What the machine saw: Studying the trade in human remains in an era of big data

Wednesday 29 May 2019, 5.00PM to 7pm

Speaker(s): Professor Shawn Graham, Carlton University, Canada

Everything has its price - even the dead. Human remains are part of a worldwide ‘red market’ in human tissue.

In this talk, Professor Graham maps out this trade and explores the consequences of trying to use automated machine vision - the same tools that police forces and other organizations use to surveil living populations - to understand what exactly is going on. The colonial violence at the heart of these collections of human remains that are now making their way onto the market, is a violence that depends crucially on ways of looking, of consuming, of constructing, an exotic ‘other’ that is literally dehumanising. This raises a crucial ethical question concerning using machine vision to study these materials and their contexts of collecting: are we not just replicating a neocolonial violence? What are the ethics of machine learning in archaeology?  

Graham portrait image

Professor Shawn Graham

Professor Shawn Graham (Associate Professor, Carleton University, Canada) trained in Roman archaeology but has become over the years a digital archaeologist and digital humanist. In 2016 he won a Provost’s Fellowship in Teaching Award and was designated a Carleton University Teaching Fellow. He recently won a SSHRC Insight Grant for a project called ‘The Bone Trade: Studying the Online Trade in Human Remains with Machine Learning and Neural Networks’: bonetrade.github.io.  He keeps an open lab notebook of his research and experiments in digital history and archaeology at his research blog, electricarchaeology.ca. He is founder and editor of the open access journal, Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology. He wrote  ‘The Historian’s Macroscope‘, a handbook to big data in digital history, for undergraduates with Ian Milligian (Waterloo) and Scott Weingart (Carnegie Mellon). The open access version of the book, along with supplementary materials, may be viewed at themacroscope.org. And he has also designed a board game about ancient Rome    

 

Location: Room K/159, King's Manor

Admission: Free, Open to the Public. Booking not required