Subscribe to Art + Ideas:

Growing up in the UK, Ian Hodder was surrounded by artifacts of ancient societies. He participated in his first organized archaeological dig in his hometown of Cambridge at the age of 13, and since then he has worked at archaeological sites around the world. Over his long career, he has pushed the field in important new directions, promoting ethnoarchaeology (the study of the relationship between material culture and people) in the 1970s and 80s and more recently exploring how digital tools can further archaeological research and knowledge sharing.

In this episode, Hodder discusses his training, his decades-long work at the Turkish site of Çatalhöyük, and his recent Getty Foundation–funded project, Çatalhöyük Living Archive.

Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
IAN HODDER: Humans often think of themselves as being independent agents. But in fact, their lives are very caught up in material things and they come to determine the way that we act.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Ian Hodder about his long and distinguished career in archaeology.
Ian Hodder is the Dunlevie Family Professor in the department of anthropology and professor of classics at Stanford University. For the past 25 years, Ian has led Stanford’s archaeological excavations at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, a large Neolithic settlement that flourished around 7000 BCE. These excavations have revealed new information about the origins of human settlements, the rise of civilization, the emergence of religion, and early object-making, including wall paintings, sculpture, and figural ceramics.
Over the years, Ian and his team members have made available their findings through the Living Archive of Çatalhöyük, a GIS web application designed to serve as a database for archaeologists, art historians, and the general public to explore the site and its associated artifacts. Ian was recently at the Getty with other members of his excavation team to meet with members of other excavation teams similarly engaged with digital site mapping.
I took advantage of Ian’s visit to the Getty to interview him for this podcast.
Well, hello, Ian. Welcome to the Getty podcast.
HODDER: Thank you.
CUNO: Now you took your first academic degree in prehistoric archaeology. How did you get interested in archaeology, and why prehistoric archaeology?
HODDER: Well, I started digging when I was very young. I lived in Oxford, in England, and got involved in excavations of medieval sites around Oxford. And that just sort of was something I did as a hobby, to try and see whether I was interested or not.
CUNO: Was that as a teenager?
HODDER: Yeah. There are pictures of me digging on some medieval priory or something when I was about thirteen. It was something that just I was very fascinated by very, very early on. It was partly that I went to an all boys school and, you know, we didn’t get to meet anybody except other boys, and so it was a great way of meeting girls.
But I was very fascinated by the whole process of how you work out what was going on, from traces in the ground. You know, the intellectual problem of trying to work out what happened from a few— few bits of evidence. And so that’s why I ended up being more interested in prehistoric archaeology, because I sort of liked the sort of text-free nature of that.
CUNO: Yeah. Did you find anything that you remember that was particularly interesting to you?
HODDER: No, I absolutely remember it being very very boring. Bits of medieval glazed pottery, you know, and a pit or a ditch everywhere, that sort of thing. I never found anything at all interesting. It was just the intellectual, and excitement and the social thing of being in a team.
CUNO: Were you ever able, under the direction, let’s say, of the archaeologist who was leading the dig, to put two and three and four and five things together to come up with some meaningful or interesting interpretation of intellectual activity or—?
HODDER: Yes. I mean, I can think of a number of examples like that. At one point, I went to dig on the Fishbourne Villa with Barry Cunliffe. We were just trying to work out what the garden looked like in the villa and tracing the pattern of the Roman flowerbeds. So I mean, it was extraordinary. Yeah, lots of examples like that.
CUNO: When you went back to school, did you read classics?
HODDER: Yes. You know, in England in those days, you gave up science when you were about eleven. And I did Greek, Latin and ancient history, all the way through to A levels, and so the end of high school. Then I did prehistoric archaeology at university.
CUNO: Yeah. So you went to London, I think, first, and then you went to Cambridge to study. And what was it about those two universities that attracted your attention? Were there specialists in the fields? [inaudible].
HODDER: Yes. I mean, in those days, London was, in my view, the best place to do prehistoric archaeology. The Institute of Archaeology there was a very, very large center. It had fifty or sixty people teaching.
CUNO: Wow.
HODDER: I believe nowadays there are about eighty. So I mean, it’s one of the largest centers of prehistoric archaeology in the world. So it includes Roman archaeology, as well, though, and conservation, other things. And of course, it had a fantastic tradition. People like Gordon Childe, who had been there for a long time and really established the degree program there. So you know, very important people, very exciting people— And I enjoyed that very much.
CUNO: Our listeners are probably interested in understanding how it is you link the together the academic experience in the classroom with the fieldwork. And especially if the fieldwork occurs someplace far distant from where the academic work in the classroom happens. So how did you integrate the life of the school year into that, with the digging in the summer?
HODDER: In those days, archaeology in England was largely done by students of various sorts, so that there were very few professional arc— you know, field archaeologists. Most of the excavation on these projects like Fishbourne was done by huge dragoons of high school and undergraduate students, relatively untrained and so on.
And so there was a very natural, close link between the degree course and then all the people you met and worked with on these projects. I mainly ended up working abroad. And the Institute of Archaeology had a team working at Knossos in Crete. And so I excavated there for several years. And it was basically the same faculty and the same students that I was working with in London.
CUNO: After you took your degree, your first fieldwork was at an Iron Age and Roman site in Essex. And then I think your second was in West Yorkshire, England. But then your next fieldwork was in Kenya, and the one after that was in Sudan. How could you go from one in England all the way to Sudan— what is the practice of archaeology that can apply itself across such a field of sites and cultures?
HODDER: My first work in England was while I was still a graduate student. And I was always very interested in not just being an academic. I mean, I always wanted to dig as well as to write. And so I started my own excavation of a Roman villa near Cambridge while I was at Cambridge. But the move to Africa was partly serendipitous, because I visited Kenya for other reasons and realized that there was something I could do there that was interest to me.
But the reason I was interested was that I had come to a sort of critical position in archaeology, where I felt that the way that archaeologists were interpreting the past was inadequate. I felt that archaeologists were trying to interpret the data in some sort of universalistic way, with various laws and predictions that they would have about what material culture might mean in the past. And I felt that it was important to have a better understanding of the way that material culture actually had meaning to people.
And so I wanted to do ethnography, or what was then called ethnoarchaeology, to try to come up with a better understanding of, what was the relationship between material culture and humans? And in particular, I was interested in the symbolic or social-symbolic aspects of things. Rather than just saying, you know, for example, that the burial is a direct reflection of society, which is what many people had argued up to that point, I tried to show in my ethnoarchaeological work that the way that people bury each other is very much embedded in a set of beliefs and ideas. And understanding those beliefs and ideas was important, if you were going to interpret the past.
Another example was that, people had started arguing that the way humans threw away rubbish was just something that was determined by a set of simple laws. You know, for example, that the more people you have in a settlement, the more organized the rubbish is, something like that. So that they want to interpret the past distributions of rubbish in terms of these universal laws. And I felt very strongly that in fact, the way that people threw away rubbish, or stuff, was very much dependent on the set of conceptions they had about dirt, and pure and impure, and male and female, and so on and so forth.
And I showed that in my ethnoarchaeological work, that these beliefs and ideas about how you throw away stuff had a very important impact on the archaeological record. So for example, I studied a society where men and women were seen to be very separate, and were women were thought to be polluting, in a way. And so that the bones that were associated with women were pig bones, had to be deposited separately from the bones that were associated with men, which was cattle bones.
And so it’s a very simple, obvious thing that, you know, as an archaeologist, you would dig these settlements and see that the cattle bones and the pig bones were deposited separately. That wasn’t because of some sort of universal thing about the behavioral aspects of rubbish; but it was because of a set of ideas that this society had. And so that’s what led to the development of what came to be called post-processual archaeology.
CUNO: Yeah, I want to ask you about that because it’s so interesting, not only in what it means, but what it meant to archaeology. But help us understand it. So all of these are prehistoric sites, so therefore, there’s no textual evidence to look and— How do you determine these relationships and the meanings of these relationships when you find these disparate materials across a large site?
HODDER: Well, the approach that I argued was a sort of contextual approach. So the idea was that rather than assuming that, you know, something meant something universally, you could look for contextual clues within the data that you’re looking at, that would help you to understand something or other. So for example, you may have some distribution of artifacts within a house that would separate one type of artifacts in one part of the house from another type of artifacts.
Well, what does that separation mean? One way you could answer that would be to go to look at the burial record and see whether one— were these different types of artifact were associated with men or women, or with older people and younger people? And that would allow you then to go back into the house and say, well, so the house seems to be differentiated between male and female or older and younger social groups. So it’s all a matter of trying to sort of fit together contextual clues that helps to interpret the pathing that you’re seeing.
The work that I did in Africa was ethnoarchaeological, in the way that I described. I was studying modern material culture and modern ideas. I was going around, you know, compounds and houses of people living in different parts of Kenya and Sudan and Zambia, studying them in the present day and trying to understand their contemporary use of material culture, and using that to interpret the past.
CUNO: Were there any differences within the archaeological profession—this is back home in Britain—questioning the ethnoarchaeology that you were doing?
HODDER: Questioning it?
CUNO: Yeah, as to the value of it or as to is it really archaeology or— Because you’re, after all, you’re not digging, you’re just interpreting the past on the basis of evidence found in the present?
HODDER: Prehistoric archaeology, but I would say all archaeology, has always used ethnographic analogy, right from the beginning. So I mean, I think the idea of using ethnographic analogy is well-established. And certainly, at the time that I was doing this ethnoarchaeological work, there were lot of other people doing the same sort of thing. It became quite a trendy thing to do. It’s less common nowadays.
But yeah, no, I don’t think there was any questioning of it as an approach. I think people recognize that, you know, to adequately understand the past, you need ethnographic analogy. You need a better understanding of the relationship between humans and material culture.
CUNO: So I know that you’re engaged in something called post-processual archaeology, but how does it relate to the field generally?
HODDER: So archaeology in the sixties and the seventies—well, prehistoric archaeology particularly, but I think it had a larger influence—what was often called processual archaeology, the new archaeological or the processual archaeology. And the fundamental idea there was a archaeology could be like a natural science, in the end, and that a series of laws could be built about the relationship between humans and material culture and environments.
It’s very, very much influenced by ideas of adaptation to the environment, and that there should be predictable relationships between people, the size of the community, the technologies they had, and so on. So it was quite sort of ecological, quite sort of materialist, in many ways. And very much eschewing any sort of emphasis on interpreting symbolism and meaning and so on.
The idea of processual archaeology is that culture is process. So that rather than culture being a set of ideas in someone’s head, it’s a process of adaptation to the environment. And so post-processual archaeology arose as a critique of that. Post-processual archaeology argues that in fact, what’s— the ideas in people’s heads are important, and that it’s not just a matter of adaptation to the environment. And rather than embracing the natural sciences, it looked towards the social sciences and looked at what sort of developments that had been there in philosophy and social theory, for example, about material culture or about agency, these sorts of issues.
And so post-processual archaeology was something that developed in the eighties and nineties and early two-thousands, as an approach that was integrated with social theory, and in particular, took the social role of the archaeologist as an important issue. So one of the things that processual archaeology had argued was that archaeology should be entire objective and independent of society and politics. But post-processual archaeology argued that that was unrealistic, and that in fact, archaeology was very much embedded in a whole series of political and social issues, and that we needed to take that, you know, seriously and head-on.
CUNO: And do you mean both in the context of the artifacts as they were found, as well as in the current interpretation of the artifacts?
HODDER: Yes, it was all socially inflected. And it was— it’s very influenced by a feminist movement or indigenous rights, particularly Native American indigenous rights, and so on. So the notion that there are many different stakeholders, whose views need to be taken into account when one is engaging in archaeology.
So those sorts of ideas became quite common during the period that I mentioned, from the eighties to the two-thousands. And it was a very, very contentious time. Many people felt very angry about these new ideas, and that died down over time. And I think most people now in prehistoric archaeology, feel that some answer in the middle is the right one and those aspects of both arguments that need to be taken into account. And so I think most people pick and choose from both, and that the sort of— the monolithic nature of that processual/post-processual archaeology debate has rather dissipated—at least I hope it has—and we can sort of move on.
CUNO: Was it generational? Was it as simple as that?
HODDER: Yes. It’s been, very, very generational. I mean, archaeology expanded massively in the sixties and seventies, honestly, because of the expansion of universities, but also because of the expansion of, development and new building and infrastructure development that meant that resuce archaeology had to really expand. So they came of age in this processual archaeology framework. And then as that generation grew older and a new generation emerged, who wanted to shake the boat and— But now that they’ve grown older, everyone’s waiting for the next generation. What are they going to come up with? And it’s not very clear yet, but—
CUNO: How did the debates make themselves felt? Were they in the classroom, where they in publication, were they on site and in the excavations or in the sites of interpretation? Was it all three, was it everywhere?
HODDER: Yes, everywhere. It was a very— I mean, very obviously, in literature and in the publications, you could very easily identify who was in which camp by looking at the words they used. You know, for example, if you used the word environment, that meant you’re processual archaeology; if you used the word landscape, it means you were post-processual archaeology. And lots of things like that.
CUNO: Yeah. Well, you’ve been at Stanford since 1999 and before that, you were at Cambridge for twenty-two years, from ’77 to ’99. What caused you to leave Cambridge for Stanford, and did it have anything to do with the methodology that you were interested in?
HODDER: I moved from Cambridge to Stanford partly for personal reasons. But for me, it was also an opportunity to move on in a number of different ways, because I had come to find Cambridge rather restricting in a number of ways. I mean, it’s a very old university and a very wonderful university, but it’s not easy to do things there because of the weight of tradition and the weight of committee and administrative structures.
And I felt an enormous freedom at Stanford. I just felt like the world opened up. You know, that I could do so much more, so much easily more. And I was being very well supported at Stanford, so it’s been great to set up an archaeology center there and to build up a group of people who I think are very effective and having a major world impact.
CUNO: Was it then at Stanford that you started write about entanglement theory, as distinct from evolutionary theories? Or was that something that preceded the [inaudible]?
HODDER: No, you’re right. That’s something that happened after I got to Stanford.
CUNO: So what is entanglement theory?
HODDER: Well, you sort of contrasted it with evolutionary theory. And the contrast is, in a way, very similar to what I was saying before, that you know, many people want to see evolution as something which is very systematic and law-like, and that one can generate a series of principles about how cultural evolution works, in the same way that one can about biological evolution, and that there should be some sort of Darwinian-type theory that we could all use to look at the evolution of culture.
And I’ve always felt that that’s not going to happen. You know, cultural evolution is much more complex and less definable, and very much dependent on things like agency and intention and purpose and meaning and being. And so the idea of entanglement is to try and find some way of talking about the fact that we are caught up in, or entangled with, a set of larger processes than ourselves.
There are these larger infrastructural dependencies that to some extent, direct us down pathways. But that there’s a huge amount of contingency and specificity to it that means that in the end, you know, what one is talking about is really historical rather than evolutionary.
CUNO: Yeah.
HODDER: The other aspect of entanglement is to say that, you know, humans often think of themselves as being independent agents. But in fact, their lives are very caught up in material things, in many ways, and that we get increasingly entangled in those things, and they come to determine the way that we act.
And so an example is that, I mean, a long time ago, 6,000 years ago, we invented the wheel. And we elaborated the wheel and we got more and more entangled with wheels—cogs and, you know, all sorts of parts and machines and so on—they are all wheel-based. And now we’re so caught up in a particular type of wheel, the car wheel, that—and particularly in California—you know, you can’t conceive of a society without that entanglement with wheels.
And in fact, that entanglement is leading us in directions that as a species, may be deleterious, but we can’t pull back. We can’t stop our dependence on wheels because so much is tangled up in wheelness. And there are many, many, many, many examples like that, that show that, we’re being led in a certain direction by our entanglements.
CUNO: Is it too simplistic to think that this is the influence of anthropology being felt in archaeology, or maybe influencing archaeology, and maybe that’s part of the resistance in archaeology, or was the resistance in archaeology, to post-processual archaeology?
HODDER: Yes. I mean, I think that’s right. You know, archaeology has always been divided, really, between the humanities and the sciences, in a way. And the role of anthropology is certainly relevant there. Although I would say nowadays that in many ways, archaeology is contributing to anthropology by this focus on material culture.
You know, that anthropology has tended to be about humans and social things. And archaeologists have always had this particular interest in things and how they work and how they’re managed and how people deal with them. People often talk about something called the material turn in anthropology. And that is a sort of shift towards looking at things more carefully, and how humans interact with them. And so I think that archaeology has played a big part in that. So it’s a contribution back, if you like, to anthropology.
CUNO: Yeah. Well, for the last twenty-five years at Stanford, you’ve led an archaeological excavation at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, which I gather is a large Neolithic settlement that flourished around 7000 BC. What’s so important about that site, and how does that profit from your particular approach to archaeology and anthropology?
HODDER: Well Çatalhöyük is an amazing site that was inhabited from about 7000 to 6000 BC in central Anatolia. And it’s very well-known because it has a fantastic concentration of art. Quite a lot of it is sort of geometric art, but there’s quite a few beautiful panels that tell sort of narrative scenes of people teasing and baiting wild animals and so on, or people removing the heads of humans and taking them off, with birds taking them off in the same— vultures.
So it’s very sort of evocative art. And then the other reason it’s an important site is it’s very large, at a very early date. In fact, the earlier excavator there, James Mellaart, talked about it as a town. So it’s, you know, very important, in terms of the early development of human societies and the ultimate shift from hunter-gathering to living in urban contexts.
CUNO: How did the site become available to you? How did you begin to dig there?
HODDER: Well, the site, as I said, had been excavated in the 1960s by James Mellaart. And he got himself involved in a whole series of scandals and controversies that led to the site being closed down in 1965, and the site was not allowed to be opened after that. And so I came along in the early nineties, and I think the Turkish government had come to realize that it was a shame that this important site had been left derelict.
And so they were quite keen, in the end, for me to come and restart excavation. So I just talked to the government there, and also got support from the British side, because it had been a British project. And as you know, archaeologists have this strange notion that if one person digs a site, no one else should ever touch it.
CUNO: Right.
HODDER: And so I had to get permission from Britain and from James Mellaart to start again. But so that’s how it started.
CUNO: Yeah. I think people would be interested to know how it is that one digs. In other words, not just physically how one does it, but how does one get the permission to do so? And what are those political terms under which one has to work to do the work that you do in archaeology? And how has that changed over the course of the twenty-five years you’ve been there? What’s it like to work in Turkey?
HODDER: Well, initially, It was a very high-level decision. I mean, the permission that one gets to dig these important sites in Turkey is different from normal sites. And so these very visible sites have to be signed off by the president and by the cabinet. But once that had happened in the early nineties, I then had to apply annually for a permit; but it was a fairly routine process.
And so I always had a very positive relationship with the Turkish government and with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, that led to the putting the site forward for the UNESCO World Heritage status.
CUNO: So that happened under your watch.
HODDER: Yeah.
CUNO: Now they have investment in it.
HODDER: Now they have investment in it. And so that’s good. So in many ways, my early fifteen, twenty years in Turkey were wonderful. And there were many other projects that were taking place in Turkey during that period, foreign projects. But things have really deteriorated recently, and I’m glad that I’m no longer working there. It’s become more or less impossible for new projects to start in Turkey.
CUNO: Because of the government?
HODDER: The government has become, you know, very focused, very nationalistic, fundamentalist government that are very suspicious of foreign intervention and foreign engagement in their heritage. And so most projects like Troy and so on have been transferred over to Turkish teams. It’s just become very, very difficult-stroke-impossible to work there anymore.
CUNO: When did you last work there?
HODDER: So the Çatalhöyük project finished in 2017, and is now being taken over by a Turkish team, which I’m very supportive of. I mean, I’m very glad. I was going to finish after twenty-five years anyway, so my ending was a planned ending. And I’m very glad that we were able to plan for another Turkish team to take over.
CUNO: I understand that of course, digging occurs typically over the summer, because you have academic responsibilities back at your home institution. So you dig over the summer, and then you spend your intervening months teaching, but also doing the writing up of the results of your excavations or your digs or interpretations. What is the backlog like?
HODDER: Well, I’ve always been very wary of that. And so the way that I ran Çatalhöyük was that as well as a dig site, Çatalhöyük was a lab site. And so we had twelve labs in the dig house at Çatalhöyük.
CUNO: What does that mean, these twelve labs?
HODDER: So laboratories where people would process and study the finds. Say for example, the ceramics go into the ceramics lab, and they are studied and photographed and analyzed and so on there, so that we never did get a sort of backlog. Not any serious backlog, anyway, that built up. And so that’s how we’ve managed to publish. So we published throughout the twenty-five years very quickly.
We have a website, which is in English and Turkish, where all the data are available. We have an online database and people can look into everything that we’ve found, and looking at the maps of everything we’ve found and where we found them. That’s available immediately. But we also have, I think, 600 articles that have been published, and about fifteen volumes that are being produced or have been produced.
CUNO: Yeah. Now, you’re here at the Getty to meet with three other teams working at different sites on different kinds of projects, but funded by the Getty Foundation, to advance the digitization projects, analyses, and publications that you’re doing. And you’re calling it the Living Archive. Describe that, and describe the work that you’re doing.
HODDER: Yes. So as you say, we produce a very large archive of data from Çatalhöyük. We actually have five terabytes of data, which is a very large database of images and of records and tables and measurements and so on. And you know, I’ve always been very worried that that stuff just gets put into some sort of archive that’s static, and then is no longer really accessible.
And I felt that we have a long-term responsibility, particularly at a site like Çatalhöyük, which is of great public interest, to make the data available over the long term. And while the project is running, we can certainly do that ourselves. But what happens when we hand the archive over to some institution? And the tendency has always been, in archaeology, that the archive dies, in the sense that it just becomes a static archive that no longer changes.
And becomes increasingly difficult to interrogate, as technologies change and so on. So the idea of a living archive is to allow two things, really. One is a very straightforward and easy way of interacting with the archive, so that you don’t have to know a lot about the archive or have a lot of technical expertise in order to ask questions of it. But the word living also refers to the idea that we want to encourage other people to add to the archive and change the archive and continue playing with it.
I mean, there’s a huge amount of data that we can’t study at all. But it’s all there in the archive, and it allows other people to go in to do their own studies, their own analyses, and then add their results to the database. So it’s always growing and always developing and always potentially changing. And so that’s the long-term aim. I mean, there’re lots of problems with it, but the Getty support is allowing us to compare our problems with three other projects and to see, you know, what solutions other people are dealing with, what technologies they’re using, and to go over the solutions that they’re coming up with.
CUNO: Yeah. I mean, this idea of a living archive also calls to mind, at least to me, this post-processual theory or practice that archaeology exercised beginning in the eighties, nineties, and two-thousands, as you mentioned, in the sense that it’s not only objectively cataloging data; it’s also leaving the trace of the thought processes that were deployed in the process of cataloging that data and writing theories from that data, in a sense of a kind of self-awareness in the process.
HODDER: That’s right. That’s exactly right, yeah. So I call that reflexive archaeology. So you’re sort of thinking about what you’re doing, what the impact of it is. I mean, I’ve often worked on other people’s archives. And I find it so difficult to make sense of what they’re doing, or did, unless I can talk to someone. I used to study, you know, museum archives in England. And unless I could actually talk to the field director at the time, you know who had dug the stuff, it was very difficult to know what the archive was, and to reinterpret it and make sense of it. So our idea has been exactly as you described, to— One way I describe it is documenting the documentation. So it’s sort of trying to document why it is, what we’re thinking about, what questions we have when we’re putting together a particular set of data.
So for example, everybody in my project writes diaries about what they’re doing and what questions they have, what their thought process is as they make these decisions. And these diaries are also on the database. And we also have videos of the team and ask them what they’re doing. And ask them in the trenches. You know, “Show us what you’re doing and— Why did you decide, that this was a pit and not a ditch?” And these sorts of things.
And that provides a surround information, if you like, a donut of information around the primary data that later on, someone can look at and use to make sense of the primary data. So it’s about contextualization again.
CUNO: Yeah. So what’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
HODDER: I would say there’s two challenges. One is that all of these different projects are similar, in the sense that they have two types of data. One is the geospatial data, which are sort of maps. And the other is a sort of semantic web-type set of data, which is for example, your typology, how you categorize different types of artifact.
I have ceramic bowls and inverted-rim bowls and carinated inverted-rim bowls, you know, so I have a sort of typological scheme. Other people have schemes about photographs or, you know, buildings. But we all have some sort of semantic web, tree structure of definitions of things, and we have a map. And actually, linking those two together turns out to be surprisingly difficult.
CUNO: Technologically?
HODDER: Yeah, just because, you know, I don’t want just to see all the inverted rim bowls; I want to understand what is the relationship between inverted rim bowls and all bowls. But how do I show both of those things on the same map? So that’s one which I don’t think is a, you know, insoluble problem.
What I do think is an insoluble problem at the moment, the other challenge we have, is the long-termness. The sustainability of these things. So while my project exists, I have the staff to manage the archive. And while the Getty provides us funding to support that, you know, it functions. But most funders are talking about three years, maybe—I’ve had up to, I guess, twelve years funding from some research foundations.
But that all comes to an end at some point. I would like our archive to be ever-present. And so an obvious place for it to be ever-present is in the Stanford library or in the British Academy, or somewhere like that. But none of these places does that. They will look after a dead archive, but they won’t look after a living archive. They don’t have the resources to maintain interactivity.
CUNO: Yeah, in perpetuity.
HODDER: In perpetuity, yeah. They will all do it for a short period of time.
CUNO: Yeah, yeah.
HODDER: And so at the moment, it’s a real gap. Libraries have had a long tradition of focusing on the preservation of books and literature, that has always been their main focus. And really, they’re set up and designed to do that, to preserve books. And so the idea of focusing on the different question of how do people interact with data and literature is something which I think they’re not set up to fund and to support over the long term. And the idea of trying to keep something sustainably alive, which is what the digital offers, that you can keep going into the book and interacting with it. That’s really a problem. And I don’t really see what the solution is to that, I must say.
Stanford has agreed to take the Çatalhöyük archive. I mean, both the physical archive, which is millions of boxes of papers, and the digital archive. So they’ve agreed to long-term store the digital archive. And so it always will be there. But to get it out in some way that’s usable involves having some software, some sort of interface. And they will not sustain the interface.
CUNO: It’s just a commit too great for them to make.
HODDER: Yes, yeah. So I don’t really know the solution is. I mean, what we were talking about in these meetings was trying to get some group of funding bodies to put pressure on the main libraries to reconfigure their aims and goals, so that they do see that this is important. And for example, at Stanford, there is a recognition that things are moving on and that some solution has to be found.
CUNO: Yeah.
HODDER: It’s not the storage space. It’s the architecture of the interface between you and that dead data in there and how do I get it out and interact with it? What I was talking about earlier was this sort of idea that, you know, you would invite the world to come in and interact with Çatalhöyük data and to discover new things in it and add to it. Someone is going to have to mediate that. Otherwise you’ll get, you know, people producing absolute rubbish.
CUNO: Right. So the living archive presents a problem because it’s always got to be fed with intelligence, as well as data. And what Stanford can only promise is that they’ll provide access to it in its current condition.
HODDER: Yes, forever. They’re happy to say that they will look after it forever as a dead set of data, yeah.
CUNO: Not very appealing.
HODDER: Well, that exactly. And so you would’ve thought it was in their interest to shift. But I think my understanding of libraries is that they’re so sort of caught in the sort of notion of preserving that they don’t have the sort of vision of interacting. That may be unfair, but you know what I mean? It’s set up to preserve an archive, not to really facilitate some sort of interface.
CUNO: Yeah. So I was going to ask you is, what’s next for you? Maybe what’s next for you is what you’ve just described.
HODDER: Yes, I see it as a real challenge to try and find some solution to this. And I’m not sure. I’m going to just talk to people and see whether— I mean, in many ways, you would’ve thought that Stanford would be a place where this could happen, because of the link to Silicon Valley and so on and— But I do think it’s very much an institutional issue.
And it may not be terribly onerous. It may be that once one could set up a structure for it, that you could slot in lots of different projects into it. So it may be that there would be one, you know, overall design thing that you could create that then everybody could use. So it would be more that all the libraries provided a service that all projects could use.
CUNO: Well, we hope that the contribution, the small contribution the Getty has made to your project helps in some way, inching it forward in some way or drawing attention to it, so that you’ll have the results that you’ve been hoping for.
HODDER: Yes. The meeting in these last few days has been really excellent and we got a huge amount out of it and learnt a lot from it, and we’re looking forward to further meetings. I mean, it’s been— It’s very unusual. The design of this is unusual because normally, one just gets a grant from somewhere, you know, and you remain just in that relationship with the grantor and the grantee. And the idea of having a whole series of projects that talk to each other is really great. Really a wonderful idea.
CUNO: Yeah. Well, before we close, I just want to say one thing. Having attended the meeting yesterday, I was impressed by how many of these teams, the four teams, comprise representatives from many different universities.
HODDER: Yes.
CUNO: So it isn’t just from Stanford; it’s Stanford and two or three other specialists drawn from otherwise. Is that something that’s characteristic of the digital inquiry?
HODDER: Yes, absolutely, yes.
CUNO: That it draws from available talent wherever it might be.
HODDER: Yes. I mean, my team has about 160 researchers, and they’re in twenty-two different countries.
CUNO: Yeah.
HODDER: And a whole range of different institutions.
CUNO: Yeah, well, we wish you all the luck.
HODDER: Thank you very much for your support. Thank you.
CUNO: Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. It is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. For photos, transcripts, and other resources, visit getty.edu/podcasts. Thanks for listening.

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
IAN HODDER: Humans often think of themselves as being independent agents. But in fact, their lives ...

Music Credits

Logo for Art Plus Ideas podcast
This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
See all posts in this series »