the fifty other people in the world who study it. A specific skill I wish to learn to how to better utilize social media as a tool for digital public humanities. I scarcely use Facebook now, let alone Twitter, Pintrest, or Flikr. I do realize, however, that they are powerful communication tools.