I’m quite taken with this article on two fronts:
First, in light of this week’s discussion topic on Open Access and the linking of data into larger datasets, through this project we will witness the ways in which existing, disparate data are aggregated and employed to attempt to yield greater insights. In this article, pulling together an array of datasets is conveyed as a technical challenge – one that involves digitization and establishing the right synthesize of column names and data types. Yet, recall the variation in results on Scottish castles from two different “comprehensive” databases; considering the subjective, dynamic nature of data and the relational practices of the researchers, it seems apparent to me that they will encounter – if they choose to – deeper differences in: methods of classification; areas of research attention; and theoretical, temporal, and personal perspectives of the researchers, among others. If I do an aggregate search in this database for “Hopi Yellow”, who decided where yellow ended and orange began? Did they do it the same way?
I’m hopeful the interdisciplinary constitution of the project team will generate theoretical and practical differences that don’t permit unspoken assumptions; however, I’m as much interested in their process as their project outcome. Perhaps they’d be willing to publish paradata associated with the database’s creation.
The second element of this article that interests me is the positioning of Big Data as an opportunity for better Digital Archaeology. This is not just an article – it's a press release developed by the university’s communications department. The headline is not about the place(s) or people(s) that form part of the project scope; it’s about Big Data. That’s all you need to know! Big Data is the point – it’s an end in itself. Given the intended purposes of the article, it’s unsurprising that the project is pitched as a chance to crunch bigger numbers, be more “streamlined”, and help website visitors (the public?) easily access data.
Friends, this is not just a database. This is a KNOWLEDGE DISCOVERY SYSTEM.
These are uncritical rallying cries for the benefits of Big Data. It’s interesting to see this article, at this time, in light of the discrepancy between utopian conceptualizations of Big Data from a few years back and the messy, uneven realities of data sharing now.
I’m re-reading this before posting, and realizing I’m coming across as quite pessimistic. That’s not my intent. I’m not going to reject Big Data as an idea because I find it off-putting or because it doesn’t live up to the idealized hype. For any shortcomings in practical implementation, if bigger data sets can help us tell better stories about the past, I’m excited for that. If we want to realize these benefits, I suggest we need to be attuned to the contingent processes of knowledge generation, whether as an archaeologist 75 years ago or a professor at INSITE: Centre for Business Management and Analytics today.