With the culmination of our year of digital archaeology, what have I ended up with? To recap my original goals:
- digital reconstruction of Natchez
- interactive console
I have ended with two out of four of my goals. Most of my time throughout this year was spent with the digital reconstruction; if I had to provide any advice, it would be to focus in on a small area! While there are things that are useful about having such a large area reconstructed, it has certainly taxed the resources of the computers I have been using and it has made small edits turn into laborious time sinks. With that said, the fact that I did choose to do a larger area, even if it was naive, has meant that I can provide a larger view of colonial Natchez.
Along with this flythrough, I wrote a voiceover that I was able to record over the video, providing some historical background to the recreation. I also managed to get a website off the ground (rebuildingnatchez.matrix.msu.edu); because I am primarily seeking to provide limited information related to Natchez I was able to work with a WordPress platform. I still have some content to add to my website, specifically putting together infographics relating to the maps used in my recreation and exploding the choices that went into making French colonial architecture. I will also be adding tabs that provide Additional Information and Places to Visit, with the idea that the people who are interested in my flythough may want to learn more about the history and archaeology of the Mississippi/Louisiana area.
What were my failures? I don’t have an interactive console and I don’t have a choose-your-own-adventure. While most of us in the Institute had our moments where we realized we bit off more than we could chew and needed to retool, I still feel these failures somewhat acutely. I think it is because I still believe that they were worthy and creative ideas. Showing my flythrough to people in Natchez during the tricentennial celebrations and seeing their reactions did make me feel better about deciding to stick (for now) to the flythrough. That aspect of my project, on its own, does have the ability to draw people in to this history. I am also not entirely giving up these goals. With the help of a friend, I am still going to work on a first-person implementation of my landscape that can be shared via WebGL on my website. For that, I’ll continue to work on a splashscreen and interactive popups that provide information about the different areas of Natchez. I also am not giving up on the choose-your-own-adventure. I think Twine is still the best option for this and I plan to continue working within that medium to create an informative “game” that helps people to understand how we create reconstructions with the limited information we have available.
So what are my takeaways from this past year? I have certainly come away from this project, and the projects of everyone else involved, with an even greater sense of the possibilities that digital approaches can offer. I have also been reminded that we are our own worst critics – I think this is especially true when it comes to reconstruction. When you are a party of one (or a few), it’s something of a pipedream to attempt to create or release something that is “perfect.” And other people aren’t nearly as worried about so-called imperfections. Instead, I feel strongly that there is as much (if not more) value in being open with our projects in progress, as that allows for the most important part – getting the information out there. I hope to take these lessons forward with me as I finish my dissertation and start my own career – one digital step at a time.
Lastly, I can’t thank everyone involved with the Institute on Digital Archaeology Methods and Practice enough. Everyone involved – faculty and workshop participants – gave so freely of their time and knowledge that it made this a unique experience for me. I’ve come away from all of this with so much more than I started, and it’s certainly an experience I wont forget.