2017 Highs, Lows and Losses

I ended up taking an unscheduled break from blogging and social media over the holidays as I was laid up with a nasty virus and its after effects.  Bleh.  So in an attempt to get back into the saddle, I’m taking a leaf out of Anne-Marie’s book with this “Some things that happpened in 2017” post.  So in no particular order here’s a ramble through some of the things that made an impression on me, for one reason or another, over the last year.

OER17

OER is my conference;  I’ve never missed a single one since it kicked off in 2010.  They’re always thought provoking and topical events, but OER17 The Politics of Open was particularly timely and unexpectedly emotional. I was fortunate to take part on several panels and talks, but the one that will always stay with me is Shouting from the Heart, a very short, very personal, lightning talk about what writing, openness and politics means to me.  I’d never given such a personal talk before and, not to put too fine a point on it, I was fucking terrified. I was supposed to end with a quote from the Declaration of Arbroath but I bottled it and had to stop because I was in danger of crying in front of everyone. It was a deeply emotional experience, but the overwhelming response more than made up for for my mortification.   I was also extremely grateful to meet up with many old friends and to meet many new friends too.

International Women’s Day

I was honoured to be name checked on International Women’s Day by several colleagues who I respect and admire hugely.  I’m still deeply touched.  Thank you.

Mashrou’ Leila  مشروع ليلى

Mashrou’ Leila مشروع ليلى are a Lebanese indy rock band whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay and a vocal advocate for LGBTQ issues, women’s rights and contemporary Arab identity. Mashrou’ Leila also happen to be one of my favourite bands of the last year so I was over the moon to be in London when they played an amazing open air gig at Somerset House in July.  It was a fabulous night and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse crowd at a music event.  I got quite emotional seeing the rainbow flag flying over Somerset House. Sadly, when Mashrou’ Leila played in Cairo a few months later, seven concert goers were arrested for raising that same rainbow flag and were subsequently charged with promoting sexual deviancy.

Mashrou’ Leila, Somerset House, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Wiki Loves Monuments

I’ve meant to take part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition for years now.  I’ve taken hundreds of photographs of monuments over the years and they really should be in the public domain rather than languishing on various ancient laptops.  But it took my fabulous colleague and University of Edinburgh Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, to prod me into contributing.  Ewan made it his mission to get as many photographs of Scottish monuments uploaded to Wikipedia Commons as possible, and maybe try to beat the Welsh in the process.  The whole competition was hugely enjoyable and got very competitive. By the time it closed at the end of September over 2000 new images of Scottish monuments had been uploaded, and 184 of my old holiday snaps had found a new lease of life on Wikimedia Commons. Hats of to Ewan and Anne-Marie for the hundreds of amazing photographs they submitted to the competition.

A few of my pics…

Women in Red

In 2016 I was honoured to join Wikimedia UK’s Board of Trustees but it was in 2017 that I really started editing Wikipedia in earnest.  I created a number of new pages for notable women who previously didn’t have entries.  The ones I’m most proud of are:

Mary Susan MacIntosh, sociologist, feminist, lesbian, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights.  MacIntosh was a founding member of the London Gay Liberation Front, she sat on the Criminal Law Revision Committee which lowered the age of male homosexual consent, and she played a crucial role in shaping the theory of social constructionism, a theory later developed by, and widely attributed to Michel Foucault. MacIntosh’s Wikipedia page still needs a lot more work, so please, if you can help, go ahead and edit it.

Elizabeth Slater a British archaeologist specialising in archaeometallurgy. She was the first female professor of archaeology appointed by the University of Liverpool.  Liz was also the only female lecturer teaching archaeology at the University of Glasgow when I was a student there and her lectures made a huge impression on me. I was chuffed to be able to build a Wikipedia page for her.

Open Tumshies

Mah tumshie appeared in The Scotsman online! And you can read about it here 🙂

Open tumshies ftw!

Audierne Bay

In July my partner drove our aged VW camper van all the way to Brittany and we spent two weeks camping in Finistère with our daughter.  While we were there we visited Audierne Bay, where the Droits de L’Homme frigate engagement took place during a ferocious gale on the night of 13th January 1797.  This engagement was the starting point for the book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates, which I wrote with my dear friend Heather Noel-Smith.  The day I visited Audierne Bay was bright and sunny and the beach was filled was families and holiday makers.  It was a sobering thought to stand there and look out at the reefs where hundreds of men lost their lives two hundred years before.

Audierne Bay, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

CMALT

Finally, after years of procrastinating, I wrote my portfolio and became a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.  And I did it all in the open!

Me and inspirational ALT CEO, Maren Deepwell, CC BY, @ammienoot

UNESCO OER World Congress

In September I was honoured to attend the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland, along with my colleague Joe Wilson. I’m so glad we were able to attend because, along with the fabulous Leo Havemann, we were the only people there from the UK.  It was a really interesting event and I hope the resulting OER Action Plan it will help to raise the profile of OER worldwide.

UNESCO OER World Congress, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency

Louvain-la-Neuve

In November I was invited to give a talk about OER and open education at UCLouvain. It was a brief but enjoyable trip and I’d like to thank Christine Jacqmot and Yves Deville for their hospitality and for showing me around their unique city and university.

Mural, Louvain-la-Neuve, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Tango

I don’t get to dance much these days, due to work, commuting, childcare etc, but I did get to have one or two tango adventures this year.

A wedding and a ridiculous frock

In October my sister got married in Stornoway and I promised to buy the most ridiculous vintage frock I could find for the wedding.  I think I succeeded.

Channelling Abigail’s Party…

These guys…

Nike & Josh, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Also these guys…

We had a family of foxes living in the garden this year.  When I was working from home through the summer months I often had two or three foxes curled up sleeping in the sun outside my window, if not even closer!

Josh & friend, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Inevitably there was some real low points and losses during the year too.

I had a horrible medical emergency while travelling to Brittany and had to get blue-lighted off the boat in an ambulance and carted off to hospital in Morlaix.  Never, ever, have I been so glad that my partner is a nurse and stubborn as hell.  Without him, I don’t know what would have happened.

Public Transpot

I don’t drive.  That’s a choice, not an accident.  But I travel continually so I spent a lot of my time on public transport. I take the bus and the train to work, which is a four hour commute twice a week.  When public transport isn’t available, I use a local taxi firm.  I never use Uber, because fuck that for a business model. I keep reading all this stuff about automated and driverless cars but tbh, I don’t want any more cars on the road, driverless or otherwise.  I want decent public transport, which is regular, reliable, clean, and safe for women travelling alone at any hour of the day or night. Oh, and I also want the people who work for these public transport systems to earn a decent living wage.  Is that too much to ask?

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician, professor at Stamford University and the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics.  In March I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin and I took the title of my talk, Crossing the Field Boundaries, from an interview with Maryam.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract SurfacesQuanta Magazine, August 2014

Four months later, I was deeply saddened to hear that Maryam had died of breast cancer at the age of 40.  The loss of such a gifted woman is unfathomable.

Bassel Khartabil

In August we heard the devastating news that the detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil had been executed by the Syrian government in 2015.  I never met Bassel, but I was deeply moved by his story and I contributed to a number of initiatives that tried to raise awareness of his plight. I will never forget that this man lost his liberty and his life for doing a similar job that I, and many of my colleagues, do every day.  This is my memorial to him.

Ada Lovelace Day – Professor Elizabeth Slater

Today is Ada Lovelace Day and unfortunately I am stuck at home waiting for a network engineer to come and fix my intermittent internet, rather than joining colleagues in Edinburgh for this year’s event celebrating Women in STEM.   Ada Lovelace Day is always one of my favourite events of the year so I’m gutted to miss it, especially as there will be periodic table cup cakes as designed by chemist Ida Freund! However I’m planning to participate remotely so that I can defend my Metadata Games crown and I am also hoping to write a Wikipedia article about a woman from this field who was an inspiration to me when I was a student.

Vulcan hammering metal at a forge watched by Thetis. Engraving by Daret after Jacques Blanchard. CC BY, Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons.

Dr Elizabeth Slater was a lecturer in archaeology when I studied at the University of Glasgow in the late 1980s and it was as a result of her lively and engaging lectures that I developed an interest in archaeological conservation.  I believe Liz started her academic career as a scientist, before developing an interest in archaeometallurgy, and from there moving into archaeology. Liz taught us material sciences, conservation, archaeometallurgy, early smelting techniques, chemical analysis, experimental archaeology and the use and abuse of statistics.  It was her lectures on archaeometallurgy that really fascinated me though and it was from Liz that I remember hearing the theory as to why smith gods in so many mythologies happen to be lame.  One of the most common native ores of copper, which was smelted before the development of bronze, is copper arsenic ore, and when it’s smelted it gives off arsenic gas.  Prolonged exposure to arsenic gas results in chronic arsenic poisoning, the symptoms of which include sensory peripheral neuropathy, or numbness of the extremities, and distal weakness of the hands and feet.  It’s not too difficult to imagine that early smiths must frequently have suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning and that, Liz suggested, was why smith gods were portrayed as being lame.  This appears to be a relatively widespread theory now and I’m not sure it can be credited to any one individual, however it’s a fascinating story and one I always associate with Liz.

Liz left Glasgow in 1991 to take up the Garstang Chair in Archaeology at the University of Liverpool.  At the time, I believe she was the only current female Professor of Archaeology in the UK, Professor Rosemary Cramp having retired from Durham University the previous year.  Liz had a long and active career at the University of Liverpool, where she also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts.  She retired in 2007 and died in 2014 at the age of 68.   In 2015 the University of Liverpool commemorated her contribution to archaeological sciences by opening the Professor Elizabeth Slater Archaeological Research Laboratories.

Liz does not currently have a Wikipedia page, but hopefully I can do something about that this afternoon.

ETA And I did! Liz Slater‘s new Wikipedia page was published on Ada Lovelace Day 2017.

Wiki Loves Monuments – An amazing contribution to the commons

The Wiki Loves Monuments competition came to a close last Friday and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was still uploading ancient holiday snaps at quarter to midnight.  Who knew I had so many pics of ancient ruins?!  By the time the competition closed, a staggering 14,359 new images of UK scheduled monuments and listed buildings had been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, over 2000 of which came from Scotland.  And what’s even more impressive is that 1,351 of those image were uploaded by colleagues from the University of Edinburgh 💕 That’s an amazing contribution to the global commons and a wonderful collection of open educational resources that are free for all to use.  Our most prolific contributor was our very own Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, who we have to thank for spurring us all on, closely followed by Anne-Marie Scott, who contributed some glorious images of Pheobe Traquair’s murals at the Mansfield Traquair Centre.  And the diversity of the images uploaded is just incredible.  Everything from castles, cathedrals, country houses, churches, cemeteries, chambered cairns, terraces, fountains,  bars, bridges, brochs, botanic gardens, and even a lap dancing club (thank you Ewan…) I managed to upload a modest 184; my oldest monument was the Callanish Stones on my home island of Lewis and most modern was a picture of Luma Tower in Glasgow that I took out the window of a passing bus!  You can see all my pics here, and not one of them was taken with an actual camera :}

A new lease of life for your holiday snaps

I’ve been spending most of my evenings this week looking through photographs on old laptops, not because I’ve been overtaken by a fit of nostalgia, the reason I’m trawling through old holiday snaps is that I’m looking out pictures to submit to this year’s Wiki Loves Monuments competition.  And as a former archaeologist, monuments feature very heavily among my holiday pics :}

Wiki Loves Monuments is the worlds biggest photography competition which runs annually during the whole month of September.  The rules are simple, all you have to do is upload a high quality picture of a scheduled monument or listed building to Wiikimedia Commons through one of the competition upload interfaces.  You can browse monuments to photograph using this interactive map, or you can search for monuments using this interface, this is the one I’ve been using but it’s all a matter of preference. The competition is open to amateurs and professionals alike and you don’t even need a camera to enter, mobile phone pictures are fine as long as they’re of decent quality. You can enter as many times as you like, and you can submit entires taken anywhere in the world as long as you own the copyright and are willing to share them under a CC BY SA licence.

I’ve been meaning to enter Wiki Loves Monuments for years and it’s in no small part due to the persuasive powers of my colleague Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, that I’ve finally got my act together to enter.  A little healthy competition with our Celtic cousins also hasn’t done any harm….At the time of writing Wales had 510 entries, Scotland 289, Ireland 197.   You know what you need to do :}

Some of my more energetic colleagues at the University of Edinburgh have been out and about of an evening snapping pictures all over the city and beyond, but I’ve decided to raid my back catalogue instead.  So far I’ve unearthed and uploaded pics of Culzean Castle and Camellia House, Mount Stuart, Waverley Station, Teviot Row, St Giles Cathedral, the General Register Office, Sloans Ballroom, University of Glasgow Cloisters, Kibble Palace, and Garnet Hill Highschool for Girls.  My pictures might not win any prizes but it’s a great way to contribute to the Commons and create new open educational resources!  If you’ve got  old snaps lurking on a laptop or hard drive, why not give them a new lease of life on the Commons too? 🙂

Camellia House, Culzean Castle, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Links
Wiki Loves Monuments
Scotland loves Monuments 2017 by Ewan McAndrew
Wanderings with a Wikimedian by Anne-Marie Scott

In Memorium Bassel Khartabil

This is my personal reflection on the devastating news that Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government in 2015. 

Qasr al Hallabat, Jordan, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Some of you will already know that before I worked in open education I used to be an archaeologist.  My main interest was the North Atlantic Iron Age and I spent a lot of time working on excavations in the Outer Hebrides where I was born and brought up.  However I also spent one memorable summer working in the South Hauran Desert in Jordan near the Syrian Border.  It was a bit of a life changing experience for me, I fell quietly in love with the Middle East and when I got back to Scotland I realised that I was stuck in a rut with my job so I decided to leave archaeology while I still loved the subject and turn my hand to something else instead.

By rather circuitous routes that something else turned out to be open education, and it’s something which I have had a deep personal and ethical commitment to for over ten years now.  I never lost my love of archaeology though and I always regretted that while I was in Jordan we didn’t cross the border into Syria to visit Palmyra and Damascus. We had one week free at the end of our fieldwork project and it was a toss up between Petra or Syria.  Petra won.  Years later I watched in horror as Syria descended into civil war and Palmyra became a battleground.  Tragic as the destruction of Palmyra has been, it pales into significance beside the huge number of lives that have been destroyed in the conflict.

Consequently, when I first came across the New Palmyra project I was really inspired.  Here was a project that used openness to capture the cultural and archaeological heritage of Syria before it’s lost forever.  What a fabulous idea.  I vaguely noted the name of Bassel Khartabil among the people involved but at the time I knew nothing more about him

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

About a year later Adam Hyde of Booksprints.net, who ran a booksprint for us at the end of the the UKOER programme, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for a book to raise awareness of the disappearance of Syrian open knowledge advocate, Creative Commons representative and active Wikimedian, Bassel Khartabil.  I was horrified to learn of Bassel’s disappearance and immediately agreed.  My contribution to the open eBook The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry is called The Open World. Since then I have talked and blogged about Bassel at every opportunity, most recently at the OER17 Conference The Politics of Open and re:publica, in order to help raise awareness of his plight.

I never met Bassel, but his story touched me deeply.  Here was a man who lost his liberty, and we now know lost his life, for doing the very same job that I am doing now. This is why openness, open knowledge, open education, open advocacy matter.

I was on holiday in Brittany when I heard about Bassel’s death via Catherine Cronin on twitter and I was deeply, deeply saddened by the news.  I still am, and I’m still struggling to express this in words. At the moment, I’m not sure I can put it better than the words I used at the end of my OER17 lightning talk Shouting from the Heart.

The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Resources

There and back again

Elias Pipon’s memorial to the Droits de L’Homme, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

I’m just back from holiday and, against all the odds, our aged VW camper van made it all the way to Finistère and back without even a hiccup.  Sadly the same can’t be said for myself. I came down with a very nasty kidney infection while travelling and had to spend the first half of my holiday in hospital in France 🙁  Thank god for EU healthcare.  And thanks also to the medical staff aboard MV Armorique and at Centre Hospitalier de Pays de Morlaix.  Due to their exemplary care my holiday wasn’t a complete wash out and I made it to the beach before the week was out.

I also managed to visit Audierne Bay, the scene of the Droits de L’Homme engagement, the 19th century frigate action that was the starting point for our research into the 1797 crew of HMS Indefatigable and our subsequent book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The young gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable.  It was a beautiful day when we visited and the beach was crowded with families enjoying the sun and children playing in the sea.  It was hard to remember that so many men lost their lives in that exact spot after the Droits de L’Homme was wrecked on the shore following the engagement.  Elias Pipon, an English artillery lieutenant who was a prisoner aboard the ship at the time, wrote a harrowing account of the shipwreck and 40 years later returned to Audierne Bay to erect a monument to the event. The beach now takes it’s name from Pipon’s memorial: Plage du Menhir.

Anyway, I’m now back at my desk and facing the inevitable post holiday e-mail backlog (967) and I’m also starting a new role at the University of Edinburgh today, but that deserves a separate blog post of it’s own!

International Women’s Day 2017

Spare Rib, https://journalarchives.jisc.ac.uk/britishlibrary/sparerib

I’ve been so fortunate to work with a huge number of amazing women throughout my career in Education Technology that I’m always a bit spoilt for choice when International Women’s Way and Ada Lovelace Day come around.  In fact my first appreciation post, written for Ada Lovelace Day way back in 2009, was simply a list of the women I’d worked with in Ed Tech.

All the women I work with are amazing in their own unique ways, so it seems a bit unfair to single some out over others, but I would just like to highlight those who have been particularly supportive, influential and inspirational to me over the last year.

Javiera Atenas, OKFNEdu; Helen Beetham, helenbeetham.com; Frances Bell, francesbell.com; Lucy Crompton-Reid, Wikimedia UK CEO; Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway; Maren Deepwell, ALT CEO ; Charlie Farley, Open Education Resources Advisor, UoE; Josie Fraser, OER17 Co-Chair & Wikimedia Board; Gill Hamilton, National Library of Scotland; Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services & Assistant Principal Online Learning, University of Edinburgh; Morna Simpson; Geek Girl Scotland; Jo Spiller, Educational Design and Engagement, UoE.

And on the Maritime History side… Joanne Begiato, Oxford Brookes University; Cathryn Pearce, University of Greenwich Maritime Centre; Heather Noel-Smith, my Indefatigable co-author.

And last but not least, an honourable mention to Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, UoE, who has worked so hard to help redress the gender imbalance and improve the representation of women on Wikipedia.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you all.

Open Knowledge, OER, Wikimedia, MOOCs and Maritime Masculinities

How is it March already?!  I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog for the past few months, not because I’ve got nothing to say, quite the opposite, I’ve been so tied up with different projects I’ve barely had a chance to write a single blog post! A poor excuse I know, but anyway, here’s a very brief run down of what I’ve been up to for the past three months and hopefully I’ll be able to get back to blogging on a regular schedule soon.

Most of my time has been taken up with two new IS Innovation Fund projects I’m running at the University of Edinburgh.

UoE Open Knowledge Network

The UoE Open Knowledge Network is an informal forum to draw together the University’s strategic policies and activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Research, Open Collections and Archives, in order to support cross-fertilisation and promote the institution’s activities in these areas. This Network aims to embed open knowledge within the institution and to establish a self-sustaining network supported by the departments and divisions that have oversight of the University’s strategic Open Access, Open Education and Open Data policies.

The Network held its first event in January which featured a keynote from Gill Hamilton of the National Library of Scotland plus lightning talks from colleagues across the institution.  You can read more about the event on the Open Knowledge network blog here: http://okn.ed.ac.uk/

UoE Open Knowledge Network, CC BY Stephanie Farley

Accessing Open Research Outputs MOOC

Since the publication of the Finch report and the Research Councils’ policy on open access, universities have increasingly made the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals and repositories. However it’s not always easy for people outwith academia to know how to access these outputs even though they are available under open licence.

This project is developing a short self paced learning MOOC aimed at the general public, private researchers, entrepreneurs and SMEs to provide advice on how to access open research outputs including Open Access scholarly works and open research data sets, in order to foster technology transfer and innovation. The course will focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies to find and access open research outputs and will also feature a series of case studies based on individuals and SMEs that have made successful use of the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

This is the first time I’ve worked on a MOOC project and I’m delighted to be working with Morna Simpson, of Geek Girl Scotland who has just been named one of Scotland’s most influential women in tech.

Wikimedia UK

I’ve been involved in a whole host of Wikimedia events including the Wikimedia UK Education Summit at Middlesex University, where Melissa Highton gave an inspiring keynote and I chaired a panel of lightning talks, #1Lib1Ref which encouraged Librarians and wikimedia editors to add one reference to Wikipedia to mark the 15th anniversary of the foundation of Wikipedia, and the History of Medicine editathon, part of the University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning.  This event was a personal highlight not only because it took place in the stunning Surgeon’s Hall Museum and featured an utterly fascinating series of talks on subjects as diverse as Lothian Health Services Archive and William Burke, Scotland’s most prolific serial killer, but also because I got to create a new Wikipedia page for Ethel Moir, a nurse from Inverness who served on the Eastern Front in WW1.  I’m planning to do some more work on Ethel’s Wikipedia page tomorrow as during the University of Edinburgh’s Bragging Writes editathon as part of International Women’s Day.

History of Medicine Editathon, Surgeon’s Hall, CC BY Ewan McAndrew

UNESCO European Consultation on OER

2017 marks the 5th anniversary of the Paris OER Declaration and UNESCO and the Commonwealth for Learning are undertaking an international consultation focused on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education. Since the end of last year I’ve been liaising with COL to ensure that Scotland was represented at this consultation which is being undertaken in advance of the 2nd World OER Congress which will be held in Ljubljana later this year.  Joe Wilson went along to the consultation in Malta represent Open Scotland and you can read his report on the event here.

Maritime Masculinities Conference

Way back in December I took a week off from Ed Tech to co-chair the Maritime Masculinities Conference at the University of Oxford. The two day conference featured keynotes from Prof. Joanne Begiato, Dr Isaac Land and  Dr Mary Conley and a wide range of international papers.  I chaired a panel of papers on the theme of Sexualities and my co-author Heather Noel-Smith and I also presented a paper on Smoking Chimneys and Fallen Women: the several reinventions of Sir Henry Hart.  We were pleasantly surprised by the success of the conference and the lovely feedback we got from delegates.

I’ve also got a lot of conferences and events coming up over the next couple of months, but I think that deserves a separate blog post!

Open Archaeology and the Digital Cultural Commons

When I joined the Board of Wikimedia UK earlier this year I was asked if I’d like to write a blog post for the Wikimedia UK Blog, this is the result….

Eilean Dhomhnaill,  Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Eilean Dhomhnaill, Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Although I’ve worked in open education technology for almost twenty years now, my original background is actually in archaeology.  I studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow in the late 1980s and later worked there as material sciences technician for a number of years. Along the way I worked on some amazing fieldwork projects including excavating Iron Age brochs in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, Bronze Age wetland sites at Flag Fen, a rare Neolithic settlement at Loch Olabhat in North Uist, the Roman fort of Trimontium at Newstead in the Scottish Borders and prehistoric, Nabatean and Roman sites in the South Hauran desert in Jordan.  I still have a strong interest in both history and archaeology and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a passionate advocate of opening access to our shared cultural heritage.

Archaeological field work and post excavation analysis generates an enormous volume of data including photographs, plans, notebooks and journals, topographic data, terrain maps, archaeometric data, artefact collections, soil samples, osteoarchaeology data, archaeobotanical data, zooarchaeological data, radio carbon data, etc, etc, etc.  The majority of this data ends up in university, museum and county archives around the country or in specialist archives such as Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore archive and the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) at the University of York.  And while there is no question that the majority of this data is being carefully curated and archived for posterity, much of it remains largely inaccessible as it is either un-digitised, or released under restrictive or ambiguous licenses.

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

This is hardly surprising for older archives which are composed primarily of analogue data.  I worked on the reanalysis of the Cadbury Castle archive in the early 1990’s and can still remember trawling through hundreds of dusty boxes and files of plans, context sheets, finds records, correspondence, notebooks, etc. That reanalysis did result in the publication of an English Heritage monograph which is now freely available from the ADS but, as far as I’m aware, little if any, of the archive has been digitised.

Digitising the archives of historic excavations may be prohibitively expensive and of debatable value, however much of the data generated by fieldwork now is born digital. Archives such as Canmore and the ADS do an invaluable job of curating this data and making it freely available online for research and educational purposes.  Which is great, but it’s not really open.  Both archives use custom licenses rather than the more widely used Creative Commons licences.  It feels a bit uncharitable to be overly critical of these services because they are at least providing free access to curated archaeological data online.  Other services restrict access to public cultural heritage archives with subscriptions and paywalls.

Several key thinkers in the field of digital humanities have warned of the dangers of enclosing our cultural heritage commons and have stressed the need for digital archives to be open, accessible and reusable.

The Journal of Open Archaeology Data is one admirable example of an Open Access scholarly journal that makes all its papers and data sets freely and openly available under Creative Commons licenses, while endorsing the Panton Principles and using open, non-proprietary standards for all of its content. Internet Archaeology is another Open Access journal that publishes all its content under Creative Commons Attribution licences.  However it’s still just a drop in the ocean when one considers the vast quantity of archaeological data generated each year.  Archaeological data is an important component of our cultural commons and if even a small portion of this material was deposited into Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, Wikipedia etc., it would help to significantly increase the sum of open knowledge.

Wikimedia UK is already taking positive steps to engage with the Culture sector through a wide range of projects and initiatives such as residencies, editathons, and the Wiki Loves Monuments competition, an annual event that encourages both amateur and professional photographers to capture images of the world’s historic monuments.  By engaging with archaeologists and cultural heritage agencies directly, and encouraging them to contribute to our cultural commons, Wikimedia UK can play a key role in helping to ensure that our digital cultural heritage is freely and openly available to all.

This post originally appeared on the Wikimedia UK Blog

Manifestos, Mòds and the Future of Gaelic in Scotland

Last week was the October school holidays so I took my daughter home to the Outer Hebrides to visit family.  My trip coincided with the Royal National Mòd which was held in my home town of Stornoway this year so I was able to go along to some of the Mòd fringe events.

On Wednesday I was at the Council Chambers in Stornoway to hear Mr John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, present the Angus Macleod Lecture on The Place of Gaelic in Modern Scotland.  (I’ve already written a more comprehensive blog post about the Minister’s lecture for the Open Scotland blog here.)  In a wide ranging and really rather inspiring talk Swinney reiterated the government’s commitment to Gaelic stating

“Gaelic belongs to Scotland, hostility to Gaelic has no place in Scotland and we should all unite behind the effort to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland.”

National Library of Scotland, Digitised with permission of An Comunn Gàidhealach

National Library of Scotland, Digitised with permission of An Comunn Gàidhealach

In questions after the lecture I also had an opportunity to ask Swinney for his thoughts on the role of ICT in supporting Gaelic education.  He answered by re-stating the Government’s commitment to providing 100% network connectivity throughout Scotland and went on to highlight the importance of education technology in broadening the coverage of education provision and ensuring that Gaelic education can reach greater numbers of learners than ever before.  In addition he also emphasised the new opportunities that ICT affords young people in the Highlands and Islands, enabling them to expand their education and skills, and seek new careers without having to leave the Gàidhealtachd.

The second fringe event I went to was Manifestos, Mòds and Music, a fascinating talk by Jennifer Gilles on the National Library of Scotland’s digitised Gaelic collections. Jennifer presented a short history of An Comunn Gàidhealach illustrated by a whole host of items from the Library’s collections, ranging from publications and periodicals, to Mòd programmes and ephemera, printed music and even recipe books.  I confess I was particularly fond of the “Celtic Terms of Invective” column from one of An Comunn’s early 1900’s periodicals. You can find a short Storify of Jennifer’s talk here.

Jennifer’s talk was followed by a showing of the a 1942 film The Western Isles. Set in Harris, the film depicts scenes of island life during World War II, as a family anxiously awaits news of their son after his ship, the Atlantic Queen, is sunk by a German submarine in the Mid Atlantic. The son, admirably played by a 14 year old motor mechanic from Harris, successfully skippers the lifeboat back to the Hebrides and returns to his family. It was fascinating to recognise many of the places that appeared in the film and many Hebridean families, mine included, can relate similar tales of heroism from the both the Merchant and Royal Navy during the Second World War.

The Western Isles

Ian Mac Néill Ghiolais in The Western Isles