Category Archives: Guest blogger

Material/Digital Authenticity: thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts

Post by Stuart Jeffrey and Siân Jones

Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Woodland Trust recording cup-marked stones using photogrammetry and RTI
Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Woodland Trust recording cup-marked stones using photogrammetry and RTI

Media forms are constantly calling into question each other’s ability to represent the authentic, and these remediations raise the possibility of the decay of aura, the loss of authenticity of experience. (Bolter et al. 2006: 34)

Over the last decade, we’ve both been thinking about the fundamental problem of how the authenticity of historic objects and monuments is produced, experienced and negotiated. In particular, this has coalesced in our recent work on digital 3D models, where we have engaged directly with the questions raised by Bolter and his colleagues. To what extent does the use of new 3D digital media in the heritage sector result in the loss of authenticity? What do digital 3D models of historic objects do to their physical counterparts and visa versa? How do their biographies intersect? How does participation in their production inform the experience and negotiation of their authenticity?

Continue reading

Analogue to Digital and Back Again, Part II

By Kathryn Killackey (Killackey Illustration and Design)

This post is part of this month’s analog/digital series and the second post­ discussing my work as an archaeological illustrator in relation to analogue and digital media. In the previous post I outlined my mostly analogue workflow with some digital skeuomorphs and explored the differences between illustration and 3D modeling. Here I’d like to share some ways I’ve recently expanded my use of the digital in my workflow and explored a constructive interplay between the digital and analogue.

I am the site illustrator for Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic archaeological site in Turkey. I started working there in 1999 as an archaeobotanist, and since 2007 I’ve been the project’s illustrator. Every summer I spend about two months drawing artifacts and recording on-site features. Over the years I’ve seen the project transition from entirely analogue recording to a mix of digital and analogue, until it has become almost entirely digital in some trenches. At this point the project employs tablets, laser scanners, and even drones. Dr. Maurizio Forte’s team from Duke University and Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto from Lund University have spent the last several years testing these digital technologies on site. Until recently my work has mostly been unaffected by this transition to digital, I’ve carried on with my analogue workflow on a parallel track (see my earlier post for some advantages to analogue media in illustration). ­But over the last couple years several situations have arisen where I have had to re-evaluate my approach and consider integrating some of these new digital methods.

For example, this past summer I was tasked with illustrating a large, fragile lump of molded plaster in the shape of a head with painted ochre designs. I sat in front of the head with all my drawing tools laid out, picked up my pencil, and stopped. The plaster feature had already been 3D modeled by Dr. Dell’Unto and photographed by site photographer Jason Quinlan from every angle. What was my analogue pencil and paper drawing going to record that these other digital methods hadn’t already? Why illustrate?

3D Model of the plastered Head (Unit 21666) by Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto. The model was generated using Agisoft Photoscan pro version 1.1.
3D Model of the plastered Head (Unit 21666) by Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto. The model was generated using Agisoft Photoscan pro version 1.1.

Continue reading

Intergenerational Experiential Technologies

IMG-20160101-00386

Post by Christine Finn, as part of the Analog/Digital series

The photo was taken at the dawn of the new year, 2016. It is a snapshot taken at a home in Islington, North London. I was using my old BlackBerry, which I prefer to a touch phone. It captures, albeit in a grainy style, a generational dynamic. The child is mediating the moment of Big Ben chiming, not just through he television, but capturing it on his smartphone. The woman, my generation, is peering through the window. She is about to open it to hear the fireworks of celebration over the Thames a short drive away. I am working constantly with the dance of technologies fading, disappearing, and resurging. And a quest for authenticity. This photo captures something of my own sense of time passing, through the filter of technology.

Christine Finn is a journalist, writer, and creative archaeologist. She has written and presented on computers as archaeology since 2000, when serendipity led her to San Jose, California. Her book, “Artifacts: an archaeologist’s year in Silicon Valley”, on the material culture of the dotcom boom and bust, was published by MIT Press in 2001, and is now an ebook. She is author the author of “Past Poetic: archaeology in the poetry of WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney (Duckworth) and her authorised biography of Jacquetta Hawkes, a 20 year literary excavation, will be published in the summer. She has also contributed to the Sunday Times, Guardian, Wired, BBC, and Edge.org. As an artist she has made site-specific works in the UK, Italy, and the US, and received seven Arts Council England funding awards. She is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Reuter Inst for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

Listening to Physical Geology. PART 1: Noise, disaster, and plastic thoughts

Over drinks with a seismologist, I recently learned that you can hear the ocean anywhere on the planet. Anywhere. Did you know that? No matter where you are mid-continent, as far as you can imagine from water, the rhythmic pulse of the ocean hitting the shore is present as ambient seismic noise. We can find the data hidden in the sound. It is an earthquake-free form of seismology. The seismic waves are named Love, which though taken from the surname of their discoverer seems as pleasurable as the strange and charming names of quarks to me. The focus on what was prior seen as background, insignificant, struck me in what the seismologist was doing. She found magic in what an archaeologist could have thrown out with the spoil heap were it material. Pay dirt from noise.

In The Man with the Compound Eyes: A Novel by Wu Ming-Yi, an earthquake causes a tsunami of plastic to crash upon the coast of Taiwan. The plastics are from one of the five garbage vortexes/plastic gyres/anthropogenic moral quagmires currently circulating in our oceans. The gyres are described in the novel as tragicomic: in a garbage vortex you can find everything you’ve ever thrown away in your life. The TV film crews in Taiwan to record the tsunami’s landfall missed the sound of it entirely. They were too intent upon filming a freak hail storm that preceded it. The Compound Eyes book details other noises from the Earth. None of them are recorded or quantifiable. A team blasting a tunnel is haunted by the sounds of giant, telluric footsteps as they remove the core of a mountain. The ocean is described as sounding different in each place on earth and hence navigable by someone attuned to listen closely enough from the bottom of a boat rather than above deck.

The Man with the Compound Eyes, which as promised on the cover blurb is indeed haunting
The Man with the Compound Eyes, which as promised on the cover blurb is indeed haunting

Continue reading

Mobile apps and the material world

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Sara Perry.]

Ҫatalhӧyük, 2015
Testing of mobile app prototype with users at the archaeological site of Ҫatalhӧyük, Turkey. Photo by Sara Perry, 2015.

This is the first in a series of posts, coordinated with Colleen Morgan, on the relations between analog and digital cultures. Over the next month, through the contributions of a variety of archaeologists, we will explore the concept of materiality in an age where the nature of ‘the material’ is rapidly shifting. How do physical materials and digital materials shape one another? How does experimentation with the digital rethink the dimensions of the analog, and vice versa? How, if at all, do we distinguish between one and the other – and is this even necessary (or possible) today? How have our understandings of ‘the real’ – of ‘things’ and ‘facts’ – of presence and the body – of aura and authenticity – been shifted by interactions between physical and digital materials?

As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists are well-versed in the continuities between, and changes to, artifacts. Here, we probe their boundaries through discussion of our engagements at the intersections of the analog and the digital. I begin with some critical comments on mobile apps: oft enrolled in visitor experiences at archaeology and heritage sites, are these digital tools actually valuable?

Continue reading

Displaced Nature: Multispecies landscapes, mushrooms, and the megapolis

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Karen Holmberg]

Concentric circles of the local to the larger ripple out from a megapolis like New York. The unnatural and natural are tangled in them.

I live across the street from a garment sweatshop. They make ball gowns and on delivery days dresses wrapped in plastic and bound for department stores are sent fluttering on rope down to the street, six floors below. I’d say they look like birds as they fall but they look like nothing I’ve ever seen so that wouldn’t be true. It is strangely beautiful to watch. The workers are all women. Sometimes there is also a cat that will sit on a fire escape. I never see the women arrive or leave. I wonder if they sleep there from the low glimmer of a television late at night. I watch their labor during the day as I work from my desk. At times we catch one another, co-gazing at the Other. The women smile a little when they see me seeing them, which confuses me as I am conditioned to think of a sweatshop as a place of misery.  Continue reading

A Day of Action: Justice for Black Women and Girls on May 21st, 2015

[Have a powerful Trans Day of Resilience! Savage Minds is pleased to present the fourth essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.Erin M. Stephens, the author, is a doctoral student in sociology at George Mason University and a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR). At the IIR, she provides statistical analysis on immigrant economic participation and experiences as it relates to gender. Her dissertation uses qualitative research and social media analysis to explore emotional labor and intersectionality in the Black Lives Matter movement. She also works with The Beautiful Project to engage Black women and girls in critical discourse around the representation of Blackness in the media and broader society.]

I ride the elevator down to the MLK library basement with four other young Black adults, who (based on their conversation) I assume are going to the same event. Following them down the hall, I enter a long room with about 25 chairs set up in a large oval. More chairs line the perimeter of the room. There are only twenty or so of us here so far but the room fills quickly with bodies and light chatter over the next fifteen minutes.

All around the country people are gathering today in rallies, marches, or discussion-based events for the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. My dissertation research on the Black Lives Matter Movement draws me to this space – but so does my own identity as a Black woman and my personal concern for the invisibility of violence against Black women and girls. This particular event is organized by Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, a national black queer feminist/womanist organization that formed in the wake of the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The organization is limited in membership to Black activists between the ages of 18 to 35, and the majority of the people in the room fit that profile. The facilitators are women, as are most of the people in the room.

A young light skinned woman with short natural hair calls the room to attention. She is wearing a black t-shirt with white bold script “Unapologetically Black.” She explains that the purpose of this space is to lift up the experiences of black trans and cis women, femmes, and girls. After the warm welcome and introduction, she poses a question to the group to start us off: “What are examples of state violence against cis and trans Black women and girls?” The immediate answers extend beyond police violence: the prison industrial complex, the foster care to prison pipeline, disparities in access to education, sexual violence…The speakers use language and tones that convey deep concern and conviction. After about 10 minutes of discussion we transition into the next part of the agenda. Another facilitator, a slender brown skinned female, speaks on the importance of Black women ancestors who have been freedom fighters in the forefront of social movements. She leads us in an energetic song to bring their spirits into our space. It is a song I will hear many times in the months to come. Continue reading

Reclaiming Humanity for Black Lives in Jamaica

[Savage Minds is pleased to present the third essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Kimberley McKinson is a fourth year doctoral candidate in UC Irvine’s Department of Anthropology. Kimberley is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork for her dissertation which is centered on crime, the aesthetics of security and the legacies of slavery and colonialism in Kingston. As a dancer Kimberley also engages her anthropological ideas and questions through movement. She was trained in classical ballet. Today however, her movement aesthetic represents a constant dialogue between modern practice and her inherited Afro-Caribbean traditions.]

The Simple Yet Contentious Truth

Jamaica is less than 600 miles from the mainland US, and the island nation imbibes US popular culture and news at a voracious rate. An awareness of the current plight of African Americans in the US is not beyond most Jamaicans, especially given the deep transnational networks that link the two countries. Many Jamaicans understand the history of what it means to be black in the majority white US, and understand the importance of the declaration “Black Lives Matter.” However, since beginning fieldwork in Kingston this year, and witnessing from a distance the attacks on black lives in the US, the question that I find myself asking as a young Jamaican anthropologist is whether Jamaicans understand or feel the need to assert the fact that Black Lives Matter in Jamaica. Continue reading

A Call to Action: Fieldnotes on Bringing the Black Lives Matter Movement Home

[Savage Minds is excited to present the second essay in the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement“series. The author, Nicole Truesdell, is Senior Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Beloit College. Her research focuses on race, racism, citizenship and belonging, community organization and activism, inclusion and equity in higher education, and radical black thought.  A founding member of #blacklivesmatterbeloit, Nicole is committed to pushing against dominant narratives to ensure marginalized voices and bodies are seen and heard.]

What does it mean to do anti-racist activism as a black academic at a Primarily White Institution?

This is the question I asked myself after the non-indictments of officers in the shootings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I was tired of seeing black people unjustly and unfairly detained/killed/murdered by the police. I was sick of having to bottle up my anger and grief, wishing I could “call in black” to deal with having to work within a white environment seemingly oblivious to the trauma and violence black people experience on a daily basis. I was angry as hell and felt compelled to action. Continue reading

Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part II)

[Savage Minds is pleased to run the second part to the introduction for the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement” series. Here, Bianca Williams continues with her keynote address from the #WeResist community summit, which took place in Denver in March 2015.]

I paused and looked around the room to see if people were still engaged. I saw my partner-in-resistance Amy E. Brown, a local community organizer nod her head as if to tell me to keep going, and so I pressed forward.

“I read a phenomenal expression of collective resistance and community-building in a statement from the People of Color Caucus at my alma mater, Duke University. This past week a Black woman on Duke’s campus was taunted by a group of white men who sang the racist SAE fraternity chant that has gone viral because of the video from the Oklahoma. Students of color got together and released the following statement, which I believe is a powerful and clear demonstration of how intersectionality and community-building work:

They write,

‘We know that racism does not exist as a lone system of oppression. We know that what happened to the young black woman on March 22 is connected to the institution’s decision to include a LGTBQ box for high school students to check on admission applications without addressing the gay bashing, absence of gender neutral accommodations, and general psychological violence that LGBTQ people confront as students upon arrival. We know that the racism entrenched in the institution is connected to the institution’s failure to make accommodations of accessibility actually accessible as the institution often makes deliberate decisions to invisibilize people with disabilities, such as making ramps difficult to find by placing them in the back of buildings. We know that the institutionalized racism that we face is connected to the victim-blaming and other mechanisms of silence that further traumatize survivors of sexual assault. We know that the institution’s racism is connected to the university’s failure to financially support the Office of Access and Outreach that was supposedly formed out of a commitment to support first generation and low-income college students.

Thus, we understand that struggle against racism is connected to and reinforced by other systems of oppression such as sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and classism. We cannot stand against racial injustice without acknowledging that all systems intersect to perpetrate violence against marginalized bodies. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the cis-heteropatriarchy that variably oppresses any and everyone whose masculinity is not fully accepted. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the systematic exclusion and invisibilization of non-able bodied or non-neurotypical peoples. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies affects other minority bodies, including racial and religious minorities.  The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the displacement and erasure of queer and non-normative bodied people.’

Continue reading

Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part I)

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Bianca Williams. She provides the first contribution to the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Bianca is the author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, under contract with Duke University Press. Dana-Ain Davis, her co-editor for this series, is an Associate Professor at Queen’s College and the CUNY Graduate Center and co-author of Feminist Activist Ethnography (2013) with Christa Craven.]

As many prepare to attend AAA 2015 in a couple of weeks, some of us are remembering the variety of emotions and sentiments we brought to the meetings last year. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. A longing for justice and peace. A desire for change. A willingness to fight. An inability to proceed with business as usual. We watched Ferguson, Missouri erupt in rebellion on our televisions and computer screens the week before showing up in Washington, D.C. And then we gathered together during the meetings, simultaneously astonished and unsurprised by the news that those responsible for the death of Eric Garner would not be brought to justice. Numerous anthropologists made their voices heard at the AAA 2014 business meeting, demanding that the AAA Executive Board actively search for ways the discipline could intervene and push against the anti-Black practices and racist ideologies disproportionately affecting Black communities. Subsequently, the Working Group on Racialized Brutality and Extrajudicial Violence was created.

The Working Group has been charged with making efforts to track racialized police brutality and develop resources that will assist in reducing this form of state-sanctioned violence. As members of the Working Group, me and Dana-Ain Davis edited this series of essays centered on stories from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. These short essays offer an ethnographic and/or self-reflexive lens on activities connected to the organizing and activism taking place in multiple communities and cities. While all the contributors do not identify as anthropologists, all use the tools of participant observation, auto-ethnography, and/or narrative to provide a snapshot of the #BLM Movement during the past year. Through their stories, we begin to understand the complexities and emotional toll of organizing and resistance, while also getting a sense of how new forms of connection and community can reinvigorate and feed the soul, even in the midst of crisis. We offer these essays as a way for anthropologists and all to reflect on where we were a year ago, and as a call to keep pressing forward. The struggle continues.

As the first contribution to this series of essays, I offer remarks I gave in a keynote address at the #WeResist community summit in Denver, Colorado in March 2015. After weeks of planning the summit with community members (who would eventually become members of Black Lives Matter 5280, a chartered chapter of the national BLM organization), I was asked to give  attendees a brief introduction to the strategies we were using to resist anti-Black racism. On this Sunday, I stood nervously at the altar of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, wondering if the multi-racial crowd would pleasantly receive my attempt to blend our group’s ever-evolving organizing tactics with the fierce analytics of Black feminist activist-scholars. I quickly glanced at the “Black Lives Matter” sign hanging behind me, took a deep breath, and began to speak: Continue reading

Secrets of the Sex Magic Space Lamas Revealed! Tibetan Buddhist Aliens and Religious Syncretism

In this post I’m going to be talking a little about aliens. Tibetan ones, specifically. Also, sex magic. Bear with me now. A lot of this may be quite unfamiliar, esoteric territory for Savage Minds readers, but it’s territory that I think is anthropologically interesting. In addition to being an under-appreciated slice of Orientalist history, the Tibetan alien is an exquisitely weird gateway into a number of issues relating to epistemology, ontology, and ‘truth’. The convoluted history of the Tibetan alien opens up a space for thinking about the construction of ‘tradition’ and its relationship to religious practice and experience. It also beams a light on the politics of other-ness, both as they relate to issues of cultural appropriation and personal spiritual transformation.

To begin, let’s travel first to Dharamsala, North India, 1992. Continue reading

Tantra and Transparency, or Cultural Contradiction and Today’s Tibetan Buddhist Wizard

This is the first of a series of articles that I will be posting this month as a guest-contributor for Savage Minds. In each post I will be sharing some preliminary and open-ended reflections relating to my research on Tibetan diaspora, esotericism, and the globalization of Tibetan culture. This week, I’d like to introduce readers to the non-celibate Tibetan religious specialists known as ngakpa (literally mantra or ‘spell’-users in Tibetan, sngags pa) who are the focus of my current doctoral dissertation fieldwork with Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. 

white and red robes
The red and white blue-lined cloth often associated with ngakpa.

Mass monasticism has often been used as a shorthand for Tibetan civilization in general. Over the last few decades in particular, large-scale Buddhist monasteries, whether in diaspora or in Chinese-occupied Tibet, have become key symbols for the continued vitality of Tibetan culture in the face of adversity. Yet even so, for centuries, ngakpa have existed in Tibetan societies as an alternative, smaller community of religious professionals, who though they are not monastics, nonetheless embody many of the possibilities and particularities of Tibetan culture life. Like monks and nuns, ngakpa are professional Buddhist renouncers, individuals who have taken formal vows to devote their lives to religious attainment. Unlike monastics, however, ngakpa are non-celibate and can engage in activities forbidden to the monastic community. Ngakpa thus straddle lay and monastic worlds and reside in a shifting third space of both accommodation and resistance to more centralized political and religious institutions. While monastics are the ‘yellow’ clothed community (ser) and laypeople are ‘grey’ householders (mi skya), i.e. clothed in no particular religious uniform, ngakpa, with their long hair and white and-red cotton shawls and robes, are known as the gos dkar lcang lo sde, the ‘white-robe, dreadlock [wearing] community’ of non-celibate yogis. Able to marry, have families, and pursue worldly work, ngakpa nonetheless spend much of their time in study, meditative retreat or working as ritual specialists for hire.  Continue reading

Guava Anthropology Meets Savage Minds

Language choice can be an issue of access. In attempt to shorten some of the gaps, but mostly to highlight some of the awesome anthropology happening in Taiwan, we have taken on this exciting translation project. Beginning with last week’s article, The Riddle of Sean Lien, we will be translating a handful of articles written in Chinese from the Guava Anthropology blog for Savage Minds this September. The articles we have chosen range in theme, background, and chronology, and yet all remain, in our opinion, excitingly relevant. Continue reading

The Riddle of Sean Lien

[Savage Minds welcomes guest bloggers Renée Salmonsen and Chuan-wen Chen.]

Originally posted on the Guava Anthropology Blog 28 September 2014

Author: Hsiu-Hsin Lin
Translators: Renée Salmonsen & Chuan-Wen Chen

Translator’s note: Contemporary youth and amateur politicians are taking an increasingly active interest and role in Asian politics. We feel it is important to translate this article because the result of Taipei’s mayoral election last year was a significant milestone for Taiwan. This article was written in the month leading up to the election. Many people view the result, independent candidate Wen-je Ko winning the capital city mayoral election, as a reflection of voters seeking change and expressing their dislike for both major political parties, the Kuomintang party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The election was held on November 29th, 2014. The two most popular candidates were Wen-je Ko and Sheng-wen Lien. Neither of the leading candidates had previous significant administrative or management experience in government institutions. Ko, a former surgeon, won the election with 57.16% of votes. Sheng-wen Lien, a.k.a. Sean Lien, is the son of Lien Chan, the former Chairman of the KMT and the Vice President of Taiwan. Sean Lien won the KMT mayoral primary, but lost the 2014 Taipei City mayoral election with 40.82% of votes.

The idea for this article stems from a class discussion. Taipei’s mayoral election has been the hot topic for weeks now. Anything seemingly unrelated to the election is now related. Due to recent circumstances, I haven’t logged-on to Facebook or watched TV lately which has enabled conversations with my students to skip over the hot, trending topics of the election and return to the greater issue of the “Sheng-wen phenomenon”. In other words, whether Sheng-wen is elected or not the emergence of a figure like Sean Lien is a very important phenomenon for the social sciences.

Continue reading