My project is distant reading of four distinct spheres of archaeological writing using a variety of techniques, particularly text analysis using Voyant-Tools.Unfortunately, I am not quite finished, and it is very much a work in progress. This presentation will, hopefully, show the direction I'm going in and a few of the conclusions I've made so far.
To make this incredibly wide topic more managable I'm looking at one specific aspect of it: how Roman Colchester is written about in these four areas. First, I will look at professional, first-hand archaeological reports, followed by the academic-historical writings based directly on these reports, the attempts at delivering this material for public consumption, and archaeology in the media.By doing so, I hope to examine what continuities or inconsistencies emerge, what is downplayed, what is emphasised, and what is completely ignored, as well as linguistic differences, as archaeological writing grows from a professional report with a minimal readership, to academic historical papers, and into public view, finally reaching mass media.
My source for primary archaeological reports is the Colchester Archaeological Trust Library. I have downloaded 121 reports, all that are available from the last three years.The Colchester Archaeological Trust, according to their webstie, is “a registered charity founded in 1963 to research into and promote the archaeology of Colchester,” and “a registered archaeological organisation with the Institute of Archaeologists.”
Due to the enormous amount of source material available, this section has been the slowest and most difficult to work with. However, I'm hoping that this will also lead to it having a great potential for something interesting to emerge.Some key terms to keep in mind appearing here are site, finds, and report, which discuss the actual excavation, as well as pottery, ditch, and fabric, which discuss particular finds. Cat, written in yellow under Essex, disappointingly refers to the acronym for the Colchester Archaeological Trust. One other thing that I have noticed is that a majority of these reports were written by very few individuals: two in particular are probably responsible for over 50% of the reports written in the last three years.
I will first compare and contrast these reports with the historical writings based directly on them.As historical writing on Roman Colchester in particular is more limited than the archaeological information, I will look at a smaller number of sources with a wider date range. But, I believe that since I focus only on historical papers with a strong basis in archaeological evidence rather than literary sources, at least some relevant conclusions can be drawn.
Although this particular example may be somewhat superficial, there are a few things that can be seen at a distance in these types of analysis. This graph tracks the usage of the English “Colchester” against the Latin “Camulodunum” in each of the historical papers I looked at.
More significant are the terms that emerge frequently in these papers. Notice the terms “temple,” “wall”, and, most significantly, “evidence.” Where an archaeological report is more likely to discuss, for example, a piece of pottery, this word cloud suggest that the historical writings are more likely to discuss the area that this object was found, and, most significantly, what it is evidence for. This represents a widening of perspective, both geographically and chronologically. Instead of focusing on WHAT a specific find is, these papers are extrapolating from them in order to determine WHERE this find would been, WHEN it would have been in use, and WHY it existed.
Next I will look at how this archaeological information is presented to the public through the website of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, The Colchester Archaeologist.The website runs a blog primarily intended to publicize Archaeological discoveries. It also occasionally discusses Roman history in general, the particulars of certain excavations, and efforts to fundraise and gather volunteers.
Prior to 2012, most of these posts were written by Philip Crummy, an Archaeologist and Director of the trust, and they appear infrequently. By the end of 2012, almost all of the posts are listed as having been authored by the Trust itself, and they increase sharply in frequency. I assume at this point, blogging duties were transferred from an actual archaeologist to an employee in social media. Moving forward, I hope and expect to see some sort of shift in focus or language at this point in the blog.
Two trends can be seen here: first, is the increasingly singular focus on the more marketable aspects found in the original archaeological reports. Gone completely are the infinite number of descriptions of digs that turned up nothing and the discoveries of pottery, in overwhelming favour of the Circus, houses human remains, and burials.Secondly, this represents a sort of de-archaeologizing of archaeological findings: terms related to the particulars of the excavation itself still appear, although to a lesser extant than in the original report.Similarly, while the archaeological reports often found materials dated to non-Roman periods, especially the post-medieval and modern periods, the blog reports next to none of these findings. Their own description does not suggest that they prioritize Roman archaeology, it only claims that they seek to promote the archaeology of Colchester, but the contents of their blog suggests otherwise.
This slide was intended to show how, as you can see in the graph on the right side, the Archaeological reports did not generally prefer the circus to more seemingly mundane findings.. However, I was incredibly unwisely finishing up the preparation of these screenshots late last night, when Voyant-Tools began to fail to load any of my corpuses, or even a single text file or webpage. But, if you’ll imagine a graph on the left that has a very low wavy line representing the term “pottery” and a much higher wavy line representing the term “circus,” I hope the effect will be the same. The blog is emphasising the major findings and ignoring the minor ones.
For my examination of the archaeology of Colchester in the media, I chose a variety of articles from different organizations. I found fifteen articles from 2011 to the present that deal directly with archaeological finds in Colchester. These sources range in size from local newspapers to the BBC.
Most initially obvious here is that these texts are almost identical in their terminology to the Colchester Archaeologist blog. The final appearance of this archaeological information, to by far its largest audience, shares the same flaws as the previous step.
I still need to look deeper into each individual area of archaeological writings, but the majority of my project will concern the cumulative comparison and analysis. I'm hoping that when I compare the professional, academic, public, and popular writing on archaeology, something interesting will emerge. I'm starting to notice a very wide gap between the multiplicity of subjects at the beginning in the archaeological reports quickly becoming a much more exclusive focus on a few eye-catching particulars by the time it has been reported to the public, among other a few other things.So far, I am seeing that the publically-oriented portrayals of the archaeology of Colchester do not accurately reflect what is seen in the archaeological reports. Since this divergence occurs at the stage of public presentation, perhaps this is where a solution to this can be found. If the Colchester Archaeologist presented a more complete view of archaeology, rather than just focusing on the circus and other big-name attractions, the media, and public opinion, may follow. Hopefully, many other relevant conclusions can be drawn from this project.
Exploring trends in archaeology in professional, academic
EXPLORING TRENDS IN
ACADEMIC, PUBLIC, AND
Joe Aitken. 100817794.
Four-way division of writing on the archaeology
Colchester Archaeological Trust Library
Online Report CAT Report 585 (January 2011) to CAT Report 743
(22nd October 2013)
121 reports in total (some unavailable).
Journal of Roman Studies (1910-present)
Main source of archaeological writing on Colchester prior to
Focuses on Archaeology of Roman Britain
16 papers, 1919-2008.
website run by the Colchester Archaeological Trust, “a
registered charity founded in 1963 to research into and promote the
archaeology of Colchester” and “a registered archaeological
organisation with the Institute for Archaeologists.”
Blogging about archaeological discoveries since 2011.
106 Posts, Jan 2011-present.
Frequency of Colchester
Number of Posts
Number of Posts