Thinking about the end

As I near the submission date for my dissertation, currently scheduled for April 1, I’ve started putting together some of the ‘bits’ of the document that you can’t really do until the end. One of these bits is the abstract, which I’ve found can’t be reliably written until the project has shown you what it really is, and you’ve figured out that what you thought you were doing three years ago is not what you ended up doing at all. The following is the current draft of my abstract:

This project follows two paths, distinct but impacting upon one another. The first path concerns perceptions of archaeology and archaeologists as created through contemporary digital media, specifically video-games. The second concerns the ethics of practice in digital archaeology.

Concerning perceptual issues, the project seeks to understand whether depictions of archaeologists in video-games impact player perceptions of archaeologists as skilled professionals. It attempts to contribute to contextualizing the relationship between representations of archaeological practices in the real and virtual worlds. Through an analysis of the responses of publics with varying levels of engagement with archaeology to archaeology within video-games, the ramifications of exposure to depictions of unethical archaeological practices are considered. Special attention is drawn to the experiential nature of video-game play, and its role in contemporary opinion-shaping.

Concerning ethical practice in digital archaeology, the project seeks to understand how ethics are being considered, or not considered, in evolving digital archaeological practice. It attempts to isolate the ways in which archaeological practitioners are, and are not, considering the ethical implications of the digital components of their work, and how those ethical issues may impact future practice. Through an analysis of existing codes of ethics for archaeologists, gaps in ethical consideration within archaeology as a discipline are presented, with a focus on increasing disciplinary ethical consideration for digital endeavors.

Tying these two areas together is a discussion on the nature of current and near-future archaeology as a practice existing both in the real and the virtual. As perceptions of archaeologists are being shaped by video-game representations, the perceptual line between digitally virtual representations of archaeologists and digital archaeologists blurs. Understanding the current ethical failings of both is crucial to ensuring future ethical conduct on the part of archaeologists, and future understanding of digital archaeology on the part of the public.

If I had a piece of advice to give three years ago me, I would tell her to stress much less about nailing down the project at the beginning. I would talk to her about the way I’ve leaned in to letting the research evolve. I would explain how much easier things got when I stopped worrying whether the contribution of ‘original knowledge’ that I was making to archaeology was good enough, and that making a contribution at all is the point of the PhD. I would encourage her to drink more water and eat fewer Jaffa Cakes. I don’t expect three years ago me would listen to any of this advice though. The process of growth between the start and the end of the PhD is so large, so intense, that the best advice, given with the best intentions, is almost impossible to understand or implement for someone starting out.

Except maybe the water thing. We should all be drinking more water.