Confessions of a geospatial anthropological geological statistical computational economic philological classical historical archaeological geek.

I feel it helpful to start the blog off with some introduction and admissions of guilt, with the idea that this will help frame my perspective and questions as I go forth.  Hopefully, readers will see something of themselves in the following.

To begin, I was classically trained in ancient languages and ‘art and archaeology’ as an undergraduate in the early 1990s at a major research institution in the Midwestern US.  I received my MA and PhD in classics with a specialization in preclassical and classical archaeology from another such institution.  I therefore hold the requisite papers to be labeled as a classicist or even a classical archaeologist.  I have been employed by the College of Charleston since receiving my PhD in 2003.  Since 2004, I have engaged in a variety of administrative tasks – first as one who guided the formation of the College’s interdisciplinary archaeology program and served as inaugural director (2005-08), then as chair of the Department of Classics (2008-11).  Concurrently, I served as field director for the Göksu Archaeological Project and Assistant Director for the Avkat Archaeological Project – both in Turkey.  Those who want to see the full run-down can see the cv (admittedly the 2010 version).

Because of my training and career trajectory, I feel oftentimes schizophrenic.  If one tries to assign me a label (as an archaeologist or classicist, for example), my first inclination will be to squirm – hence the title of the post.  I will put on a hat if necessary, but only temporarily.  By and large I have found labels to do more harm than good.  My training on paper shows a normative training in classics and classical archaeology, but the research and employment shows bends into other directions.  Engaged in the research (although not as much as I would like), I have been just as involved in the administration and development of academic programs.  Therefore, my interests run from not only how to better visualize the ancient world, but how to present it to the next generation in ways that engage, and how to best train the next generation of scholars to take advantage of the plethora of approaches and perspectives that now lie before them.

My interest in GIS and other geospatial applications came as I was finishing my dissertation.  I saw GIS as an application that needed to be learned, just as I picked up the skills for designing databases, analyzing chipped stone tools, or understanding economic structures in the past.  As time has progressed, however, geospatial applications have become more powerful, easier to use, and at the same time more specialized and complicated at the higher end.

Many of my colleagues come to me and say that GIS is interesting and they see it as an important tool, but they don’t know anything about it.  To be clear – I have no formal training in GIS.  Rather, it has been continuous learning process, where my use of the tool has developed as my research needs and questions about the past have changed and grown.  One doesn’t start by developing an anisotropic least cost pathway.  One starts by going to Google Earth, looking up your address and finding directions to the nearest bar.  The waters are warm, the atmosphere collaborative, and we’re all here to learn.

This group, I see already, consists of people with a wide variety of interests, approaches, and comfort level with the geospatial world.  This is good.  I hope to learn and grow from the engagement, and hearing the perspectives.  My hopes are that the thoughts expressed here will be moved to greater matters of substance to include new avenues of research, methods, dissemination, and pedagogy.


About Jim Newhard

Director of the Center for Historic Landscapes and Professor of Classics at the College of Charleston
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6 Responses to Confessions of a geospatial anthropological geological statistical computational economic philological classical historical archaeological geek.

  1. Thanks for doing this, Jim! I look forward to reading and learning more, and to getting to know some new folks. I am linking your blog to mine (…

    • johnwallx says:

      Speaking of getting to know one another, maybe we could create a digital directory of members were members can post as much or as little information as they want about themselves including their blog urls, Twitter handles, etc. Does this sound appealing?

  2. Jim Newhard says:

    Thanks, Candace! I look forward to input from many and the ideas to start flying.

  3. johnwallx says:

    I really enjoyed this post mainly because it speaks to how I feel about combining archaeology and GIS. I too have felt the sort of schizophrenia that you mentioned albeit prior to obtaining my master’s degree. While attending conferences, my views on geospatial technology applications in archaeology have been met with everything from great enthusiasm resulting in contacts to outright hostility.

    My undergraduate background was in both Classical and anthropological archaeology. However, for my master’s program I decided to delve straight into a geospatial information science and technology program. Many of the classes in my master’s program require final projects all of which can be tailored to my specific interests — primarily archaeology. In particular I have enjoyed analyzing LiDAR data. When I present my projects at the end of each class I find the class genuinely engaged in my presentation (mainly due to the questions asked afterwards) and receive feedback for improvement. However, when I attend conferences and socialize at them, I am told more often than not what I am doing is not archaeology by both people my age and older. If the purpose of my research is to investigate archaeology, then how is my research not “doing” archaeology? Is it necessary to draw lines in the sand and differentiate (black and white) what is “doing” archaeology and what is not? If it is, what do we gain by doing so? Or, is it more likely that there is a wide spectrum of research which can be counted as “doing” archaeology?

  4. Jim Newhard says:

    Thanks, John, for your thoughts. I find your experiences interesting, in that I hold that archaeology as a field has to be inclusive as a basic necessity. That being said, I know all too well of disciplinary past sins, where various approaches were deemed heretical, destructive, racist…you name it. It is my hope that after the posittivist/substantivist, cultural-historical/processual/post-processual wars (not to mention other intellectual ‘police actions’), we can appreciate the strengths of a variety of approaches, and value them for what they add to the picture.

    How that translates into coursework, training, job opportunities, and so forth is a bit murky for me.

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