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Hands-on Digital Archaeology in the Classroom

Natalie M. Sussman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Digital research tools are ubiquitous for archaeologists, philologists, and historians, yet hands-on, introductory courses geared towards teaching undergraduates how to explore the past through these digital methods are rare. This dichotomy — where we as scholars produce mountains of geospatial scholarship, but few digital applications courses — conveys a dangerous message to our undergraduate students: only the most “professional” and “serious” scholars of human history should be thinking about how technology informs our understanding of culture. 

Unfortunately, this lack of integration between digital technology and teaching in ancient curricula makes sense. Faculty learn digital research methods in many different ways, ranging from formal instruction to self-guided tutorials online, and this will impact their comfort levels in translating these skills into a formal history or archaeology curriculum. Funding for humanities/social sciences programs, as well access to on-campus resources is another huge factor. Handling issues like licensing, data access and backup, as well as student troubleshooting is a task unto itself; instructors are often hesitant to manage these tasks — in addition to actually teaching a full roster — without a teaching assistant or similar support. This lightning talk is not about creating intensive digital research methods courses, nor completely rebuilding existing syllabi  -- it is about integrating manageable, low-cost digital lessons in our classrooms. By fusing history and digital technology — and providing our students with a learning environment to explore that integration — we can challenge how our students perceive historical and cultural change through time and across space.

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