Archaeological and historical network analysts unite!

July 10, 2014

315px-I_Need_You_on_the_Job_Every_Day_-_NARA_-_534704Network science is becoming more commonly applied in both archaeology and history. But this is not happening without difficulties. Pioneers in both disciplines are now trying to overcome the numerous challenges that still surround their use of network techniques: how to deal with fragmentary data, performing analyses over extremely long time spans, using material data in network science to understand past human behaviour, …. I believe archaeologists and historians should face these challenges together! Through collaboration we might come to a better understanding of the use of network science in our disciplines much faster. In a recently published article in Nouvelles de l’Archéologie, Anna Collar, Fiona Coward, Claire Lemercier and myself show how many of the challenges that archaeologists and historians have identified are actually not discipline-specific: we CAN collaborate to tackle them together. Since this article is in French I wanted to provide an English summary of our argumentation here (written with my co-authors). The full article can be downloaded on Academia or through my bibliography page.

History

One of the key aspects of historical sources, compared to archaeological sources, is that the former often allow for the identification of past individuals, by name, and by role. This richness of data at the individual level means that network analytical methods can be very powerful in the illumination of past social networks and the details of particular places and times – offering, where the data are good enough, a window onto past social lives and interactions, and allowing the synchronic analysis of social networks at a particular moment in time.

However, the issues most commonly mentioned by historical network analysts also concern problematic and incomplete data. These issues are undeniably more significant for archaeology and history than for contemporary social sciences such as sociology. But we should not overestimate their potential impact. Even sociological research in contemporary populations face similar issues where full data may not be available for a variety of reasons, and although the problems are clearly more fundamental in history and archaeology, this also means that researchers in both disciplines have long been accustomed to dealing with, and developing methods at least partially compensating for, partial and biased datasets. As a result, this may be one important area where archaeology and history can contribute its expertise to other disciplines working with imperfect network data.

Archaeology

In contrast to history, archaeology is much less frequently furnished with such focused evidence. In archaeology, individuals are typically identified indirectly through the material remains they leave behind, and even where they can be identified, they often remain without names or specified roles.  Not only is archaeological data typically not ‘individualized’, but it can also rarely be attributed an exact date. Most archaeological data typically has date ranges with differing probabilities attached to them, making the establishment of contemporaneity between entities/potential nodes in networks (e.g. individuals; events; settlements) highly problematic. Because of this, archaeologists have tended to focus on the synchronic study of human behavioural change over the long-term, rather than on the diachronic examination of behaviour and interaction. A further characteristic of archaeological data is that it is also likely to be more strongly geographically grounded. Indeed, the geographical location of archaeological data is often among the few pieces of information archaeologists possess. Finally, network analytical methods in archaeology tend to focus most closely on long-term changes in the everyday lives of past peoples.

Common challenges in archaeology and history

Alongside these differences, there are also a number of common challenges facing archaeology and history, as ultimately both disciplines aim to achieve similar goals relating to understanding past interactions and processes.

The most significant of these common challenges are the fragmentary datasets that often characterize both disciplines; we typically deal with bad samples drawn from populations of unknown size and/or with unknown boundaries, snapshots of the past that are heavily biased by differential preservation and/or observation effects. However we argue that this does not exclude the use network techniques in our disciplines, nor does it limit us to only those research contexts for which high quality datasets are available.

A second issue facing our disciplines is that many methodological and theoretical network approaches have been developed in other disciplines to address particular research themes. As a result, they therefore function according to certain rules and/or have certain specific data requirements that might prevent straightforward applications in our disciplines.

Furthermore,  using a network approach to study a past phenomenon necessarily requires a researcher to make a series of decisions about how the parameters of that phenomenon should be represented – for example, what entities to use as nodes and what forms of relationship to model as vertices. Archaeologists and historians familiar with the analytical and visualization techniques used by researchers studying modern phenomena may find many analytical approaches and visualization techniques that are not appropriate or achievable. The past phenomena we are interested in, the kinds of questions our data allows us to ask, and the often very specific parameters of human behaviour assumed by archaeologists and historians for investigating the past, are likely to mean we will ultimately need to develop purpose-made visualization and analysis techniques. At the least we will need to acquire a critical understanding of the various methods available if we are to represent archaeological and historical network  data in appropriate ways – and indeed, to ‘read’ such visualizations and analysis results correctly.

Finally, the poor chronological control characteristic to a certain extent of historical and to a much greater extent of archaeological datasets, limits our knowledge regarding the order in which nodes and links in networks became salient and also the degree of contemporaneity between nodes. This is likely to have significant ramifications for the ways in which archaeologists and historians visualize and analyse networks, driving a need to consider ‘fuzzy’ networks, margins of error and probabilistic models, as well as the consideration of complex processes of network change and evolution over time.

Unite! Meeting the challenges together

In the recent surge of network applications in archaeology and history, it would seem that the two disciplines have thus far focused their efforts on the more obvious potential applications which mirror those most common in other disciplines, such as the identification and interpretation of ‘small-world’ network structure or the choice of datasets that are readily envisaged as or translated into network data (e.g. road and river networks). Such analyses have demonstrated the potential of the methods for archaeological and historical datasets; however, we believe that potential applications go far beyond this, and that network approaches hold a wealth of untapped potential for the study of the past. To achieve this potential, we will need to become more critical and more creative in our applications, and explore not simply what network science can offer the study of the past, but also what our disciplines offer in terms of developing that science – firstly to tackle specifically archaeological and historical questions, but ultimately to broaden the scope of the science itself as methodologies specifically developed for use in archaeological and historical contexts are taken up for use in tackling similar questions in other disciplines.

TCP (2013_05_12 19_17_14 UTC)Initiatives like The Connected Past and Historical Network Research offer a platform that would allow for exactly this kind of interaction between network scientists and those applying network science to the study of the past. The challenges individual members were encountering in our own research across archaeology and history encouraged us to consider developing a mutually supportive space in which to share concerns and problems, and to discuss ideas and approaches for moving beyond these.

We suggest that simply bringing people together through conferences, workshops, conference sessions and more informal groupings is key to fostering the dialogue between the disciplines that is so important to move forward applications of network analysis to the study of the past. Talking to each other across traditional disciplinary boundaries is vital in the ongoing development of network perspectives on the past. However, as noted above, at the same time we also need to be more sensitive to the specific demands of our disciplinary goals and our datasets and develop new network methods that suit our disciplines better. The sociological roots of most social network analysis software packages means that these are often designed and engineered to address discipline-specific research concepts that may not be appropriate for archaeology and history. SNA software has generally been created to deal with interactions between people in a modern setting – where the individual answers to questions about interactions can be documented with a degree of accuracy. As such, this software and network methodologies in general will need to be applied with care and ideally even developed from scratch for use with networks comprised of nodes which are words, texts, places or artefacts, for the characteristically fragmentary and poorly chronologically controlled datasets of archaeology and history, and for research that aims to go beyond the structuring of individual networks of contemporary nodes to investigate questions of network evolution and change. While interdisciplinary dialogue is crucial, we will need to be sensitive to the discipline-specific idiosyncracies of our data and to critique rather than adopt wholesale practices used in other fields. In this way, rather than apologizing for the ‘deficiencies’ of our datasets in comparison with those characteristic of other disciplines, we will also be able to make novel contributions to the wider field based on the new questions and challenges the study of the past offers network science.


Problems with archaeological networks part 3

May 5, 2014

spagThis third blog post in the series discusses space-related issues in archaeological network studies. As I mentioned before, I recently published a review of formal network methods in archaeology in Archaeological Review from Cambridge. I want to share the key problems I raise in this review here on my blog, because in many ways they are the outcomes of working with networks as an archaeologist the last six years. And yes, I encountered more problems than I was able to solve, which is a good thing because I do not want to be bored the next few years :) In a series of four blog posts I draw on this review to introduce four groups of problems that archaeologists are faced with when using networks: method, data, space, and process. The full paper can be found on Academia.

The definition of nodes is not only dependent on data type categorisation but also necessarily reflects the research questions being asked, revealing an issue of spatial scales. Do the past processes we are interested in concern interactions between regions, sites or individuals? How will this be represented in node, tie and network definitions? The ability of network approaches to work on multiple scales is often mentioned as one of the advantages of using formal network methods (Knappett 2011). In practice, however, archaeological network analysts have traditionally focused on inter-regional or macro-scales of analysis. Knappett (2011) argues that it is on the macro-scale that network analysis comes into its own and a recently published edited volume reveals this regional emphasis (Knappett 2013). This insistence to work on large scales becomes quite unique in light of social network analysts’ traditional focus on individual social entities in interaction. SNA provides a multitude of good examples of how network methods could be usefully applied on a micro- or local scale of analysis (e.g. ego-networks). However, the nature of archaeological data, which rarely allows for individuals and their interactions to be identified with any certainty, should not be considered the only reason for this focus on the macro-scale. Arguably, networks lend themselves very well to exploring inter-regional interaction, and archaeologists have always had a particular interest in the movements and flows of people, resources and information across large areas. Moreover, many of the early applications of network methods in archaeology, which in some cases might have served as an example to more recent applications, concerned inter-regional interaction (e.g. Terrell 1976). One should acknowledge the importance of exploring how local actions give rise to larger-scale patterns if we are to benefit from the multi-scalar advantage of formal network methods (Knappett 2011).

It is not surprising that many archaeological network analysts are interested in exploring the dynamics between relational and geographical space (e.g. Bevan and Wilson 2013; Knappett et al. 2008; Menze and Ur 2012; Wernke 2012), given the importance of spatial factors in understanding archaeological data and archaeologists’ traditional interest in geographical methods (e.g. Hodder and Orton 1976). Despite early work by archaeologists on geographical networks (for an overview see chapter 2 in Knappett 2011), geographical space has been almost completely ignored by sociologists and physicists, resulting in a very limited geographical network analysis toolset for archaeologists to draw on (although see a recent special issue of the journal Social Networks [issue 34(1), 2012] and the review work by Barthélemy [2011], as well as techniques used in Space Syntax [Hillier and Hanson, 1984]).

References
Barthélemy, M. (2011). Spatial networks. Physics Reports, 499(1-3), 1–101. doi:10.1016/j.physrep.2010.11.002
Bevan, A., & Wilson, A. (2013). Models of settlement hierarchy based on partial evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(5), 2415–2427.
Hillier, B., & Hanson, J. (1984). The social logic of space. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodder, I., & Orton, C. (1976). Spatial analysis in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Knappett, C. (2011). An archaeology of interaction: network perspectives on material culture and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knappett, C. (2013). Introduction: why networks? In C. Knappett (Ed.), Network analysis in archaeology. New approaches to regional interaction (pp. 3–16). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knappett, C., Evans, T., & Rivers, R. (2008). Modelling maritime interaction in the Aegean Bronze Age. Antiquity, 82(318), 1009–1024.
Menze, B. H., & Ur, J. a. (2012). Mapping patterns of long-term settlement in Northern Mesopotamia at a large scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(14), E778–87. doi:10.1073/pnas.1115472109
Terrell, J. E. (1976). Island biogeography and man in Melanesia. Archaeology and physical anthropology in Oceania, 11(1), 1–17.
Wernke, S. a. (2012). Spatial network analysis of a terminal prehispanic and early colonial settlement in highland Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(4), 1111–1122. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.12.014


Two months of insanity

March 10, 2014

Lindroth_The_Absent-minded_ProfessorIt’s finally there: the last two months of my PhD. Ever since I started almost four years ago everyone I talked to with a Dr. in front of their name told me the same thing, that the last few months are the hardest. It sounded as if when you finally decided to finish the damn thing off it starts putting up a fight. This usually finishes in the valiant PhD student winning the battle but loosing part of their sanity and most of their short-term memory in the process. My short-term memory is long gone (this is the main reasons why I claim to show promise for a career as an absentminded academic), but I have held on to my sanity. So far.

As I am working my way through my PhD in the coming two months I will document my struggle and loss of sanity on this blog, hoping it will end in victory. You can expect blog posts about all of the case studies I worked on in the last few years. In particular citation networks and visibility networks. But I will also share some of the conclusions I drew from working with network methods as an archaeologists, the challenges archaeologists are faced with, how we could confront these challenges, and my efforts to make a small contribution towards this. So stay tuned, and above all, please don’t hesitate to comment and provide me with your feedback on my work. I can use it now more than ever! :)


Few tickets still available Connected Past Paris

February 5, 2014

TCPThe free tickets to attend The Connected Past conference in Paris on 26 April are going fast but a few of them are still available. So if you would like to attend this event then grab your ticket soon via the registration page.

The Connected Past 2014 Paris is a free one-day satellite conference to CAA 2014 that brings together historians and archaeologists to discuss common themes in network analysis. The full programme with abstracts can be found on the conference website. More info and a short programme are included below.

Hope to see many of you there!

Tom, Claire, and The Connected past steering committee

http://connectedpast.soton.ac.uk/

The Connected Past
A satellite conference at CAA 2014, Paris

Held Saturday April 26th 2014 in Sciences Po, rooms Albert Sorel and Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, 27 rue Saint-Guillaume, 75007 Paris (metro Saint-Germain-des-Prés or Rue du Bac). Building A on this map.

With the Support of Sciences Po, the DYREM research program, Médialab, the CAA committee, and the French network of historical network analysis.

Organisers: Claire Lemercier (CNRS, Sciences Po, Paris), Tom Brughmans (University of Southampton), The Connected Past steering committee.

The conference will be held immediately after the CAA conference (Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology), also happening in Paris, allowing participants to easily attend both – but participants from other disciplines, especially history, are also most welcome.

The conference aims to:

  • Provide a forum for the presentation of network-based research applied to archaeological or historical questions
  • Discuss the practicalities and implications of applying network perspectives and methodologies to archaeological and historical data in particular
  • Strengthen the group of researchers interested in the potential of network approaches for archaeology and history
  • Foster cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaborative work towards integrated analytical frameworks for understanding complex networks
  • Stimulate debate about the application of network theory and analysis within archaeology and history in particular, but also more widely, and highlight the relevance of this work for the continued development of network theory in other disciplines

There are no attendance fees. Although this event is free of charge, registration is required and the number of places is limited. Registration to the event will open once the final programme is advertised in late November, and places will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis.

A “The Connected Past” practical workshop, “Introduction to network analysis for archaeologists” will also be organized during CAA2014 in Paris (see the CAA programme).

All the presentations and posters have been confirmed, but the exact programme is still subject to minor changes

Saturday 26 April

9-9.45 Welcome coffee and introduction

9.45-11 First session: Mobility through networks
Eivind Heldaas Seland: Tracing trade routes as networks: From Palmyra to the Persian Gulf in the first three centuries CE
Henrik Gerding and Per Östborn: Network analyses of the diffusion of Hellenistic fired bricks
Marie Lezowski: Cohesion through mobility : the networks of relics in 17th-century Lombardy

11-11.15 Coffee break

11.15-12.30 Second session: Dynamics and cross-period comparisons
Habiba, Jan C. Athenstädt and Ulrik Brandes: Inferring Social Dynamics from Spatio-Temporal Network Data in the US Southwest
Ana Sofia Ribeiro: Resilience in times of Early Modern financial crises: the case study of Simon Ruiz network, 1553-1606
Marion Beetschen: Scientists in Swiss Committees of Experts (1910-2010): Power and Academic Disciplines Through Networks

12.30-13.45 Lunch break

13.45-15 Third session: Cross-cultural networks
Angus A. A. Mol and Floris W. M. Keehnen: Tying up Columbus: A historical and material culture study of the networks that resulted from the first European voyages into the Caribbean (AD 1492-1504)
Francisco Apellaniz: Cooperating in Complex Environments: Cross-cultural Trade, Commercial Networks and Notarial Culture in Alexandria (Egypt) : 1350-1500
Florencia Del Castillo and Joan Anton Barceló: Inferring the intensity of Social Network from radiocarbon dated Bronze Age archaeological contexts

15-15.15 Coffee break

15-15.50 Fourth session: Political interactions
Stanley Théry: Social network analysis between Tours notables and Louis XI (1461-1483)
Laurent Beauguitte: Models of historical networks: A methodological proposal

15.50-16.45 Final session, including a very short (2 minutes) oral presentation for each poster, discussion of the posters and final general discussion
Posters by:
Thibault Clérice and Anthony Glaise: Network analysis and distant reading: The Cicero’s Network
Damian Koniarek, Renata Madziara and Piotr Szymański: Towards a study of the structure of the business & science social network of the 2nd Polish Republic
Susana Marcos: Familial alliances, social links et geographical network. The example of the province of Lusitania in the Roman Empire (to be confirmed)
Stefania Merlo Perring: The ChartEx Project. Reconstructing spatial relationships from medieval charters: a collaboration between Data Mining and Historical Topography
Sébastien Plutniak: Archaeology as practical mereology: an attempt to analyze a set of ceramic refits using network analysis tools
Grégoire van Havre: Interactions and network analysis of a rock art site in Morro do Chapéu, Bahia, Brazil

16.45 Drinks and informal discussion


CFP CAA UK Oxford

January 13, 2014

caaukTime for another CAA UK chapter meeting! This year it wil take place in Oxford on 21-22 March. The call for papers is now out, with a 31 January deadline. The online submissions system will be live on the 15th. So time to start writing those abstracts, let’s get some networky papers in there :)

More info below or on the CAA UK website.

The next annual meeting of the UK Chapter of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA-UK) will be held in Oxford on 21st and 22nd March 2014. CAA-UK aims to encourage communication between UK-based archaeologists, mathematicians and computer scientists in order to stimulate research and promote best practice in computational and mathematical approaches to the past.

Computational and statistical approaches have become an essential part of the tool-kit, so much so that they have become de rigueur. Whilst it has often been acknowledged that such ‘tools’ are not theory-neutral, both approaches have struggled to throw off their positivist origins. Papers and posters are encouraged which move beyond abstract models or representations and offer substantive contributions to interpretation of the past.

Suggested topics include:

GIS;
Spatial analysis;
Photogrammetry;
Geophysics;
Remote sensing;
3D modelling;
Visualisation;
Network analysis;
Statistical methods;
Semantic web;
‘Social’ media.

Abstracts (350 words maximum) should be submitted via the conference website (www.caa-uk.org) by 31st January 2014. The online submission system will go live on 15th January 2014. Any queries regarding the call for papers should be emailed to admin@caa-uk.org.


Citation analysis paper published in LLC

August 6, 2013

llc262coverIt took a while, but it’s finally published! My citation network analysis of archaeological literature can now be found in Literary and Linguistic Computing, the Digital Humanities journal. The paper looks at how archaeologists that used formal network techniques cited each other, and it tries to trace where they got their ideas from. To do this I use citation network analysis techniques developed in a field called Bibliometrics. It doesn’t sound particularly sexy, but I think it’s pretty cool stuff. Academic papers have long lists of references they cite, which can be considered a formal expression of where they  got their ideas from, or what they were influenced by. Each one of those papers can be considered a point or node in a network. An arrow is drawn between two papers if one cites the other. This creates a pretty web of citations when done for 10 papers, but it creates a complex messy spaghetti monster when done for more than 30,000 papers, as I illustrate in my paper. So for this reason we use network techniques to tackle such massive datasets and say something interesting about them.

Over the coming weeks I will write blog posts about some of the more interesting findings of this work. But do have a look at the published paper. If you have access to LLC then download it here. If not then you can find a link on my bibliography page or you can download it on Scribd.


CAA Poland tomorrow

June 7, 2013

caapolandDear Polish and less-Polish friends! Tomorrow a new CAA chapter will have it’s inaugural meeting: CAA Poland is born! The line-up sounds great, although a few more vowels would be welcome :) Philip Verhagen will give a keynote presentation and Iza Romanowska might make a guest appearance with a recorded remote presentation. Check out the CAA Poland Facebook group for more information. Let’s go to Poland all!

Program konferencji:

9.30 – 10.00 rejestracja uczestników
10.00 – 10.10 inauguracja konferencji
10.10 – 10.30 CAA International i CAA oddział Polska – wprowadzenie
10.30 – 11.15 wykład gościnny: dr J.W.H.P. (Philip) Verhagen, Faculteit der Letteren (oudheid), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

11.15 – 11.30 przerwa kawowa

PANEL I: Panel ekspercki

11.30 – 11.50 dr A. Prinke (Muzeum Archeologiczne w Poznaniu) OD OŚMIOBITOWCA DO PROJEKTÓW EUROPEJSKICH”: Dorobek Muzeum Archeologicznego w Poznaniu na polu komputeryzacji”
11.50 – 12.10 mgr inż. P. Kaczmarek (Esri Polska /Fundacja Centrum GeoHistorii) Mój poligon doświadczeń z historią i archeologią czyli świat oczami GISowca
12.10 – 12.30 mgr J. D. Mejor (Biblioteka Narodowa) Stan digitalizacji w sektorze Bibliotek
12.30 – 12.45 dyskusja
12.45 – 13.00 przerwa

PANEL II: LiDAR

13.00 – 13.20 mgr M. Legut – Pintal, mgr Ł. Pintal (Politechnika Wrocławska) Perspektywy wykorzystania danych pozyskanych w programie ISOK w prospekcji archeologicznej. Przykład założeń
obronnych dorzecza Nysy Kłodzkiej
13.20 – 13.40 K. Hanus (Uniwersytet Jagielloński/ University of Sydney) Optymalizacja przetwarzania danych LiDAR pozyskanych w trakcie badań nad cywilizacjami lasu tropikalnego
13.40 – 14.00 M. Jakubczak (Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego) LiDAR, GIS, GPS w badaniach nad prahistorycznym górnictwem krzemienia, na przykładzie pola górniczego „Skałecznica Duża”
14.00 – 14.15 dyskusja
14.15 – 15.15 przerwa obiadowa

PANEL III: Nowoczesne metody dokumentacji (I)

15.15 – 15.35 inż. arch. Karolina Majdzik (Politechnika Wrocławska), Anna Kubicka (Politechnika Wrocławska) Cyfrowe metody dokumentacji w pracach archeologiczno – architektonicznych na podstawie badań w Deir el – Bahari i Marina el – Alamein
15.35 – 15.55 mgr P. Rajski (Politechnika Wrocławska) Doświadczenia z inwentaryzacji zamków śląskiego pogranicza. Porównanie metod inwentaryzacji w badaniach architektonicznych i konserwacji
15.55 – 16.15 mgr W. Ejsmond (Uniwersytet Warszawski), mgr J.Chyla (Uniwersytet Jagielloński) Zastosowanie mobilnego systemu GIS w badaniach na zespole stanowisk archeologicznych
w Gebelein
16.15 – 16.30 dyskusja

PANEL IV: Nowoczesne metody dokumentacji (II)

16.30 – 16.50 mgr Ł. Miszk (Uniwersytet Jagielloński) Standardy prowadzenia dokumentacji na stanowisku Nea Pafos
16.50 – 17.10 mgr M. Bryk, mgr J. Chyla (Uniwersytet Jagielloński) Weryfikacja archeologicznych badań powierzchniowych przy pomocy GIS
17.10 – 17.25 dyskusja
17.25 – 17.40 przerwa kawowa

PANEL V: Prospekcja i analiza danych

17.40 – 18.00 mgr B. Pankowski (Uniwersytet Jagielloński), mgr Andrzej Święch Użycie nowych technologii w badaniach podwodnych na Wiśle
18.00 – 18.20 A. Rokoszewski (Uniwersytet Warszawski) Gdzie wzrok sięga – wykorzystanie analizy pola widzenia (viewshed analysis) do badań archeologicznych
18.20 – 18.40 M. Gilewski (Uniwersytet Warszawski) Wykorzystanie Erosion Productivity Impact Calculator (EPIC) w badaniach nad rolnictwem Majów
18.40 – 19.00 dyskusja

19.00 – 19.30 spotkanie CAA PL


Hestia2 seminar: registration open

May 23, 2013

hestiaThe Hestia project is pleased to announce “HESTIA2: Exploring spatial networks through ancient sources”, a one-day seminar on spatial network analysis and linked data in Classical studies, archaeology and cultural heritage.

The seminar will be held at The University of Southampton on 18 July. Registration for this event is free, but we do recommend registering as early as possible since the number of available places is limited. More information, including abstracts and registration, can be found on The Connected Past website.

We are looking forward to welcoming you to Southampton!

Elton Barker, Stefan Bouzarovski, Leif Isaksen and Tom Brughmans

HESTIA2: Exploring spatial networks through ancient sources

University of Southampton 18th July 2013
Organisers: Elton Barker, Stefan Bouzarovski, Leif Isaksen and Tom Brughmans
In collaboration with The Connected Past

A free one-day seminar on spatial network analysis in archaeology, history, classics, teaching and commercial archaeology.

Spatial relationships appear throughout our sources about the past: from the ancient roads that connect cities, or ancient authors mentioning political alliances between places, to the stratigraphic contexts archaeologists deal with in their fieldwork. However, as datasets about the past become increasingly large, spatial relationships become ever more difficult to disentangle. Network visualization and analysis allow us to address such spatial relationships explicitly and directly. This seminar aims to explore the potential of these innovative techniques for research in the higher education, public and cultural heritage sectors.

The seminar is part of Hestia2, a public engagement project aimed at introducing a series of conceptual and practical innovations to the spatial reading and visualisation of texts. Following on from the AHRC-funded initiative ‘Network, Relation, Flow: Imaginations of Space in Herodotus’s Histories’ (Hestia), Hestia2 represents a deliberate shift from experimenting with geospatial analysis of a single text to making Hestia’s outcomes available to new audiences and widely applicable to other texts through a seminar series, online platform, blog and learning materials with the purpose of fostering knowledge exchange between researchers and non-academics, and generating public interest and engagement in this field.

Registration

Registration for this event is now open. Please follow the instructions on the HESTIA2 Eventbrite page to obtain your ticket (no payment card needed).

The HESTIA2 seminar is free to attend but registration is required. Since places are limited we suggest you register as soon as possible.

Programme

11:00 Registration and coffee

11:30 HESTIA-team

  • Welcome and introduction to HESTIA and HESTIA2

12:00 Maximilian Schich (The University of Texas at Dallas)

12:25 Alex Godden (Hampshire County Council)

12:50 John Goodwin (Ordnance Survey)

13:15 Discussion

13:35 Tea and coffee break

13:55 Terhi Nurmikko (University of Southampton)

14:20 Kate Byrne (University of Edinburgh)

14:45 Giorgio Uboldi (Politecnico di Milano)

15:10 Discussion

15:35 Tea and coffee break

16:00 Keith May (English Heritage)

16:25 Paul Cripps (University of South Wales)


How I almost missed a great conference: Two days of Tracing Networks at the British Academy

May 7, 2013

tracng networksSometimes conferences can be quite predictable: I know who I will meet, I know what I will hear, I know where I will get a drink at the end of the day. The Tracing Networks conference held at the British Academy two weeks ago was not one of those predictable events, for a number of reasons. First of all, because I forgot all about it. I woke up one day and noticed two days of Tracing Networks in my calendar. I arrived at the venue without having a clue who would be there, who would present, what they would be talking about and where I could get a drink. And I can definitely recommend forgetting about conferences to everyone, because the event turned out to be a very enjoyable experience.

Lin Foxhall giving the opening address, with Anthony Harding

Lin Foxhall giving the opening address, with Anthony Harding

Lin Foxhall gave the opening address in name of the Tracing Networks team. Her talk was an overview of the project, and their search for a suitable methodological framework. This self-reflective and honest discourse was really fascinating. Lin went through a range of arguments why actor-network theory and formal network methods were not suitable. She said that network perspectives are good to think with but meaningfully and rigorously applying them within an archaeological context is particularly difficult. In my opinion this is totally true and cannot be emphasized enough. The team found a method based on ontologies and semantic web most appropriate for dealing with the large and very diverse datasets the project is concerned with.

Another presentation that interested me was Borja Legarra Herrero’s talk on using SNA for studying social change in Late Bronze Age Southern Spain. Some of his slides and parts of his paper revealed a very useful side of networks: their ability to communicate simple but useful structural ideas as small graphs representing different extreme hypotheses (e.g. star graph vs line graph vs circle graph). The usefulness of networks as a tool for communication is often uncritically exaggerated. I learned from experience that showing people real networks representing real data results in awkward silences: people don’t get it. True, these graphs become extremely useful once you understand the layout algorithm and play around with alternative visualizations. But their ability to communicate simple ideas is trivial compared to simplifying graphs of just a few nodes and links.

Leif Isaksen at Tracing Networks

Leif Isaksen at Tracing Networks

This issue came up again during Steve Conway’s reflections on graph visualizations. His paper took my own article in Oxford Journal of Archaeology as a starting point, and tried to find similar trends to the ones I described in his review of the use of formal network methods in the managerial literature. He identified some really familiar sounding issues: there is a tendency to conflate time; a tendency to ossify, to make static; an over-emphasis on the overall network and ignoring individual nodes; a tendency to let the network visualization speak for itself; and an under-emphasis on context. These are all common issues with the use of network visualizations, which are never neutral and are as laden with decisions and assumptions as any other communication medium (Steve wrote an interesting article about this in the british journal of management). This does not mean network visualizations are useless, or even bad at what they do. One just needs to approach and use them with as informed an understanding as possible of the decisions and assumptions that went into their creation.

Another paper that interested me was delivered by Peter Van Dommelen. He opened his talk on a sobering note, stating that “networks are not everything, we need to understand what is going on inside the nodes themselves”. Peter was mainly concerned with developing a critical archaeological approach to the study of migrations, stressing that the context of migrations need to be understood. He argued that there was a reluctance to discuss migration in archaeology since two decades because earlier migration studies were overly simplistic. That’s why we need to look beyond and below networks, we need to contextualize migrations, because the arrows on a map approach is just not good enough. We don’t just want to trace the large-scale, possibly state-enforced networks, but also the personal small-scale networks. We need a focus on communities on the ground if we want to understand what is going on inside the nodes. It is in the end the people who matter, they did not just trace but created the networks we are talking about. Peter discussed his ideas in the context of Nurraghic culture in Sardinia. He is of course right, but I have the impression that up til now the people that are “doing networks” have tended to go for the big datasets evidencing large-scale patterns, because there is just such a good fit with the network methods. However, this means that the challenge of local-scale, more contextualized archaeological network analysis remained under-explored.

Carl Knappett at Tracing Networks

Carl Knappett at Tracing Networks

… Until now? Carl Knappett clearly did not shy away from more small-scale and contextualized network approaches. His paper provided a balanced overview of network methods and theories, of the issues involved and the potential gains of a networks perspective for archaeology. He argued that network analysis in archaeology works best if node selection is unproblematic. It imposes some sort of order over a messy dataset. Although this is undeniably the case, it has to be said that some archaeologists are making real progress in confronting this issue. Ethan Cochrane and Carl Lipo explore how different artefact classifications emerge when different network approaches are used. In his PhD thesis Matt Peoples compares networks of ceramics classified by traditional ware typologies with networks of ceramic technical features. Carl continues by stating the importance of node definition and that this is a theoretical decision, i.e. it is wrong to think that SNA is untheoretical (Carl referred to Butts’ 2009 paper in Science). I could not agree more. The decisions an archaeological network analyst makes when defining nodes and edges, when selecting or modifying analytical techniques and when interpreting the outcomes are fundamentally influenced by their theoretical preconceptions. When I was recently tackling this issue for one of my case-studies I challenged myself to come up with at least two different ways of creating a network from the same dataset; in the end I found ten! Other issues raised by Carl involved temporal and geographical scales. He claimed that although archaeological network methods are often static, this is not a problem of the network perspective per se. In fact, the meaning of nodes or categories of analysis can emerge through the process of thinking through networks (Carl referred to Astrid Van Oyen’s work on comparing ANT and SNA). Carl challenged many of these issues head-on through his case studies from Bronze Age Crete, which revealed exactly how challenging they really are.

The Tracing Networks conference was a great experience, not in the least because I was genuinely surprised to see so many scholars there with shared interests doing fascinating work. I am looking forward to the proceedings and to forgetting about some of the upcoming conferences in my calendar.


CFP Hestia2 seminar

April 29, 2013

hestiaThree years ago I attended the conference that concluded the Hestia project. I gave my second presentation ever at that conference and met loads of fascinating people, all of which I am still good friends with. Project Hestia was all about using new computing techniques to explore the use of space in Herodotus’ ‘Histories’. The conference drew an eclectic mix of computer scientists, classicists, historians and archaeologists. As always happens at such multi-disciplinary events, academics with a different background always find common ground that leads to fascinating discussions.

I was glad to hear that the Hestia team managed to get follow-on funding from the AHRC, and even happier that this time round I got to be part of the team. The Connected Past is a partner in Hestia2. We are organising a one-day seminar at The University of Southampton on 18 July on spatial network analysis in archaeology, history, classics, teaching and commercial archaeology. Hestia part 2 is all about public engagement, so expect a mixed crowd and fascinating discussions!

We welcome abstracts for this event, so please go ahead and send yours in now. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in attending. More info on the call for paper can be found below or on the Connected Past website.

CALL FOR PAPERS

HESTIA2: Exploring spatial networks through ancient sources

University of Southampton 18th July 2013
Organisers: Elton Barker, Stefan Bouzarovski, Leif Isaksen and Tom Brughmans
In collaboration with The Connected Past

A free one-day seminar on spatial network analysis in archaeology, history, classics, teaching and commercial archaeology.

Spatial relationships are everywhere in our sources about the past: from the ancient roads that connect cities, or ancient authors mentioning political alliances between places, to the stratigraphic contexts archaeologists deal with in their fieldwork. However, as datasets about the past become increasingly large, these spatial networks become ever more difficult to disentangle. Network techniques allow us to address such spatial relationships explicitly and directly through network visualisation and analysis. This seminar aims to explore the potential of such innovative techniques for research, public engagement and commercial purposes.

The seminar is part of Hestia2, a public engagement project aimed at introducing a series of conceptual and practical innovations to the spatial reading and visualisation of texts. Following on from the AHRC-funded “Network, Relation, Flow: Imaginations of Space in Herodotus’s Histories” (Hestia), Hestia2 represents a deliberate shift from experimenting with geospatial analysis of a single text to making Hestia’s outcomes available to new audiences and widely applicable to other texts through a seminar series, online platform, blog and learning materials with the purpose of fostering knowledge exchange between researchers and non-academics, and generating public interest and engagement in this field.

For this first Hestia2 workshop we welcome contributions addressing any of (but not restricted to) the following themes:
• Spatial network analysis techniques
• Spatial networks in archaeology, history and classics
• Techniques for the discovery and analysis of networks from textual sources
• Exploring spatial relationships in classical and archaeological sources
• The use of network visualisations and linked datasets for archaeologists active in the commercial sector and teachers
• Applications of network analysis in archaeology, history and classics

Please email proposed titles and abstracts (max. 250 words) to:
t.brughmans@soton.ac.uk by May 13th 2013.


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