Excavating the Digital Sub-Strata of an Archaeology Conference

The Joint Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Philological Association (APA) was held January 3rd – 6th, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  I went to this annual meeting for a variety of reasons: 1) present my preliminary research findings on the Neolithic mortuary practices of southern Greece; 2) network with friends and colleagues, particular those that I have worked with in both Albania and Greece; and 3) infiltrate the annual meeting by locating the sub-stratum of digitally-inclined people and events.

My experiences at this year’s AIA annual meeting were different from those of previous ones.  In the past, I would usually attend presentations that were somehow related to topics that interested me as a burgeoning graduate student and, in part, I found myself caught in a whirlwind of names, faces, and seemingly missed connections.  This year, however, I decided to approach the AIA annual meeting in a different way: I would engage in the usual conference-y activities, while monitoring the conference happenings on the twitterverse.  Why was the twitterverse particularly relevant to me at the AIA?  I turned to Twitter for insight about which archaeologists/historians/philologists were using it – and, more importantly – how they were using it.  My mission was to track down as many tweeters (in person) and pick their brains about the digital toolkits they use in their research with the intent of expanding my own.

Days prior to the annual meeting, the Archaeological Institute of America put out an official announcement stating that the meeting’s hash tag would be #aia2013.  However, tweeters either used this in conjunction with, or replaced it with, #aiaapa.  In order to reach a potentially wider audience, I chose to use both hash tags in all of my conference-related tweets and I frequently looked over all tweets for each hash tag to ensure that I wasn’t missing out on stuff.  While attending presentations, I would summarize findings via Twitter and/or tweet the exact time and location of a particularly cool presentation.  In a way, I used Twitter to “put the word out there” so that others would be able to know more about what I was learning.

Then, one day, while reviewing the aforementioned hash tags during a session, I noticed a pattern: more than 3 conference participants were tweeting about something called #lawdi.  As an archaeologist that is trained to detect patterns, I quickly became desperate to learn more about this seemingly secretive layer of conference communication.  I clicked on the hash tag and was unable to detect much of anything; I scoured through many tweets and couldn’t piece anything together (although, in retrospect, I should’ve simply googled it).  A few moments later, the people that were using #lawdi tweeted their plans about seeing each other at a roundtable discussion later in the day.  Success!  I would attend this roundtable discussion and be surrounded by people that I had “uncovered” through my sleuthing efforts…

Later that day

I attended a roundtable discussion entitled “Linked Open Data for the Ancient World.”  I attended this discussion because lots of people were tweeting about it (including those #lawdi folks) and also because I had very little working knowledge on the topic of linked open data and I wanted to learn about how academics in my general field of study have operationalized it.  Dr. Sebastian Heath (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World @ NYU) was the discussion’s moderator and was also one of the people that I had been trying to track down.  Once Dr. Heath began talking, my insecurities about not knowing too much about linked open data were quickly eased and all 20 of us participants were encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussion.  Someone asked, “What is linked open data?” and, based on the discussions that ensued, I learned the following:

Linked Open Data

*…are a set of “pretty good” practices

*…are the linked relationships between things

*…as a way to bridge worlds together 

 

With the seeds of linked open data freshly planted in my mind, I set out to meet and interact with people that could teach me more about how these concepts can be merged with archaeology… As a CHI Fellow under the direct guidance of Dr. Ethan Watrall, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some of his colleagues, such as Dr. Eric Kansa (Alexandria Archive Institute).  The meeting that I had with Dr. Kansa was extremely insightful and, as a result, has influenced some of the ways that I am now approaching my CHI research.  For example, I began to learn the importance of archaeological data being made available and easily accessible to the larger archaeological community.  If I have access to data generated by ongoing archaeological projects in southeastern Europe, for example, I could use that information perhaps to better inform the data from my own dissertation project, making it easier to understand patterns and variation at the local and regional scales of analysis.  Moreover, after attending the session entitled “Managing Archaeological Data in the Digital Age: Best Practices and Realities,” I learned about the creative ways that archaeologists incorporate digital means into their research.  Dr. William Caraher (et al.), for example, spoke about some on-the-ground challenges faced by smaller archaeological projects that can perhaps be alleviated by plugging into a digital archaeological database.  I have since been thinking about the ways that I can make my data better accessible to other archaeologists…

Later that evening, over beer and a game of football, I met up with several people whose tweets I had been following throughout the conference.  At some point, I heard someone reference #lawdi during conversation and my attention was immediately caught.  However, I faced the night’s ultimate dilemma: do I admit that I know nothing about #lawdi and ask them what it is, or, do I just sit back and piece things together on my own?  I decided on the former.  I nervously asked everyone what #lawdi is.  My new friends were extremely informative and told me really great things about it.  #lawdi stands for theLinked Ancient World Data Institute, which is a resource that I am excited to learn more about.  In conclusion, my goal of uncovering the digital strata at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America had been realized, and, like regular dirt archaeology, I found some pretty awesome surprises, such as #lawdi.

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