(Con)sequences of Reading Archaeological Reports Close by and in Distance

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Tue, 08/23/2022 - 08:17

Presentation at the Global Center of Spatial Methods for Urban Sustainability SMUS online conference subsession "Sub-session 08.1. Reflecting the Gap, Conceptualizing How to Bridge Between Structural and Interpretative" organised Gertraud Koch and Isabel Eiser, a part of the session "Sense-making with (Unconventional) Large Digital Datasets in Social and Cultural Research – Methodological Challenges and Approaches" organised by Gertraud Koch (Universität Hamburg, Germany), Isabel Eiser (Universität Hamburg, Germany) and Dzifa Ametowobla (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany).


Investigation reports is the most prolific literary genre of texts that embodies archaeological discourse. The reports that are currently delivered often as pdf-documents incorporating background and administrative information, a narrative of investigation process and its results, lists of finds and investigated contexts, photographs, maps, plans and section drawings. The intended audience of the discourse in the reports range from fellow field archaeologists to administrators, land developers, and to a certain extent, also the general public.

The aim of this presentation is to discuss on a basis of a long line of research (from 2010 until today) of the discourse in and about archaeological reports using qualitative and quantitative approaches (ranging from interviews to document and discourse analysis to computational analyses based on named entity and feature recognition) what different means of reading imply for the respective readings of reports they yield. The opportunities, limitations and implications of different means and readings are illustrated in the presentation by examples of what and how they elucidate and obscure in relation to different understandings of archaeological data making and management and paradata (data about processes) that could eventually elucidate these activities. 

In a rough terms the comparison of different approach leads to suggest that quantitative and distant readings of discourses can contribute to answering what-questions whereas the strength of qualitative approaches is in addressing different types of why-questions. The presentation shows, however, that while this basic proposition might hold in principle, there are whats and whys that are difficult to fit into this schematic frame of reference. 

The specific methodological problem addressed in the presentation is the simultaneous difficulty and usefulness of tying together different types of readings of a large and diverse genre of texts and the different discursive sequences the close and distant reading of the material produce. The relevance of conducting this kind of a comparative exercise not only once but whenever engaging with a particular discourse is to help to understand the limitations and opportunities of different methods to produce specific types of understandings. Simultaneously the discussion engages with the challenge of bridging the epistemic gap between different types of quantitative and qualitative analyses by pointing towards their complementaries and opportunities to integrative approaches to analysing of discourses.