Vol. XVII, No. 1
CSA Newsletter Logo
Spring, 2004

Must We Keep Learning the Hard Way?

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

CSA personnel and board members need to know how widely the CSA Newsletter is read and how much people use the technical information provided by the CSA Web site. As a result, we check usage statistics on occasion. As I write this, for instance, I can check access to the site in the recent past, and the following statistics1 can be cited (using hits, which are not a reliable indicator but are the best we can get from the statistical package provided by CSA's hosting company when the site is broken down by content areas):

Total page views2 67,00265,59774,13166,401
Newsletter hits3 22,72422,15927,27726,269
Information hits4

The numbers seem clear. People read the Newsletter and use the resources at the site. Naturally, I would hope for more readers and users, but there are many as it is. Yet I am continually astounded by the number of people using CAD, the area where CSA has been most active and most in the vanguard, who have never seen or heard of the CSA site, CSA's CAD work, or CSA's CAD recommendations, particularly the CSA Layer Naming Convention. Regular readers of the Newsletter will doubtless recognize that the issue of naming layers is considered especially important at CSA. It has been discussed often in the Newsletter. Indeed, the first of those articles about naming layers appeared in the very first CSA Newsletter in May of 1988. There have been ten more articles since then about this critical issue. There is little in the use of CAD for archaeology or architectural history more important than the layer naming system employed by scholars using CAD, especially AutoCAD which is so conducive to the effective use of a good layer naming system.

In addition to the eleven Newsletter articles, the CSA Layer Naming Convention has been described on the CSA Web site, in our CSA CAD Guide for Archaeologists and Architectural Historians, and in the CAD: A Guide to Good Practice, published by the Archaeology Data Service. Readers may therefore imagine vividly my surprise at meeting scholars relatively new to the use of CAD in scholarship but using AutoCAD in very sophisticated ways who were completely unaware of the CSA layer naming recommendations. Had they been aware of them and rejected them in favor of others deemed more useful or flexible, I might have been distressed or -- perish the thought -- even argumentative. That they were oblivious, however, was truly worrisome.

My own pride aside, the distressing fact was not so much this particular instance of ignorance. It was this particular instance as an example of that which remains all too common -- an assumption that each of us is so much a pioneer in computer technology for scholarship that we need not look about for standards or forebears and may blithely assume that we have no need of help. But CAD has been used in archaeology for twenty years now, databases for longer, and GIS software for nearly as long. There are standards. There are people with good, valuable experience. There are sources where people new to the technologies as used in archaeology or architectural history can learn what others have done, what has been tried and found successful, and, often most important, what others have tried and found to be unsuccessful.

Why are resources such as CSA's not more widely used? To be fair, one reason is the same sloth of which we are all -- myself very much included -- guilty. I am not eager to acknowledge the number of articles I have marked for reading but not actually read. But regular readers will not be surprised when I assert that one reason is the absence of formal training for scholars in the use of computer technologies. An added problem, however, is that the computer technicians on projects are so often people with computer skills who have no understanding of the need for using standard approaches for these tasks. Instead they have experience with the software, but not archaeology, and assume that is sufficient. Such experienced computer users get little joy from working to standards introduced by others. They do not see themselves as re-inventing the wheel because they rarely see that there is a wheel. Those who have both computer experience and archaeological experience tend to assume that their archaeological experience makes it unnecessary to examine the best ways to use computing tools because the critical issue is knowing the software well enough. Since the work of either kind of "expert" is too often overseen by scholars who cannot direct them to relevant resources, there seems little possibility for change at the moment. Alas.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

To send comments or questions to either author, please see our email contacts page.


1. A general warning about Web statistics. Now that Google caches Web pages on its own servers, the statistics from any given Web site are far less accurate than they once were. Users may often access one or another of a site's pages without every visiting the site. Progress always seems to wield a double-edged sword. Return to text.

2. Using page views instead of hits for the entire site eliminates the effects of the graphics elements used just for site appearance and navigation (buttons, backgrounds, and the like). Since all those standard graphics elements are kept in separate directories, however, access to those elements is not counted when Newsletter or information technology hits are counted. Return to table.

3. The number of hits for the Newsletters does not include hits on the index pages and counts only hits to the most popular nineteen issues for each of the months named. Hit numbers do not reflect individual requests for Newsletter articles; any article request will yield an average of about two hits because of the inclusion of illustrations.Return to table.

4. Hits for information technology resources include only hits in the base area and the CAD Guide. Hits to the CAD Guide, however, may represent one viewer returning on multiple occasions since the guide is lengthy. Return to table.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

Table of Contents for the Spring, 2004 issue of the CSA Newsletter (Vol. XVII, No. 1)

Master Index Table of Contents for all CSA Newsletter issues on the Web

CSA Home Page