This week at the SDH conference in Vienna. Some first rate papers so far. Yesterday, presented in the panel on archaeology, organized by Helen Katsiadaki of of the Research Centre for the Study of Modern Greek History of the Academy of Athens, along with Maria Ilvanidou and Vladimir Stissi. My own presentation, entitled Wiring it all together: Spatial data infrastructures for archaeology, was somewhat informed by the recent JISC Techwatch report by Mike Batty et al, Data mash-ups and the future of mapping. Well worth a read if you’re in to that sort of thing. Anyway, my main point – informed by some background discussion of various aspects of the MiPP and CHALICE projects that are already in the public domain, was that we are awash with bits and pieces of spatial infrastructure, such as OpenLayers, OpenStreetMap and GeoNames, and ubiquitous KML-based platforms such as Google earth and Google Maps, all of which are geared towards a range of nondistinct, methods-based tasks; but that, when applied to archaeological data, they support the visualization of outcomes rather than any kind of spatial analysis as understood by archaeologists, especially those with any kind of GIS background. It was therefore something of a wake up call to hear Vladimir, in his paper, describe GIS-like elements of a large-scale finds database which had (in his view) the same type of limitation. So maybe we should question that assumption that GIS=analysis and KML=visualization is by itself useful. Both involve highly reductionist, quantitative boilings down of the world into nice neat vector parcels of points, lines and polygons; and instead think of how the data is entered into the system into the system into the first place. What fields are certain and tied to controlled vocabularies; what are uncertain, and can that uncertainty be dealt with algorithmically? This would allow us to consider how different types of evidence are dealt with – possibly one of the grand challenges for digital humanities overall. This came over strongly in Maria’s paper, which described interesting and creative approaches to network analysis in Roman Crete — incorporating geodata, manually extracted placename data from travel writing, archaeological evidence and so forth.
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