Multidisciplinarity

My PhD was conceived to bring together a range of different approaches and methodologies towards the study of late medieval buildings. It started as one of two PhDs myself based in archaeological computing and a second student with a background in medieval history. This intended to bring together digital visualisation techniques with a solid base in evidence sourced through archival research.

I have stated elsewhere how visualisation techniques have been highly critiqued and the methodology developed to work in an archaeological context. There are courses that can be sat on to teach the tools available and how they can be applied in archaeology. However, for Auralization this is not the case, there have been limited applications in archaeology and the technique still requires a deep understanding of acoustical engineering. Working with ISVR has been challenging, it took us a long time to find someone to work with who could teach me how to do acoustical survey and how it can be applied. Engineers work in different ways and focus on different things. In reverse they do not have the theoretical background in archaeology to engage with the results of the work.

Where I am going with this is that using techniques from other disciplines (even just history) can be incredibly challenging. It is not just finding the contacts and someone interested in working with you. It is knowing what techniques can be used and their limitations to apply them correctly. It is making sure you are asking the right questions when learning techniques to ensure you are getting the correct answers from your collaborators not just the easy answer.

However, I have found other aspects of multidisciplinary method more frustrating, particularly when presenting my work. These issues can be as simple as struggling with referencing; archival sources such as illuminated manuscripts are very difficult to reference using the Harvard system. I spoke to Prof. Chris Woolgar from history who said, that in essence, you have to “bodge” it. Not something that works well with bibliographic software. The same is true in engineering working to disciplinary standards, trying to find the best way of getting the information across feels impossible at times.

Presenting the results of sound work is also frustrating, rarely are conference venues setup with good quality audio, if any at all. I find it hard to reconcile myself to discussing the experience of sound without any audio accompaniment in the same way discussing visualisation without images seems ridiculous. This continues when writing my thesis, providing a mechanism for the sounds I am talking about to be heard.

I don’t mean for this blog post to be a rant, I was hoping instead to highlight some of the difficulties in working between disciplines for all multi-disciplinary research in general. As we are being encouraged to use methodologies from other disciplines, I hope the more this is embraced the easier it will get for some of these basic problems.

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