Forgive me fellow digital archaeologists for I have sinned, I am a week late in my MSU DAI blog post. At the time of the deadline, I was in the throes of my PhD thesis viva (aka defense) and was wholly and completely entrenched in the process. However, given that the basis for my MSU DAI project is based in part on my thesis project, the process re-centered my focus on why I am doing this.

My digital project was inspired by a concern with the practice of recording cemetery monuments but never sharing the  records, despite their historical value. This was at least in part informed by my doctoral research experience, during which I became increasingly aware of those that had come before me. There were partial records online and in the islands archives. There were rumours of other archaeologists ‘doing the same thing as me’ last month, last season, last year.

Fieldwork in St. Andrew's Churchyard, Barbados, 2013.

Fieldwork in St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Barbados, 2013.

At the same time, since starting this project, I have had many voice their concerns about sharing my database before I have published ‘everything I intend to publish’, for fear of others swooping in and stealing my thunder. However, if I did wait until the point at which I had extracted every last piece of publishable narrative from the database before letting any one else get access to it, I would likely face retirement or even my own mortality without sharing it. I genuinely believe that this database, and others like it, can be used in so many different ways and by so many different people, I find it altogether unlikely that anyone will ask the same questions, in the same ways (which of course is a primary argument for proponents of open data, and open access more generally).

During my viva, as we discussed plans for publication, I was struck by the fact that there was no discussion of data sharing, access and public engagement but rather academic venues and interpretive narratives. Having discussed this issue with other recent PhD students, I found that many had a similar experience (though happily there were some exceptions). I think this is a missed opportunity to engage early career archaeologists in discussions of impact, public engagement and contemporary publishing practices.

Getting back to my MSU DAI project, I spent some time on the transatlantic flight home ruminating on the public nature, usability and framing of the web-based platform to ensure that my goals were still aligned with my methods. Although I have had to put data archiving on the back burner until I have funding, and have adjusted the scope of the database to be achievable at this time, the values of open data, relevance to wider audiences, and connections between data and research are still heavily at the core of my project.

By next blog, I hope to have more of the website built and accessible for feedback, including the controlled vocabulary section and research forum.