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‘A Field In England’: A Trip Into The Psychotropic 17th Century

16 Jan

“I’d give anything for a good stew and a belly full of beer” announces one character shortly into the 2013 feature film A Field In England.  So may the audience at the closing credits of this delightfully dark, thoughtful and surreal film, having endured a turbulent 91 minutes in mid 17th century England wracked by an off-screen civil war.

Directed by Ben Wheatley, with a script by Amy Jump, A Field in England depicts the short journey of a ramshackle group of four men (Whitehead, Friend, Cutler and Jacob) who, having been traumatized and disillusioned by blood shed in civil war riven England (1642-1651 AD), desert the battlefield and seek solace searching for a fabled ale-house instead.  Only to their displeasure do they find that, during their desperate ramble, they come under the somewhat demonic spell of O’Neil, a man hellbent on finding treasure in a field who subsequently forces the four deserters to prospect and dig for suspected gold.  This is a necessarily brief synopsis because the film simply has to be seen to be understood although repeated viewings are recommended, if not required, for this slab of a historical film that potently mixes psychedelia and surrealism.

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A poster for the film, which was released in 2013. The feature draws obvious creative parallels with the Hammer Horror productions, although influences can also be detected from such classic films as the Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973) (Image credit: Mr&MrsWheatly).

Somewhat uniquely in British movie history the film was released simultaneously to the general audience at theaters, screened on Film 4, and made available both on video-on-demand and to purchase on DVD, all on the same day.  A Field In England was filmed entirely in monochrome and relies heavily on the dialogue to help drive the momentum of the action forward.

Having said that it is the film’s kaleidoscopic use of visual and sound effects that propel it into the surreal genre, with effective use of disorienting shots of the main characters helping to enforce the viewer to become uncomfortably close to all of them, whatever the audiences feelings on the characters motivations.  As the Guardian review of the film points out, it is the distinctive use of the films tableaux shots, long shots and often unexplained scenes that help to highlight and intensify the rare violent viscosity of the characters actions in the film itself (Bradshaw 2013).

Throughout the film there is a great earthly humour present in the dialogue throughout the film, which is richly veined with flashes of Shakespearean wit and character exposition.  Though it must be noted that the audience is never entirely sure on which side of the civil war that the characters each sit on.  Allusions to the fracturing of the fabric of society are noted throughout the film, both through the dialogue and through the monochrome visual effects used.  This is perhaps most notable during the breakdown of one the characters who has been indulging in magic mushrooms.  It has to be said that monochrome psychedelic images can be quite unsettling, but they are also extremely mesmerizing and effective, perhaps non more so than during Whitefield’s mushroom influenced experience.

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A still from A Field in England depicting the disturbing use of the magic O’Neil uses on one of the main characters.  In particular it is the use of sound during this tableaux scene that really lifts it as a whole, making it both distinctly uncomfortable but also unnervingly rather watchable.

As stated above the film does contain rare instances of fairly graphic violence, but it is largely in the form of interpersonal violence conducted between the small group of relative strangers that form the core of the characters in the film (minus the introductory scene).  Interestingly, for me at least, there were occurrences of firearm injuries that demonstrated the rather horrible effect of neat entry wounds and the large exit wounds that projectiles can inflict if they exit the body (Aufderheide & Martin-Rodriquez 2006: 28).  I’ve tried not to give any spoilers in this quick review but, archaeologically speaking, the skeletal remains and funerary context of the individuals who perish in this film would certainly give the archaeologists some interesting theories to debate.  Although it would not be the first time that human burials from the English civil war have intrigued archaeologists as the mass grave site found at All Saints church in York demonstrates (McIntyre & Bruce 2010: 36).

A Field in England also combines the characters doubts of the existence of God with discussions of the occult as O’Neil displays a distinct attachment to magic and charms, professing himself to be almost a necromancer.  In one particularly entrancing scene he manages to wrap ropes around Whitehead and use him as a human divining tool to locate his buried treasure.  In another scene he is seen clasping a black ceramic dish that has a significant and deep meaning for him and he implies it can see into the past, present and future.  Merrifield (1987) and Brück (1999) have highlighted the significant wealth in the material archaeological record that can, on occasion, lead to valid interpretations of the importance of ritual functionality and the role of magic in historic and prehistoric societies.  This is worth keeping in mind, particularly with A Field In England, as the film demonstrates the intermingling of the Christian faith with pagan practices, a probably common feature of medieval and late medieval England (Gilchrist 2008: 153).

In a variety of ways the film also reminded me vividly of Andrey Platonov’s novel The Foundation Pit.  This was particularly evident during the last third of the movie where the nature of the treasure is revealed for, as in both Wheatley’s film and Platonov’s book, the pit is never simply just a hole in the ground but a striking metaphor for society, in this case one that seemingly subsumes the bodies of those that question it (Platonov 2010: 224).  The Foundation Pit also dealt deftly with the symbolism of the vying individual and the collectivist state and the struggle between the two, similar in tone to the backdrop role that the civil war plays in this film that so sparks the characters to openly question society, death and the absence of God throughout the feature.    

Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching A Field In England, it is clearly not a film for everyone.  There is no doubt that the non-linear nature of the film will confuse many (and leave unanswered questions proposed by the viewer), but the film openly welcomes repeated viewings.  Regardless of this, I would recommend the film highly as it challenges the convention that historical films have to abide by strict cinematic convention.  Indeed this film actively calls for open interpretation and reflective thinking.  This is a playful and subversive film, one that is not afraid to stray into experimental territory to expose the flaws of the characters and to highlight the fundamental changes in the English civil war era.

Bibliography

Aufderheide, A. C. & Rodriquez-Martin, C. 2006. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Palaeopathology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A Field In England. 2013. Film. Directed by Ben Wheatley. United Kingdom: Rook Films.

Bradshaw, P. 2013. A Field In England – Review. The Guardian. 4th July 2013. Accessed 16/01/13.

Brück, J. 1999. Archaeology Ritual and Rationality: Some Problems of Interpretation in European Archaeology. European Journal of Archaeology2: 313-343. (Abstract).

Gilchrist, R. 2008. Magic for the Dead? The Archaeology of Magic in Later Medieval BurialsMedieval Archaeology. 52: 119-159. (Full article).

McIntyre, L. & Bruce, G. 2010. Excavating All Saints: A Medieval Church Rediscovered. Current Archaeology. 245: 30-37. (Full article).

Merrifield, R. 1987. The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. London: B.T. Batsford.

Platonov, A. 2010. The Foundation Pit. London: Vintage.

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Digitised Diseases Website Live Tomorrow!

9 Dec

Something pretty spectacular and interesting is happening in the world of online access as the Digitised Diseases project website goes live tomorrow night (09/12/13) with a grand opening at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London.  This means that a grand total of around 1600 scanned human skeletal specimens will be made available to researchers and the public to view for free.  The aim of the project is ‘to create a web-accessible archive of photo-realistic digital 3D models of pathological type-specimens’ from human remains (source).

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The Digitised Diseases blog banner. The site is an excellent resource detailing the pathological bone changes which occur as a result of either trauma or disease progression.

The project is using the latest in 3D laser scanning, high resolution photograph and CT scans to provide free examples of palaeopathologies that affected the skeletal anatomy.  The populations that are represented by the skeletal series used to illustrate the various traumas and diseases will include individuals from a variety of archaeological contexts from England, including late Medieval  and more modern 18th and 19th century contexts.  The team that is spearheading the project is largely based at the archaeology department at the University of Bradford with support coming from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who are based in London.  One of the main reasons for initiating the project was the poor state and bone quality of the pathological examples, so by creating an online depository, which is free to access, it is hoped that the knowledge can be spread far and wide whilst the bones themselves can be preserved and maintained.

The popular Digitised Diseases blog for the project has been up and running for a while now and it is currently helping to showcase examples of scanned bones with clinical descriptions and case histories of their various maladies.  It is a fantastic site and well worth a visit.  Once the proper site is up and running I can imagine that it will be extremely popular with human osteologists, medical historians and archaeologists.  It will be the perfect site to quickly log and compare an example of a suspected pathology right in front of you with one recorded properly and scanned on the site.  I am also looking forward to seeing what impact this will have on other academic institutions and whether the site will evolve to contain further pathological examples, perhaps some prehistoric ones or examples on other hominins.

On a side note the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s base in London is also home to the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology and the Hunterian Museum, two excellent museums that document and present the value of human osteology and soft tissue pathology to a wide audience.

Updated 09/12/13

The website is now live and the available models are excellent!  It is a fantastic resource for learning about the trauma and disease process and the effects that they can have on human bone.  I have only just started to play around with the live beta version of the website and there are quite a few of the models that are currently unavailable to view.  I expect that this will change in the upcoming days and weeks as this project becomes fully live.

Below is a quick screen shot of an adult individual (sex undetermined) who presents with a surgical trepannation on the left parietal bone, quite something!  I did have difficulty zooming into the model as my laptop lacks a 3 buttoned mouse.

ddsurgtrepannation

A screen shot of the ectocranial view of trepannation model (left parietal bone in the skull) found in the surgical sub-menu on the Digitised Diseases website. Note the model can be enlarged and the description box on the right hand side details the anatomical pathology on this specimen.  Click to enlarge (source).

I am looking forward to investigating Digitised Diseases in further detail as it is a great resource, openly available to everyone to investigate pathological bone changes and the effects of disease, trauma and surgical procedures on human skeletal remains.  The models can be viewed online, as I did (see above), or can be downloaded and used at your pleasure.  Please remember to cite the program where it has been used in research.

Further Information

MOOCs: The Future of Education?

21 Jul

It is safe to say that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are helping to change the way lecturers, students and the public access and engage in the education sector and academic institutions.  They are also helping people around the world access education that may otherwise be out-of-bounds to them.  Recent articles in The New York Times and the Guardian have highlighted the inherent value of MOOCs, but there are also questions pertaining to the future of MOOCs and their value to academic institutions themselves.  A key feature of MOOCs is their accessibility for anyone, providing an internet connection is available, with students taking the courses typically numbering in their thousands, sometimes in the tens of thousands.  Another feature, at least for the moment, is the fact that the majority of MOOCs are currently free to sign up for, participate in and to complete.

What is a MOOC?

MOOC’s typically come in the form on web-based lectures in which it is up to the individual to take an active part in the learning, relying on self-discipline to complete set essays and/or exams, depending on how the individual MOOC is assessed.  The format of a MOOC itself can vary on a number of factors, including who is teaching and creating the course content, who the company that provides the course is, and what institution licences the course itself.  Typically a MOOC will include traditional educational course content such as lectures (via online video/audio) and video films, but they can have open goals to achieve and can include expert interviews, participatory science experiments, active online communities to participate in and the opportunity to learn in a more informal setting and diverse student groups.  Importantly the student must have self-discipline and self-regulation to access and complete the online content, digital literacy to navigate access to the course and, of course, the time to dedicate to the MOOC.

The benefits of a MOOC are numerous for both the organizer and the participant and include, but are not limited to, the following:

1) You can move beyond time zones and physical boundaries.

2) You can connect across disciplines and across corporate channels.  The student is not tied down by subject matter or discipline, and can cross scientific and humanities ‘borders’ to take part in various individual courses.

3) You do not need a degree to partake in a MOOC, only the discipline to learn and to keep up with the course.

4) The MOOC can be presented in a variety of languages, engaging a wide global audience.

5) Contextualised content can be shared quickly by all participants.

6) You can use any online tools that are relevant to your target region, or that are already being used by the participants themselves (think social media, website forums and instant communication sites).

Further discussion on MOOC’s, their benefits and criticisms can be read here.

Who Provides and Funds MOOCs?

As highlighted in a 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education diagram and short article, the main companies that provide MOOCs include CourseraKhan AcademyUdacity and EdX.  Funding for these companies comes from several different sources depending on the company itself, but can include capital input from non-profit organisations (such Bill and Melinda gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation etc), venture capitalists , universities themselves (Caltech, Harvard, Stanford, MIT etc) or large companies (such as Google and the publisher Pearson).  Coursera now charges licensing fees when educational institutions use their courses, whilst ‘gateway’ MOOC courses to university degree programs are typically charged for the student to take part in.  Other revenue streams for MOOC providers include employee recruitment, secure assessments, applicant screening, tuition fees and sponsorship whilst Coursera, Udacity and Edx all gain revenue from the certification of completed courses.

moocccc

Some of the main providers of MOOCs (Image credit: Minding the Campus).

The MOOC courses above all offer certification on the completion of individual courses taken, and some of them can be used as academic credit depending on the educational institution.  I must point out here that a number of different companies, universities, educational establishments and even government’s have set up their own MOOC courses which may not offer accreditation or a certification of completion.  Always be aware of the accreditation of any courses that you are taking and take the time to research the company background to see if the course offers any academic credit, certification of completion or accreditation.

Completion Rates and Discussion Points

The British current affairs magazine Private Eye has, in a recent issue, highlighted the ongoing research of UK PhD candidate Katy Jordan, who studies the completion rates of MOOCs across a variety of topics and universities in various countries.  The stats and figures makes for interesting reading, highlighting as they do the low completion rates for 29 MOOCs so far studied in the research (an average completion rate of under 10%, whilst Private Eye quote just 6.8%).  It is worth noting that MOOC courses are being added to the research dataset over the course of Jordan’s investigation and research.  The completion rates are low but, when translated as people who have completed the courses, they typically number in the thousands.  Still, it is worth keeping a note of Jordan’s research to highlight the larger themes of why there is such a low completion rate.

Importantly MOOC’s offer a fundamentally different way for individuals to take part in education itself.  As highlighted on John Hawk’s weblog last month, the success of 17-year-old Daniel, an individual with severe autism, on the completion of several different MOOC courses has opened up the way in which he interacts with the education establishment, knowledge itself and, ultimately, people.  The coursea blog article on Daniel highlights how he managed to take part and complete several university level humanities courses, with the help of his dedicated family and the MOOC providers despite his autism.  The courses gave him the confidence to help peer review his course mates essays, and to expand his own knowledge and self articulation.  This is accessible education for the masses, wherever and whoever you are.

It is clear that MOOCs are becoming more and more incorporated and entrenched within academic life at the University level across the globe, particularly in America and the UK.  Yet there has been backlash against certain courses, particularly regarding perceived intellectual copyright infringement and the way Universities view MOOC’s themselves.  Thomas Leddy, a philosopher caught up in the recent Jan José State University open letter fiasco, highlights the fact that “the vibrant ecosystem of higher learning as a whole will decline because fewer and fewer students will actually be inspired by live teachers or will even read books by such teachers”.  His article, in the Boston Review, laments the fact that MOOC’s de-value the effort of reading key literature, critical thinking and the effort of writing critically.  Is this view justified?  Certainly there are MOOC’s online where there is no critical thinking involved, where the conclusion of the study is a multiple choice quiz, which, it could be said, limits the actual value of completing the course.  However that could also be said of certain modules taught throughout the educational system.  We are only at the beginning of the MOOC revolution, and I firmly believe that to draw negative conclusions at this early stage is to risk losing out on an important dynamic educational resource when we have already seen so many benefits of the courses to so many people.

Part of the Educational Family

Ultimately it is clear that whilst there are conflicts of interest between academic institutions, MOOC providers and the people who access the courses themselves, MOOCs are a helpful educational tool.  They are able to inform a diverse and interested audience on the latest research developments in a number of disciplines, if they are produced and evaluated in the correct way.  In human osteology and physical anthropology it is, to my mind, a given that you must have physical access to actual bones or casts to learn the anatomy and idiosyncrasies of the skeletal system.  However a MOOC could, with clear and efficient images, provide a relevant and informative view on skeletal anatomy, human evolution and knowledge of archaeological sites quite successfully.   This is where, of course, a combined academic course would come in useful but even so the dissemination of scientific knowledge to a wide audience is heavily encouraged, especially from experts in the field who can communicate clearly and efficiently.

It is clear however that neither model of residential university level education or MOOC can outrank or compete with each other.  Every educational establishment must offer a variety of ways to learn that offer an integrative learning environment in which both the lecturer and the student benefit.  MOOCs offer an important, and possibly integral, part to play in this.  I, for one, am keen to see what the future holds for MOOCs, and I look forward to taking part in John Hawks MOOC ‘Human Evolution: Past and Future‘ in January 2014.

Further Reading:

Online Science: Open Access,The Penny University and Nautilus

11 May

There is no doubt that with the advancement and proliferation of the internet world wide, that the public dissemination of scientific research is at an all time high.  Yet there are still significant challenges and issues in accessing academic research if you are not linked with an academic institution.  Perhaps the most prominent is the frustrating ‘pay wall’ feature of online journals (and now some newspapers such as The Times).  The theory of a newspaper pay wall is that you give loyal customers access to the latest edition, articles and archives, but also keep customers buying the print copy at the same time.  In a market where the profits of publishing paper content are plummeting, market leaders are stretching in new directions, which typically include massively expanding digital content, and employing not just journalists but bloggers, students and members of the public to provide online content.  Revenue is largely gained by advertisements in print media (around 70-80% typically), but many newspapers are struggling to find matching revenue incomes in the digital age.

At this point you might rightly ask where does science, specifically archaeology or anthropology, come into this?

Arguably academic journals are regularly accessed by employed academics and students enrolled in academic institutions.  Journals charge access, via the University, to view the content and research articles within their package.  However there has been a long and substantial argument over open access to peer-reviewed research, with the Research Council UK recently declaring that from last month (April 2013) all peer-reviewed articles reporting work funded by UK research councils must be free to all (full article, including terms and conditions, can be read here).  A recent Spoilheap column in the British Archaeology magazine (2013: 66) opines that ‘those forced  to cadge, nick and mostly fail to read new research, it promises to transform their attempts to keep up- and in the process, revolutionise research and public understanding’.  However Spoilheap makes an important note, stating that ‘wrongly managed, open access could close doors’, as many archaeological organisation’s journals or articles (think regional or specialist societies) are written with the help of capital raised from membership fees.  However if the articles or journals are made available for free, then there is less of an incentive for a person to join a society, and thus make future capital available for peer-reviewed articles from that society.

The individual, as well as the organisation, also has the power to act to enable that their research is read, critiqued and studied.  Many researchers have joined the thriving and bustling Academia community website.  This site has a current potential pool of 3.2 million researchers, many of who use the site to network with individuals with the same research interests.  Most importantly the vast majority of users also upload their research and articles, which are freely available to the public.  Personally I have used this rich article resource when I have not been able to access an article via a journal due to a pay wall.

There are no easy solutions as to how to implement open access and to ease the spread of peer-reviewed research.  It is, however, a time for many organisations to think ahead.

There is, of course, another side to this story.  Namely the rise and rise of freely available information on blogs (such as this).  This is an exciting, vibrant and informative field in which many blogs take unique approaches to spreading research, raising issues, and building collaborative links.  Kristina Killgrove has, in a recent blog post over at her site Powered By Osteons, critiqued a recent article by de Koning (2013: 394-397) on anthropological outreach by blogging.  Kristina raises a particularly important point on the target audience of anthropology blogs, rightly disagreeing with de Koning over his view that the anthropology audience is mostly academic (almost an online feedback loop of researchers, if you will).  (For a more information on the challenges of communication to the public in anthropology I recommend reading Sabloff 1998).  Personally speaking I agree wholeheartedly with Kristina.  The very reason I set this blog up, and continue to write, is inform a general audience of the issues and realities in human osteology and archaeology.

As stated above this is an exciting time in online science and anthropology, and I wanted to share a few sites with you that contain informative and well researched posts.  They also highlight the diverse and changing nature of online content, as blogs often provide content in imaginative and stimulating ways.

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Time for a chat (via The Penny University).

The Penny University‘ is one such new website.  The brain child of Alison Atkin, a current PhD student in forensic and archaeological science at the University of Sheffield, the site is based on the idea of old ‘penny universities’, or coffee houses, in England in the 18th century, where individuals of any standing could come and discuss the latest discoveries in science and debate the findings; in essence an alternative form of academic learning.  On Alison’s site a wide range of researchers will be interviewed (both written and spoken) on their PhD projects, current jobs  or future projects, and will include a wide range of disciplines, from biology to literature.  In particular the site interviews people who are asking the questions ‘that we ask everyday (and sometimes questions we never thought to ask)’.

So far there have been two interviews, with the first featuring University of East Anglia researcher Matthew Fenech investigating why obese people are at such a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  The second sees University of Sheffield PhD candidate Linzi Harvey discussing her work investigating dental health in archaeological skeletal populations, and how it might reflect systemic health overall in populations.  Alison has received funding for the site from ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here‘, specifically from the 2012 Wellcome Trust event  ‘In The Zone‘, which highlights the collaborative importance of integrating researchers.  If you are interested in featuring as a researcher and are actively involved in academia  then ‘The Penny University’ wants to speak to you, so drop Alison a message here.  ALison also runs her own rather interesting blog entitled ‘Deathsplanation‘ detailing her PhD research and other topics related ot human osteology,  death and archaeology; it is well worth a look!

Nautilus‘ is a new enterprising online science magazine, where every month a new topic that mixes science, culture and philosophy is chosen, and every Thursday a new chapter to that month’s magazine is added.  It is a lovely format, eloquently designed with engaging illustrations and written for a general audience; it also allows for a wide range of researchers to contribute to the format, and challenges the boundaries of science journalism by including reviews of games, technology and fictional pieces.  The first issue is entitled ‘What Makes You Special: The Puzzle of Human Uniqueness’, with chapter one entitled Less Than You Think’, chapter two ‘More than you Imagine’ and chapter three ‘Beyond Measure’.   Particularly enticing is the Frans de Waal interview on Cosmopolitan Ape, which delves into the researchers thoughts and feelings on primates.   ‘Nautilus’ has received funding from a John Templeton Grant.

What are you thoughts on open access?  Would it credibly damage the academic publishing industry, or should more academic journals implement open access articles?

Bibliography:

Killgrove, K. 2013. Is Blogging Really the Future of Public Anthropology? Powered By Osteons. Online 07/05/2013.

de Koning, M. 2013. Hello World! Challenges for blogging as anthropological outreachJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19 (2): 394-397.

Sabloff, J. 1998. Distinguished Lecture in Archaeology: Communication and the Future of American ArchaeologyAmerican Anthropologist. 100 (4): 869-875.

Spoilheap. 2013. British Archaeology. 130: 66.

The Worrying Times of Internet Freedom

15 Apr

Whilst I haven’t broached this topic before on this blog, I have mentally chewed through the subject for some time.  How much information do I give out via the internet?  How much is safe and secure?  I had an amazon account, deleted it out of disgust, then reactivated it as I realised it was one of the few places I could buy certain books or music cd’s.  I joined http://www.academia.edu only to realise there doesn’t seem to be a way to privatise your information on the site.  This very blog itself has information on myself and my activities.  Facebook seems to be selling my information left, right and centre, and, as of recent, my own Government seems to be happy to snoop on every aspect of my technological life if certain laws are passed.  How far is too far?  How much should social networking sites pander to governments in general?

Yet the counter point would be to say that this is my choice; largely, that I have decided to spread myself across the internet, that vast domain of the free that is not owned by any singular entity.  I write because I want to write, and yes, sometimes this blog deviates from its meanderings in the study of human remains.

Yet, I still can’t shake that hypocritical shaggy dog off my shoulder- why is my own government trying to enact laws to intercept my every call, text, email and internet browse that I do?  When there is such a clusterfuck of abuse of Britain’s libel laws that dominate in comparison to other European countries- should I trust the government with my own information?  Indeed, they might as well sell my information like the social networks do, and gain some monetary value from its citizens- perhaps that will pay of the enormous amount of debt the country is in, and perhaps stop some of the ‘austerity measures’ that, so far, seem to target the poor, old and infirm.

There are of course questions unasked and answers not given in this post; I am merely chewing through some ideas about my own identity that I myself have put out into the world.  Britain is far from alone in seeking to curtail the freedoms (both real and ‘on-line’) of its population.

As of this and last year (2011/2012), there seems to be a sustained attack on internet freedom, largely conducted by the UK, USA and the EU trying to pass various bills (SOPA, CISPA etc) to enact and engage with excessive and unneccessary spying of online data, often in real time.  Part of this is likely as a reaction to the extraordinary ‘Arab Spring’, London Riots etc, and partly carried out under the guise of national and international ‘security’.

Although we are a democratic country, we should not be idle in our own introspection and development.  We should be active participants in the way we shape and engage with our own country, and the world at large.

Indeed, as I am not a technological junkie (far from it), I shall continue to hand write letters to my friends across the world.  As far as I know, these are some of the few private messages I send out!

Some news, opinion and vital sites for internet freedom:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120302/05420517946/uk-government-pressuring-search-engines-to-censor-results-favor-copyright-industries.shtml  (UK Government Crackdown On Search Engine Information).

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/201241373429356249.html  (UK Censorship).

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2012/03/police-protest-meadows-public  (Public Protest Crackdown).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/15/web-freedom-threat-google-brin  (Internet Threat From All Sides).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/17/walled-gardens-facebook-apple-censors (Internet Walled Gardens).

http://www.wikileaks.org/  Wikileaks provide perhaps one of the most important functions on the internet- accountability for most governments on an international scale.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/audio/2012/apr/24/tech-weekly-podcast-tor-anonymity Article on Tor, the program that allows you to remain anonymous online.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_cispa_corporate_global/?tta  Sign the Avaaz petition to urge the USA to drop the CISPA bill which will give the US excessive and unnecessary Internet surveillance powers.

The Changing Role of Freedom

23 Feb

‘Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice’- Marie Colvin.

Remi Ochlik in Cairo 2011.

Role of the Archaeologist

Archaeologists, be it field or institution based, never work alone in a vacuum.  A prevailing movement in the past few decades throughout the ivory towers of academia is the continued outreach and inclusion of the wider community in archaeological and cultural projects, to include others in their own exploration and documentation of heritage.  Of course, throughout the entire history of archaeological excavation manpower has always been needed, but its the recent tailoring and inclusion of local community groups with wider academic led projects that have led to a greater dissemination of  information to a broader group then ever before.

This is especially so in the age of the internet where even the individual can provide knowledge to a diverse and inclusive audience.  Archaeologists regularly dig up burials, sites, and cities who are separated vastly in time or cultural practices to our own.  Often excavations take place in far off lands and cultures different form our own, and we must be mindful of who we represent, what cultural we are working under and be aware of news at all times.  Sometimes archaeologists do not come off so well.

However, sometimes the wider world interjects.  Archaeological projects in Syria have largely stopped, especially foreign academic led excavations, with the on-going atrocities led by the Assad government continuing unimpeded.  This is a wider part of the Arab Spring, which has gripped a number of middle eastern countries, and has led to dramatic changes in various countries (i.e. Tunisia, Egypt & Libya).  The current violence seen in Syria has been ongoing for nearly a year.

Freedom: What Does It Mean?

Having recently finished the novel Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, I am struck by the very word of the title.  What does freedom mean?  How can it be construed, used and abused?

In America, the current campaigning by the Republican presidential candidates talk constantly about personal liberty, of the intrusion of the big government in every aspect of their citizens lives, whilst also campaigning viciously for  the rights of stricter birth control legislation alongside much stricter abortion rules.  Over in Britain, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond calls for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, and secede from the Union.  Proposed upheavals in the NHS and the way in which welfare (both disability, long term sickness and jobseekers) is distributed and denominated is causing rife consternation in the social impacts of such laws.  The sex slave trade throughout Europe or forced labour in South America is still rife, denying the personal freedoms of that person, trapped within a wider web of anonymity, abuse and social deference.  Tension is racketing up on Iran, the US and her allies (namely Israel) want to dissuade Tehran from acquiring the nuclear bomb, whilst Britain and Argentina fire lexical broadsides at each other over the Falkands (or Malvinas) Islands, and Syria continues to pound its own civilians into bloody pulps.

Yes, freedom has been on my mind.  As I wrote about Tim Hethrington and Chris Hondros deaths in Libya last April, I felt that they were killed pursuing not just a passion, but a necessity.  They both documented not what the world wanted to see, but what the world had to see.  Now our scope has moved to Syria, where today the senior Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and distinguished French photographer Remi Ochlik where killed covering the uprising and continuing bloody civil war.  Disturbing footage of the attack of the civilians in the Syrian city of Homs can be seen here, as can the shots fired from snipers, aiming at anyone – be it man, woman or child, who dares venture out into the open.

The denial of healthcare, arbitary killing of medical staff, summary executions and relentless aerial bombing of civilian homes is ongoing.  Make no mistake, this is a bloody civil war with no quarter given by Assad’s forces or by the numerous factions fighting within Syria.  It is a curious thing, but now that foreign civilians are being targeted and killed by the Assad government, the world has taken a stronger view towards Syria’s ruler (see this article here in the Telegraph).  One is often forced to question that is seems to almost not matter when civilians are targeted in some far off situation, but when Western affairs conflate then something has to give.  Freedom always comes at a cost, but it is the reaction of the Syria’s ruler, and of the world at large, as to what exactly that cost will be.

The capacity for man to harm man seems to know no bounds.

Points of Call

The following are organisations that are doing vital work in a number of dangerous and critical situations throughout the world in which people need desperate help.  I would heavily advise at least tacitly supporting one or more of the organisations.  The Disaster Emergency Commission provide vital healthcare at a moments notice, often following tsunami’s or earthquakes.  Médecins Sans Frontieres provides healthcare and emergency treatment in countries and areas directly affected by systematic violence or danger, in countries where there is continuing instability.

Amnesty International campaign on a number of key issues and stand up for human rights worldwide. Avaaz are a people powered community with an impressive record of drawing key government attention to a worldwide range of campaigns, from investigations into internet censorship to amazon devastation.  Anti-Slavery is a site with reports on various countries, alongside the  definitions of the different types of slavery that happens on a shockingly massive industrial scale today in the world.   Unicef  is the UN’s arm involved with children and improving worldwide children’s health.  My friend’s blog, The Activist, is a fountain of wealth regarding human rights abuses around the world, and has links to many important sites of certified information.  Wikileaks releases vital information to acknowledge what many in the position of power do not.

26/02/12 Update

An interesting opinion article on the Republican primaries by Laurie Penny.  Over at Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives,  Professor Rosemary Joyce has a detailed post on the anthropological and historical meaning of the debatable term ‘marriage‘, with regards to an American Senator’s comment.

With regards to the Falklands, there is this frankly ridiculous statement by Lord West that a reduction in foreign aid, alongside ‘minimal’ cuts to the NHS and Welfare spending, would help the Falklands defend themselves.  At a time when the NHS is seemingly on the verge of disappearing as we know it, and not for the better, this is a worrying statement.

Also new article on Syria from The Activist, and a opinion piece in the Telegraph– “Colvin bravely realised the importance of providing a window on the wider world, through which individuals might be moved to effect change”.