In October, we had a post about Chelsea Gardner and the work she did to initiate the project in 2013. Our next post in our student profile series is about Lisa Tweten, the other Project Co-Director.
Our project is outspoken, loud, well-advertised and overall more involved than your average academic project. We are in your face in any poster, conference talk or classroom presentation about our successes, trials & tribulations and overall progress that we’re making. Considering how bold many of the members of the project are, this makes sense. Which is why, when I started on the project over a year and a half ago, I didn’t really see Lisa all that much (though I’m sure that is exactly how she wanted it). Lisa likes to let others take the spotlight and if you only saw From Stone to Screen at our public events, you may not know she is as involved in the project as she is. So, a few weeks ago I severely tortured her by asking her to meet me for beers so I could interview her about her involvement in the project. As I suspected, in reality Lisa is the drumbeat that keeps us all going. If her co-director Chelsea is the brains of the operation, then Lisa could only ever be the project’s heart.
You can see traces of her throughout every aspect of it. Lisa was there through the initial stages of the project, working to catalogue the squeezes and get the project going. She started the blog in the summer of 2013 as a way to keep a journal of From Stone to Screen’s progress, in part to keep Chelsea informed during the year she was in Greece. She asked others to write posts but the majority fell on her and she decided to interviewed multiple students from the department that summer about their work to show who was involved with the project. A few of the grad students decided to make a Twitter account, @CNRS_Squeezes, and Lisa had hoped it would be a group account but again it fell to her.
— From Stone to Screen (@CNRS_Squeezes) October 24, 2013
The majority of the tweets that first year were archaeological news, with a few updates on the project, but with little happening during the 2013-2014 academic year, there was not much to report. The twitter account paid off, though, and Lisa was contacted by the Biblical Archaeological Review through Twitter about potentially doing a blog post. Lisa got the archaeologists involved with the project in touch with each other – this was the start of our international attention. So while Twitter had some benefits, she admits that she found it to be a necessary chore that she was happy to pass off.
When it came to the daunting task of first cataloguing and then digitizing the squeezes, Lisa was involved from the beginning. Heather and Maude began the process of going through the drawers and figuring out what was where while Lisa turned to the digitizing process. While the scanning technique was developed by UBC’s Digital Initiatives, Lisa made sure to learn the entire process and how best to photograph the squeezes. Starting a digital project, they soon learned, is far more complex than it seems. “Looking back, I wish we’d done a lot more research on other squeeze projects… our metadata and organization would have been better. Not to knock the metadata,” she hastened to assure me, “what we started with was just a handwritten sheet saying the IG2 number.” The Nigel index certainly helped with the identifying process, but she wishes they had known to do a bit more. “I would have liked to create a more robust data set.” But the world of the internet is far more complex and difficult than most academics are even aware of. “The other thing we didn’t consider is just how difficult getting the images and metadata up would be… we thought it would all magically appear on the internet and it doesn’t do that.” She chuckles at this – she is slowly learning the ins-and-outs of DM (which does not, we’ve decided, stand for data management though what it does stand for we have no idea) and has a greater appreciation for what the people over in Digital Initiatives have to deal with every day.
Lisa then attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria this past summer to learn how to improve FSTS. Our funding, the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, is largely based off of exactly what its name implies: how will your project enhance the teaching and learning at UBC? With this in mind, she took a class on Digital Pedagogy to learn how best to integrate the project into the classroom. It was also at DHSI that she learned about Omeka, where we have posted our artifact collection. While she didn’t appreciate all of the things the classes concentrated on (“Some things they talked about were ridiculous, like… ‘If you teach in the Digital Humanities, how do you deal with snow days?’ It’s not different from any other classes!!!”), she did find that the overall experience helped her appreciate the field more. “It’s a week-long gathering of other people doing Digital Humanities… it’s invigorating to meet people who don’t question the value of Digital Humanities for once,” she mused looking back at it.
With the new school year, and Chelsea’s return from Athens, the project was large and more complex than it had ever been. Lisa had spent the summer scanning the squeezes in the library every week and was continuing with the task through the fall as she also tackled the third year of her MA. The new academic year was easier to look forward to, though, since she and Maude would be traveling to Paris to attend the 2014 EAGLE Conference. They had submitted the abstract earlier that year in an effort to show that the project was gaining traction and had genuine academic merit, and it was accepted as a poster. “I really prefer posters to talks,” she joked, and I believe her. She prefers to stay offstage but will step up when needed to. I asked her how she had managed to be the one to be lucky enough to go to Paris, but she gently reminded me that it was a lot of travel and money for only four days where you spent the majority of the time at a conference. “It’s a sign of how invested in the project you are…” she observed, but in the end she did at admit that she was very glad that she was the one that went.
One of the initial concepts of the project was that it belonged to the graduate students of the department and would be handed over from one cohort to the next. As the third academic year of the project started, though, a mere 18 months after the project’s inception, the enthusiasm from the newer cohorts was less than desired. Most of Lisa’s cohort had graduated or were unable to invest time to it due to their theses. “When [Chelsea] left, I was the one motivated enough to keep pushing people to do things.” She laughs at the idea of this, but shrugs it off. I can see how she was the one who filled Chelsea’s shoes – they make a good team, they balance each other off perfectly. “I’m much better behind the scenes, dealing with the things that Chelsea sets up. She thinks bigger,” she muses. “Someone needs to think big.” Even with Chelsea’s return, though, it seemed that the eventual passing of the torch would be difficult to manage.
“At the time, I was still hoping I could find someone motivated enough to hand the project over to… I’ve also become so invested in the project I couldn’t hand it over if I was told to.”
I’m not sure Lisa was ever too upset that others weren’t overly involved with the project. When I started my TAship last fall, she candidly told me that this project was a unique opportunity that would help anyone who worked on it get a leg up on others no matter what they chose to do with their future. If she ended up doing the whole project herself, then so be it – it would give her a chance to make connections and learn skills that she would not otherwise have the chance at. For instance, this year the department was incredibly supportive of the project and assigned it two TAs for the whole year (one being yours truly). Suddenly having two people to help her on any aspect of the project, because it was their job, took some getting used to. “Having two TAs really drove home some good lessons about being a project manager: that delegation is sometimes the best way to get things done. Sometimes fresh eyes make all the difference in the world.”
Of course, her passion about the project doesn’t end with what she learns and gets from it. Ask her why any student should volunteer for the project and she’s quick to answer. “One thing I’ve noticed talking to the new professors and the post-docs in our department… [is] digital humanities plays into every job interview.” She points out that even for archaeological students who may work at digs that use digital technology, there’s usually already someone there who knows how to use the tools. It’s very unlikely that the director would take a week to teach you how to use them and then what to do with the subsequent data. So learning to make your own database, imaging techniques, is a valuable use of any student’s time even if you aren’t necessarily continuing on within Classics. For our own project, she firmly believes that these squeezes and artifacts should be online and open to all. “It’s just frustrating that it’s 2015 and you still have to travel to see these things. I understand that museums need you to pay admission fees so that they can continue to house and preserve these things, but at the same time, this is human heritage and it should be at our finger tips.”
When I ask her about her feelings towards the project and where she sees it going, she hesitates. “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done, I wouldn’t mind seeing it through to the end,” she modestly says. Personally, I can’t imagine the project without Lisa. Her touch is in every part of it, from the metadata to the squeeze images, to the social media and the website she designed with me. “…it’s definitely in good hands with [Chelsea], but I’m happy to stay on… someone has to stay on to help her fabulous ideas come to fruition.” She smiles into her beer and I know that we’d have to pull the project from her cold, dead hands but luckily I don’t think that’s in anyone’s plans anytime soon.
Chelsea agrees that Lisa is the heart of the project and has only kind words to say about her other half.
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner-in-crime than Lisa. She selflessly volunteers for more tasks and responsibilities than any person should reasonably be able to handle and, more importantly, she delivers on all her commitments. From the inception of this project, Lisa has truly been the heart of the team – she is reliable and dedicated, and she does everything she possibly can to keep From Stone to Screen running, from the most menial metadata processes to editing and proofreading abstracts, to creating promotional cards, to researching the content of squeezes. The project would not be where it is today without Lisa’s hard work and devotion and I honestly cannot imagine running From Stone to Screen without her.”
Lisa has written dozens of posts for the website over the last two years, check them out!