Convergence

Convergence – it is a word that has been on my mind a lot these days.  Perhaps it is my new-found freedom from administrative duties; perhaps it is a product of my growing facility with geospatial computing; but I feel as if more and more applications and tools are becoming not only more relevant to each other, but necessary for our work going forward.

When I seriously began using GIS, I saw my own approaches to the geospatial world as separate from other applications such as 3-D reconstructions in CAD or the use of the new-fangled Google Earth.  I could see the ways in which these pieces could fit together, but at the time they seemed a distraction from more important applications.  Today, the integration of these and other approaches and dissemination of this information via the internet is a growing possibility and necessity. 

Of course, tying together these visual, geospatial elements means tying together the data behind them, an increasingly complex task given the growing multimedia format of our data, and our collective desires and capabilities to link all aspects of our understanding into a synthesized whole. 

This convergence brings to mind a series of demands, but all can be summed up into a single question:  who is going to do all of this?  New tools and new approaches mean new skills and training.  Are we training our students properly?  To pick on my own discipline (knowing that others have commensurate issues), the graduate school entrance requirements in classics call explicitly or implicitly for years of Latin and Greek, and suggest French and/or German – where does that leave geospatial or other competing applications?  Given that only a few of our students go to graduate school, aren’t we depriving them of potential job-earning skills?  When graduate curricula have changed minimally over the last 20 years, new tenure-track line advertisements are written conservatively, and electronic forms of research and output are handled with potential suspicion by tenure and promotion committees, I see ourselves abrogating much of the critical technological development to other fields such as the geosciences and geography, which seem to have made more adjustments to the digital world.  Maybe we’re good with this.  Maybe not.

In short, I see a need for rethinking what we do as archaeologists/historians, how we train our students, and how we fit into the larger picture of the academy and society as a whole.

Convergence is a time of experiencing other approaches, inventing new ones, and setting new tracks forward.  I look forward to hearing of different viewpoints pro or con.  Maybe I need to stop the coffee and to bed.  Maybe we need to light some torches and grab pitchforks.  I’m good either way.

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About Jim Newhard

Director of Archaeology at the College of Charleston
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