Transforming the Site and Object Reports for a Digital Age: Mentoring Students to Use Digital Technologies in Archaeology and Art History / By Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Transforming the Site and Object Reports for a Digital Age: Mentoring Students to Use Digital Technologies in Archaeology and Art History

Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, CUNY Graduate Center


This article considers two digital assignments for courses at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. In one, students developed digital site reports in the form of individual websites about archaeological sites in the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt (Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt, Spring 2013), and in the other (Islamic Art and Architecture, Spring, 2014), students published digital essays about works of Islamic Art for the course website on the CUNY Academic Commons, some of which are in the process of being published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy, which is one of the most popular art history websites in the world. By assigning these projects I sought to support and mentor MA and PhD students to develop a range of digital skills including basic website building and using images in publications and online. I also wanted the students to develop a writing style that enables them to convey their academic findings to the larger public and to value public engagement and scholarship. The possession of strong digital skills is proving vital for young scholars to win grants and jobs in a highly competitive academic environment. This article focuses on the challenges, successes, and failures of integrating digital technology in the teaching of archaeology and art history in order to prepare graduate students to be active and successful contributors in these fields. Appendixes A – G include links to the syllabi, digital project overviews, digital portfolio guide, and grading rubrics that were used in the courses.


Art history and archaeology are closely linked disciplines. Both focus on the study of visual and material culture. Much of art history has traditionally focused the close, detailed visual analysis of objects in order to understand them. Likewise, archaeologists have considered the context of objects and developed typologies for objects in order to classify, organize, compare, and analyze objects. Undoubtedly, these are gross simplifications of these fields’ intellectual goals, and this observation only aims to highlight one of the many links between archaeology and art history. This connection is of interest in this article. As an archaeologist and architectural historian, I believe that in order to understand a building or object fully, one needs to both visually analyze it in detail and also contextualize it fully. This approach is interdisciplinary and although many art historians have long been interested in context, and archaeologists in visual analysis, it is key that this intersection is imparted to graduate students if they are to become competent archaeologists or art historians.

Therefore, my teaching of art history and archaeology aims to teach visual analysis and context as intertwined, so that students can learn to think about these two things as inseparable. There are two types of reports that I assign to students in order to help them understand how visual analysis and context are linked: the archaeological site report and the museum object report, both of which are traditional assignments in their respective fields. In this article, I will explain the site report and the object report, as well as reflect upon my attempts to have students create digital versions of these two reports in two different graduate-level courses at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (henceforth, The Graduate Center, CUNY), in order to prepare them to conduct art historical and archaeological research in the twenty-first century. I wanted students to learn how to engage the public and conduct public scholarship. I will also comment upon the successes and failures of these assignments.

The site report and the object report

The site report is a detailed research paper on an archaeological site. It is a fundamental assignment in many archaeology degree programs and is assigned to students in the required courses for the track in the Archaeology of the Classical, Late Antique and Islamic Worlds in the M.A. in Liberal Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. When conducting an excavation or survey, archaeologists are expected to publish their findings in an excavation report. During an excavation, a series of interim or preliminary reports are published, typically in peer-reviewed journals. The FastiOnline is a good example of an open-access, peer-reviewed journal where many preliminary reports for Roman-era excavations in Italy are published. These reports, generally published over several years, present an overview of the methodology of the excavation, technologies used, the areas explored, chronology of the site, phasing (the relationship between the different levels or contexts discovered during the excavation), and the finds (the objects discovered during the excavation). For a typical site, a final excavation report, often a multi-volume publication, would compile and update these earlier reports, as well provide interpretation for the whole site and the finds. If an archaeological unit or company excavated a site, as is often the case in England, or if contract archaeologists working for a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm in the United States, short reports are typically published. For a complicated site, such as the excavation of a city, individual volumes might be dedicated to pottery, metal work, glass, sculpture, or other specific classes of evidence. For example, the New York University excavations at Aphrodisias (Turkey), directed by Prof. R.R.R. Smith at the University of Oxford, publishes preliminary and ongoing reports for the site. The project also has its own series, the Aphrodisias Papers. Such reports are often heavily dependent on images, such as plans and photographs, to present and interpret the site.

An archaeology student must understand archaeological evidence, the arguments made on the basis of such evidence, and how to write about an excavation. Thus, I assign students a site report, which is modeled on the excavation report, discussed above. In this assignment, students are expected to research a site (perhaps a building, small town, settlement, or survey area). Since site visits are not normally possible students review the original excavation reports, preliminary publications, archives, and other documentation that provide first-hand accounts of the site. Students are then expected to discuss the site (its chronology and phasing), to identify key types of evidence, and to master interpretive and theoretical issues at the site, as would be done in an excavation report. By successfully completing this assignment, students should be able to read and interpret site reports published by professional archaeologists. Students should also start to develop an academic voice suitable to scholarly writing about archaeology. In the past, I have assigned the site report as a traditional research paper.

The object report, which I also assign, has similar aims. In this report, a single object is the focus of detailed formal visual analysis, interpretation, and contextualization. By studying an object closely, students learn how to evaluate its key characteristics, such as form, material, decoration, and iconography, and to evaluate the scholarly arguments about the object. Such reports are often adapted and used as catalog entries for objects in a museum. Therefore, learning how to write concisely and clearly about an object is a useful skill because many students want to be professional art historians or work in a museum.

These assignments aimed to support the development of critical thinking and writing skills for graduate students in archaeology and art history. I wanted to explore how these traditional assignments could be re-conceptualized through the integration of digital components. My goal was to have students develop digital skills that they need in their fields in the twenty-first century. After teaching graduate students for several semesters, it was evident that few graduate courses in archaeology and art history included the teaching of digital skills. While archaeologists can often gain technical archaeological skills, such as the use of GIS, in the field or in specialized workshops, basic web design skills or writing for the web were not considered a fundamental part of art historical or archaeological training. Furthermore, it was also clear that many students, especially those from certain disciplines in the humanities or social sciences, might not voluntarily develop their digital skills, even if workshops on WordPress, Omeka, and other digital platforms were free and available, as they are at The Graduate Center, CUNY. This may be due to concern over how they might perform academically on such an assignment, a perceived or actual lack of time to master new skills, or a need to take other required courses or learn other languages. Likewise it may be that students who do not consider themselves to be good at “digital work” may elect not to take advantage of these workshops, while other students, who are inclined towards digital work, enroll in these workshops. However, students would enroll in a class in whose topic they were interested or which they were required to take. Therefore, because the digital assignments were integrated into a normal archaeology or art history course, which also had traditional assignments, students were willing to take the course despite their concerns about having to do a digital assignment. In the course descriptions available to students before enrollment, the inclusion of a digital project was noted. Several students emailed in advance of each class to ask about the digital project or met with me to discuss it. To allay these concerns, which were also raised in the first meeting of each course by students, I specifically discussed the projects, the digital seminars, and the support that students would receive for their digital projects.

I wanted to do these digital projects in my classes because I wanted to improve my own digital skills. I also wanted to help students develop digital skills that would be useable within and outside the fields of archaeology and art history. Many graduate students will have to look outside academia for employment due to the shrinking size of higher education. By having digital skills and the ability to translate specialized ideas or findings to a non-specialist audience, a student will be far more competitive not only for an academic or a museum position, but also for non-academic positions. Perhaps more fundamentally I wanted students to understand the need to engage with the public. The humanities are often described as being under threat from all sides (Schmidt 2014). Therefore to argue for the centrality of the humanities to education and more generally to civilization, humanists must learn how to translate their results, as well as their significance, to the broader population. Graduate students must understand this is important early on in their careers.

Creating these assignments was possible due to the presence of the CUNY Academic Commons, where faculty members and graduate students can use technology in research and teaching. The course and student webpages, built using WordPress, were hosted here. The successful execution of the assignments was due to the support and guidance given to the instructor by Andrew McKinney, a PhD candidate in Sociology and a Digital Fellow at The Graduate Center. The Digital Fellows are graduate students who advise faculty members using new technologies in their research or teaching. In this capacity Andrew supports faculty members like me during the semester. In my case, he gave feedback on the assignments, the grading rubrics, and the digital portfolio before I assigned them, giving me the perspective of a graduate student on the clarity of my instructions and the reasonableness of my expectations. He also helped run two digital seminars on WordPress, which were specifically designed for the classes during each course, meaning that students could ask him questions directly. Lastly, the plans and results of these assignments were presented in several of the lunch meetings of the New Media Lab at The Graduate Center, CUNY in 2012 – 2014. The feedback from the faculty and students on the assignments was also helpful as they suggested changes from the first assignment to the second.

The students in each class

To complicate the aims of each assignment was the considerable diversity of the students in each class. In the Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt, Spring 2013, there were nine students. Of these, four had a background in art history and, to a lesser extent, archaeology. One student had an archaeological background. One had a background in Classical philology. Two had backgrounds in Middle Eastern Studies. One had no background in any of these fields. In the Arts of the Islamic World, Spring 2014, there were seventeen students enrolled for credit. Two students also audited the class, but they did not complete any of the assignments for the class. Of these, five had backgrounds in Middle Eastern Studies, six in art history, four in archaeology, and two had no related background. In both classes, there was a range of students in terms of age, from twenty-two to sixty-five. Students also had wide ranges of comfort with using technology—from the self-professed Luddite to the tech-savvy librarian. So there was the additional challenge of teaching across the disciplines while also helping students gain confidence in their ability to use and master technology.

The Digital Site Report

While I traditionally assigned the site report as a research paper, I wondered if this was the best format. The linear structure of a research paper requires that one privilege certain evidence or theoretical approaches, and it does not allow for the integration of other media into the paper. By contrast, a website allows the author to explore an archaeological site in multiple ways. Creating a website required students to integrate images with text and therefore to consider the size, arrangement, and impact of images in order to make their websites visually attractive. Websites also allow students to incorporate video and to link their site to other websites.

Students had to learn how to write for the web by making their language more concise and by maximizing readability on a screen. They also had to master writing for the general public. For archaeology to be successful, there must be public engagement.

Being able to write for a broader public is important because archaeological sites are under constant threat due to illegal excavation, war, and development. For non-archaeologists to appreciate why archaeological sites should not be looted, destroyed, or razed to make way for a new shopping mall or car park, archaeologists must communicate the value of their findings and sites to the public, not just to their peers. Likewise, art historians and archaeologists must explain that the looting and selling of objects is not merely legally and morally wrong to the larger population, but they also must convey that the looting of an object means that information associated with the object , such as context, is lost permanently.

Reflection on the Digital Site Report (See Appendix A)

The first project was successful for most of the students—although there were some problems. Several factors contributed to the success of the assignment: first, students were well supported through two WordPress-focused seminars and other activities in the course; second, a clear model for the sites and an overview on the digital project was given to them; and third, the students received an outline of my grading rubric so that the expectations for the assignment were clear.

WordPress seminars and activities

Students were introduced to WordPress through the course webpage on the CUNY Academic Commons and through weekly blogging on the readings. Two seminars were dedicated to working on the digital project. The first seminar reviewed the WordPress interface, tools, and plug-ins. The second seminar focused on critiquing each student’s webpage, allowing them to discuss any issues that they were having, raise their concerns, and receive feedback on their sites before they were due. This second seminar was useful because students received input from Andrew McKinney and me. They also had an opportunity to share their experiences and comment about each other’s websites.

In website development, WordPress is still relatively new. Before WordPress and other platforms, one needed a knowledge of programming languages to build a website from ground up. Even with the proliferation of simple, relatively easy platforms like the blogging platform WordPress, which allow one to construct websites quickly, there remains a learning curve for young and old. Although learning to use WordPress is much easier than learning how to program, I also spent a semester (Fall 2012) learning how to use WordPress before I assigned the digital site report. In the end, teaching WordPress to students still required two seminars.

The two WordPress seminars did not detract from the development of more traditional skills, but rather they gave students additional skills such as writing for the web and knowledge such as manipulating images for web and print publication, which are necessary in archaeology today. It also required students to organize their thoughts and the structure of their websites, which has importance differences and similarities to constructing a linear argument of a more traditional paper. The research required for the website was as great as for an extended research paper. Thus, these assignments taught digital skills as well as research, critical thinking, and writing skills.

From the middle of the semester onwards, students were also expected to blog weekly. The blogging focused on the discussion of an image of a statue, object, building, or monument that was relevant to that week’s readings. The aim of the blog was to facilitate students becoming comfortable using the WordPress interface and with communicating online in a semi-public forum. It allowed certain students who were not talkative in class make meaningful contributions. It also helped me to see what aspects of the readings students had not focused on or grasped, and therefore it allowed me to direct our discussions in class more effectively. Due to the small size of the class, the blog seemed to work well, and students seemed comfortable posting to the site.

Model website and project overview (see Appendix B)

In order to help the students build successful websites that met my expectations, I constructed a model website on the Column of Jerash in Queens as an example. I have been researching the column with Jared Simard, a PhD candidate in Classics at The Graduate Center, CUNY, who also assisted in building the website. The website was designed to show students how to share archaeological findings with the public in a clear and accessible format. The website was also intended to present to the public our research on this Column from Jerash, now in Queens, the second oldest monument in New York City. When building this website, we purposefully included the plug-ins that I wanted students to use including the google maps plug-in, a photo gallery plug-in such as NextGen, and a footnote plug-in such as FD Footnotes (see Appendix B). Building the website also allowed me to foresee some of the pitfalls that students might face, and this allowed me to guide them around such problems. The Project Overview summary that students received helped break down the assignment so students understood what the assignment entailed and how to structure their time when working on the project.

Grading rubrics (see Appendix C)

I also outlined my expectations by giving the students clear grading rubrics for the assignments. Students were told how many and what kind of plug-ins they were expected to use (i.e., the google maps plug-in), as well as what writing and aesthetic aspects that they should consider. This meant that the students had a clear understanding of what was required of their websites and how the sites would be assessed.

Limits on the assignment

I did not require students to learn how to get permissions to use images online, although all of the students were given access to the Manar al-Athar Photographic Archive, an open-access, multi-media, online resource for the study of the Middle East of which I serve as deputy-director, which hosts over 12,000 free, labeled photographs.. The websites were not google-indexed and were only visible to the students, Andrew, and myself. As this was the first time I had assigned a digital project, I was not certain that students would be able to make the website and find the images that they need in a timely fashion, so I decided not to tackle the issue of image permissions.

Successes and failures

Broadly, the assignment was a success, as the email testimonies of two students affirm (see Appendix G). One of the sites, which only used images from the Manar al-Athar Photograph Archive, gives a sense of what students did. This site has not been updated since late May 2013. The greatest success, in my opinion, was that students began to realize that they could build websites regardless of their technical background. One of the students was a mature student who had graduated in the early 1990s from an Italian university. For this student, who had an excellent background in Classical languages, building a website was a great challenge since she was relatively new to email. However, she took an incomplete in the class and completed the project over the summer. She was very good about asking for support and extra time, which I was happy to grant because the assignment was more challenging for her and because she was determined to complete it. This indicated to me that anyone could build a website with proper support. The only disappointment in the class occurred when another student who did not communicate with me about the problems that he was facing with the assignment was not able to master the plug-ins and did not do as well in the course.

The Object Report

On the basis of the success of this digital site report, I decided to assign students in my spring 2014 course on the Arts of the Islamic World a digital object report as their final project. A fundamental aim of the course was to teach students to work with objects, to look at them closely, to develop skills of visual analysis, and to situate the objects in their larger historical context. In this course, students selected an object from a list of approximately twenty-five historically significant or representative objects in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Students studied these objects, which were not on display due to the reinstallation of the galleries, through a visit to the storerooms of the museum with Caitlin McKenna, the Research Associate for the Islamic Collection in the Brooklyn Museum. This visit allowed the students enhanced access to the collection and also enabled them to experience some of the hands-on work that art historians and archaeologists do. The students were able to examine their objects in a way that would not have been possible that had the object been in a case behind glass.

Students first wrote a 12- to 15-page research paper to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the object and its historical and artistic context. This was intended to help students establish a solid academic foundation to create their websites. Students were given detailed feedback and comments on this paper, and they were allowed to revise their papers. Students were then asked write the digital object report, which was a Smarthistory-style essay that included images, bibliography, and links. The aim of a Smarthistory essay is to convey the essential aspects of a work of art (date, material, iconography, significance, context, etc.) in a concise article of 800 – 1200 words. These essays should be able to explain a work of art or building to an intelligent person with no background knowledge of the object or field. Before writing their essay, students submitted a digital portfolio. If the essays were of publishable quality, they would be published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy and made available to a broad interested public. Smarthistory is highly original in its presentation of art history because it goes beyond simply providing illustrated articles. Rather it takes an unscripted conversational approach to teaching art history through videos where two academics, typically art historians, discuss a work of art or a building, its major features, material, iconography, and their significance among other characteristics. Smarthistory at Khan Academy is one of most popular art history websites in the world with seven million visits in 2014. I serve as the Contributing Editor for Art of the Islamic World for Smarthistory at Khan Academy, where I contribute essays and videos as well as edit essays from other contributors. Contributing to Smarthistory at Khan Academy allows me to engage with audiences across the world and to demonstrate how rich and diverse the material culture of the Islamic World is. I wanted my students to realize that they could and should share their academic work with the wider public around the world. Therefore, I discussed the possibility of publishing some of the student essays with Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, Deans of Art and History at Khan Academy. Another professor had successfully had their students write essays in a Smarthistory style, some of which had then been published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Therefore, they were willing to work with me to publish the students’ essays if they were of a high standard.

Reflection on the Object Report

As in the first assignment, I supported the digital assignment with weekly blogging and two seminars devoted to digital publishing. I outlined my expectations for the website by assigning the digital portfolio and by providing a clear grading rubric. The inclusion of the digital portfolio again meant that students’ work was critiqued before it was graded. Also students were encouraged to visit Smarthistory’s website to read published essays as models for their work.

The digital portfolio, the grading rubric, and learning how to use images (see Appendixes E and F)

Students were required to submit a digital portfolio to the instructor, which could be reviewed before students constructed their webpages. The digital portfolio consisted of images, a bibliography, and three-to-five links of vetted, relevant websites to include on the webpage. Students in art history and archaeology receive little or no formal training or mentoring when it comes to obtaining, formatting, and sizing images for publication or online. This is a fundamental skill that all scholars who work with visual and material culture need, and one that I also wanted students to have. Although I had not asked students in the previous course to work on this, I now felt comfortable that the students could build their webpages and master this skill using a small number of images from the web. I now wanted to make sure that students understood the challenges that scholars have when they want to reproduce images in their publications or on their websites, because the underlying issues are the same between these different media.

This lack of knowledge was addressed in the digital portfolio. The digital portfolio required students to learn how to deal with using images online (and by extension traditional publications). Students had to learn how resize the images to be suitable for web use (150 KB and 72 DPI) using Photoshop, Preview, or another photo editing software, and they also had to provide proof that the selected images could legally be used online. Students learned about how to use Creative Commons licenses and how museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum of Art, allow their images to be used for scholarly purposes. By the end of creating the digital portfolio, the students also learned about reproducing images for traditional publications since the same issues of legal usage and re-sizing images apply to print publications.

Students also included links for websites in their portfolios. This required students to assess which academic or quasi-academic websites to include and how to build a suite of complimentary and diverse online resources. Lastly, students were also given a clear grading rubric so that they understood my expectations and how their webpage would be graded.


Writing a Smarhistory-style essay for a general public or students new to art history was a challenge for most students. They needed to learn how to engage their reader by developing an authorial voice suitable to writing about art history for the general public. They had to learn how to translate academic work into a more accessible prose. Simultaneously, the essay had to describe and explain the significance of an object in no more than 1,200 words. It was hard for students to write concisely. Students found that it was easier to write a new essay rather than cut down a 3,000-word essay. They also learned how to balance the text with images and that good design made a site more interesting and more valuable for the reader.

The opportunity to publish

The chance to publish their revised essays as articles on Smarthistory at Khan Academy, I believe, made the assignment and the learning that it supported more appealing to students. The assignment was not a hypothetical exercise in training to become an academic. Rather than writing a paper that only their professor was likely to read, the students were actually contributing to the field as nascent scholars. I think this motivated students to push themselves and produce high-quality work. Because I contribute to Smarthistory at Khan Academy, I was able to connect students who wanted to write more essays with Drs. Harris and Zucker so that they could collaborate by contributing other essays or content related to their research interests to the site.

This opportunity to publish on Smarthistory, an open-access website, also aimed to make students think about what publishing means in the twenty-first century and how academics should value digital contributions and open-access publications. Because these articles are reviewed, although they are not subjected to a rigorous peer-review process, they offer a low-stakes opportunity for students to engage with the public. It also enabled students to explore an alternative way of presenting their research, as opposed to the peer-reviewed, proprietary journal model. As a result of this exercise, I hope that students started to think about non-traditional and/or digital ways of presenting their research, which may enable students to develop new ways of publishing in the future.

Successes and failures

Overall the assignment was very successful. Because students had multiple opportunities for feedback on their research and digital portfolio, most of the students were able to produce well-written, engaging text, which was well integrated with images that could be used legally. However, the class blog was not successful from the students’ perspective or mine. In the course evaluation, students commented that they did not enjoy blogging and that they found the interaction on the blog to be forced.

As in the previous course, I wanted to use the blog for students to become more familiar and comfortable with the WordPress interface. Therefore, the course blog counted for a very small part of the overall grade and was considered a part of class participation. The course blog was modeled on Mark Sample’s Better Blogging Assignment, where students in a class were divided into three groups whose responsibilities rotated. The first group of students posted initial responses to the readings, a second group then responded to the responses, and a third group of students posted links. This did not work well. Many students would post just right before class, and they did not read each other’s postings, meaning that there were not online discussions (unlike the previous class) and that they posted out of order. Likewise, the students often did not post in groups, but as individuals, so it was chaotic. When the students posted links, they often did not pay attention to what they were posting and whether the links posted were useful, suggesting that they were trying to get the assignment done rather than engaging with the exercise.

The blog was partially intended to help me understand what students needed to focus on and discuss in the seminar. The role of the third group to post links was designed to help students learn how to assess websites for their final digital project. So different aspects of this blogging assignment were conceived of as being connected to the course discussions and final assignments. On the basis of this experience, I would not assign a group blogging exercise again, but I would instead try to find a different way for students to contribute online, probably by having them post and annotate websites to the course website.

Reflections on both assignments and future plans

These assignments made it clear that the integration of digital tools in the teaching of archaeology and art history is essential. Faculty members need to encourage students to become more digitally savvy by integrating well-supported digital assignments into their courses so that students can develop more digital skills and understand the value of technology in the production of scholarship and its dissemination. As an educator, I came away with several important observations. First, the melding of traditional assignments with new digital ones did not sacrifice any fundamental outcomes and skills, but rather digital work enhanced students’ ability to think and write. Both assignments gave the students confidence that they could do digital work, even if they lacked confidence in their digital skills when the semester started. Students without a digital background could learn to do digital work in a well-supported environment. These digital assignments also taught them about images and in particular about the difficulties that image licensing poses to scholars who work with visual and material culture.

Second, students also learned that speaking to general public is important. As scholars in training, they will need to learn how to translate their discipline and research to non-academics in order to demonstrate the relevancy of their field and importance of their research. As funding is cut to museums, non-profits, schools, and universities, scholars in the humanities have to make the case for why the humanities are relevant and meaningful. Therefore, being able to communicate clearly means that one’s message—that the past and the physical traces of the past are important—can be shared with people to whom art history and archaeology are not familiar topics.

Third, I realized that my assumption that students who are of the so-called “digital native” generation, born to email and Facebook, would be well prepared to do online research is false. In fact, these students are as poorly trained as other students when it comes to conducting research online. For example, they do not know how to use search terms effectively, the difference between searching with Google and Google Scholar, how to use online databases, or how to assess information that they find on the web. Students need much more training in this area whether they are writing traditional research papers or conducting new online or digital projects.

The success of these endeavors and the students’ willingness to embrace digital work (after overcoming their initial concerns) has encouraged me to continue to integrate digital work into my future classes. In the future, students could be asked to do a traditional object report and then make a video about the object rather than write an essay. These assignments, which were completed by individual students, could be more collaborative. A platform like Omeka could be used to create a resource around a type of art or theme, where students would have to work together to build the site. In sum, there are numerous possibilities that I hope to explore in my teaching in order to prepare students to be art historians and archaeologists of the twenty-first century.


The author would like to thank the students in her classes, who were willing to experiment and learn. The author would also like to thank Beth Harris and Steven Zucker for reading this article, as well as for being wonderful collaborators and colleagues. She would also like to thank Steven Brier for his encouragement to write this article as well as his feedback on the initial draft of the article. Thanks also to Jared Simard, who reviewed this article, and to Andrew McKinney, who read versions of this article and whose support and input during the last two years while I have integrated digital technology into my teaching has been invaluable. The comments of faculty and students who attend the New Media Lab lunches were also helpful in writing this article.


Ben Schmidt. “Crisis in the Humanities?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10, 2013, accessed August 20, 2014.


Appendix A: The Syllabus for The art and archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt

Appendix B: Digital Project Overview for Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt

Appendix C: Grading Rubric for Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt, Spring 2013

Appendix D: Syllabus for Islamic Art and Architecture, Spring 2014

Appendix E: A Guide to Creating a Digital Portfolio for your object

Appendix F: Grading Rubric for Islamic Art and Architecture Digital Project, Spring 2014

Appendix G: Email Testimonies from Students in Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt Seminar, Spring 2013.

From one student:

For technological luddites such as me the idea of creating a website was daunting at first; however, the step-by-step introduction and guidance in the media lab provided a much needed comfort. As the project took shape, I was especially grateful to have the template website (Column of Jerash) as a reference point. For the most part, every aspect of the WordPress format is straight forward and user friendly. The abundance of instructional tips available on the internet also helped — particularly with regard to adding plug-ins. The periodic check-ins over the duration of the semester (i.e. practice in lab, annotated bibliography with hyperlinks) really helped those of us who tend to procrastinate to stay on task. Finally, as we already discussed, I appreciate the idea of encouraging students to create projects outside the realm of a traditional research paper. As WordPress is such a popular platform, the skills gained are indeed applicable to a variety of situations and will only serve to make students more marketable down the line.

Overall the project was an enjoyable experience, one I hope to use again in the future and one I wish there was more time to really dig in and work on. This last point is my own fault for not spending more time playing around with plug-ins etc. which would enhance the final site. Particularly, I had issues with the footnote plug-ins again, I’m sure if I spent more time testing other versions, eventually it would have worked as I wanted. In the end, I opted for internal citations, which aren’t as aesthetically pleasing in my mind… Additional issues I had with WordPress revolved predominately around aesthetic concerns, specifically text and image integration. There were instances where the images refused to orient themselves on the published page in the same fashion as the editing window, causing some irritation. Finally, in creating a webpage research project, I felt a bit uncertain how best to organize and present text per page without overwhelming the viewer. Ultimately, my page erred on the side of minimal text per page and in retrospect should have included more information as a standalone mini lesson of sorts for each menu tab.

The manar al-athar database was wonderfully easy to navigate and for purposes of my site, Palmyra, it was absolutely essential. Having access to various high quality images not only broken down by location, but also by typology made cross-referencing a breeze. Additionally, I was very pleased to have the option what image size I could download. Hopefully, the manar al-athar database will continue to expand and offer an even wider range of images for students and professionals to access.

From another student:

Now that this assignment is completed and graded, I feel okay about saying that it was definitely a challenge. Actually one of the more difficult assignments I’ve had here. Everyone knows (mostly I assume) how to write a paper, but balancing creating content while also thinking about an end user experience was certainly a trick. And now that the class is completed and graded, I feel okay about saying that I really enjoyed this class.



About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in Classical Archaeology from the University of Oxford. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor and the Deputy Executive Officer in the M.A. in Liberal Studies at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her research interests are on Roman and Islamic material culture, specifically on architecture and gardens. She is also interested in the use of digital tools in the study and teaching of archaeology. She is the contributing editor for Art of the Islamic World for Smarthistory at Khan Academy and the Chair of the Digital Technology Committee of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Be Sociable, Share!

'Transforming the Site and Object Reports for a Digital Age: Mentoring Students to Use Digital Technologies in Archaeology and Art History' has 1 comment

  1. August 10, 2015 @ 8:28 am Doing digital art History and archaeology won’t hurt much! (I promise…) | Smarthistory

    […] read more about the successes and failures of integrating digital components into my courses, see my article in issue seven of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy about mentoring art historians […]


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image

Images are for demo purposes only and are properties of their respective owners. ROMA by

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar