Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research

Syndicate content
it's not just digital, it's electric!
Updated: 17 hours 32 min ago

Letter to a young scholar

Fri, 08/09/2017 - 14:45

I sometimes receive notes from undergrads or other folks wondering what advice I can give about studying to become X… I thought I’d share the response I wrote this morning.

Hi ____

Thank you for your note, and your query about how I got here and various options for your own path. I’ll tell you first about my own journey. Don’t let that part put you off, but I want you to have your eyes open as you consider your options.

My own personal journey is perhaps not a template to follow: I went to the UK for grad school in Roman archaeology. At the end of that process, I was teaching random courses at universities across the south east of england, piecing together enough money to keep me going, living out of a rucksack. I eventually got tired of that and came back to Canada where I was, for all intents and purposes, unemployable in Canadian archaeology. I started my own businesses, and also supply taught at a local high school, to make ends meet (see this: https://medium.com/@electricarchaeo/on-teaching-high-school-109cb75caedc ). Eventually I got a position working online for a for-profit “university” in the US, which gave me a bit of stability. Eventually, I saw the job advert for a position in ‘digital humanities’ at Carleton, and here I am.

So my journey involved transforming myself from frankly a second rate Roman epigraphist into a digital humanities scholar and digital archaeologist. I benefited from being in the right place at the right time, having made a bit of a name for myself by blogging my continuing research throughout that period. There was a lot of luck involved.

Between December 2002, when I received my PhD, and July 2010, when I started at Carleton, I had precisely 2 interviews for full-time academic postings.

Now, the keys to getting the job at Carleton were that when I returned to Canada, I had to work extremely hard to make connections with people in the community I wanted to be a part of. Conferences, open research online. Contract archaeology wanted nothing to do with me because I had not gained enough experience of field archaeology in the UK to be employable in Canada – AND Canadian archaeology uses different approaches than european stuff.

*my advice, for what it’s worth*

  • I’d have still gone to the UK for grad school, but I would not necessarily jump into doing a PhD. Few places in this world are better for archaeology, ancient civ, etc. An MA opens opportunities; a PhD can be perceived as narrowing your range of options – you have to work hard to convince people of the truth of the phd, that it makes you better in the long run for a wide variety of things.
  • I knew I didn’t want to go to a Canadian school, because I wanted to jump right into my interests. A UK school allows that; Canadian schools demand a whole bunch of coursework first.
  • Follow the money: go where they really want you. If a school offers some sort of scholarship, I’d take it. My 1 year of MA in the UK doubled my entire debt to that point.
  • Do an MA that fills you with joy – it’s one of the few times in this life where you can. An MA of any stripe is all to the good, so don’t fall into the instrumentalist trap of picking something that you think someone ‘else’ (however construed) would approve.
  • A classical MA, of whatever stripe, can be a very good foundation for a wide variety of paths in this life. Don’t worry necessarily about the job at the end of it. Classical folks in my experience tend to be some of the most creative and lateral thinking people I’ve ever met.
  • Be aware that such things can take a toll on your mental health. Make plans to keep your support networks, your friendships, intact
  • I’d have focussed on getting more fieldwork. That said, archaeology suffers from gendered labour issues such that it is largely men in positions of power. So if you plan on trying for an archaeological career in fieldwork, know that this is an issue.
  • Classics departments are greying, but they are not necessarily hiring to replace retirement.
  • Work constantly on your digital literacy: skills, trends, research methods, questions, theories
  • Develop a scholarly online presence
  • Lurk on twitter, follow scholars whose work fills you with wonder, or whom you admire. Follow a couple you loathe, for a contrary view.

You might also wish to frame your interests a bit more broadly, and consider in what other contexts you can engage with Greek and Roman civ – museums, digital work, community, public, game studies, and so on.

Best wishes,


(cover image, Daria Nepriakhinia, Unsplash)

Data as a Kandinksy Painting

Wed, 26/07/2017 - 17:56

I just found this package for R, ‘Kandinsky‘. You can read the logic of what it does here.

I’m totally into representing data as art, so I thought I would feed all 900+ annotations my ‘Crafting Digital History’ class is making across the web through it

  • Grab all the annotations using Lincoln’s ‘Hypothesisr‘ package.
  • Turn that into tidy data:
word_counts <- documents %>% group_by(user) %>% unnest_tokens(word, text) %>% count(user, word, sort = TRUE) %>% ungroup()
  • feed word_counts into kandinsky

et volia:


Now, let’s visualize the stopwords. I also add some custom stopwords to that list (things like ‘digital’, ‘historian’ etc, given nature of the course). Ecco:

There is something extraordinarily satisfying about those two images. The first captures the entire universe of possible responses that my students are making. In the second, that purple circle seems to my mind to correspond with the normal stopwords and the squiggles my additions. Let us know subtract the second from the first:

Interesting, this visualization of what remains after the stopwords are applied…

I can also do some other fun things with my annotations, such as term frequency – inverse distribution frequency to find out what words tend to characterize which students’ annotations. As a Kandinsky painting:

Let’s paint our feelings – here’s the sentiment of the annotations (‘affin’):

And here’s the same data again, but sorted from most positive to most negative:

Finally, let’s finish off with a topic model and then the top terms from the topic model:

Data is beautiful.

What does it mean? Well, that might take another post or two. Maybe the meaning would emerge if I also sonified, or 3d printed, this data. If we use the full sensorium…

Uh oh

Tue, 25/07/2017 - 19:37

I’ve taught ‘Crafting Digital History’ twice before. Once as a face to face course complete with lectures and in-class exercises, and once as a fully online course. The workbook now approaches 200 pages when it is printed out. One takeway from the 2016 edition was that I didn’t want to be writing tutorials and supporting students across multiple operating systems.

Especially Windows. Windows drives me up the freakin’ wall.

Because I also like to learn, and I’m trying to push for reproducibility as a goal in digital history (of methods at least, and re-visiting of conclusions) and in digital archaeology, I had it in mind for some time that some sort of virtual machine would be great. Everybody would be on the same platform. I would only have to write one set of materials. But experiments with virtual machines kept throwing up the same issues of getting the damned machine installed and configured correctly across multiple operating systems. I especially loathe those back-to-school specials with 2 gb that so many of my students seem to have (if you only do a bit of wordprocessing and facebook, good enough I suppose).

Enter DHBox.

I love DHBox. I love the concept. I love the philosophy of openness baked in. I decided ‘go big or stay home’ and so I rewrote the 2017 version of the course to use DHBox nearly exclusively. And up until about, oh, 11.30 last night, things were going great.

A troubling error message, but not the end of the world. We had already increased the amount of memory allocated to our DHBox twice already (we have it installed on top of an openstack.org stack). Earlier, in the run up to the course, we tried to estimate how much memory the students would need. I wanted the students to work with real digitized materials that hitherto had not attracted any attention – the Shawville Equity’s print run from 1883-2010. I figured I could teach them how to use wget to download this stuff, and then in the next module I’d teach them various ways of looking at it, exploring it, extracting interesting stuff from it. Earlier, I’d also taught them how to use Twarc to download materials from Twitter, suggesting they use the ‘canada150′ hashtag (Non-Canadians: it’s 150 years from Confederation, whence sprungeth modern-ish Canada).


Being only a few weeks from the official day of celebrations (July 1) meant that there were, oh I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of tweets with that tag available via Twarc. Multiply by # of students.

Number of editions of the Equity available for download: 1595. Each one between 8 and 20 high-rez pages. Even though I asked the students to only download a few years’ worth, multiply by malformed Wget and/or processes left running…. (I had shown them and walked them through how to identify and kill running processes when necessary, but alas…)

And so I sent a call out to Andrew who has been supporting this class above and beyond the call of duty. He’s on vacation. But he tried to help me out regardless, and set things in motion to increase our memory allocation. Unfortunately, we’d clogged the pipes so badly that this process has itself gone sideways in ways that I am unable to explain (server-side stuff ain’t my bag, as Austin Powers might say).

And so we are currently DHBox-free. While this has caused me a mild heart-attack, it’s not really as bad as it might first seem. I still have all of my materials written from last year where I was supporting individual operating systems, so I just dusted that off (thank you, O Github repository) and gave it to the students who needed it.

The only thing that is seriously hurt at this point is my pride, and the loss of some downloaded data. The final projects – where I imagined them all collaborating on different aspects of that particular dataset – will need to be rejigged a bit, but it’s all going to be ok.

It’ll be ok.




Featured Image by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Letters to HIST3814o

Mon, 17/07/2017 - 02:20

The course is over! Watch for a summary of things accomplished, in due course.

The third week of crafting digital history hist3814o, my summer online course, has just wrapped up. Now I must page through everyone’s blogs and fail logs and annotations. I’m trying to write a general note to everyone on the global progress I’m seeing, while giving individual feedback in private. Here are the first four of my letters to HIST3814o, in keeping with my overall philosophy of turning my teaching inside out.


Thoughts on your first week

Greetings everyone

This first week has been a shock to many of you – a good shock, I trust, but a shock nevertheless! It’s been heavy on readings because I think it was necessary to lay some ground work about what digital history actually is or could be. We live in an era where algorithms surround us, invisibly, forcing us to see the world in certain ways. ‘Folks in that postal code are bad credit risks’, says the algorithm, ‘because bad credit risks always live in that postal code’. Garbage in, garbage out. Circular reasoning. Unconscious bias. All of these things have always existed, but the emergence of surveillance capitalism means that they’ve become weaponised.

Now imagine the historians of a few years hence trying to make sense of the last twenty years. They consult digitized newspapers (never realizing how much is missing, or how much the choice of which newspaper to get digitized was the result of various intersections of money and power), and pretend they consulted the actual physical piece of paper. The history of Canada increasingly becomes the history of what can be gleaned from the bad OCR of the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. They argue that folks were living in these areas because of x,y,z, never realizing the pernicious invisible hand at play. This class should be a wake up call.

This week we have been laying the ground work for a kind of history that re-empowers you. When you take control of your own digital identity – when there is a space on the web that is yours, not Zuckerberg’s – you push back. With Hypothesis installed, you cease to be a passive receiver of information, but a co-creator of meaning, layered on top of the web. You are creating a digital palimpsest. Hypothesis enables collaborative reading, a concept that goes back (in digital form), to a piece by Vannevar Bush in the 1940s. Comments were the first try at this on the web, but they’ve long been so toxic that they’re pointless. Will this happen to Hypothesis? I hope not: but it depends on people using it as marginalia rather than point scoring. So far this week, I have been very excited to see students in this class use Hypothesis to discuss meaningfully points raised; I’ve been sharing some of your blog posts already where you reference your thoughts to the direct passage in the readings that inspired you. Take that, footnotes!

Your domains & other sundry matters
  • Now that you have your own domain name, you can begin to explore the cPanel for your domain to see what other kinds of software you might wish to install. Anytime you use the cPanel installer, it will ask you what ‘location’ you want to place the new software – an option in the location dialogue will be ‘directory’. So, on my domain, I might have my blog at electricarchaeology.ca and a digital map at electricarchaeology.ca/shawnsmaps <- I don’t, but you see how it works. Go explore! See what else is in there that might be useful for you. (If you have a cuPortfolio, you can export all of your materials from there and bring them over to your domain. You’ll need to install ‘mahara’, which is the platform that cuPortfolio runs).
  • Once you’ve got your domain up and running, you can share the URL to it in the resources-n-blogposts channel; read each others’ posts!
  • Make sure you read the course manual, folks. There’ve been some questions about where to submit things, how to submit them, when to submit them: this is all in section 2.
  • You should all have Github accounts now; you’ll need these for next week. You should have access to our DHBox; you’ll need that moving forward as well. (NB: If you’re on a Mac, nearly every bit of code I show you in this course will run on your Mac at the Terminal. Not all of it, but most of it).
  • Read all instructions through to the end before clicking on anything or typing in any commands
  • Read each other’s annotations – you’ll see them when you’re at one of the readings and you have the plugin turned on.
We’re having fun, right?

Finally, don’t try to slog through all of this on your own. I do digital history because it’s fun. It’s sociable. It lets me see things I never could have otherwise seen. Enjoy Module 1 – everyone should be able to do at least exercises 1 – 3. If you’re someone who sails through the exercises, write me another exercise that builds logically on the previous ones. Who knows, I might incorporate it into the next round of the course and make you a co-author.


Some Observations On Module 1

If you’ve struggled this week, know that you’re not alone. But consider this:

You are already more technically savvy than about 90% of your peers in History. While this week has been about learning to write simple text files to separate your content from its form – a kind of futureproofing – and to interact with a more powerful form of computing than you’ve likely ever encountered, my real goal this week was to instill some important habits of thought:

  • how to admit ignorance and to ask for help. We all of us struggle with this; we are socialized to be Warrior Historians, Armies of One, Who Do It On Our Own Thank You Very Much. It’s one of the hardest things to do, to admit that something isn’t working and could someone please help sort me out? Digital History is a team endeavour. We all of us have different skills too: we don’t all have to do every single thing, but we should at least understand something of what the other thing involves.
  • reading carefully. Years of training have taught you how to skim. Working with digital work, and the useful stupidity of computers, means learning to read carefully again, poring over every word. Spaces matter. cd.. is a nonsense to the computer: there is no program called cd.. But there is something called cd, and a location .. Spaces tell the computer that the next batch of characters is an input, or a modifier, or a file-name… (which is why you should get out of the habit of having spaces in file names. Spaces in file names cause trouble. Use underscores or hyphens if you must have some visual indication of a space).
  • reading collaboratively. Using Hypothesis, it’s like we’re all annotating the same page of a dog-eared photocopy. In these annotations, you are demonstrating one of the hardest things to do in a face-to-face class: have deep and meaningful interactions with the text and with each other. Keep it up. I love seeing you ask each other to explain and unpack your ideas, and asking for help, and providing each other with help
  • speaking of asking for help: please share the error messages. please share the screenshots. You can even make a screencast with screen-cast-o-matic.com and talk us through what you’re seeing and what you’re doing.

Many of you mention being frustrated this week. It’s ok to be frustrated, to be irritated, to be pissed-off. Walk away from the machine, turn to your peers here in slack, go outside. Remember that what counts – in terms of grading – is your progression, is your transformation from what you were into what you are becoming. Document everything. It all will become clear…. eventually. Y’all are doing great. Hell, there are over 650 annotations already.


Observations on Module 2

From your blogs this week:

… writing my own program to solve a problem felt incredible.

I bet there are still gobs of mistakes in it. The upside is I think I’m getting the hang of the coding

I was able to complete 5 of the 6 exercises, which feels like a big accomplishment for me as a beginner

[It] was simultaneously the most fascinating and the most frustrating task that I’ve taken on so far. Throughout, no matter how many roadblocks I hit, I was really getting into the challenge. There is something very gratifying about this kind of work.

This is only a sample of the kinds of things I’m reading today in your posts. I can’t tell you how excited I am to read these things. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I have a crappy little table I made in Grade 9 wood shop that I still use in my office at home. I made it; it is mine; I understand exactly what went into it and I will never part with it. It’s the same feeling – and you’ll come to look on all of this in rather the same way.The exercises you’re doing – this is your first encounter with them. With practice things will come and become more natural to you. But that first feeling of ‘ah! I got this! It works!’ – that’s an amazing feeling. I’m glad it’s starting to happen for some of you. But what happens if you haven’t hit that feeling yet? Does it mean you’re going to fail this course?

Absolutely not. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. What will make it happen is careful documentation of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and understanding the broader scholarly context where what you are doing matters. I post things I find in the resources channel where the ‘pros’ are wrestling with the issues that you’re wrestling with. It’s an exciting time to be in Digital History, because even students can be making meaningful contributions. We all struggle together!

As you move into the next module, take your time; read instructions fully before you try anything; document, document, document, and talk to each other. I was very pleased to see this happening much more this past week, in both your annotations and here in slack.

Final word:

… Doing this exercise, along with the TEI work in exercise 3, definitely gave me a better understanding of the kind of effort and detail that goes into making these documents accessible

That’s right. Digital work looks to outsiders as if it’s just magical, as if things just happen with a click of a switch. But now you know the dirty secret. Historiography, and theoretical choices, are literally encoded right in the data itself.

Keep going gang; you had a really good week this week and I’m proud. I’ve been telling people all about y’all.


Observations on Module 3

“It’s worse than that: it’s dead, Jim!”

–   Words that Scotty never said regarding our DHBox.

You might not have realized, but y’all are part of an experiment. People teach digital history all over the world. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only class that has its own virtual computerlab to learn with. Sure, some courses have virtual machines that they require students to install on their own machine, but that’s usually just in small graduate seminars where the prof can trouble shoot on every machine locally – maybe five, six students. Some of you are in the Martimes, some are out West, some are here in Ottawa. And you all had access to the exact same computer, so that when you encountered errors, you could turn to your peers and find (or offer) help.

And then we crashed DHBox. We filled ‘er up. A couple of mal-formed wget commands, another few that were left running in the back ground, and we ate all of the space we had. When Andrew, our intrepid supporter in Computer Science tried to restart DHBox for us, well, the motor just wouldn’t turn (you can read more about our outage here. Suffice to say, we were suddenly presented with a very real problem (a crisitunity, in fact) in doing digital history: the unanticipated outage!

You all rose marvellously to the challenge. Some of you discovered capabilities in your Mac that you never suspected; Windows users discovered the power of proper text editors – and Jeff discovered how to make a virtual Ubuntu computer run inside his Windows machine! Resilience in the face of technology fails, and being able to find another route to solve the problem, is one of the hardest things to teach. (One might think it was planned this way…

Rolling out DHBox for HIST3814

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 02:42

First of all, the support of Steve Zweibel of CUNY and Andrew Pullin from Carleton’s Computer Science department has been above and beyond the call of duty, and I owe them a case (if not several) of beer.

So below I offer some observations on rolling out our own DHBox at Carleton for my HIST3814o Crafting Digital History students’ use. If you’ll recall, our Open Digital Archaeology Textbook Environment (ODATE) proposes to roll a digital archaeology textbook into a customized DHBox. I took advantage of HIST3814o to dry-run DHBox for ODATE and also to solve some of the problems of a distance, online course in Digital History so that I only had to provide tech support for one kind of computer (an Ubuntu box) rather than the myriad setups that my students might use.

So here we go:

  • I don’t think there’s a DHBox outside DHBox.org in a production setting, so there are a lot of unknowns on our end involved in doing what we’ve proposed to do:
    • How to make it work on a shared server
    • What kind of load it would experience, and hence, what kind of resources it would need
    • How to add more abilities to it
    • How to on-board readers/users
  • Thus, I rewrote my HIST3814o, Crafting Digital History so that we could try to answer these questions in a limited sandbox environment (and where, if things went wrong, I could recover from). Students wouldn’t have to use their own computers to compute but rather, would log into our DHBox. This gave us a maximum number of students (60) from whose experience we can extrapolate the kinds of things ODATE might encounter in terms of computational load, ongoing maintenance, and issues in terms of Carleton’s wider internet security. NB The things that these digital history students do with the DHBox are computational less intense than the things that the archaeology textbook users will do (text analysis versus 3d reconstruction from images, for example), and thus if anything we’re simply defining a minimal baseline.
  • We’ve discovered a number of things:
    • The amount of RAM and CPU processor cores we need is very much higher than we anticipated. Currently, we have had to upsize to 224 GB of space for the students, and increase RAM 4x and CPU processors 5x. Of course, I made a very poor guess at the outset
    • While 60 students are enrolled, it seems that only 20 – 25 are fully active in the course as of yet (but it’s only been 1 week), and so we expect we’ll probably have to increase again.
    • Adding new capabilities to the underlying image of DHBox can break things in unexpected ways. It’s a Docker container being run in an OpenStack environment, so we’ve had to get au-fait with Docker, too. Fortunately, we’ve been in close communication with Steve at CUNY and have been able to find solutions. I say ‘we’, but this is all Andrew and Steve. I am the cause of work in other people
    • Extending the default existence of a user’s DHBox instance from 1 month to 2 months caused odd errors we haven’t fully sussed yet (and in any event, will have an effect on the size of the memory we need), so we rolled that back
    • We discovered that Carleton University’s antivirus provider, was/is using deep-packet sniffing which was preventing elements of the DHBox from working properly in the on-campus computer labs. ITS has now white-listed our server for the DHBox
    • Because of Carleton security concerns, all users of the DHBox have to be logged into the Carleton VPN in order to use the DHBox. For ODATE, this will not be acceptable, and we’ll have to find a solution (which may mean a commercial provider, which will increase costs, although we did budget for these).
    • I think that’s everything for now, but I don’t have my notes handy

I intend to reveal the first section of the ODATE text this summer, so that people can try it out with their own classes this September. We (Neha, Michael, Beth, and I) are current writing the section on the ethics of digital work in archaeology which I believe is crucial to get right before letting people see our drafts. While I don’t think our computational environment – the official ODATE DHBox instance – will be up and running by then (that is, NOT the one I’m using for my HIST3814o class), individuals will be able to go to DHBox.org itself and try things out there OR run things on their own machines (if they have access to Ubuntu Linux computers).

Incidentally, HIST3814o is available online at http://craftingdigitalhistory.ca ; I run a fully open-access version of it for non-Carleton folks concurrently. For OA participants, I use a separate instance of Slack as a communication space, see https://electricarchaeology.ca/2017/07/03/crafting-digital-history-open-access-version-summer-2017/ . One of the OA participants has blogged about starting the course with me at https://infoliterati.com/2017/07/09/down-the-rabbit-hole-with-crafting-digital-history/. You’re welcome to have a look!

Featured image by Patrick Lindenberg

Big Data Gothic at UCL

Thu, 06/07/2017 - 16:21

Me, talking about Big Data Gothic. Enjoy or not, your call.

Looks like I should’ve increased the screen size; so here are the original slides.

Featured Image photo by Sophie Hay

Crafting Digital History Open Access Version Summer 2017

Mon, 03/07/2017 - 19:45

I’m teaching Crafting Digital History this summer (a course whose development was funded via eCampusOntario to whom I am grateful). It’s currently at its max enrolment – 60 students. But if you’d like to follow along, I have created a Slack for you and your fellow travellers; you can jump down the rabbit hole at https://hist3814-oa.glitch.me/

The course uses an instance of the DHBox  as our laboratory. I didn’t want to be doing tech support for all the myriad computer setups I might encounter, so thanks to Andrew Pullin and Doug Howe of Carleton’s Computer Science Department, and Steve Zweible of CUNY, we have our own version! Open Access participants should go to the main DHBox website, http://dhbox.org/ click ‘sign up’, and select the 1 month version. You should then be able to follow along without issue.

I’ll try to be active in that space at least once per day; feel free to ask questions and to connect with one another! Last time I did this, we had a core group of about 12 people. I really enjoyed learning from them. If the numbers are right, I might do a couple of google hangouts while I’m at it. Digital history – the nitty gritty of it – can drive you nuts as you try to learn it. The worst thing you can do is to try to suffer through it on your own. DigHist is at its best when it’s collaborative. So why not join us?


(Featured image by Andrew Neel)

Epoiesen: Call for Respondents

Sat, 24/06/2017 - 16:49

I’m hoping to get Epoiesen unveiled in time for the autumn. You remember Epoiesen . Part of the idea is that we don’t do traditional peer review, but rather ask reviewers to be ‘Respondents’, who react to the piece in a short creative work on their own. We seek out at least two ‘Respondents’ (ideally) for every submission. The ‘Responding to…’ will itself be published with its own citation, DOI, etc. A response explores how the piece moves the responder, or puzzles her, or sparks new thoughts – a ‘Response’ is meant to become the starting point for a larger discussion that would take place via the site’s annotation framework (readers can annotate any piece of text on the site using Hypothes.is), across the blogosphere, and beyond.

I am currently looking for ‘Respodents’ for a photo essay that explores maps and place; an interactive fiction exploring academic publishing; and a twitter essay on creativity. If you are interested, please email me at shawn dot graham at carleton dot ca or send me a DM on twitter (@electricarchaeo).

There will be more pieces coming in over the summer; if you are interested in being in the pool of Respondents, please email me with an indication of the areas you think you might like to explore with us.


Indiana Jones and the Recurrent Neural Network

Wed, 21/06/2017 - 03:38

Lord knows I have other things to do right now, but, in between trying in vain to turn a bot into an out-of-office-responder for Twitter (bad idea) and trying to get another one to generate Markov chains from Indy’s lines in Raiders of the Lost Ark (and avoiding the necessary paperwork to support a course of mine shortly to begin), I thought what the hell, let’s write a new Indiana Jones movie.

I mean, hell, it couldn’t be worse than Crystal Skull, right?

And when I say ‘write’, I mean, ‘get the computer to write it’.  I have docker-torch installed on this machine. If I had any kind of GPU, I’d get better results, no doubt. If I had more patience and let it run for a day or two, I’d have better results. If I fixed the weird spacing issues in the training data, I’d have better results. If I removed the character names and replaced them with their trope (the hero, the sidekick) I’d get better results (I started to, but got impatient). And yet, there still feels like a movie in here…

I couldn’t remember how to use torch-rnn of course, but fortunately, I’d left a (fairly coherent) note to myself from a previous experiment (my NaNoGenMo entry). I needed at least 1mb of training data, so I grabbed the scripts from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Goonies, and the Mummy (that had Brendan Fraiser in it and which was good. There, I said it).

And so, model trained, I sampled…

th sample.lua -checkpoint cv/checkpoint_17050.t7 -gpu -1 -start_text "Peru 1985. The sky is black; dawn is a short while off. THE-HERO creeps through the jungle, alert, wary." -temperature 0.33 -length 20000 > data/adventure.txt

Peru 1985. The sky is black; dawn is a short while off. Indy creeps through the jungle, alert, wary.


(to the standle)
Yes. A belt and the rocks and the part
there, with the Grail Mamian gun’s a
fall like me. There’s a small.

Is move to a fall behind the
the chest with kicks onto the other shouts around the book of the strange
redely did the bar and the perishing his which
comes to the looking at the bottom and start —

I can’t be the back to a could.

That’s not rock. Indy.

(stuff around the tents.

It’s your as some on the book of his
of the truck and the
and who looks at the light moves a head
look with a scream and begins to the falls of the screams,
out up. The reading sees
myself and the hell of
something side and who an and the terrified.


The cleansed and she are stares in the craters and a head as the Maharajah walks over the gold as he sees a mination is a silking to his mouth and Marion. He looks in the candle blanker.

Belloq and Short Round closes a door behind falls at Willie crashes a piles around the staring of the torch of the stairs. Indy pulls into the other back and staff the little come and tears like the car below and sees the altar and both sees wall and looks to push the wall and shoulder on the statue of the shild we guys looks and are exceman first pears and grabs his feet of the sand. The room. He room for her and stand here.

It’s not the other (grabs him).

THE-HERO sucking up to begin to about to leave the door and wants to a let it. Indy takes the pit and head of the ship into the water and a falling face shipts out to see the back and she are back of the reaches a gains, his feet enter toward the car of the car and she victions and starts to his glass to the table. The other shoots of while begins across the stand severently his smiles begin to the tunnel of the stone blowing with a real stops into the beneath of his arms and carry on the boat on the can and the know. The canding his climb to the first stone some glows the Short Round and Marion is only seem over the tank and heand darks creaches over the lift the boys. Indy dammers from the ship, and smashes and sees the conficers and starts to the places and sees and puts the truck climb start and make enters the hits the candle.

We got that you see the light conds of the passes a room.

I got a sits behind the stalled a will believe been to see
way and the perishing a man to deep, when
falling the gun of the car stop of the
the brake something
of the sails all see in the car Short Round.


Fun, eh? The weird spacing that scripts insist on really screw this up. Maybe I’ll give this a shot some other day, after tidying all that kind of thing up.

Featured image Allef Vinicius

Epoiesen: a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology (update)

Sun, 11/06/2017 - 20:06

Epoiesen continues to percolate away in the background. I thought y’all might be interested to know where we’re at. Because of the experimental nature of this project, the library was a bit nervous about having us in the ‘regular’ location on their server (I chose an importune time to ask: Carleton had just had a run-in with ransomware and other assorted digital shenanigans). Instead, we’ll be outside the firewall, in the ‘DMZ’. I rather like that. The URL will be a subdomain of the main library site. It’s active right now, but cloaked a bit longer while I get a few more pieces and responses in.

My ambition is to do a formal ‘ta da!’ at the start of the 2017-18 academic year. If you’ve got material that you think might be suitable please get in touch. Get in at the beginning! HeritageJam was a huge inspiration, so see their gallery for examples of things that might spark ideas. I’m also looking for people to act as Respondents – that is, peer reviewers who write (or craft) from a personal engagement with the pieces. They would write about the way the piece has moved them, or troubles them, or pushed them to see things differently, or sparks various thoughts… The idea is that this will start a dialogue that the reader can continue in the margins – Epoiesen is equipped with the Hypothes.is web annotation framework. (Every piece that goes up by the way – whether a submission or a response – will get its own DOI).

Below, I’ve copied the text from the ‘about’ page for this journal/zine/site.


ἐποίησεν (epoiesen)- made – is a journal for exploring creative engagement with the past, especially through digital means. It publishes primarily what might be thought of as ‘paradata’ or artist’s statements that accompany playful and unfamiliar forms of singing the past into existence. These could be visualizations, art works, games, pop-up installations, poetry, hypertext fiction, procedurally generated works, or other forms yet to be devised. We seek to document and valorize the scholarly creativity that underpins our representations of the past. Epoiesen is therefore a kind of witness to the implied knowledge of archaeologists, historians, and other professionals, academics and artists as it intersects with the sources about the past. It encourages engagement with the past that reaches beyond our traditional audience (ourselves). We situate Epoiesen in dialogue with approaches to computational creativity or generative art:

I think that generative art should ideally retain two disparate levels of perception: the material and visual qualities of a piece of art, and then a creation story or script and the intellectual journey that led to the end result. It possibly should bear marks of that intense interaction with the spatial environment that the visible work manifests.

Epoiesen accepts code artefacts, written submissions in text files (.md) written with the Markdown syntax, videos, 3d .obj files, html, or other formats (contact us if you are unsure: we encourage experimentation). Digital artefacts should be accompanied by the descriptive paradata or artist’s statement.

Submissions will be reviewed, and the reviews will be published at the same time as a Response, under the reviewers’ own names. Submissions and Responses will each have their own Digital Object Identifiers. Epoiesen eventually will be indexed; it is supported by Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library. Submissions are accepted at any time, and published as they become ready. Each year’s submissions will be organized retroactively into ‘annuals’. The entire journal will be archived and deposited in a dataverse-powered repository at Carleton University.

There are no article processing fees. We are generously supported by MacOdrum Library at Carleton University for at least five years.

This website is generated from a series of markdown formatted text files, which are run through a series of templates to create the flat-file html architecture.

Why Epoiesen?

Michael Gove, the Conservative British politician, said in the run-up to the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, “people in this country have had enough of experts”(Mance 2016). And perhaps, he was right. There is a perception that archaeology is for the archaeologists, history for the historians. On our side, there is perhaps a perception that speaking to non-expert audiences is a lesser calling, that people who write/create things that do not look like what we have always done, are not really ‘serious’. In these vacuums of perception, we fail at communicating the complexities of the past, allowing the past to be used, abused, or ignored, especially for populist political ends. The ‘know-nothings‘ are on the march. We must not stand by.

In such a vacuum, there is a need for critical creative engagement with the past (see Holtorf, 2007). In Succinct Research, Bill White reminds us why society allows archaeologists to exist in the first place: ‘it is to amplify the whispers of the past in our own unique way so they can still be heard today‘ (White 2016). We have been failing in this by limiting the ways we might accomplish that task.

Epoiesen is a place to amplify whispers, a place to shout. Remix the experience of the past. Do not be silent!

Holtorf, C. (2007) ‘Learning From Las Vegas: Archaeology in the Experience Economy’ The SAA Archaeological Record 7(3): pp. 6-10, http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/Publications/thesaaarchrec/may07.pdf

Mance, H. (2016) ‘Britain has had enough of experts, says Gove’, Financial Times Jun. 3, https://www.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c.

White, B. (2016) ‘Archaeologists: Please Remember Why We Exist’ Succint Research Nov. 2, http://www.succinctresearch.com/archaeologists-please-remember-why-we-exist/.


I am grateful to the following scholars who have agreed to be a part of this experiment, and be the editorial board:

Sara Perry, University of York
Megan Smith, University of Regina
Eric Kansa, The Alexandria Archive Institute
Katrina Foxton, University of York
Sarah May, University College London
Stu Eve, L-P Archaeology
Sarah E. Bond, University of Iowa
Gianpiero di Maida, Christian-Albrechts Universität zu Kiel
Gisli Palsson, University of Umea