Capitalising on an international award: Research and Innovation at the Digital Preservation Awards 2022
Posted by s.aragon
on 24 November 2022 - 9:07am
By Dr Panagiotis Papageorgiou.
Towards the completion of my doctorate, I had a realisation: I’m starting to become a staple amongst the digital preservation community! I’ve been involved in all traditional academic activities, such as attending conferences, for almost a decade now. But does that automatically make a recognised figure in the discipline? And what does it take for someone to be turned into a respected, and key figure of a scientific domain?
Gaining a PhD
Rewinding back to 2013, while at the initial stage of my doctoral studies, I was dreaming of making a big scientific breakthrough, and becoming the new Albert Einstein, or something along these lines. However, as always seems to be the case, there were ‘internal and external voices’ which tried to convince me that I shouldn’t dream big. Not necessarily because I’m not a genius (sic), but to quote, because a PhD is just another degree that the candidate needs to get out of the way to gain the required freedom for conducting independent research. Also, because lightning only strikes once. I naively thought: How can there be so many restrictive factors for a man who set out with the intention to positively change the world through a knowledge contribution to society?
Nonetheless, I settled for nothing less, and started working as hard as I possibly could. Fast forward to 2021, and a few hardships and crashed dreams later (Murphy’s law at its best), I was finally awarded a PhD by the University of Portsmouth for a thesis on the effective preservation of archaeological virtual reconstructions. Along with this, my lost self-esteem was slowly starting to get restored. A totally worthwhile experience, after all. Truth be told though, more than a year later I’m still slightly hungover from the celebrations followed that personal milestone.
Research and Innovation Award
Firstly, the aftermath of the viva voce celebrations, and then everything that happened around the graduation ceremony with, of course, the ceremony itself in the epicentre. In June 2022, I was announced as one of the three finalists at the Digital Preservation Awards for the Research and Innovation Award, funded by the Software Sustainability Institute. Then two months later I was offered two generous career development grants from the Digital Preservation Coalition to attend the award ceremony, as well as the eighteenth edition of the International Conference on Digital Preservation.
What happened immediately after the award ceremony, as well as the first following months was totally unprecedented to me. After an interview, a couple of blogs and a few press releases, I can now say that I have the answer to the question I raised at the beginning of this blog entry. It feels like my work is definitely beginning to get recognised, for one in the field, but often in wider circles that I could never imagine.
My thesis reconsidered the preservation process of archaeological virtual reconstructions from an act that begins towards the end of a project’s life, to one that starts at the very beginning. My research demonstrates the existence of a hybrid type of preservation object; one that falls in between the gaps of a purely scientific or artistic object. I used the idea of an archaeological virtual reconstruction as my ‘case’ for this exploration, but it does apply to many other domains, including high reliability areas, such as crime scene reconstruction.
For these types of hybrid digital objects, the previously preserved metadata typically acknowledges the ‘scientific process’ (archaeological, historical, topographical, architectural, geological, environmental and textual data) but misses that the final preserved reconstruction is in fact the product of a ‘creative process’, and therefore open to creative interpretation. By focusing on the paradata of the creative process, that interpretation is explicitly preserved.
I thus suggest a methodology whereby the final preserved virtual reconstruction can in fact be created as a preservation-ready object that makes explicit the limit of the knowledge used to create it, and hence preserves the current cultural understanding of the subject in question, as well as the final artefact.
The breadth of engagement with the subject at all stages means that previously amalgamated concepts have been carefully dissected. New insight has been gained by challenging assumptions, and that has resulted in the development of a new theory of preservation and an outline methodology for how that should be instantiated.
Lesson learnt here: You have to work for longer than you ever think you have to work before success comes, but it can come. So, from now on, I want to use this power to maintain, and further develop my academic profile and reputation in the discipline, through the broadening of my research horizons.