For this Digital Data Stories (DDS) Series on Series entry, we’re exploring our Solo Series. While we generally practice archaeology as a group activity, there are times when we need to practice our archaeological data literacy skills solo. Alone in a museum basement pondering a potsherd, staring into the spreadsheet middle distance, or trekking a transect, sometimes archaeologists go it alone. Due to this, we designed some Data Stories as personal pedagogies.
The Data Stories within the Solo Series cultivate mindful tasks and activities that are important for learning archaeological observation. These solo exercises focus on how we use our senses to understand belongings and surroundings. Such careful observation allows us to practice generating data about what future archaeologists might call artifacts and landscapes.
Data Stories in the Solo Series cultivate data literacy by guiding participants through reading, working with, and analyzing the first data humans ever encounter, input from our own senses. Each activity focuses on using our senses to observe either our belongings or surroundings, and then recording our senses as observations. This practice of creating observations is an archaeological data literacy skill on its own because it’s how we turn the process of survey or excavation into data to say something about the past.
The Data Literacy Program (DLP) designed these as individual guides. However, they can be used as group or classroom activities. You can do this by having participants bring their observations together to discuss similarities and differences in their data collection. Regardless, the goal is for participants to focus on how personal experiences translate into archaeological data and knowledge. This kind of introspection, which encourages thoughtful, ethical, responsible, and self-reflective practice, is important for archaeological data literacy.
We understand this to be part of ethical practice in archaeology because it encourages self-reflection. Such reflection acknowledges that archaeological observation is a subjective experience. We hope that by probing that subjectivity, we can understand how many perspectives exist in the creation of archaeological data.
Also, this helps us to understand how the archaeologist participates in the creation of data rather than collecting something that exists outside the human experience. This practice extends various non-hegemonic theoretical modes including feminist practice, decolonizing practice, and reproducible research practices. These emphasize disclosing how and why analytic decisions get made by acknowledging the archaeologist as part of the narrative.
Each Data Story includes instruction in data literacy skills, imparting best practices and encouraging ethical scholarship from the start. For example, we use the term “observation” rather than “looking” in these Data Stories. This change encourages archaeological learners to use their many senses to record and create their data.
While we draw from “slow” movement ideas, we acknowledge that “slow” varies by context and discipline. The slow archaeology movement sits at the intersection of a variety of issues but other folks engage with that more directly than we do. Furthermore, as Mol (2021) explores, we agree that some aspects of the slow movement are grounded in privilege.
So, while we draw from exercises and principles within the slow movement, we don’t consider these exercises necessarily slow archaeology. “Slow” in archaeology can conflate a variety of issues, some of which have nothing to do with pacing. As this is not the place for unpacking those issues, we instead consider this series a “solo” series. That allows the focus to be on practicing mindful observation regardless of speed. It is through the practice of careful observation that we generate quality observations, which lead to good data and solid archaeological foundations.
We separate Data Stories in the Solo Series from the slow movement because once one learns to observe intently, these skills do not have to be a slow process. One learns “what to look for” and while it’s important not to only look for those things, learning the tools to observe and observe adaptably are super important. We can be both careful and quick once we’ve got our methods down. In addition, there are places where archaeologists should move faster. For example, archaeologists should increase their pace when it comes to connecting affiliated communities with their archaeological data.
Above all we hope these Data Stories remind all archaeological learners that we should strive for careful practice. With that, we hope you enjoy our Solo Series Data Stories… at whatever pace you choose to take them.