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Open Access, Archaeology and the Digital Humanities at Brandeis

October 24th, 2017 · No Comments

by Helen Wong, Brandeis University B.A. ’19
History and Classical Studies
Jerome A. Schiff Fellow, 2017-2018
Senior Intern, Brandeis Classical Artifact Research Collection (CLARC)

 

When I first arrived at Brandeis in the fall of 2015, I was looking for a strongly interdisciplinary academic experience. I wanted to be a humanities major, but had always felt drawn to the sciences and didn’t want to give that up completely even as I decided to commit myself to studying History. I realized, after taking a class on methods in archaeological science in my freshman year, that I didn’t really have to choose between the sciences or my chosen field of study. They could coexist and for me, the digital humanities became the perfect bridge between them. As a result of my engaging with the work being done at the Brandeis Digital Humanities Lab, as well as the MakerLab, open access has become a cause I deeply care about because it’s so integral to the work I’ve chosen to do.

One of the best things about studying History is how flexible the approaches to studying it can be, and how the discoveries that result from new methodologies (like those being explored now through the digital humanities) are often groundbreaking and diverse in their outcomes. Even though History is inherently a retroactively analytical discipline, new discoveries are being made all the time. The field lends itself perfectly to the exploration of new ways to display and disseminate information because the past can only be understood if it is accessibleand this is where open access principles become crucial, especially when so much research being produced now is easily distributable online.

My personal advocacy for open access stems from my research experience, which deals mostly with the production and dissemination of 3-D archaeological data. My work focuses on the use of extremely precise 3-D scanning technology to produce analyses of artifacts’ surfaces, providing detailed information on wear patterns, pigmentation, damage, and similar marks of use or deterioration. This kind of data, which is fully digital, extremely accurate to the physical object, and holds a lot of potential in terms of improving both education and research, really needs open access policies in order to function to its maximum potential. The data I produce is firsthand, true-to-source replication of a real, studiable object. Similarly to how literary primary sources are often digitized and made widely available for free so that the general public can access the material and build off of it in virtually infinite ways, 3-D archaeological data is basically primary source material whose potential can only be realized if as many people can access and build off of it as possible. In my work, I see open access as nothing less than necessary.

At the Brandeis Digital Humanities Lab and the MakerLab, there are so many ongoing projects that implement open access as a core principle of their operation, like the OpenARCHEM database, which compiles chemical analyses of the organic contents of ancient vessels; the Homer Multitext Project, which allows analysis of openly available scans of medieval manuscript copies of Homer’s works; and at the MakerLab, multiple ongoing projects post their results online through freely accessible platforms like Sketchfab. Brandeis is a hub of student and faculty open access activity that I am truly glad to be a part of.

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