SEEDD IN THE CLASSROOM
During my time at FSU (2015-17), I've been able to further develop the metadata schema for the Southeast Europe Digital Documentation Project (SEEDD) and implement it as a pedagogical tool in two of my courses: ARH4154/5161 Archaeology of the Late Roman Empire and CLA4930-002 Food & Drink in the Ancient Mediterranean. In the Late Roman course, we integrated SEEDD within the Omeka platform - students compiled their metadata and designed their exhibits accordingly, by attempting to map the SEEDD schema onto Dublin Core elements, the standard metadata schema for Omeka. This gave us the opportunity to talk about metadata consistency across projects and Linked Data initiatives, but made adherence to SEEDD elements - and more importantly, a clear understanding of the logic behind them, including order of items - more difficult. Still, students were up to the challenge and created some excellent exhibits and essays, engaging with the material on a deeper level by having to track down the required metadata elements, rather than 'making do' with the information immediately presented to them. At the end of the semester, I asked students to reflect on their experience as a way to help me improve upon it as a pedagogical tool. Below, I've quoted select student reflections on the process, removing only that information that has potential to violate their privacy.
"Reflecting upon this project, I found the use of Omeka and creating an appendix of items I would be utilizing in my thesis very helpful in developing my ideas. I think that entering all of the metadata first helped me fully grasp the identity of the items I worked with and allowed me to more fully think through my thesis before actually beginning to write. Through this I edited my thesis and changed course to broaden my argument, which I may not have otherwise done had I not been working in the database. Overall, I found the structure of the project refreshing as it was nice to work on a database and have a tangible output at the end of the project as opposed to simply writing a paper that may never be seen again."
"I would not have been able to develop my theme or thesis without creating this appendix of objects first and foremost. My initial action was to pick a type of object in an area and hope for the best but patterns began to emerge over several examples. These patterns gave crucial talking points and I was led to discuss public and private spaces and interpretation of iconographic images."
Across the board, ARH4154/5161 student responses noted how the process of compiling metadata according to a particular schema helped them think through 'their' objects, inspiring an iterative character to their interpretation and subsequent exhibits (and, to my delight, a close and very engaged relationship to the objects that they chose and had to work so hard to describe in detail). Additionally, students seemed very keen on creating a final project rather than a paper, especially because of the opportunity to have it online, a real product that would outlive the semester.
"I found this to be an excellent alternative to simply writing a final paper, as it allowed us students to interact with elements of scholarship that we often do not get to interact with. I had never had to handle metadata to this extent before, and I feel I now have a better understanding of how historians and librarians have to handle data in order for it to be clear, precise, and accurate; in addition, I now feel I have a better grasp of what the pitfalls of such a process can be, as gaps in the information can make the entirety of what is present look less credible. The information that I could not find was immensely frustrating, but on the whole I found this project rewarding."
Besides having a final product at the end of the semester, ARH4154/5161 students appreciated the opportunity to explore and develop their digital literacy skills, which they recognized as being important not just within art history and archaeology in particular, and academia more broadly, but outside the study of the ancient world: not just in terms of organizing their material for their own perspective, but in thinking past it to the different audiences and how best to share that information.
"I have learned a lot about data collection and was able to observe my project from a different perspective. Through creating an online exhibit, I was able to see the different ways that items and architectural structures could be organized in attempt to strengthen my thesis question. Prior to this project, I tended to group pieces by chronology rather than location, medium, or use. The aspect of the ‘findspot description’ where I had to find sources that support an items specific location. Most of my sources could not pinpoint a specific item through coordinates, so they used relative locations. By comparing one item’s location to another, I was able to create a more spatially aware image of Diocletian’s Palace layout that I otherwise would have been able to grasp. Through putting these objects into one exhibit, I was able to find a direct way to compare and contrast items."
"I appreciate the opportunity to work with the Omeka online database using the SEEDD schema and protocols. It is always good for archaeologists to learn a tangible skill for real-world applications and the knowledge to use Omeka is a good skill to have for a 21st century archaeologist's toolkit. This was the first time that I had ever built an online exhibit using any software, so in addition to learning how to use the software I also had to consider the experiences that I have had in museums and how I would like to emulate those experiences in my exhibit. I think the appendix portion of the project was crucial to this since it helped me organize all of the data I needed for the project in one place. It was relatively easy to navigate through the Omeka website and build everything that I needed for my exhibit once my objects had been entered, meaning that I could focus more effort on what I wanted to say about my objects."
I was very pleased with the active role that the exercise required the students to take in their own learning: pushing beyond what we had learned in class to discover the information they needed, and then synthesize that information in a way that adhered to their particular objects but also helped them shape their argument. I believe that it required them to think about material culture and what it can tell us about ancient history from a new perspective, as well as develop a better understanding of how, and why, we (as historians writ broadly) do what we do.
"As I review my final exhibit and navigate through the Omeka website I cannot help to feel really excited about it. And I feel overjoyed because, to be honest, at first I felt I was not going to be able to create an exhibit in which the main approach was archaeological. This is due to my lack of previous training in archaeology and although throughout the semester of ARH5161 I believe I have been provided with an excellent exposure to various archaeological methodologies, when it came to apply those methods to actual artifacts I felt quite insecure. However, as I started to gather information to select the artifacts I would be working with and once the selection was made and I researched my objects I began to feel increasingly confident and started to understand how fruitful an archaeological approach may be to gain knowledge of and insights about past civilizations. The Omeka platform allowed me manage the information pertaining to my objects in such a way that I felt I was able to process competently that metadata while gaining proficiency in computational skills. The research undertaken to discern the relationship between iconography and epigraphy in the [items] selected for my exhibit has given me the opportunity to educate myself ... and many other aspects that have had the effect of making me more interested in a topic that I hope I may be able to pursue further. ...Overall I would say that working with Omeka has helped understand a couple of important aspects in the research of [my objects and their interpretations and technologies] that I would not have been able to obtain as vividly and lively had I not been exposed to that technology [i.e., Omeka]. So the experience has been positive and beneficial for the wealth of knowledge acquired, the skills developed in research and data management and analysis and the education derived from an intense training in the archaeology of the Later Roman Empire."
While some students were uncomfortable in making their final exhibits available online to the public, some agreed to share their work. Because of its relationship to food and adherence to SEEDD's geographical purview (which I did not enforce very strictly, as the students had to track down the items themselves), I've exhorted my current students in CLA4930-002 Food & Drink, who are embarking upon a variation of the same project this semester, to follow The Gravestone Speaks: Iconography in Tombs from Tomis as model for their projects, which are slightly more directed than the ARH4154/5161 iteration: because of the difficulty of tracking down individual objects that are related to food and drink without something of a background, I've created a list of objects from which students will choose their final project objects. And just as their learning process is iterative, so is mine in guiding it, and I am trying a few new things this time around: I've given them free rein on which online platform they choose to host their exhibit, and they are not required to enter their metadata into the Omeka/Dublin Core schema. You can see a few of their projects at Banquets for the Dead, Silver Vessels of Magura, or Mosaic of Dionysos.