On @MozillaFestival 2019

On @MozillaFestival 2019, London

Disclaimer: it was my first time and had been turned onto it by a new friend who is an old friend of an old friend so basically went to support my friends (all sorts). I have only included links to websites but everyone mentioned have Twitter accounts. Check out my Tweets from the day for easy access to many of the people you're being introduced to.

Began the day with Georgina Doji and Kunsang Kelden. Also presenting was Dechen Pemba whose website translating Tibetan writers has been influential not only to me while researching my thesis in 2008 but continues to disseminate creativity and commentary across borders and as it turns out is a friend of a friend, so we had to hug. These discussions revolved around heritage and identity in the diaspora and maintaining connections with those in the native lands through music (rap!!), literature, communing with fellow community members who are spread out across the globe, sustaining solid relationships with the centre of the Tibetan cultural world in Dharamshala, and activism. Truly, this is the very intimate personal experience of the modern Silk Roads – migration (forced or otherwise) and tethering to new and old places that comes along with movement as well as building new communities through technology. Sadly(?), I'll be in Tajikistan but you can attend the 10th Tibet Film Festival in Deptford or Woolwich, UK.

Then I popped in to visit the new friend who volunteers with Crowd2Map Tanzania who have regular group meetups to map rural Tanzania through OpenStreetMap. They are dedicated to 'adding schools, hospitals, roads, buildings, villages' to aid 'government and humanitarian teams to work with rural communities to develop their country and improve access to vital services'…valuable work indeed! Having spent time in hard-to-reach underserved rural communities a pin on the map can be a crucial first step in connecting (that word again) humans.

However, some communities might not want to be found, mapped, linked, documented – in order to better protect their endangered cultural heritage and consideration of this should be included in the bedrock of projects seeking to explore (expose) the voices and heritage of people whose complex histories and modern circumstances can/are/may be used for political gain by authorities seeking to create social unity through infrastructure development.

There were sooo many sessions you cannot possibly get to everything you want. While others were creating AR postcards (superfun!) I was getting enlightened to the plight and proposed industrial actions of contracted employees who explore the hazards of internet disgustingness – on behalf of us – users of the internet. The session was hosted by human rights lawyer Cori Crider, Joshua Franco, and with courageous participation by Chris Gray, former content moderator who courageously shared his personal experiences and advocates for the rights of others.

Content moderation is something everyone should be aware of and especially of the individuals who are not directly employed by the Tech Giants but by agencies and speak out despite signing multipurpose NDAs. Targets for number of posts viewed, time of response to flagged posts and more are only the numbers side of the content these individuals spend viewing in order to decide whether it should be taken down. It is unnecessary here to describe what was discussed at the break-out sessions as you can use your imagination…the language and images beyond your imagination are what content moderators view and remove from the web so that we don’t have to imagine them. Because you are reading this on the internet it would be responsible of you to also read articles in The Guardian, The Verge, BBC; well, my search for 'mental health of content moderators' resulted in 11,500,000 results (extremely sad face).

Upon refection it seems the day was filled with politics and ethics and the densities of cultural interactions in the real world. Chiara Bonacchi hosted a session Data for heritage? which aimed 'to show participants what access to social media data can do for researchers in the arts and culture sector, in terms of unlocking fresh insights into cultural participation and the contemporary meanings of the past' and it certainly succeeded. Really inspiring to hear how projects focused on engaging the public (mmm…current project included) with archaeology have turned over insights into just how to succeed or fail at this and how cultural organisations can do better at not presenting themselves (by looking outward) but at beginning meaningful conversations with humanity not directly involved in the culture/heritage sector. While it is true that most of the participants are in that role, the recognition of the power of social media and projects which archive the web such as the British Library's UK Web Archive project are crucial to the legacy of projects like CAAL. While the data created by us will be held in perpetuity this website and the social media accounts (Twitter @uclcaal and FB, IG) associated with it only live as long as the project (sad face). Work by digital artists like Christine Wilks are now part of a conversation on archiving as much of her work has been created in the soon-to-be-defunct Flash. The data being produced by all these projects is the footprint future archaeologists will be excavating. Mmm…

The day ended with a wonderfully interactive discussion hosted by Jennifer Wexler and Melanie Pitkin, with commentary from Daniel Pett, all of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. While questioning whether 3D technologies enable the democratising of museums through more tactile engagement with the public – including the Museum in a Box project – participants (again, mostly from the culture sector) passed around 3D printed artefacts (because now these replicas have their own social lives (see Foster & Jones 2019)) and pieces from a 1:1 replica of an Egyptian coffin for a dog carved by Geoffrey Killen using replica bronze tools out of Lebanese cedar (the wood used for the original). OK, now everyone thoroughly enjoyed this experience, especially if the house you grew up in had a cedar closet to preserve um, Halloween costumes in, and then every year you put one on and by the end of the evening were heady with sugar and woody smells…sorry, I divert. Conversation ensued about multi-layered authenticity, touching museum objects (or how to prevent this), experiential engagement, costs of creating 3D images, concerns over the commodification of museum objects which were once commodities themselves, revenue resulting from the selling of 3D replicas in museums, materials and trends involving artisans to finish models – all stemming from Jennifer's extremely relevant question '3D – what does it lead to?'.

In serendipity, earlier in the week I'd listened to the Heritage Science Podcast (#5 with Mona Hess) who deftly talked about how 3D technologies are used in heritage, particularly in conservation. Clearly the possibilities are endless and while we get excited about printed objects and replica coffins, we should also think about the sustainability of this new material culture and consider how it contributes to the general overflow of 'stuff'. As the field evolves, we should always be repeating and searching for answers to Jennifer's question.

To wrap things up, the purpose of #MozFest is to bring together people interested in the specific and general workings behind and in front of the internet. Not unsurprisingly the event gathers together a very specific demographic (the weekend costs £45) and in a random conversation (there are loads of those at events like this = also the purpose since most of that randomness is of course, not random) someone asked whether some of the 'inclusivity' is merely token as huge swaths of internet users cannot access events like this. Also, what's up with Culture and Arts sessions appearing at the bottom of each timeslot's schedule?!?!

Of course, my experience of it was inspirational, stimulating, encouraging and I walked away with new or deeper connections to projects and people and respect for the proactive ways tech can be used to enhance the human experience (even for people who do not have access to tech). As users of the internet, work being done in the culture sector is 100% related to projects like Crowd2Map and the situations resulting in the need for legal advocacy like Foxglove. Through our digital presence we are intimately connected to people around the world and need to respect those relationships. A first step towards this is making our work Open Access and consciously making our professional selves available to nonspecialists – everyone is a nonspecialist in some field and the opportunities for enriching conversations abound. Please do get in touch and look for me at MozFest 2020!

What we've been up to...

We've been actively developing the database thesaurus in Russian, Chinese and English (whew!) and consolidating the many complex terms, especially the time periods, some of which are still debated among scholars in different countries. While this is ongoing Marco and Gai have been visiting teams in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for GIS training so that as soon as the thesaurus is finalised people can begin looking at the area via satellite and seeing what there is to see. Gai and the team from Archaeological Expertise (Kazakhstan) have been doing ground survey with UAVs. Tim wrote a short report of what they explored at Bunjikat, Tajikistan with only a couple of days on the ground working with Bobomullo of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography named after A. Donish.

Inside the archives, teams have taken an inventory and scanning is underway. How fascinating it is to see what archaeologists discovered and the records they created. We are looking forward to sharing some of these with you. A single folder encapsulates the site but also the archaeologists and the socio-economic, political and sociocultural times in which they lived and carried out their research. These records are being added to an open access interactive map where – soon – you will be able to search and find out more about sites. Scroll down to the bottom of any page on the website or this link helps you Take Action where you can get in touch as well as subscribe to the newsletter which you'll receive monthly. We want to hear from you!

As melting glaciers in Central Asia are already causing changes to local environments (see Sarah Forgesson's inaugural blog) it is important to understand how these put added stress on already at-risk archaeological landscapes and the communities who live in them. While CAAL teams use remote sensing to look carefully at the landscapes we are flagging endangered places and making this data available to decision makers on the ground. The ability of stakeholders to develop resilient management plans depends on their access to information and we proudly contribute to the knowledge base. #climateaction

Stay tuned…this is a massive project and while I'd love to share all the behind-the-scenes (resulting in soooo many photos of people at conference tables looking at screens) believe me when I say we are beavering away constructing a stable first of its kind digital inventory for a geographically, linguistically and culturally diverse region with an equally varied group of teams based in 6 countries (resulting in soooo many photos of people on the phone). As archival scans and remote sensing images become increasingly available and interconnected, we will Tweet and post so follow the project at @uclcaal.

a wedding in Kashgar

UCL team member Yunxiao took some time off from fieldwork to attend the wedding of some Tajik friends in Kashgar. The excitement was palpable as the groom (on the right with red and white band on his hat) awaited his bride but finally they left to begin their new life in his home. Thereafter much dancing was had by every guest…including Yunxiao…we know she is a very good dancer!

The happy couple leaving to begin their new life together, Kashgar. Photo by Liu Yunxiao, Licensed by CC BY-NC-ND.

The happy couple leaving to begin their new life together, Kashgar. Photo by Liu Yunxiao, Licensed by CC BY-NC-ND.

Dancing in the courtyard at a Tajik wedding, Kashgar. Photo by Liu Yunxiao, Licensed by CC BY-NC-ND.

Dancing in the courtyard at a Tajik wedding, Kashgar. Photo by Liu Yunxiao, Licensed by CC BY-NC-ND.

Murghab River by satellite

This week CAAL UCL has enjoyed seeing the fruits of student Rory Calvin’s labours while he mapped 500 sites in the Murghab River region. We’ve got some details in the brief case study. Soon these sites and many many more will be available in our open access maps…the wheels are turning…

Sites along an ancient watercourse, with new agriculture spreading westward from the current river channel (right of image).

Sites along an ancient watercourse, with new agriculture spreading westward from the current river channel (right of image).

post-Samarkand workings

The workshop in Samarkand, attended by representatives of CAAL project teams from UCL, Central Asia, and China (find a more comprehensive list here) saw everyone come together for several days of discussions about Arches, GIS, standards and policies, information dissemination, and how these tools can forward the systematic documentation of archaeological landscapes in the region. Talk centred around digital platforms, methodologies, and the complexities of taking on such a wide-ranging project across geographies, languages, political landscapes. While everyone sees the long-term benefits of creating a digital inventory the project is not without obstacles - small and large - challenges viewed with open eyes. With the vast experience of team members from the various institutions as well as participation from affiliate partners the project is an opportunity to address some of the long-term concerns about threats to the archaeological record due to deteriorating archival materials, ongoing development projects which put unknown or little-known sites at risk, climate-related changes in the environment and effects on agricultural and socioeconomic systems.

A feeling of excitement and anticipation permeated while individuals finally got their hands on the much talked-about ArchesProject and began experiencing the test data in real time.

Participants’ overwhelming attitude during the workshop was absolutely can-do and will-do and how quickly can we begin? Now, individual teams are being assembled, added to, and beginning to take inventory of their own archives and sites and within a few months advanced training on the digital platforms will begin. Soon this website and our social media channels will have formal introductions to team members, institutions, and affiliate partners so please check back often, follow us @uclcaal , and of course, subscribe to the newsletter.

Colleagues from Turkmenistan enjoying the mosaics (and a bit of shade) at the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum.

Colleagues from Turkmenistan enjoying the mosaics (and a bit of shade) at the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum.

friends in Samarkand

Today we are meeting up with old friends and making new ones at our CAAL kick-off workshop in Samarkand. Hosted by IICAS and held at the University of Samarkand. We are discussing ArchesProject implementation and GIS and Remote Sensing methods as well as the impact of climate change in the region. We are exchanging views on the challenges and potential of digitisation and working in open access knowledge platforms. We are excited about the ‘totality of understanding complex landscapes’ (Tim Williams) and building strong interpersonal relationships which will enable the project to document, protect, and promote the wonderful archaeological heritage of these lands.

making progress

The CAAL team head out to Samarkand, Uzbekistan for an inaugural workshop hosted by Dima Voyakin at the International Institute for Central Asian Studies. We will be joined by dozens of participants from partner institutions from China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Together we plan the future of creating this digital inventory and how it will serve to record and protect the archaeological heritage so important to us all.