Shawn Graham

Shawn Graham

This spring, Twitter hosted the first-ever global conference in Public Archeology. The social media conference featured fifty presenters from seven different countries over the course of a single day. The resonance of this unique venture was significant, reaching people worldwide through tweeted images, video clips, and so on, to convey arguments concerning the discipline of public and digital archaeology. All this and no one had to pay for flights or entry fees!  Specific topics broached included, photogrammetry, museums, looting, public engagement, art, politics all using the hashtag #PATC.

At the forefront of this groundbreaking academic occasion was Department of History’s own Professor Shawn Graham.

Graham, who is a trained in Roman archaeology but has evolved into an internationally celebrated digital archaeologist and digital humanist, was one of two keynote speakers. Prof. Graham opened the conference by asking “can public archaeology be ‘done’ by a machine?”  A question which successfully encouraged busy Twitter fingers for the rest of the day long event. Graham believes the conference was a great contemporary success. “For me, what was interesting to see was the richness of argument and exploration the conference goers were able to achieve within the constraints of the format. Then, when combined with the natural affordances of Twitter – threads, embedded videos, gifs, images, retweeting, tagged subjects — it was amazing to see these nuanced arguments filter into other conversations,” he said.

“Being able to dip into the stream, and to follow sub-conversations at will, made #PATC far more accessible than most physical conferences. If more academic work took place in the open like this, I think we might find a better public understanding, appreciation, and appetite, for the research we do.”

The brainchild of Lorna Richardson from the Department of Sociology at Umeå University in northern Sweden,  the conference provided an online environment which allowed the almost 700 participants to follow along in real time as each speaker gave 15 minute/12 tweet presentations.  Attendees also had the option to revisit these talks through archived tweets.


Ethan Watrall, of Michigan State University:

Penelope Foreman, of Bournemouth University:

Katherine Cook, of the University of Victoria:

Shawn Graham’s Abstract

Can public archaeology be ‘done’ by a machine?

Abstract: Is it still public archaeology if it’s written by a machine? With a machine? For a machine? In this piece, my bots and I wonder about the way we are ensnared online and off in meshworks and correspondences, juxtapositions and transductions, of power and data, and what this might mean. Where does the human end and the machine begin? We wonder about creativity and procedural generation and the essentially algorithmic nature of archaeology. We offer no answers, but maybe, pose the right questions.

Biography: Shawn Graham is a confused Digital, Roman, Archaeologist hiding in the Department of History at Carleton University carleton.ca. Once upon a time he studied stamped bricks as proxies for power and control of land and resources around Rome. Nowadays, he’s fascinated by computer generated art, procedural design, methods, and theory.  He thinks out loud about these things at electricarchaeology.ca. He’s working on building a new journal called ‘Epoiesen’ as a venue for creative engagements with history and archaeology, and is also building an integrated virtual computer and text book for teaching digital archaeology called ODATE. This keeps him busy and somewhat out of trouble.

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