From the Web to the Field: Using Online Data Collections in Field Research

Presenter: Eric C. Kansa (University of California-Berkeley)

Digital data, if considered at all, hovers at the margins of intellectual interest in archaeology. Data carry mainly operational and bureaucratic concerns, to be “managed” (in the parlance of the NSF) and maybe archived. In this light, NSF data management plan requirements, which hardly ever see meaningful peer-review, reinforce the notion that data have more to do with administrative compliance and little to do with the intellectual core of research. Thus, discussions about data heavily focus issues of standards, metrics, interoperability, “best practices,” and required investments in cyber infrastructure.

As the adage goes: “Garbage in, Garbage out.” Bureaucratically mandated data archiving may fill our repositories, but is our discipline filling our repositories with anything useful? Recent studies of data curation practices highlight the challenges of data reuse. To better realize the full potential of using data, archaeology needs to see fundamental changes in research practices and professional roles, expectations, and inclinations. Open Context’s experiments with data sharing as a form of publishing help highlight needs for a host of new skills and professional roles. Moreover these experiments show how access to data created by our peers, together with open communication and collaboration at each stage of the research processes, can enhance the quality and research value of data. Without more experimentation and thought in how we situate archaeological data in the creation and transmission of archaeological knowledge, we will merely optimize the status quo, and do little to open new horizons for understanding the past.