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Wednesday, March 28 • 2:00pm - 6:15pm
6 - GeoDia: or, Navigating archaeological time and space in an American college classroom

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GeoDia (geodia.laits.utexas.edu), a spatial timeline focusing on the archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean, is an attempt to use accessible, familiar online visualization tools to address a fundamental disjunction between the narratives archaeologists tell each other about the past, and the narratives that we present to our students and the public. Archaeologists working in the Mediterranean today are theoretically informed, attentive to the permeability of physical and cultural boundaries, interested in broad social and economic networks but increasingly sensitive to local contexts. We are sceptical about the objectified notion of culture, and we create esoteric regional periodizations to communicate with each other about relative chronologies in our areas of interest. Yet when we step in front of a classroom or construct a public website, we fall back on culture-historical paradigms that were already venerable in the 1950s to tell stories about the ancient world. In most archaeology and art history textbooks, Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures become monolithic, internally homogeneous, and chronologically separate. Within each, a synthetic picture of the "greatest hits" of monuments and art from various different sites is presented according to a simple, general periodization. Local context only becomes important for special sites like Athens or Pompeii, and even these are discussed primarily in terms of their traditional floruit rather than their diachronic development.It is therefore difficult to use existing resources, online or in print, to expose undergraduates to the complex narratives of the past that archaeologists now embrace. Instead, they see cultures existing in isolation, and often become hopelessly confused about details of both geography and chronology, especially in introductory courses with broad temporal and spatial coverage. GeoDia was designed to solve some of these problems for courses in archaeology and art history at The University of Texas at Austin. Using timemap.js, an open-source Javascript mashup of Google Maps and MIT's Simile timeline, we constructed an interactive interface that combined periodized archaeological sites, image resources in UT's digital image collections, historical events, and attributes like culture and region. It is intended to help students understand synchronisms and material connections between cultures, while also serving as a study aid in support of the absorption of facts about time, space, and objects in the ancient world. We are also working to develop mechanisms to allow students to contribute information themselves. Throughout the development of GeoDia and its use in classrooms, we have collected user-experience data from students through online surveys. This paper presents the theoretical considerations involved in the creation of the structure of GeoDia, including our efforts to link our content to existing sources of geotemporal information, and reviews survey data from several hundred students who have used GeoDia either during beta-testing or in the course of formal class assignments. It also addresses issues of authority and data quality, crowdsourcing potential, Linked Open Data standards, and the longevity and reusability of the dataset independent of the interface.


Adam Rabinowitz

The University of Texas at Austin | Twitter: @adamrabinowitz | LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/adam-rabinowitz/9/144/308 | Academia: http://utexas.academia.edu/AdamRabinowitz

Wednesday March 28, 2012 2:00pm - 6:15pm
Building 65, 1143 Streamed into room 1167

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