The MicroPasts team presented this morning on the progress of the project so far, as part of a British Museum staff breakfast presentation. The presentation (without script) is shown below as an embedded pdf from Google Drive. It starts with detailing some new work on the Portable Antiquities Scheme site (visualisations by Tracemedia and mapping improvements) that BM staff may not have seen previously. Then it moves onto discuss the aims and objectives of the three strands of the MicroPasts project.
I am just back from Public Archaeology in a time of crisis, a brilliant conference organised at the Valley of the Temples, in Agrigento (Italy), where I was invited as speaker along with other Italian, Greek, Spanish and UK delegates.
how should archaeology change not only to survive the economic crisis, but to improve through it?
The answer, I believe, lies in projects like Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research and I will briefly explain why in this post.
Arguably, in several areas of Europe and the Mediterranean especially, archaeology was in a state of crisis well before the most recent economic downturn. However, cuts to public funding and less resources available have urged archaeologists to reflect on pre-existing faults in the system that are no longer sustainable economically and culturally.
In Italy, for example, research, preservation and ‘valorisation’/enhancement (the Italian valorizzazione corresponding to the French mise en valeur) of cultural heritage (including archaeology) are very fragmented. Only the state has legislative competences on preservation, whereas on matters of heritage ‘valorisation’/enhancement and the organisation of cultural activities lawmaking efforts are shared by state and regions. In addition, the collaboration between superintendences and universities is often not as fluid and positive as it could be.
Public Archaeology as a field of studies can help bridge fissiparations of this kind, as it proposes a model whereby archaeological research, engagement, social research on engagement and on the public for archaeology, ‘valorisation’ and financing (leading to the preservation of archaeological heritage and research institutions) are conducted jointly under the leadership of universities and through cross-sector and interdisciplinary collaborations. Although using different words, this potential merit of Public Archaeology was underlined by the jurist Giovanni Maria Flick at the First Italian Congress on Public Archaeology (2012).
At a time when state money is limited, it becomes more urgent to (a) demonstrate the public value of archaeology in order to attract state funding, and (b) diversify financing schemes. This is where Public Archaeology can help, and our MicroPasts project points in this direction.
It is then fundamental that efforts in the formal development of Public Archaeology teaching and research in continental Europe continue. Work in this area has started, but the path ahead leading to an institutionalisation of the sector in state universities seems to be long still.
In UK Higher Education, instead, more projects including Public Archaeology as an inherent component of the archaeological research that is conducted would help consolidate the field and develop new theory and methods and a rich evidence base.
This is Chiara. Before looking into methods for assessing the value/s of crowd-sourcing using the framework that I briefly outlined in my previous post, I think it important to introduce our proposed model of engagement.
As the title suggests, Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research looks to engage the public through crowd-sourcing by consolidating and gradually enlarging communities of interest in archaeology and the human past that already exist online and/or offline. It will be interesting to study the dynamics of community building, which could also be seen as the progressive welcoming and organisation of ‘unknown crowds’ into communities.
In the first few months, we will start with proposing three projects for crowd-sourcing and three for crowd-funding, which will deal with content and activities that already have associated communities of interested amateurs.
Some of these communities are organised as local archaeological societies, others are more widespread geographically (for example, the group of metal detectorists who contribute to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).
We will also leverage on communities related to our partnering institutions. For example, we hope to involve friends of the British Museum and UCL Institute of Archaeology alumni who are keen on the history of archaeology. For them, but also for local communities in the Levant and for anyone fascinated by travels and archaeological discoveries, we will unlock some unique shots from the UCL Institute of Archaeology photographic archives, such as those shown below. We will upload a set of these photographs on our crowd-sourcing platform (now under development) and invite contributors to enrich them through tagging.
One of the most exciting aspects of the project will be that of experimenting with crowdsourcing to review, digitise and enrich existing data (a “contributory” kind of engagement), but also to allow the co-design of new research agendas (“co-creative” engagement) and propose for crowd-funding those that community members value the most, while enabling communities to use the crowd-funding platform for their own pre-designed archaeological and heritage projects as well (“hosted” model of engagement).
The three components of MicroPasts (crowd-sourcing, co-design and crowd-funding) will be activated progressively in the initial stages of the research. Participants will be encouraged (not obliged) to work in steps, from data co-production, to the use of this data for new research and the retrieval of the financial resources needed to make this research happen. This will help scaffolding the community engagement.
The criteria for identifying the most ‘valued’ projects that should be put forward for crowd-funding, amongst those co-desiged with communities, will be the subject of dedicated discussion with community members on the forum. This collaborative activity will be fundamental to understand what ‘value/s’ are attributed to archaeological research, tangible and intangible heritage, in contemporary society.
The project will then test crowd-sourcing not only as a method for crowd and community-fuelled archaeology, but also as a digital research tool allowing indirect investigation on the role of archaeology and history as formal disciplines and practices in today’s world. In this way, it hopes to contribute to a more sociologically-oriented public archaeology and to more value-centred heritage studies.
I look forward to starting this research and reporting to you about it on this blog!
In my previous post, I drew attention to the importance of assessing the value of using crowd-sourcing for joined-up research into the human past, but how to go about it? How can value be understood in this context? Value for whom?
Here is some initial thinking…
I am interested in studying the value resulting from experiences of engaging with crowd-sourcing through time, for different community members. The latter can potentially range from ‘professionals’ working in research institutions, the GLAM or private sector, to amateurs and any interested members of the public. This community focussed perspective is better suited for the aims of our project and allows combining into a coherent whole approaches that are traditionally distinguished as being people or institution-centred.
A number of valuable papers and reports have addressed issues related to the evaluation of crowd-sourcing in both the science and cultural heritage sectors. However, none, to my knowledge, has explicitly tried to examine how contributor experiences change through time together with their perceived and real value. This is what this project hopes to achieve.
To ‘capture’ value, I am looking to examine the following aspects, both individually and in their interrelation, for the entire duration of Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research:
1. the social motivations for engaging with crowd-sourcing, where engagement is provisionally defined as accessing and contributing to the crowd-sourcing platform with content and/or a donation. Motivations for participating in crowd-sourcing are successfully analysed and reviewed in relevant literature (e.g. Raddick et al. 2009, Dunn & Hedges 2012, Ridge 2013), but not with attention devoted to understand, in depth, how they evolve as contributors’ engagement progresses, nor in relation to archaeology in particular.
2. the dynamics of community building that lead contributors to seek satisfaction for their social motivations (e.g. helping, learning, contributing knowledge) by joining the crowd-sourcing community. More specifically, here it will be useful to explain the role played by the following: socio-demographic characteristics; family and friendship ties; cultural practices; the fact of belonging to already established communities of interest; contributors’ understanding of and interest in archaeology and history; the kinds of tasks that are proposed on the platform, the way in which engagement is structured and how the online space is organised.
3. the nature of the engagement experience: for example, whether it is anonymous or ‘authored’, a one-off try or an effort sustained through time, whether it involves exchanges of ideas with fellow members of the community or not, and how the factors mentioned under point 2. have an impact on the nature of engagement experiences.
4. the value resulting from engagement experiences directly or indirectly. Particularly, I would like to explore what cultural and economic resources have been mobilised by experiences of engagement and the value that contributors attribute to those experiences for their own sake. What knowledge is exchanged within crowdsourcing communities? What donations have been made to projects proposed for crowd-funding? How are ‘flow’ experiences triggered?
In one of my next posts, I will start discussing a methodology suitable for applying this framework, and assess the value of crowd-sourcing for community engagement with archaeology.
This is Chiara. I am a researcher on the AHRC-funded project Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research, at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.
As part of my role, I am currently working on the development of a methodology for assessing the value of using crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding to engage online communities with archaeology and the human past. In doing so, I am building on some prior research I have done on public perceptions and experience of archaeology through museum visitation, television viewing and digital media, but also on motivations for and the value of digital cultural engagement with museums and heritage more widely.
The opportunity of studying how crowd-sourcing can facilitate participatory kinds of archaeological research is really an exciting one. In this blog post, I would like to say a few words on the three main reasons why I think that this evaluative work is important.
1. Promoting cross-fertilisation and inter-disciplinarity. Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research will test a mixed contributory, collaborative and co-creative model of public engagement with archaeology. Given its aims, the project can be situated within four disciplinary areas at least: public archaeology, cultural heritage studies, museum studies and the digital humanities. The evaluation of our participatory model for community archaeology will draw on and feed into all of these domains, offering a unique chance for inter-disciplinary thinking and dialogue and yielding potentially far-reaching scientific impact.
2. Contributing to a sociological ‘movement’ in Public archaeology. In Europe, Public Archaeology is increasingly understood as the area of research concerned with studying the relationship between ‘archaeology’ and ‘the public’ in order to improve it. Despite this being a widely acknowledged thematic focus, Public Archaeology literature has rarely addressed the topic of the public consumption of archaeological data, materials and knowledge. As a result, very little is known on how people understand archaeology, why and how they engage with it.
Through the evaluation of our project, we aim not only to advance current knowledge on archaeological audiences, but also to develop solid methodologies that can be used, in future, by researchers interested in undertaking similar studies. To put it boldly, we wish to contribute to the growth of a sociological ‘movement’ in Public Archaeology, encouraging research that utilises theory and methods from sociology as well as archaeology to shed light on the nature of people’s engagement with archaeological heritage.
3. Helping to understand ‘value’ in digital engagement with cultural heritage. Recently and, possibly, partly as a result of the economic crisis and the higher pressure for justifying public expenditure, greater attention has been devoted to try and define the value of research in the humanities. At the same time, within the cultural heritage sector, increasing efforts have been made to understand how heritage can contribute to positive social change (e.g. to wellbeing, recomposition of conflicts, etc).
We would like to take part in this debate, and examine what value there is in joined up research into the human past whereby ‘traditional’ academics and other archaeological enthusiasts collaborate via crowd-sourcing.
If you are also researching value within the cultural heritage domain (and beyond), please get in touch!
We are very interested in exchanging ideas and open to exploring possible collaborations.
We are a team of researchers from University College London and the British Museum. In the past few years, we have been looking into the new opportunities provided by digital technologies for public engagement in archaeology, through several seminar series and a recent edited volume on the topic. We are now lucky enough to have funds from the AHRC to work on a project entitled Crowd and Community Fuelled Archaeological Research which has started this month.
The core of our efforts day-to-day will go into enabling a more general online platform for crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding that we have called MicroPasts. The platform’s goal is to bring archaeological enthusiasts of all kinds — traditional academics, archaeological societies, interested individual members of the public — together to create new, high quality archaeological and historical data about the human past.
This research blog also allows some of us to indulge our more navel-gazing tendencies (!) and to post about themes ranging from public archaeology to research ethics to the technical aspects of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding. We will be aiming to write for a wide audience including those working in public archaeology, cultural heritage, museum studies, computational archaeology and the digital humanities, as well as practitioners in the heritage and creative sectors.
But in this first blog post, let’s start by setting out the context for our research. Recently, increasing attention has been dedicated to the potential of digital technologies for supporting more egalitarian and transparent practice, as well as wider participation. One fairly well-known digital method to pursue these goals has been ‘crowd-sourcing’, the practice of seeking information, services or funds in small chunks from a ‘crowd’ of people including as yet wholly anonymous members of the public as well as those already belonging to relevant communities of interest. Archaeology and crowd-sourcing should make for a great fit, because, while archaeology enjoys widespread appeal, it tries to protect, document and understand a massive dwindling resource, traditionally supported by tiny pots of money.
Early examples of crowd-sourcing in archaeology and related disciplines have focused on things like inspecting imagery to detect archaeological features, pooling wartime tangible heritage, transcribing papyri, interrogating built architecture and public recording of metal artefacts. In other cases, appeals to the ‘crowd’ have been made to micro-finance student dissertations, major excavations and long-term community projects all over the globe. What past crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding experiments have in common is that they mainly embraced ‘contributory’ models, where members of the public were asked to contribute their skills or their money in support of research agendas that were typically designed by academics.
We too wish to create a community space where anyone with an interest in archaeology and history can help build archaeological knowledge by contributing to existing projects, but perhaps more ambitiously we also want to have a crack at proper ‘co-producton’ (to tack on yet more jargon!) and offer serious opportunities for traditional academics, volunteer societies and other enthusiasts to dream up new research initiatives collectively, and then to fund them via crowd-funding appeals.
What will be the ethical implications of online community co-production like this? What should be the consequences of crowd-funding for heritage policy? How, technically speaking, do we best build a multi-purpose, wide-range web platform of this kind? How can we best encourage fun, productive and inclusive online communities? How should we evaluate whether our approaches are effective or not?
These are possible subjects of future posts, but we promise to throw in some more light-hearted and serendipitous stuff too, so please do keep following!