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The Levantine Ceramics Project
Archäologische Informationen in Open Access: A model case for changes in academic publishing
Website Review: Israel Antiquities Authority: Archaeological Survey of Israel
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The Levantine Ceramics Project
Andrea M. Berlin
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)
In the CSA Newsletter for September of 2012 (XXV, 2; "Artifacts and Applications: Computational Thinking for Archaeologists"), I discussed the first steps in the production of a new approach to online data about Levantine pottery. As I said in that article, I had become frustrated by the fragmentation of information and the limitations of the available sources. Therefore, with the aid of gratefully-received funding from the Hariri Institute and the help of an experienced software developer, Raoul Alwani, who is based in Cambridge, MA, I set out to try to create a better, more sophisticated, and more flexible resource. I am here reporting back on the development of this resource: a website and a linked series of workshops, called The Levantine Ceramics Project (LCP: www.levantineceramics.org).
When we think about digital resources and innovations, we tend to focus on the technical aspects: software, programming, the digital interface. But with the LCP, the most important aspect underlying development has been the workshops, where colleagues have gathered to discuss what they really want to see online, how they want an interface to work, what is useful and what is just confusing. With assistance from John Lund of the National Museum of Denmark; Jeroen Poblome of KU Leuven, Belgium; and Paul Reynolds of the University of Barcelona, Spain, we organzed the First Workshop on Levantine Ceramic Production and Distribution at the Danish Institute of Archaeology in Athens, Greece, on February 4th-5th, 2012 (workshops.levantineceramics.org/workshop-2012/). This occasion marked the first time that Levantine archaeologists, ceramic specialists, and ceramic scientists working across multiple periods and regions had come together in a single meeting. It was a heady experience — so much so that it led naturally to the Second Workshop on Levantine Ceramic Production and Distribution, again in Athens (workshops.levantineceramics.org/workshop-2013/). By the time of this second workshop, I had succeeded in creating a usable version of the LCP website. We asked workshop participants to practice submitting data to the website and to come prepared with suggestions for improvement. Enthusiasm and suggestions abounded, leading to another round of web development funded in part by another generous grant from the Hariri Foundation and in part by a private donor. I organized two more day-long workshops (March 30th and April 8th, 2013) devoted to database functionality and user interface improvements, and formed a initial project editorial board to assist with guiding further development: Joanna Smith (Princeton University), Matt Spigelman (New York University), and Peter Stone (Virginia Commonwealth University).
These last workshops fostered a substantial expansion in our thinking about site usability and design. Members of the editorial board urged incorporating a range of new data fields into submission forms so that more robust and creative search possibilities could be provided. One example was a field for type of archaeological site, information that would eventually allow comparison of the different types of vessels found in homes, graves, and sanctuaries. At the workshop devoted to platform interfaces, invitees Stan Ruecker (Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology) and Milena Radzikowska (Communication Studies, Mount Royal University, Calgary) demonstrated several interactive web applications and interfaces that they had developed over the prior decade. All of their designs allow users to visualize quickly the entire range of items available for analysis, to organize those items as desired, to understand the logic of the visual organization, to link every item or image to additional data, and to mark those items or images so as to permit collecting or returning to them as needed. Their presentation encouraged us to think more creatively about developing an LCP interface that would make the full range of possible research investigations visible to the site’s users.
From August to October of 2013 we developed a third version of the site, which we think of as LCP 1.0. The current version provides a range of improvements:
In just two years the LCP has become a viable, growing resource that is catalyzing the scholarly community and scholarship. We are just beginning to establish research and technical partnerships with two other projects: the University of Lyon’s POMEDOR (People, Pottery, and Food in the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean) and the University of Toronto’s CRANE (Computational Research in the Ancient Near East). In the spring of 2014 we will hold four day-long LCP workshops in Jerusalem, Leuven, Lyon, and Toronto; the latter two workshops will be held in conjunction with POMEDOR and CRANE, respectively (workshops.levantineceramics.org/workshops-2014/).
The LCP represents the scholarly community in action: together we are working our way toward common modes and standards. This is a project that demonstrates not only the potential for using digital technology but the increased utility derived from intense cooperation to take a good idea to the next level.
-- Andrea M. Berlin
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