The first in our series of graduate student profiles concentrates on PhD student Chelsea Gardner, one of the founders of the project.
One of the best things about From Stone to Screen, in our humble opinion, is that it’s a project started by, propelled forward and maintained by graduate students. Anyone who has ever met a grad student knows that we tend to be overworked, overtired and overstressed students who are overenthusiastic about one thing in particular, which is what we happen to be researching. So the fact that we are voluntarily taking on extra work for a project is something that, while not exactly understandable, proves how much we all believe in it and how much we are willing to put into it. To that end, we at From Stone to Screen have decided to showcase one student a month to demonstrate how much we are all pulling for the project to succeed and what we have done to bring it there.
This month’s student profile is on Chelsea Gardner, a fourth year PhD student in Classical Archaeology at UBC. As our story goes (which you can find elsewhere in our various blogs), in the fall of 2012 there were a group of students in one of Dr. Lisa Cooper’s Near Eastern archaeology seminars – Chelsea was one of them. Unlike most of the students involved in the project, though, Chelsea had an awareness not only of the Fuller artifact collection but also of the squeeze collection. The day that Dr. Cooper brought the artifacts to class, Chelsea approached her immediately after the class was done to discuss the possibility of work with the artifacts in some capacity. This coupled with Dr. McElduff’s seminar, Digital Antiquity, inspired several of the CNRS grad students to become involved in the project and pushed it in the direction of digital humanities. As a group, Chelsea and the other students wrote proposals to the department in spring of 2013 and with that propulsion the project began to gain traction.
One of Chelsea’s goals from the beginning was to make it an open-access resource for anyone in the field, whether they studied at UBC or not. “The beauty of any digitization project is that information and data can be as available as you make it. The vision right from the start was to make [From Stone to Screen] an open-access, universally accessible source for anybody who was interested in it.” With that in mind, funding was a priority for the fledgling project. They needed to get enough to be able to have a platform that was accessible to all. What Chelsea and the others planned, though, and what actually happened were quite different. She is both proud and impressed with the support both within and outside of not only the CNERS department, but UBC as well. “I never would have imagined how successful [this project] has become with the digitizing techniques and the grant funding we have received.” Especially since it was worked on primarily by graduate students, the progress is even more impressive.
It was always a conscious decision to make it for grad students only. There was the possibility of faculty advisement, but Chelsea wanted a graduate student project in order to make it solely student-run. She wanted it to be valuable for each individual student who is involved as a means of professional development, something that can sometimes be difficult for multiple students to have the chance for. “That was the impetus behind this entire project… creating an opportunity for graduate students that didn’t exist before.” From Stone to Screen has definitely delivered on that front; along with presenting for the local Vancouver branch of the AIA, our students have been able to present at the EAGLE conference in Paris, learn digitization methods that our field usually does not teach and create connections with other professions interested in Digital Humanities.
A hiccup in her plans for From Stone to Screen arrived, though, in the form of an amazing opportunity. Chelsea learned that she was the Philip Lockhart Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for the 2013-2014 academic year. This was, needless to say, an opportunity she was unwilling to pass up but it also meant that she had to leave everything in Vancouver behind for a year. It was hard for her to leave the project when it was only just getting on its feet, and she knew that by going to Athens she would have to leave the project in the hands of others and watch it from afar. “It was very personally rewarding to watch this project, that I’ve seen since its inception, develop and just kind of explode.” She still worked with Lisa Tweten over e-mail, giving advice and links when she came across them, but it was still a risk to leave it behind for a year. Watching it flourish from afar was something that she thoroughly enjoyed.
Now she is back in Vancouver, though, and enthusiastically finding new opportunities for the project to expand. When I asked her if she thought the project would be able to grow past its current collections, her excitement was contagious. She hopes that as From Stone to Screen grows and gains a larger public presence, private collectors would step forward and allow us access to their collections to incorporate into our database. There is, obviously, the problem of trying to obtain private artifacts for our own collection that were collected before 1970. The other problem is that many museums in Greece rarely allow scholars to make squeezes because it can cause some damage, plus many of the inscriptions have already had multiple squeezes made so it is unlikely that we will be able to enlarge our collection. Chelsea hopes, though, that we can somehow borrow other collections, digitize it safely and then add it into our online collection to hopefully have the entire Athenian Tribute List on our database.
Squeezes are still being made on site, though, and she hopes that we can gain some of those for our collection. She recently made a squeeze at the site that she excavates at and once she has finished her research and work with it, she fully intends to donate it to the From Stone to Screen collection. “I hope [squeeze-making] is something that is on everyone’s radar: especially those who are archaeologists in this department, who are going on projects, and who have the ability to do so,” she admitted.
As an archaeologist, though, it may seem confusing as to why she is so involved with a project to digitize epigraphic squeezes. She works in the ancient historic period in Greece which means that there are epigraphic sources from the time period in the region where she digs – the value of the project for Chelsea is that is have given her the opportunity to handle squeezes first hand which is indispensable since she needs to make squeezes for her own research. The squeeze that she made was also digitized using the same methods that we use at the project which gives her high quality images to work with.
Chelsea has two years left for her PhD, meaning that she can continue to closely work on the project and help see it through to the end of our current goals, but as we have seen in the last year it is already growing so much bigger than we had ever planned. As with anyone in our field, though, she will go to wherever the jobs are when she’s finished and that most likely means leaving UBC. This also means, though, that she will have to leave From Stone to Screen behind and give it off to the next generation, something that Chelsea regrets and wishes she could see it through to its completion. “The goal of Stone to Screen,” she admitted,” is for it not to ever be completed.” She plans to follow it from wherever she is in the future and send whatever squeezes or support she can. She vehemently believes that it is a resource that can grow indefinitely and she will be there to support it from afar. Considering how much the project has grown, which just two years ago was just a random idea after a seminar, what will happen in the next two years before she graduates is impossible to tell. You can see the pride whenever she speaks about the project, though, and I think it’s safe to say that wherever she ends up she will always support and help the current generation of students who are working on it.
Check out Chelsea’s blog posts!