Home > Korinthian Matters, The New Media > Photos of Photos on Inventory Cards

Photos of Photos on Inventory Cards

I spent today taking photographs of the inventoried artifact cards at the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia dig house.  First off, this was incredibly boring work.  It involved taking pictures of roughly 5  7 inch inventory cards for about 6 hours straight.  I managed to photograph about 1500 of them.  It reminded me that most of academic life is, in fact, tedious and archaeology – despite its somewhat exotic image (and genuinely exotic locales) – mostly involves a level of unparalleled tedium.

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Second, it did give me a chance to muse over the nature of media in archaeology.  The cards were hand written (mostly) and included a photograph of the inventoried object, pasted, generally onto the card itself.  I was translating these images into a digital image, which would eventually form the basis for a textual image of the object in a relational database.  The transition from one media to the next always constitutes unique challenges in any discipline and it is particularly challenging to translate physical objects like cards – which are as much artifacts as documents of the artifacts collected – from one form to the next.  The most obvious loss is the physical appearance of emendations, additions, and corrections (inscribed in each instance in different hands, colors, pen types, and styles) and the attendant humanizing of the interpretative process over generations. 

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The cold reality of text based databases is that even if earlier notation are not overwritten (either in a graphically visible sense or in a digital sense), the human aspect of inscribing physical objects ends.  And this is particularly significant for archaeology which is first and foremost, the study of material objects.

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  1. August 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I have a reference for you from a German article on the history of photography that discusses this card system, basically invented by Lucy Talcott in the Agora in the 30s.

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