MicroPasts - funding the future of archaeology
This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.
With the archaeology, heritage and museum sectors suffering from substantial budget cuts in recent years, there has been a need to find creative ways to generate income and keep our heads above water. Online crowdfunding is a relatively new way to raise funds for archaeological and heritage related projects. It can create a space where archaeologists, historians, heritage specialists, volunteer archaeological societies and other interested members of the public can join forces to conduct high quality research projects that are of interest to all.
Researchers, archaeologists and curators from the Institute of Archaeology of University College London (UCL) and the British Museum have teamed up to create MicroPasts – a web-based environment, built wholly upon open-licensed and publicly available software, which allows the public to engage in different ways with real academic and museum-related tasks. MicroPasts participants may choose to contribute by completing different types of tasks on the crowdsourcing platform, or by making small donations to projects of their interest using the crowdfunding component.
In a previous blog post, Andrew Bevan discussed the creation of 3D models via crowdsourcing applications available on the site. This blog post will focus on MicroPasts’ crowdfunding aspect – the collection of micro-funds from keen individuals in order to successfully launch research projects and other activities of their interest. MicroPasts is devoted to projects relating to archaeology, history and cultural heritage. However, unlike the well-established DigVentures crowdfunding initiative, called DigStarter, MicroPasts does not fundraise for new excavations, but prioritises other research projects, such as data digitisation, finds analysis, scientific sampling or laboratory work.
The MicroPasts team did some preliminary research into open-source crowd-funding platforms, initially looking at GoTeo, Catarse and Selfstarter and a couple of WordPress plugins. However, after a recommendation by Daniel Lombraña González, the developer of PyBossa, the platform used for our crowdsourcing arm, we settled on using the Neighbor.ly framework. As with all code on our project, we have made it available via GitHub and in this instance we forked Neighbor.ly’s Ruby-on-Rails platform, while Daniel Pett customised the Foundation CSS framework skin for a MicroPasts theme. Irio Musskopf, one of Neighbor.ly’s lead developers was employed to enable the creation of a PayPal gem for integrating with their payment gateway and code was deployed onto Heroku.
Navigating the site is very simple: you can find out about current campaigns running on the site, engage in discussion with campaign leaders and choose to contribute to a project of your liking. The website also includes information on how to start a campaign, as well as some useful tips on how to lead your campaign to a financial success.
All crowdfunding appeals available on MicroPasts reflect joint initiatives between traditional academic institutions, volunteer societies and other community organisations. In order to set up a crowdfunding bid on MicroPasts, academic and community partners are asked to provide a short summary of their project, a short video and a breakdown of the requested budget. Once the bid is up and running on the MicroPasts platform, interested donors can make donations, with the initial minimum set to £5 and, if they so wish, retain their anonymity. The MicroPasts platform retains 1% towards costs and donors can choose whether or not to cover PayPal transaction fees.
A successful bid is expected to give its contributors something in return for their ‘investment’. As a default, all projects must guarantee free accessibility of all data generated using the crowdfunded contributions under a Creative Commons licence. They should also commit to the digital archiving of such open datasets using online repositories such as the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) or an institutional repository. Other incentives are up to each project, and may include public show-and-tell days, copies of research reports, blog posts with projects updates, museum tours, or any other enticing reward of their choice.
A few starter projects are now available on the platform. The most successful campaign so far is that of the Thames Discovery Programme, aiming to map ‘London’s Lost Waterway’, by locating the landing places along the river Thames foreshore where, from the late 16th century onwards, river ‘taxis’ known as wherries used to pick up and drop off passengers, and is a collaboration with UCL and the Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA).
Another crowdfunding appeal on MicroPasts relates to the study of a medieval Abbey based in Great Missenden, a picturesque village located in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire. The Great Missenden Abbey, founded in 1133 for an Augustinian order, functioned as a religious centre until the dissolution of monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. Parts of this Abbey were excavated in the 1980s, but the majority of finds were never formally identified and documented. A collaborative project between UCL and the Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society aims at studying those written records and excavated archaeological finds, which include pottery, glass, stone, coins, and metal objects as well as animal bones and human remains.
A third crowdfunding bid running on MicroPasts platform investigates into the origins of Anglo-Saxon Wessex, the early medieval kingdom of the West Saxons. This project, resulting from a collaboration between UCL, the University of Nottingham and the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, is aimed at mapping the original administrative boundaries of Wessex and locating assembly sites, where citizens met for law courts and other political and social meetings.
A few more crowdfunding appeals are now making their way to MicroPasts’ platform. If you wish to set up a campaign, please do have a look at our guidelines and get in touch. And if not, feel free to browse through our actives campaigns – you might find something that you’ve always wanted to be a part of!