In order to establish a baseline for conversation, I should outline what it is that I do. Some of this might be obvious but it should be made explicit.
I work in a US university on Mediterranean archaeological projects. This means several things:
- For fieldwork we carry on a plane almost everything that we use. We can certainly find some stuff locally, especially the basic tools and excavation equipment. But we also carry bags, tags, and lots of specialty items that are sometimes either hard to get or just plain cheaper to buy in the US. We carry all of our tech equipment (including computing hardware, total stations, rods, and tripods) all of which needs to be hand carried. Peripherals are kept to a minimum.
- We often aren’t guaranteed decent Internet access. Even at Pompeii, using wireless cards, it is difficult to get a signal. Other times we are working in isolated areas without any hope of any type of net access.
- We have access only to portable computers. No desktop machines with large hard drives. No servers (in the physical sense, I mean), and no decent sized monitors.
- I work for other projects outside of UC, but I only work for academic projects. There is quite a difference between government run archaeology, CRM archaeology, and academic archaeology. Academic archaeologists tend to focus their data gathering techniques based on their own research design. They also don’t tend to write reports in the CRM fashion, but are focused solely on academic peer reviewed publishing. Academic field projects also don’t have a centralized data management scheme. There have been attempts over the years to standardize data collected in the field but most projects still create a whole new documentation and database scheme for each project. Even several field projects in the same academic department have different storage and data sharing mechanisms for inter-project communication and research. Again, this is very unlike CRM archaeology, with which I have a passing familiarity, but I have never worked for a CRM firm.
- There is a constant stream of new personnel on the projects. Almost all are graduate students and almost all end up actually ‘working’ for a project for a maximum of five years. Some only work for any given project for one or two seasons. So there is a lot of training that we have to do for each project, every year. To give a sense of perspective to this: UC’s participation in the current Trioa Project began in 1988. We are still publishing annual reports in the form of Studia Troica from that project, and two major monographs (and one dissertation) are still in the final stages of completion.
These are the circumstances under which I work. Given these circumstances, I have worked out the following strategies:
- I don’t code. Maybe a little. I write scripts for databases and computer automation. I code some web pages in php and lasso (for database integration). But making an app is beyond what my time allows. So no custom software. It has to be off-the-shelf.
- I don’t work with enterprise-level databases for fieldwork. They require too much in the way of coding and training. I need desktop (or now tablet) apps. Open source is great, but often the projects can afford professional level software with academic pricing.
- The software has to be something that I can teach to a beginner in a very short amount of time. Software that a classicist can use. I can train almost anybody to use FileMaker. Seventy-five percent of the field personnel can understand what we need to do with Photoshop in less than an hour. Fifty-percent will understand GIS well enough to use it. Unfortunately the number drops considerably when it comes to working with a vector drawing app like Illustrator. And almost no one but specialists can use CAD tools efficiently. I have to plan for that, and identify students who show affinity for one type of software over another.
- I do have the luxury of a server. I run an OSX file, web, and database server here at UC. So I can host collaborative software of my choosing without having to work through my university IT people, and non-UC people can have accounts on my server.
Almost all (academic) field projects have one person who can handle most of the software necessary. It is their job to take something complex, like a notation system being used by five team leaders with different academic backgrounds who have been taught that there is only one right way to do something, and produce a clean, consistent data set. That person serves as a developer for the project. Someone who will take it upon themselves to tackle the difficult problems so that the others in the field project don’t have to. That person is my audience. In the future, I will be posting samples of our work at PARP:PS. I don’t expect them to be used by themselves, but I will post them so that they can be an example for project developers to adapt for their own work.
I should also note that I recognize that there are many ways to do something correctly. I use FileMaker and Mac-based tools when I can. I use Windows when I have to. But other teams have different tools. If I post some samples that use one method but you want to use another, I invite you to be a part of this learning process and post some samples of your own.