Alicia Colson
Turtle River System Archaeology Survey, northwestern Ontario, Canada Author: C.S. "Paddy" Reid
2022

Alicia Colson

FI’10 – Ethnohistorian

Letting Images Speak Across Cultures

meet alicia

Alicia Colson is an archaeologist and ethnohistorian working with computing scientists. She collaborates with Indigenous Peoples, NGOs, and governments to understand our pasts. Expeditions in Namibia and Iceland encouraged her to practice citizen science. As a Wiley Digital Archive fellow, her passion to explain to the widest audiences led her to produce an ESRI Storymap of the Ilhas de Santa Catarina, Brazil, her childhood home. She is co-founder of Exploration Revealed with Briony Turner, the Scientific Exploration Society’s digital hybrid publication that showcases advances in knowledge and peer-to-peer support for those engaged with scientific exploration and adventure-led expeditions.

Letting Images Speak Across Cultures
Nominated by: Mark Wood FI'15
Class of 2022 Location USA
Basecamp for British Exploring Expedition in northeast Iceland
Basecamp for British Exploring Expedition in northeast Iceland Author: Alicia Colson

I’m interested in the ways in which different perspectives influence how images are used and understood. Images have the ability to convey vast quantities of information. As a small child in a fishing village in rural Brazil, and later in Viana do Castelo, Madrid, and Lisbon, I observed adults reading images on walls of the churches. At the time I didn’t really think about what I’d observed. In my education, text was the predominant means of conveying information. Images, including moving and still images, and oral information, were sidelined.

“I could recognize that what is insider and outsider depends on one’s perspective, one’s background, and how it is expressed using text, images, sound and moving images.”

- Alicia Colson
Winter fieldwork, Lake of the Woods, northwestern Ontario
Winter fieldwork, Lake of the Woods, northwestern Ontario Author: Alicia Colson

Typically, rock art is dealt with by archaeologists in such a way that the information conveyed by an image is isolated into various disciplines and specialties. While this is convenient in some ways, it betrays the cultural baggage on the part of the analysts. In order to consider these images as an archaeologist and an ethnohistorian, I had to learn new techniques and methods. I could deal with what was at hand, rather than something merely fashionable. Digital tools enabled me to model the ways in which others viewed the same images. I could recognize that what is insider and outsider depends on one’s perspective, one’s background, and how it is expressed using text, images, sound and moving images. What people call rock art is really a painting or an engraving, an image on a rock surface. It may be as valuable as oral and textual information that is influenced by our world view, and the way we organize lives. Rock art has much to say – if we only look.

My collaboration with leading elders from the Lac Seul First Nation, in northwestern Ontario, enables them. The elders wish their voices to be heard, producing two academic articles. The first explains the meaning of their pictograph sites to local indigenous peoples and to outsiders. The second studies a birchbark scroll, created by a medicine woman who was a member of their community.

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