Digital Documentation in Archaeology - Presidio Course

This Digital Documentation in Archaeology Syllabus was a collaboration between CoDA, the Presidio of San Francisco, and MACTiA – Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology of UC Berkeley.

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Course Description

This is a Summer course (Anthropology 136e) and satisfies the methods requirement for the Anthropology major, and the American Cultures undergraduate requirement. The program revolves around “New Media and the Public Understanding in Cultural Heritage” and focuses on the real world challenge of documenting archaeological places through the creation of interpretive walks and non-invasive site installations, specifically at the Presidio of San Francisco.

The course involves the design, field trial, and documentation of different formats of representation of cultural heritage places, with an emphasis on practical digital field recording combined with geo-temporal databases. The aim is to seek alternatives to permanent markers of information about places, especially in sensitive sites, such as national or regional parks. The course could takes advantage of different specialists in digital technologies for storytelling and digital documentation.

The students will be contributing to the digital heritage of the Presidio and its public interpretation by linking the original site records, digitized artifacts, maps and other materials to the sites in the Presidio. Students will work with these primary data and research materials, and will help to bring the materials into a coherent, accessible framework for public interpretation and enjoyment.

The course guides students through the whole process of digital site documentation. The first part comprises the initial planning and team formation, archaeological history and theory. The second part focuses on the digital documentation strategy for collecting, processing and cataloging a variety of different digital media and sources. The students will be exposed to the essentials for digital site documentation and digital asset management, photography, GIS, digital illustration, 3D acquisition, videography, oral histories, archival research, field planning, and archaeological survey.

In the third part of the course students will learn to integrate these digital media into the existing “Remixing el Presidio” database. We will explore various mechanisms for the representation of this information with particular focus on the use of new media as a basis for constructing narratives that can be explored by visitors of the actual site as well as online.


This course leveraged the results of the collaborative project “DAA – Digital Archaeology Archive” between the Anthropology Department of UC Berkeley and the Presidio Archaeology Lab. This project was born as part of the digitization efforts ongoing at the Presidio Lab, and has further reinforced the collaboration between the two institutions. The DAA project, 2009-2011, had a major goal of contributing to the digitization process of archaeological collections, and to put in place a methodology to guide future work. With the active and extensive involvement of four interns, the Berkeley team has so far produced over 12.000 digital photographs of archaeological artifacts and ca. 1500 scans of associated documents. The DAA will provide the primary corpus of research materials for the course. 

The course is generously supported by the Presidio Archaeology Lab of the Presidio Trust, which will provide space, advisory oversight, educational and research materials throughout ongoing partnership.

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Student Outcomes

  • At the end of the course, the student should be able to:
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the research, interpretation, and concepts of site management of the San Francisco Presidio in the context of the worldwide management of cultural heritage sites and landscapes;
  • Critically evaluate site management plans of cultural heritage sites and landscapes in terms of movement across them by visitors and possible paths to visitor interpretations;
  • Locate, utilize and cite the basic sources including library, internet and professional organizations for the course themes;
  • Understand and apply the concepts and rules of intellectual property in the context of repurposing and sharing of data;
  • Understand the concepts of the preservation, management, and archiving of digital data;
  • Have gained an in-depth familiarity with the history of the San Francisco Presidio, specifically the el Presidio fort and deAnza trail, and the traditional and planned presentation of the sites in the Levantar Project;
  • Have gained familiarity with American archaeology, esp. within National/Regional/Urban parks.
  • Have carried out detailed research and documentation of one of the trails/sites chosen for interpretation;
  • Have gained skill and experience in one advanced technique of digital documentation of heritage sites and applied this to one of the trails/sites chosen for interpretation of the el Presidio fort, el Polin and de Anza trail;
  • Collaborate to produce a working plan for an interpretive trail/site chosen for interpretation of the el Presidio fort, el Polin and de Anza trail, providing documentation and a set of alternative plans for the installation of a digitally remediated walk;
  • Collaborate to produce a website to share the plan with the public.



Weekly seminars (1-hr) review theoretical readings, offer topical short lectures and team progress reports on each of the major projects and their research tasks. Studio sessions will focus on group hands-on training and individual guidance to cover state-of-the-art methods for processing the archaeological media and software skills. Teams will be created for each field school site. Smaller groups will be formed to specialize on each technology. This course follows in the MACTiA model of building mentor interactions between faculty, team leaders, graduate students, URAP apprentices and new students in an attempt to foster a continuous learning and teaching cycle of archaeological stewardship.


Required Reading

Voss, B. 2008 The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis, Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.


Additional Reading

Bolter, J. and R. Grusin 1999 Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. Forist, B. 2003 Visitor Use and Evaluation of Interpretive Media. National Park Service.

Fowler, P. 2004 Landscapes for the World: Conserving a Global Heritage. WINDgather Press, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK.

Machlis, G., J. et al. 2000 A Look Ahead: Key Social and Environmental Forecasts Relevant to the National Park Service. National Park Service. Others will be suggested on the first day of class.

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