Join us to theorise the digital: Announcing the first digiTAG

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digiTAG

The Digital Theoretical Archaeology Group (digiTAG), launching in Spring 2016…

Posted by Sara Perry

Alongside my colleagues James Taylor (University of York), Åsa Berggren (University of Lund, Sweden) and Nico Dell’Unto (University of Lund), I am co-organising a session at the 2016 Computing Applications in Archaeology conference in Norway at the end of March/early April. James, Åsa, Nico and myself have been working together for many years now, debating the philosophical dimensions of digital technologies for archaeological practice, yet regularly finding that the practicalities of these tools tend to eclipse meaningful critique of their implications.

Although critical conversations about computer applications in archaeology have a long legacy, it is usually precisely the applications of computers that become the central and overwhelming focus of discussion at our conferences, in our edited volumes, and often in our classrooms too. In contrast, how these applications intersect with larger local and global socio-politico-economic systems—

how they perpetuate or challenge structural inequalities—

how they contribute to wider patterns of consumption, excess, loss and waste—

how they are folded (if at all) into the institutional status quo—

and, so, how they shape not only our thinking, but our ways of being-in-the-world—are matters that habitually go unspoken.

The trend to value the technical above the theoretical is one that is seen across many disciplines, made worse by the fact that it tends to betray itself again and again as any new piece of gear is added to disciplinary toolkits. The CAA itself, with its moniker “Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology”, hints at the predicament, as applied methodology is foregrounded, and richer qualitative analyses of the digital are trapped on the backstage. Despite this, the CAA has consistently encouraged discussion on the theoretical implications of the ‘digital turn’ in archaeology and the heritage sector, and for more than a quarter-century now, a host of associated individuals has attempted to push back against any ‘atheoretical’ disciplinary tendencies (see, recently for example, Hacιgüzeller 2012, Huggett 2015, Watterson 2014, among others). It is with these efforts in mind that we launch the first digi-TAG (Digital Theoretical Archaeology Group) session.

Digi-TAG seeks to draw the power of the TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) enterprise – with its concern for sustained, engaged, collective and provocative theoretical discussion of archaeological issues – together with the CAA, the primary forum for the showcasing and discussion of digital technologies in archaeology. While digi-TAG is by far not the first manifestation of digital critique within TAG (e.g., Daly and Evans 2006, which emerged from TAG 2000), we see it contributing to a larger, lasting campaign of critical knowledge construction around digital archaeology/heritage that eventually embeds itself into standard practice. Right now, such critique still seems to be pursued at a limited, individual level, arguably thus circumscribing wider intellectual and structural change.

With these points in mind, we seek a small number of contributors to complement our line-up of speakers for the first digiTAG, to be held as a session at CAA in Oslo, Norway, between 29 March to 2 April. We particularly encourage junior academics – students and early career researchers from any part of the world – to apply. The full digiTAG description is below. Please submit 300-word abstracts (for 20 minute papers) through the CAA system by 25 October at the latest: http://ocs.caaconference.org/index.php?conference=caa&schedConf=caa2016&page=schedConf&op=cfp

We also welcome comments and queries by email, so please do connect with us. We are keen to nurture digiTAG into a long-term affair, hence we encourage your input and direct involvement in this process.

Hope to have you join us in Oslo next spring!

Theorising the Digital: Digital Theoretical Archaeology Group (digiTAG) and the CAA.

James Stuart Taylor (University of York)

Sara Perry (University of York)

Nicolò Dell’Unto (University of Lund)

Åsa Berggren (University of Lund)

Computing and the application of new digital technologies in archaeology and the heritage sector more generally have been advancing rapidly in recent years. This ‘digital turn’ is reflected in the growth and success of the CAA international conference, and in the emergence of a range of dedicated interest groups and associated digital outputs around the world. In concert, pressure has been increasing to situate the application of digital technologies within a wider theoretical framework, and with a degree of critical self-awareness, thereby allowing for rigorous evaluation of impact and disciplinary change. This is something that the CAA, as a nexus for the discussion of applied digital technologies in archaeology, has explicitly addressed throughout its history, and particularly in recent meetings, with a range of round tables and theoretically-engaged sessions that have proved popular amongst the digital community.

TAG, another well-established conference, with a long history of fostering progressive and critical debate in archaeology, has never explicitly aimed to address the various theoretical consequences of the digital turn. As such, this session seeks both to broaden the TAG family to attend to the rapidly-growing computational sphere of archaeological practice, and to work with the CAA to consolidate its own efforts to theorise and encourage critique and evaluation of the effects of the digital turn.

We invite participants to deliver papers that question, challenge, appraise and reconceive the epistemological and research-oriented implications of the digital turn—as well as its larger social, political and economic consequences. In short, what is the actual impact of the digital turn upon archaeology and the wider heritage sector? The session will culminate in a chaired discussion amongst all contributors, with a focus on both debating the future of the concept of ‘digiTAG’ and rethinking critical engagement with digital practice in archaeology and heritage overall.

Gaming and Digital Heritage at CDH 2015: Aarhus

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By Tara Copplestone

Between May 21st and 22nd the Archaeology department at Aarhus University, Denmark hosted the “Digital Heritage: 3D representation in knowledge production” conference at Moesgaard Museum – bringing together an international delegation of scholars to discuss and present projects on the use of 3D methods and theory beyond dissemination and visualization.

I was lucky enough to travel alongside the University of York delegation to present the early stages of my PhD research into the potential of the video-game media form for archaeological applications. The paper, titled “Playful Pasts: Archaeological Knowledge Through Games”, aimed to expose how the media form itself might facilitate different engagements with archaeological practice – from the trowels edge through analysis of data and on to dissemination. Additionally the paper presented a small section of my MSc data as a means to demonstrate some of the pitfalls in the existing methodological and theoretical frameworks alongside how my current research seeks to explore and fill these.

To achieve this I constructed a side-scrolling puzzle game in Unity 3D as a way to explore and demonstrate how the native video-game elements of mechanics, systems and player agency facilitate different ways to approaching data collection, interaction and presentation. Unfortunately due to technical constraints I was not able to play the game as I presented on the day – instead opting to pre-record a play session and speak over it as it played in the background.

The first section of the paper discussed the issues with existing constructs and critical literature which were drawn from my MSc research to form the basis for my PhD research. This research foundation revolves around exploring:

  1. What the affordances and current frameworks for practice regarding the video-game media are
  2. How they might integrate or facilitate novel documentation and dissemination practices for archaeological data collection, analysis and engagement
  3. What the current issues with implementation are and what standards, frameworks, guides to best practice, toolkits and examples need to be generated to assist in overcoming this

Using a simple puzzle sequence the game created for the conference illustrated that the current implementations and exploration have been stuck in somewhat of a rut due to lacking a recursive and collaborative understanding of the interactions between the video-games media form and archaeological practices. To move out of this rut, to explore what role video-games might take in archaeological discourse, we first need to establish a basic understanding and recursive framework for use.

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Image 1: Demonstrating archaeology video-game base camp, confined by cliffs which will require new methodological and theoretical tools for scaling.

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Image 2: The great divide – a trench between archaeological and video-game method and theory.

To scale the walls at base-camp the player first needs to interact with, and solve the “great divide” between the respective existing archaeological and video-game frameworks. The puzzle and its solution were based on 156 interviews conducted across the video-game, archaeological and consumer sectors as part of my MSc research, in which it was demonstrated that a significant void in understanding the affordances, requirements and basis of the opposing entity exists – and that to overcome it both entities need to approach the problem with reference and relevance to the other, sacrificing elements of their current practices which are embedded into other media forms as a means to understand the potentials of the video-game media form for archaeology on its own grounds.

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Image 3: Through working in a co-operative manner new methods and theory can be constructed for understanding the parameters and impacts of the collaboration between the video-game media form and archaeology.

By leveraging and combining the frameworks in a way which respects the structure and affordances of both facilitates a holistic platform for moving forward. The next stage of the paper discussed my emerging PhD research into leveraging video-games and game engines for approaching knowledge production and analysis in novel ways – from the trowels edge onwards. This section spoke about my emerging methodology, creation practices, toolkits and game-outcomes before moving on with a brief discussion on the need to develop frameworks and best-practice applications as part of exploring this new media forms interaction with existing and future archaeological requirements.

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Image 4: Old and new – a puzzle where one must use the existing excavation and recording methods of archaeology alongside game-logic.

My preliminary constructions have focussed around the use of game engines in natively exploring and facilitating the capture, construction and exploration of different narrative forms – ranging from myopic concurrency through syncretic and multilinear.

The concluding sections of the paper were given over to a brief discussion of how the creative practice of games provides a space to think differently about the archaeological record and our interpretation of it through operating at an algorithmic, interactive or systems based level as well as at a predetermined audio, visual and haptic feedback level. The process of creation then becomes a process of formalising, developing and challenging knowledge production processes for archaeological entities.

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Image 5: Demonstrating part of the construction process – involving both physical, rendered assets, and systems which underpin how they should behave and react to player input.

The question and discussion section of the paper was enlightening and seemed to mark a distinct shift in perception from a year and a half ago when I first presented on the potential of the video-game media form for archaeological applications. There seemed to be a real recognition of the role which media can play in shaping and facilitating the ways we document, order and understand the past with additional recognition of the power that the systems, emergence and interaction facilitated by the video-game form might have for archaeological practices.

The conference proved to be a hugely valuable and challenging event which assisted expanding my understanding of the scope of digital heritage implementations of 3D entities for knowledge production, furthermore the conversations which emerged from the sessions assisted greatly in refining and developing my current research. I would like to extend my thanks to the organising committee and host institution for providing a platform for fruitful discussion and debate regarding the role of 3D methods for knowledge production in archaeology. I would also like to extend further thanks to the Centre for Digital Heritage for facilitating my attendance at the conference.

Conference Report: European Historical Drama in the Digital Age

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This report was written by Dr.Hannah Andrews and originally appeared on the ‘Mediating Cultural Encounters Through European Screens‘ website.

Bringing together scholars from across Europe, and across the study of film and television drama, the European Historical Drama in the Digital Age conference provided a strong platform for discussion on a range of topics: representing versions of historical past(s), the reception and understanding of heritage drama within and across national borders, the influence of national institutions and individual production companies on the fictions produced about the past, and the role of distribution and exhibition in allowing these fictions to travel.

Papers presented a complementary mix of detailed case study and contextually informed overview. In the latter category was Gunhild Agger’s (Aalborg University, DK) thorough outline of the traditions of Danish historical TV drama, from influential period piece Matador (DR, 1978 – 1981) to more recent examples such as Badehotellet (TV2, 2014 – ). She noted how each drama has a ‘telling detail’ – a small, seemingly trivial point of plot, character or mise-en-scene, which is key to unravelling the ‘attitude’ of the production.

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Paul Cooke’s (University of Leeds, UK) exploration of German production company TeamWorx (‘The DreamWorks of Europe’) showed how it has borrowed elements from popular global cinema to rework key moments in German history for contemporary audiences, showing how the films and TV dramas overlay intimate, personalised stories on macrohistorical events, in the vein of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997).

The idea of micro-and macro-history in combination informed Kim Toft Hansen’s (Aalborg University, DK) idea of the historical film having a ‘double fabula’ – a minimal fabula of events portrayed which must in some sense indicate or parallel a maximal fabula of ‘history time’. This was proposed in his fascinating account of the political and historical controversies surrounding major Danish series 1864 (DR1, for British readers, currently playing on BBC Four).

Dave Forrest’s (University of Sheffield, UK) careful dissection of the ambivalent imaginary English North represented in the Red Riding Trilogy (Channel 4, 2009) presented a similarly detailed analysis of a specific case study.

Some of the liveliest debates the conference generated was on robust methodologies for accounting for audience response and even access to such materials. Andrew Higson’s (University of York, UK) opening address to the conference indicated the value of adding to Film Studies’ tradition of close textual analysis the interpretation of various forms of empirical data. In his paper, he showed how some of the findings of the research of MeCETES’s York team could contribute to this methodological widening of the field.

Ib Bondebjerg (University of Copenhagen, DK) presented an intriguing set of empirical data on the audiences of UK historical drama in Denmark.  His quantitative analysis of television schedules as a means of demonstrating the volumes of British drama offered to Danish audiences prompted the question of the influence of VOD and streaming, though, as Bjondeberg rightly pointed out, the unwillingness of major players like Netflix to share user data renders it almost impossible to gauge these effects with any real accuracy.

To complement the idea of changes for a digital age, the conference came to a close with a novelty: the live broadcast from TFTV’s own television studio of discussions with Nick Wild and Alastair Maclean-Clark of 360 Degrees Media and Screen Yorkshire’s Hugo Heppell live from the television studio. This took place against a digitally produced backdrop that had a suitably historical feel, though I couldn’t quite work out if this was a Medieval chamber or an Egyptian sarcophagus!

This playfully demonstrated the possibilities of digital technologies like green screen and simulcast for the creation and dissemination of heritage images. The conversation itself focused on the practicalities of producing historical film and television drama – in procuring funding (and, in the case of Screen Yorkshire, of doing so under the opportunities and constraints of the European Regional Development Fund), in finding a market, and in creating convincing mise-en-scenes on low budgets.

Overall, the day showcased the range of approaches to the European historical drama currently being undertaken, and provided good evidence that this topic will reward the careful attention granted it by the MeCETES project and other scholars in the field. In an age where Europe as a political entity and a cultural idea is under various threats, the continued circulation of fictions about our past can provide stronger foundations for understanding of our present and future.

However, with limited circulation of film and TV content outside the originating nation, the continued dominance of non-European film and TV in national markets, and the frustrations of transcultural exchange, the role of film and television in producing a sense of European identity is currently more muted than we might hope.

Dr Hannah Andrews is a Lecturer at the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television. Her latest publication is Television and British Cinema: Convergence and Divergence since 1990 (Palgrave, 2014).

The European Historical Drama in the Digital Age conference was organised by the MeCETES project with the financial support of the University of York’s Centre for Digital Heritage and the Department of Theatre, Film and Television.

Digital technology reveals the 1000 year journey of a York coin.

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Anglo Saxon Coin from Uppsala

The coin was made in York sometime around the reign of Æthelred II

Researchers from the Centre for Digital Heritage at the University of York have been to Sweden to work with colleagues at Uppsala University Coin Cabinet (www.coincabinet.uu.se) to examine a coin which is a long way from home.

Uppsala University’s Coin Cabinet is one of the most significant coin and medal collections in Sweden. The collection originated in the 17th Century and now contains more than 40,000 items some of which would have been familiar to York residents of the past. Amongst the museums collections are significant quantities of Anglo-Saxon coins many of which were minted in or around York.1

One of the major functions of the Centre for Digital Heritage is to make cutting edge digital technology accessible to a wide range of researchers. Amongst the tools currently being developed by CDH partners is Reflectance Transformation Imaging. RTI is a digital imaging technique which allows researchers to closely examine the surface detail of objects such as coins or carvings often revealing fascinating insights into their history.

Close up of coin

Digital imaging helps us to reveal tiny details on the coin’s surface

During our visit to the Coin Cabinet it became clear that the technique might have useful applications for the study of coins. Not only can RTI reveal faint images or text on the surface of worn coins it can also help to identify whether coins were struck from the same die (a die is the name for stamp used to make a coin). This information is used by specialists to trace the manufacture and use of coins and can offer precious insights into trade relationships and the spread of goods and resources around Europe for periods for which very little documentation exists.

Coin Normal Map

Analysis reveals the high level of variation and detail across the coin’s surface.

To test the usefulness of the technique we recorded a coin from York which was probably minted at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries during or after the reign of Æthelred II whose name can be seen on the coin.2 Using RTI we are able to see clear details on the coin including the name of the producer (Oddas) and the location of manufacture (Eofr – York). Micro analysis of coins may allow us to reveal even more information which will allow us to establish when these coins were made and how they compare to coins held in other collections. Over time with this information it becomes possible to build up a picture of coin making and distribution which can in turn tell us about the spread of trade and wealth around Europe during this period.

As research collaborations between Uppsala University and the University of York grow it is exciting to think that we are not the first York residents to make this journey.

1 All the British coins in Uppsala were published by Elsa Lindberger: Uppsala University Coin Cabinet. Anglo-Saxon and later British Coins (Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 52 = Studia Numismatica Upsaliensia 1), Oxford and Uppsala 2006. Available online at http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-127591.

2 Lindberger (as note 1), plate 8 nr 161.

Summer of Digital Heritage # 2: Basing House

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This summer the Centre for Digital Heritage have been busy organising a wide range of activities and events including fieldwork, a conference, a summer school and visits to our colleagues in partner institutions. In this series of blog posts CDH members will reflect on what has been a very busy summer. In this post Gareth Beale will talk about recent Digital Heritage fieldwork at Basing House.

As always the Basing House fieldwork season was an intense, exciting and extremely busy few weeks. In this post I want to take the time to tell you a little bit about the project and some of the ways in which working across and between disciplines and organisations has helped to produce a unique research environment.

Archaeologist measures a section during a presentation to local school children

Basing House is an opportunity to share active research with the public.

The Basing House Project is a collaborative research project involving staff, students and volunteers from the University of York, The University of Southampton, Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society. Each year a team of professionals, volunteers, researchers and students come together for four weeks to investigate a demolished 16th Century Tudor Palace using a wide variety of methods and techniques. The goal of the project is to build our understanding of the changes which have taken place in this place during the past thousand years. In order to achieve this we place an emphasis on the use of new technologies and approaches which can help us to better understand and better explain the history of the site.

Digital Recording

A GoPro camera is used to explore the interior of a Tudor cistern

A GoPro camera is used to explore the interior of a Tudor cistern

One of the initiatives at the heart of Basing House has been the use and development of digital documentation techniques for archaeological recording. This year we have been experimenting with a new documentation strategy which blends 3D photogrammetric recording with conventional single context recording. The benefit of recording in this way is that the resulting archive contains the interpretations and insights of field archaeologists alongside 3D interactive records of the archaeology as it progressed. This builds upon work previously undertaken which has sought to extract 3D data from photographic slides captured during excavations on the site during the 1960s.

We have a lot of very useful data, the challenge during the coming year will be to develop new methods for presenting these data and making them accessible to researchers and the public.

A corbel from Basing House photographed using infrared photography.

A corbel from Basing House photographed using infrared photography. Surviving paint in the eyes which was previously invisible becomes clear.

This year we also continued to use photographic techniques including RTI and near infra red photography to document and interpret archaeological materials. One of our student volunteers Vicki Man began an RTI survey of historical graffiti at the local parish church (a key site in the siege of Basing House in 1645) and we also began to use infrared photography to look for traces of paint on the surviving stonework from the house.

New Perspectives

Civil War fortifications with a gun

Artists interpretations help us to see the site in new ways.

It is always useful to see things with a fresh pair of eyes. At Basing House we work closely with artists and illustrators to get a unique perspective on the site and on the archaeological process. Archaeologists are trained to document things in particular ways. Standardised archaeological recording helps to ensure that the records we produce can be understood now and in the future. People with different training tend to see things differently, images, objects and digital data can help us to see the archaeology in new ways. What’s more, these unique records can help us to question the way in which we record things. They help us to be creative and to consider new ways of doing things.

Civil War pamphlets with a contemporary twist help us to tell the story of our project and how it relates to the past of the site.

Civil War pamphlets with a contemporary twist help us to tell the story of our project and how it relates to the past of the site.

Communication

Our communications policy is central to what we do. Not everybody wants to read an archaeological report or wait for it to be written. Through blogging and using social media platforms we are able to keep the world informed on a moment by moment basis. Not only does this help people who can’t visit the site to keep up with our activities, it also means that people who do visit the site can find out what we are doing before they arrive. Communication also leads to participation; this year a lot of our volunteers found out about the dig while it was happening and came along to see if they could be involved.

These are just some examples of the work which we have been doing at Basing House. We hope that they help to show the some of the ways in which working with people, technologies and ideas from outside of your own discipline can help us to creatively engage with the research process and reach new audiences. If you have ideas of your own or would like to be involved in the project then feel free to get in touch by email or through our blog.

 

 

Summer of Digital Heritage # 1: Digital Heritage Summer School

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This summer the Centre for Digital Heritage have been busy organising a wide range of activities and events including fieldwork, a conference, a summer school and visits to our colleagues in partner institutions. In this series of blog posts CDH members will reflect on what has been a very busy summer. We begin with this post about our Summer School by Hannah Simons which was originally published as part of the annual Day of Archaeology

Today in the lovely historic city of York a group of professionals and students from a wide range of disciplines have gathered for the second day of a Digital Heritage Summer School, organised by Gareth Beale from the Centre for Digital Heritage at the University of York. I am a PhD Student in the Department of Archaeology at York and decided to attend the conference to find out what digital heritage was, what methods it uses and what impact it can have outside the academic world.

A pile of coloured paper

Time to get creative with digital heritage project design. Felt tip pens and glue sticks at the ready.

This morning we were inspired by listening to case studies of successful Digital Heritage projects run by Kate Giles (Archaeology; University of York) and Damian Murphy (Electronics; University of York) whose audio projects really got people talking over the lunch break. After lunch and fuelled by a steady supply of tea and biscuits 3 groups of intrepid students set about designing their own prospective digital heritage projects.

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Brainstorming ideas

The groups encompassed students studying; literature, film, archives, archaeobotany, history, heritage and archaeology. Through the workshop we hope to build ideas for digital heritage projects that link across disciplines and create outputs that have a broad reach.

These are the 3 final project ideas;

1) This project would take records, such as plans and 3D scans, of historic buildings, ruins and archaeological sites translate them into a format that would make it easy for users of Minecraft to use the measurements to reconstruct these structures in the game. Minecraft users could follow plans or add their own interpretation of how the structures would have looked, other gamers could then virtually visit these structures and experience these sites.

A flowchart on a noticeboard

A visual representation of the path from archaeological data to Minecraft and ultimately to happiness!!

2) A digital interface on which to explore the transition from the use of handwriting to print; exploring manuscripts, charters and historic printing presses. An interactive website would be built with games where you can digitally trace over calligraphy or ‘print’ with movable blocks.

A sketched diagram on a large piece of white paper

Exploring the common ground between librarians, historians and archaeologists.

3) This project explores the perceived heritage and cultural identity of British people who now live overseas. The project would create a platform for crowd sourcing images, videos, and audio from people who want to share their notions of identity and their experiences of Nationality as a someone living overseas.

 Migration heritage poster


Migration heritage

The day was very inspiring and got me thinking about the different ways in which we record, store and encourage access to the data we collect as archaeologists. Digital methods can really open up that data and enable a wider audience to reach it which in turn could generate further interest in archaeology- something to aim for!

Drawings made by participants

Digital heritage projects = Archaeology yay!

Thanks to the organisers and it was great to meet everyone who attended.

Hannah Simons

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Saving Your Cemetery with the University of York

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As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week the CDH co-organised Saving Your Cemetery or Churchyard a day long workshop for those wishing to document and to preserve burial spaces in their own communities. The event was well attended by a wide range of individuals and groups including family history and heritage societies, university researchers, local government officials and commercial archaeology units. The event sought to inspire new approaches to cemetery documentation and management and to challenge existing preconceptions about what can be achieved through collaboration and creative thinking.

The day was aimed at anybody who wanted to learn more about how to document, conserve and manage a burial site as part of a community group and we were fully booked with more than 30 participants. The morning saw presentations from guest speakers and the afternoon was filled with a practical demonstrations of digital techniques which can be used for cemetery documentation by staff and students from the CDH, the University of York Department of Archaeology and the Re-reading the British Memorial Project .

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In the morning talks by Felicia Smith from Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and Susan Buckham from Kirkyard Consulting provided wonderful examples of initiatives which have placed burial spaces back at the heart of communities. Felicia’s talk described the extraordinary transformation which has taken place at Arnos Vale since the Cemetery Trust took over the management of the site. As well as providing access to the public the Trust’s efforts have placed the cemetery back at the heart of the community. The talk dealt with the challenges involved in balancing the need for generating revenue against the role of the cemetery as a community space and heritage site. Susan spoke about her role overseeing the improvement of five cemeteries which form part of the UNESCO Edinburgh World Heritage Site;  Greyfriars, Canongate, St Cuthbert’s, New and Old Calton. Susan’s talk emphasised the importance of community stewardship and provided many examples of the ways in which efforts on the part of local communities can transform burial spaces into valuable community resources.