The DHP has two concurrent goals:
- Facilitate the print and web publication of legacy excavation or heritage data;
- Provide students with career-relevant training tailored to their interests and aspirations.
Since the DHP’s inception in 2019, our volunteers have steadily analysed and processed legacy data relating to the AAIA Zagora Excavations of the 1960s-1980s. Within just three years they have processed close to 40,000 records, creating an almost total digital archive of the Zagora Archaeological Project’s data. Due to this incredible feat, the DHP is now moving on to processing legacy data from Torone, the second site excavated by the AAIA in the 1980s-1990s.
Why We Exist
Transforming primary field records into meaningful data for publication is arduous, and particularly challenging for legacy archives. Meanwhile, opportunities for local student field placements are few and the costs of overseas excavation prohibitive, leaving students struggling to attain critical experience and training for their professional careers. Pairing the digital curation of legacy archives with pedagogical training is a key opportunity to offer students equal access to skills-training vital to their career prospects.
For archaeologists, there is a growing need to digitise and effectively manage archives and legacy data. New technologies and high-speed internet allow almost boundless new audiences to engage with previous research. There’s also the fact that gaining new perspectives on previous data holds tremendous potential for new interpretations and research avenues. However, despite these advantages, funding for such endeavours remains scarce. For many institutions, particularly those with excavations that spanned decades, archival and research materials are accumulating at a rate that is extremely difficult to process. The manpower alone that is required to scan or accurately input data is a considerable block to mass digitisation for long term archaeological projects. In line with this, it is becoming increasing difficult to secure funding to publish any forms of data, let alone digitise and process or consider hiring a team to do so.
These problems lead to several other major issues and questions that are raised. How can a mass digitisation effort effectively process and publish legacy data transparently and with integrity to the original work and context? How can we ensure a safe data migration process? Better yet, how do we ensure digitisation methods are reliable and transparent to stakeholders and the public? And are digitisation programs effective methods for gaining recognition of legacy data and can this secure future funding?
Furthermore, today’s archaeology students face considerable challenges, particularly in a COVID-19 world. Practical skills and field experience are critical requirements to enter the workforce, yet it is increasingly difficult to find avenues to obtain such experience or develop relevant vocational skills. Field schools and international opportunities are expensive. Most overseas projects charge substantial fees for student placements on top of existing costs such as travel and accommodation. Meanwhile, both free volunteer field placements and undergraduate scholarships for fieldwork are rare in Australasia. Increasingly archaeology is regressing to a career that only the privileged can enjoy. We have very few local field schools within Australia, and limited avenues for internship placements in a lab or with an archaeological company.
These issues have been compounded by the onset of COVID-19 and the grounding of all international travel and in-person work.
Dr Kristen Mann and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens knew these challenges intimately from first-hand experience and observation. We were in a position to do something to help, and so the Digital Horizon’s Project was born!
Our Origin Story
The Digital Horizons Project was founded in 2019 by the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens. We launched in early 2019 with a pilot program of twelve volunteers from the University of Sydney, initially trained on-site (by Mann) in archival scanning and excavation notebook and field photo data-entry. The project expanded rapidly from there, in large part thanks to the creation of the Volunteer Coordinator role, filled by Romanis.
By 2020 the pilot program had 22 students had proven ready for full launch. But then, apparent disaster struck! Yes indeed, we are talking about the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down most of the globe. Not only were our onsite volunteer services and tasks severely impacted, so were our immediate recruitment, training and communication plans.
Luckily, our database was online, and our volunteers had already digitised a substantial amount of archival records and data. We rapidly adapted to an entirely online and remote system, so our volunteers were able to continue their training and detailed work, and we could continue to expand and train students through periodic webinars run by our mentors.
Moving online proved a blessing in disguise: we could now offer placements to students from other universities. We were soon flooded with applications from students – both in Sydney and across Australia – keen to get practical experience in archaeological data, digital tools, and field records. We became a beacon in a Covid-19 world: an opportunity for students to continue to get field-relevant, practical experience despite local lockdowns and international travel bans. Accordingly, both our membership and role-flexibility grew exponentially.
We now offer online-only teams comprising roles designed for non-local or locked-down volunteers, alongside hybrid online/in person roles for when lockdowns ease.
Today, we have over 100 volunteers from archaeology, museums studies, and classics/ancient history departments at six universities. We have a dynamic and socialiable team, with high volunteer-retention rate, consistent positive feedback, and many DHP alumni now in permanent employment. We have nearly completed the digitisation and initial processing of all primary Zagora data (over 23,000 database records in less than two years), and are now moving on to the more advanced data processing and pre-publication preparation tasks. Our archival teams are keen to complete this work and move on to new legacy archives.
The program has been a resounding success! While the project’s achievements partially reflect an existing gap in student training, the true benefits flow from the dedication and enthusiasm of our wonderful volunteers– both students and mentors.
The Digital Horizons Project prides itself on the high quality training that our staff and mentors offer our volunteers.
Our experts are all specialists in their field, and encompass AAIA staff, academics and field consultants, and senior volunteers who have progressed to team leaders thanks to their experience and skills.
What our volunteers say
“Working on the Digital Horizons Volunteer Project has allowed me to develop both my digitisation and team leading skills. The work that I have done is invaluable and has helped me decide that I want to focus on drawing and digitisation in future archaeological work”
Volunteer since mid-2020
“The Digital Horizons project has been an amazing learning and networking experience, with a real practical impact. My work in processing data has taught me so much about the importance of organising and coordinating information and data collected in archaeological work. I have also contributed as a team leader, helping pass on my knowledge to new volunteers, while also developing my leadership skills. On top of all that, the project also provides incredible networking opportunities through teamwork, mentoring, workshops, and of course fantastic and fun social events.”
Volunteer since mid-2020
“I absolutely love volunteering at the AAIA through The Digital Horizons Project. From the moment I joined in 2020, I was offered so much flexibility, comfort and a whole range of opportunities to learn new archaeological skills. I have been able to volunteer both in-person and online, and the support through both experiences have been incredible. I have loved gaining valuable skills in post fieldwork processing, data management, GIS, blog writing, and so much more! The best part of volunteering here though is definitely the people. I have loved meeting like-minded volunteers and attending some great social events – all thanks to the legendary project and volunteer directors”
Volunteer since mid-2020
“Working on the digital horizons project over the last couple of years has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had whilst studying. Working on a research project compliments the theoretical aspects of class and gave me industry experience that has helped me build better research skills and become a better field archaeologist. This has allowed me to gain experience as a contract archaeologist and on research projects too. On top of that, everyone involved with the project is a pleasure to work with, I feel very happy to be volunteering for the AAIA”
Volunteer since 2019
“The volunteer program through the AAIA has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic life. I have gained valuable professional skills which have benefited my academic studies and enabled me to obtain employment in the archaeology and heritage sector. I was also able to connect with my peers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic where almost everything had moved to zoom, and peers often reduced to little black boxes on a screen. Being able to connect and network with other students and mentors in the program has opened new pathways for me, both academically and professionally.”
Volunteer since 2020