Reviewed April 2018
Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College
Epoiesen (Greek for “made”) is a visually appealing but frequently impenetrable interactive digital humanities journal hosted by the Carleton University Libraries. Though the journal makes innovative use of technology such as static site generation and web annotation, it is written in language that is often difficult to unpack.
The subjects covered in Epoiesen are, by and large, limited to history, geography and archaeology, but all submissions engage with discussions of digital humanities, digital archeology, or interactive history. “Interactive Mapping of Archaeological Sites in Victoria”, for example, examines the process of staging the pop-up exhibition “Bridging Victoria: Stories from the Archaeological Past” at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Digital humanities tools, and games in particular, also figure prominently in the pieces published in Epoiesen to date. Twine—a web-based open-source tool for telling non-linear stories—is the game of choice. “Publish or Perish,” a game created by Andrew Reinhard of the American Numismatic Society, acts as a good representation of how the software works. “Path of Honors”, which discusses how Twine was used to design a “historical game based on a young Roman aristocrat rising through the ranks of elected political office” demonstrates how it can be used as a pedagogical tool. Fine art or art history are not well-represented Epoiesen’s articles; only one contribution, “en-counter-maps,” deals with the intersectionality of earth art, the landscape, and map making.
All of the aforementioned contributions highlight one of Epoiesen’s strong suits: its emphasis on process. Most pieces in the journal are far less concerned with presenting a polished final product as they are with presenting and teasing out the problems that arise while engaging with the still-developing disciplines of digital and interactive history. The journal’s commitment to creating a process-friendly digital space is solidified by its use of Hypothesis, a web annotation framework that allows users to markup the text and make their comments public. It should also be noted that Epoiesen accepts and publishes up to two responses for each contribution submitted. Responses can be submitted by anyone, encouraging open conversation between creators and users. Epoiesen’s commitment to publishing response pieces should be applauded as it works to pull the veil of the more traditional peer-review process that is pervasive in academic publishing.
The problem with all of this is that too much of Epoiesen’s content falls into the same trap as its editorial pages. One contribution is written as a series of increasingly coded Tweets: “Though you are absolutely a multiple, a collective, a fluid Strathernian dividual [sic?] and political creature…you are good at #archaeology.” This reviewer was not the only one put off by this kind of discourse. “There are even emerging sub-genres of digital archaeology, perhaps epitomized by Epoiesen, with their own (dare I say ‘hipster’) aesthetics,” one respondent to the Twitterstorm worries aloud. “Will many non-archaeologists recognize our efforts [?]”
Epoiesen is written in grandiose language that is often difficult to unpack, professing itself at once a “creative engagement with the past”, and “a kind of witness to the implied knowledge of archaeologists, historians, and other professionals, academics, and artists as it intersects with the sources about the past.” Epoiesen “encourages engagement with the past that reaches beyond our traditional audience (ourselves),” even going so far as to imagine for itself an audience composed of both the “expert” and the “know-nothing.” While Epoiesen should be commended for its ambitious effort to unify what might seem like diverse communities and audiences—most notably programmers and gamers with historians and archaeologists—and its commitment to revealing the messy creative and scholarly processes, its over-reliance on jargon could prove alienating for the “know-nothing.” As a result, in its current form the journal remains intriguing but largely inaccessible, especially to those coming out of other disciplines like art history.