AAI receives Mellon Foundation grant for data literacy program in archaeology

San Francisco, CA, 17 June 2020

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded The Alexandria Archive Institute (AAI) a grant to support the launch of a program in data literacy and to develop institutional ties to sustain open data publishing and curation services in archaeology. The Mellon Foundation’s grant of $610,000 will be matched by an additional $203,333 from the National Endowment for the Humanities through AAI’s current NEH Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge Grant.

The AAI’s Data Literacy Program will widen and diversify community engagement with cultural heritage data, providing much-needed scaffolding to guide professionals, students, and lifelong learners in thoughtful engagement with research data. Mellon funding over three years will support two postdoctoral researchers with expertise in public engagement and reproducible research practices, who will craft open access “data stories” backed by deeper layers of open and reproducible analytic and visualization code, as well as primary research data. This approach will open doors to multiple levels of engagement with datasets, linking high-level narrative with the behind-the-scenes analytical and interpretive steps used to select, judge, filter, analyze, and visualize research data.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to hire junior researchers so that we can enrich public education in archaeology,” said Sarah Whitcher Kansa, AAI’s Executive Director. “It’s an example of the kinds of investments in people and communities that will help make research and learning more accessible and inclusive.”

Most students and museum visitors engage only with the visible tip of the iceberg of archaeological evidence. After moving through different levels of presentation, learners will be better equipped to engage in their own original research using open archaeological data. This will demonstrate how archaeological databases offer rich and largely untapped interpretive potential.

“The Data Literacy Program aims to broaden engagement with digital data so that wider communities can peer into— and contest— research processes that are now hidden inside analytic black boxes,” said Kansa.

Together with the existing data curation services the AAI offers through its data publishing platform Open Context, the Data Literacy Program will enhance the AAI’s capacity to meet broader needs and achieve sustainability milestones. Mellon funding will help the AAI build partnerships among museums, libraries, and other institutions to enhance the research and public engagement impacts derived from their cultural heritage data. Funding will also support two Data Literacy Professional Development workshops in 2022 and 2023, involving representatives of wider communities of cultural heritage professionals to improve and broaden the impact of the Data Literacy program.

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