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On iPads in Fieldwork and Digital Workflow

October 5, 2010

I have kept thinking about the iPads at Pompeii topic over the past week.  William Caraher has too, and posted about a digital workflow for excavations.  Since my old research interest in fieldwork was largely on methods in archaeological field survey, my thoughts naturally headed towards what one could do with iPads in surveys.  Since iPads (and iPhones and iPod Touches) all have GPS capabilities, in theory you could equip a field survey team with an array of devices.  The team leader would have a iPad, having the need for more detailed and extensive data collection – and also a map big enough to try to figure out where you are!  The fieldwalkers could each have an iPod Touch.  Instead of “clickers” for artifact counting, an app could be customized to allow taps for counts of artifacts (or multiple types of artifacts depending on the situation – i.e. sherds, tiles, lithics, etc.)

The GPS should – in theory – allow exact calculation of routes walked  (I don’t honestly know if GPS is yet this good – I left fieldwork in 2001, before GPS was much use for survey, because it wasn’t precise enough and wasn’t cheap enough – but I do know that fitness apps like “Runkeeper” purport to collect detailed information about distance and path traveled.)  One could take photos of artifacts encountered in the field and automatically associate them with tracts in the database, and one could photograph artifacts collected as a caution against the lost or mislabeled bag of sherds (when you spend 8 hours a day living out of a backpack and traveling several miles, bags of sherds are more likely to go astray than when you are in a trench.)  All the benefits of an iPad in a trench would apply, essentially, plus the added GPS bits.

So, now I just need a field survey project and a friendly contact at Apple to provide me with devices, app programming support, and a photographer for the advertising layout…

Thinking about a digital workflow also got me thinking about how the researcher – the reader of scholarly books and articles –  is moving towards a digital workflow.

It seems like many academics I know are “belt-plus-suspenders” types who keep a .pdf AND a print copy of a scholarly article, not least because their research process involves taking notes with a pen on the print article. Maybe we’re all kinesthetic learners and find the physical act of writing makes us retain information better than typing does, or maybe we just haven’t devised a good workflow for taking notes digitally in direct association with the .pdfs yet.

Benjamin Wolkow, UGA Classics’ new Visiting Assistant Professor (whom I welcome!), has a Wacom tablet and pen that he uses to take notes “digitally” directly onto a .pdf of an article, which he can then save with his notes attached. I think he started because the tablet and pen helped prevent mouse-related repetitive stress injury, but what a neat trick! The basic tablet-and-pen combo is only about $70 – cheap enough that experimenting with adding this to your research workflow is a possibility.

wacom bamboo tablet

A neat EndNote Library filled with digitally marked-up .pdf files could replace bulging file cabinets – and fit on a thumb drive.

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One comment

  1. I just saw your tweet and was interested in the article. Just thought to comment that I have been working as an artifact illustrator, and now use the Bamboo for all of my inkings.



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