Applicability of Digital Techniques to the Hidalgo County Paupers’ Cemetery Project

As probably the only student in this class that has adult memory before the digital age, I am typically slow to comprehend and apply new technology as it presents itself in various formats. When I got my first retail/office job in the 1980s, I became familiar with telex machines used for long distance communication. Prior to that, I had experience using electric typewriters and calculators. Then the fax machine came along. Desktop computers followed and eventually, digital cameras. With the rapid evolution of technological innovations, researchers are capable of recording their findings and presenting them through sophisticated and modern methods where not much is left to interpretation. Kevin Garstki compares the practice of creating digital 3D representations of archaeological artifacts and how it should be compared to a time when the advent of digital photography took over the field. Imagine this time-saving technology that archaeologists could use in the field with introduction of the digital camera! The ability to take a seemingly endless stream of photos of all findings from every possible angle must have been very exciting! As with all new technology, digital cameras and their memory cards were quite an investment. Garstki’s argues that 3D “digital artifact modeling will become as indispensable to archaeology as traditional photography.” (728) I agree with his comments with regard to the fact that a “reproduction cannot stand in for the original.” (729) He is also concerned with authenticity of a replica and one’s ability to interact with an object recreated by 3D imaging/printing. Although the items replicated can be very close (size, form, function), it is impossible to create the same object density, surface finish and perhaps exact color. It does, however, give the observer who is not present on site of the artifact’s discovery the capability of experiencing an object or collection of objects so that further research and discussion can be had. I imagine that the more accurate the technology is with regard to reproduction authenticity, the more expensive the machinery (and software) is and at this time, a pitfall to its use in our project could be the cost (prohibitive) and lack of trained personnel.

With regard to our project, we have been introduced to 3D scanning but have not had the opportunity to use it in the field. As we gather our data throughout this potter’s field, we notice that there is no consistency with the headstones with regard to type, size, shape, etc. There are several headstones that are broken or missing pieces. Alternately, there are gravesites that are not representative of a headstone whatsoever. We recorded one last week that was in the shape of a baby’s crib. Many markers are handmade and others are traditional carved headstones. It is possible that with 3D scanning, we can recreate a broken headstone by filling in the missing pieces. At this stage, we should continue our focus on digital media in order to gain attention and attract potential project participants.

Chiara Bonacchi discusses multiple avenues of digital media in her article such as the use of social media (facebook), audio or video podcasts, smartphone apps, blogs, vlogs, etc. She also talks about crowd sourcing (citizens asked to help with the recording and digitization), where those citizens who chose to participate could assist with the analysis and interpretation of data. Our efforts to be transparent to the community began with our presentation to the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and the launch of the Hidalgo County Paupers’ Cemetery Project website. During the days when the class is out collecting data at the cemetery, we welcome the opportunities for ‘crowd sourcing’ as we interact with family members who are visiting gravesites of their loved one(s). This collaboration will get us closer to understanding just who is buried in the cemetery and why are they in a paupers’ field instead of a conventional cemetery. At some level, we are looking for contributory participation as well on behalf of all funeral homes in the area. We have taken note on some of the gravesites markers that reflect the burial was taken care of by funeral homes such as Skinner-Silva (Edinburg), Kreidler (McAllen) and Guerra (Weslaco/EdCouch). Perhaps we can find more info and fill in the blanks (missing dates of birth/death, etc.) with visits to these businesses?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *