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Posted by Chiara Bonacchi on

MicroPasts goes to Paris

Hi all, last week we had the opportunity to introduce the MicroPasts project at two international conferences: the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, in Austin, and the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference in Paris.

In Paris, we discussed our experience of developing the MicroPasts platforms so far, our aims, the challenges we have encountered and our evaluation plans and results until now. This talk was given as part of a very interesting session on Community Archaeology and Technology, which brought together lots of projects that are currently supporting people’s participation in archaeological research and their engagment with heritage resources via digital technologies. The MicroPasts presentation is embedded below, we hope you will enjoy it!

Chiara

Posted by Adi on

Hello MicroPasts, thrilled to meet you!

My name is Adi, and I’m a research associate at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Earlier this month I joined the MicroPasts team – and I’m especially excited about this project as it feeds into my background and interests in so many ways. Before coming to London I was an archaeologist and academic back home in Israel. A few years ago, I created the West Bank and East Jerusalem Archaeological Database (WBEJAD), an inventory of archaeological sites excavated or surveyed by Israeli archaeologists since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Archaeological databases in the Occupied Territories were also later on the subject of my PhD dissertation. So, I’m passionate about topics such as documentation, recording, and the management of archaeological and heritage data. Now, let me tell you why I’m so enthusiastic about MicroPasts.

To start with, MicroPasts can help transform physical archaeological archives into online datasets, as well as enhance exiting ones, using crowd-sourcing applications. Our crowd-sourcing platform is going to enable the transcription and tagging of fascinating archives such as UCL’s Institute of Archaeology’s historical photo collection of Near Eastern excavations, and the British Museum’s index cards of Bronze Age metal objects. The importance of these tasks is immense: undigitised archival data is hardly accessible – but making data freely available online opens up endless research opportunities and public use. Another crowd-sourcing application, which will allow producing and rectifying 3D models of the British Museum’s metal objects, will also greatly enhance existing data and increase its usability!

This leads me to another aspect of MicroPasts which I think is vital: making data free and accessible. I first realised the importance of open data when creating the WBEJAD, the significance of which was not only in its contents – but perhaps even more so in the fact that this information has been easily accessible for the first time. I find the debate over open access to data to be crucial, as it’s concerned with ideas of equality and democracy. Archaeological data in particular is considered to be universal knowledge, belonging to everyone, and not the private property of the researcher retrieving it. Allowing data to be freely available online encourages the general public to become more informed and more engaged with archaeological heritage. The advantages of fully accessible data are abundant also for academics: more researchers can discover and reuse data, a practice that improves the quality of research as scholars become better informed. Open data is more visible, more accountable and more transparent. In the case of the MicroPasts platforms, open data can also increase opportunities for collaboration between academics, professionals and the general public. The idea of co-designing research is innovative – and I’m very much looking forward to see how it develops!

This engagement of communities is another aspect which I really like about MicroPasts. Being an academic, I see public engagement as fundamental to the archaeological discipline. MicroPasts involves communities right from the start! Using our crowd-sourcing platform, people can directly engage in the production of research-quality information. Anyone can also contribute money to archaeological endeavours that they are interested in and consider important through the crowd-funding platform; and, as mentioned above, they will also be able to be directly involved in devising professional projects and pushing them forward. This is what’s called ‘citizen science’ – and that is the essence of the democratisation of science.

As you can probably see by now, we at MicroPasts use cutting edge technologies and software in order to engage communities with archaeological projects. We are creating and customising crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding web platforms, and using GitHub to customise, revise and share our open source code. We will also store and display large chunks of data in online repositories such as the Archaeological Data Service (ADS) for text records and 3D models or Flickr for images. And, we use cool software to create 3D models of metal objects using Structure from Motion (SfM).

This project really seems to tick all boxes for me. Lots of exciting things to look forward to then!

Adi

Posted by Chiara Bonacchi on

Communities, engagement experiences and value

Hello,

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.

Thank you!

Chiara

Posted by Chiara Bonacchi on

Crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding and archaeology

Hello!

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!

Chiara, Andy & Dan