Recently Alison Atkin (@alisonatkin) put a request out on Twitter, asking for examples of how individuals have dealt with ethics and digital osteology.   When it comes to what osteologists choose to share online, there really isn’t a set code of rules or guidelines. Alison was giving a presentation on this lack of protocol at the last BABAO conference, and summed up her talk on her most recent blog post.

What to share online, and what to keep private, is something that is often a delicate balance between the source of the information, and the personal ethics of the individual creating or curating the digital resource. This was something that I had to decide when I created Mortuary Mapping for my CHI project last year, as well as the archival updates I complete this summer.

When I worked excavating the cemetery, I had permission to take photos for personal and teaching purposes. I’m in possession of many images of skeletal remains that would have been relevant to the Mortuary Mapping website. However, I made the personal decision not to include any images of human remains (other than one photo that appeared in a local newspaper article) on the website. I did this out of respect not only to the individuals that were buried there, but for the extended and direct living relatives that may still be in the area. 

Warrant 603

Infirmary Fund Warrant 603 – Digging Graves. Used with Permission of the San Jose Public Library California Room

I made a similar decision when it came time to add the archives section of the site this summer. I spent July researching the cemetery in archives around San Jose. I located county financial documents, newspaper articles, funeral home burial records, county hospital death records, and coroners inquest reports that all related to cemetery use and individuals buried there. Although I had permission from some of the archives to post the images on the site, I decided that publishing the corners inquest reports, and death related records was not appropriate.

However, as Alison points out in her blog post, there are no real guidelines for digital practices as it relates to osteological ethics. I made what I felt to be an ethical decision when it came to the information I made available on Mortuary Mapping. They’ve created a Working Group for Best Practice in Digital Osteology, which I’ll be keeping an eye on. My project for this years CHI fellowship will also deal with mortuary and osteological data, so I’m looking forward to discussing the implications with others are the project moves forward.