In August, I’ll be participating in the Institute on Digital Archaeology Method & Practice which will be held at Michigan State University.* The post below is based on my application and outlines some of my goals for this website and future digital projects.
Art history prepared me for work in archives, but not caves. In 2011, I participated in a terrific on-site workshop in Cappadocia, Turkey where I took 5000 photos of so-called ‘cave churches,’ filled up six Moleskine notebooks, and returned home with no idea how to manage it all. On the same trip, our group hiked to a church in the Ihlara Valley where we discovered that boulders had smashed a thousand-year-old chapel during heavy rains two weeks earlier. Whoever first stumbled on the remnants of the tenth-century frescoes had tried in vain to protect them with bubble wrap, which was flapping pitifully in a July breeze. The helplessness that came from seeing a crushed church that couldn’t be saved or documented (while I was inadvertently hoarding masses of similar data I couldn’t manage) haunted me for weeks.
So I approached the Graduate Center’s New Media Lab with an idea for a website of research and photos. The ongoing result is Documenting Cappadocia, a website, blog, and accompanying social media presence, and I now think of documentation as a form of preservation, even activism. The lab’s community-based ethos underscores my commitment to public scholarship and open access. The work I’ve done there has also made me reflect on the role of tourism (and its associations with social media) in digital preservation and the inherent need for archaeological training when documenting art in situ.
Documenting Cappadocia was included in the Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI), where I emphasized the importance of small data sets like mine as part of the larger Linked Data ecosystem. This inspired my in-progress digital dissertation component, which is a catalog of Cappadocian ceiling crosses built as an interactive website, including geospatial data that I plan to submit to Pleiades. I argue that this can be model for turning a common art history trope—that is, the list of images normally relegated to an appendix—into an open access, public facing component of dissertation research that spans beyond the discipline.
During subsequent trips to Turkey and Italy, I’ve been more conscious of metadata, especially while recording written observations, shooting photos, and collecting GPS coordinates on site. However, I’ve reached a plateau in terms of skills development. I need a stronger foundation in managing data, especially in best practices of collecting, cleaning, sharing, and visualizing it. I am still struggling to implement Linked Data and to find more efficient ways to gather and disperse my findings. The mentorship and collaboration of the Institute on Digital Archaeology and Practice would push me across the digital hurdle and acclimate me toward more professionalized fieldwork. While remaining open to suggestion, I’m particularly interested in art or architectural topics with site-specific, geospatial, or three-dimensional connotations for the capstone project.
*The institute is funded by the NEH Office of Digital Humanities and organized by MSU’s Department of Anthropology and MATRIX. I’m also grateful to the CUNY Graduate Center’s Digital Initiatives for travel support.