Vol. IX, No. 2

August, 1996

A New Experience With Computers

Adrienne L. Sharpe

I came to CSA as an intern for the month of July, 1996. A Mount Holyoke student majoring in English and art history, I was seeking summer internships and came across the February, 1996, issue of the CSA Newsletter. I read about the value of CAD for scholarly work, and I wanted to learn more about CSA's involvement in architectural and archaeological modeling. As I became interested in finding out exactly how CAD is applied to the actual recording of archaeological information, I also realized that some solid experience with computers might be very beneficial. Even though CAD seemed more directly geared towards work in archaeology, clearly there is value for the student of art history as well, in terms of the possibilities for studying more closely individual monuments or archaeological sites. On a more personal level, I also felt that I really needed a more practical grounding in computer skills and programs. For these reasons, I contacted CSA and an internship was arranged for the month of July.

I came to the CSA office at the beginning of the month and began reading through past issues of the CSA Newsletter to understand how CAD can benefit archaeology. I then began working with the CAD Tutorial provided by CSA, written last winter by Professor Nancy Wilkie of Carleton College and CSA Director Harrison Eiteljorg, II. I found this tutorial to be extremely helpful in introducing various commands. It is far more approachable than your standard, daunting computer manual, simply because it is only about 30-some-odd pages in length and deals primarily with the commands that are of most importance for scholarly purposes. The tutorial avoids the more technical jargon of computer terminology, and it focuses on those commands most important for the architectural historian or archaeologist. This tutorial prepares even the newcomer with a reasonable number of AutoCAD commands, separately introducing each command in an orderly fashion so as to lay out clearly the purpose of that command. The tutorial is very nice in that sense; it not only introduces the "how" of the command but also the "why."

From the very beginning, I needed to become accustomed to thinking more clearly in terms of 3-dimensional space. All's well in theory, but hardly being mathematically inclined, I needed quite a bit of time to begin to visualize and to understand lines and figures in 3-dimensional drawings. Ah, and I thought that ninth-grade geometry was well behind me! Aside from having to retrain my eyes to understand 3-dimensional drawings, I would have fared far better overall had I remembered more basic geometry. Yet, although the very nature of CAD requires some knowledge of math, AutoCAD does not require high-level math skills. I did find that it sometimes called for more patience and concentration on my part, if, for instance, the rotation of an object around a line or the placement of figures on different planes were to make sense.

Prior to working with CAD, I had virtually no experience with computer programs. I had sworn off computers except when absolutely unavoidable, and my only computing work had been with word processing. Therefore, I half expected AutoCAD to be inaccessible to me. Fortunately, it was not too long before I reached a certain comfort level with most of the CAD processes and commands, but that point did not come before going completely through the tutorial more than once.

It is very important to note that the tutorial underwent significant revisions during the month I spent working with the program. I worked quite closely with the tutorial at various stages of revision and saw it slowly develop from a nice, neat listing of commands to a much more comprehensive guide of commands accented by explanatory material. The original had some explanatory information about commands and processes involved, but, by the last stage, the explanations were much more helpful and thorough, leading me carefully through the tutorial step by step. I believe that, if I were to begin the CAD tutorial now for the first time, I would be able to understand the commands on my own after only one or two complete passes through the tutorial.

I want to emphasize how important it was for me in all stages of the tutorial to have someone very well-versed in CAD available for advice and suggestions. Mr. Eiteljorg was there to answer the questions that I had along the way, but I do think that I could have completed the tutorial without his help if I had started with the last version.

While the tutorial needed various changes from one stage of revision to the next, for the most part, the tutorial was very straightforward, and I was able to learn a great deal about the workings and commands of AutoCAD. I also realized the importance of CAD in academics.

Overall, it was very reassuring to find the CAD tutorial instructive, well-organized, thorough and, consequently, very approachable. I had some difficulty with a few technical issues, such as using the plotter and the digitizer, as the tutorial does not instruct in how to attach and use these items of hardware. Yet this is inevitable, because the tutorial can neither anticipate nor account for the differences among the various types of equipment that people will use. These are instances when you really must have someone at hand to help.

Though CAD does have certain limitations, I can attest to the fact that CAD is quite accessible, even to a technological ignoramus like myself. I was confused occasionally by the sometimes brief explanations within the tutorial, but in some of those cases explanatory material had been intentionally limited because fuller explanations had been given earlier in the tutorial. In other sections, it seemed that incorrect assumptions had been made as to what I would know when first coming to the tutorial.

All in all, I believe that this tutorial is fairly direct and accessible, as it provides even those of us with little or no previous computer experience a certain framework with which we can begin learning the complexities of CAD. Now at its latest level of revision, the tutorial has come a long way towards becoming a clear and useful tool.

Now that I have begun to experiment with CAD and some of its capabilities, I want to continue learning more about computer technology as it applies to studies in the humanities. In just four weeks, this tutorial has proven to me that virtually nothing should be thought impossible.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the applications of CAD modelling in archaeology and architectural history consult the Subject index.

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