Réseaux et Histoire: because it will do you good to network in Foreign

September 18, 2015

executive-511706_640It’s necessary to frequently remind ourselves that Academia does not just happen in English. It sounds like a silly thing to write, but having worked in the UK for a while I know it is rare to attend events that are not in English and it is common to ignore scientific communities and publications in other languages. This attitude is certainly encouraged by the Institute of Scientific Information (creators of our beloved Impact Factor) who rarely incorporate non-English language publications in their index. This is an assumption supported by some generalizing statistics: the majority of scientific publications are in English, the vast majority of citations are to publications written in English.

There is nothing wrong with one language emerging as the dominant one to facilitate academic communication. But this trend is inevitably accompanied by other language communities producing, debating, and evaluating work in English and their own language. This is necessary and facilitates non-English speakers to evaluate and contribute to international debates. Such communities enable those who are engaged in both international and national debates to cross-fertilize academic communities. Most importantly however, these will be the communities that take care of one of our most crucial duties as academics: to communicate our findings in a critical and understandable way to the general public, regardless of their language.

All of this is of course beside the point :) I want to encourage everyone to attend the third French-speaking historical network science community conference. It’s a great and active community, with some genuinely nice and interesting people. This will not be a disappointment. I have engaged with this community before and came out with fresh ideas and approaches I could not have possibly gained within my English-speaking cocoon.

When? 29-31 October

Where? Paris

Information? Website

The third conference of the French-speaking group Res-Hist (réseaux et histoire – historical network analysis) will take place in Paris on the 29-31 October. The format mostly offers discussions of work in progress by historians, as well as presentations by specialists of other disciplines (geography, geomatics, sociology, law, anthropology,  computer science) who have dealt with social networks in time, or social networks reconstructed from written sources. All those among you who understand French are welcome! Extended abstracts are put online when we  receive them: feel free to comment on our website http://reshist.hypotheses.org, that also gives details on the conference program.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Towards best practice guidelines for network science in archaeology

September 3, 2015

Let’s be honest: networks aren’t really the right answer for many research problems. But how can we evaluate this and do network science properly. This is a discussion post about this topics with a preliminary list of best practice guidelines. I will give a presentation on this topic at the EAA in Glasgow on Saturday at 8AM session AR8 but would like to stimulate discussion online as well, so engage!!!!! Get in touch, blog, tweet, comment.

It is uninformative for archaeologists and historians to use formal network methods as a hammer to hit every nail we can find with, just because we can. Specific formal network methods should preferably be selected in light of their ability to lead to insights that other approaches cannot offer. But what determines this usefulness of particular formal network methods for those studying the past? Is it the convenient representation of entities such as humans, islands, ports and the past interactions between them as dots and lines? Or is it the good fit between the past phenomena of trade, transportation and communication, with their abstraction as network concepts? Although these reasons might be sufficient to lead scholars to consider using formal network methods for addressing their research aims, they are not sufficient to motivate the adoption of specific network techniques.

I strongly believe that network science has something new to add to our disciplines, but a lot of work still needs to be done to leverage this promise and make it productive. To help us in this I think four things are needed:

  • Communities and events that provide a discussion platform for exploring this potential. The Connected Past and the Historical Networks Research communities have been providing venues for this task, and hopefully many more will follow.
  • Good practical examples should be published to give scholars an idea of how network science techniques could be beneficial in their own work, and to stimulate them to think creatively about applying these formal methods. The Connected Past publications alongside many others aim to serve this purpose.
  • These early examples should not just be accepted at face value but should be critiqued. To enable this, training should be provided to archaeologists and historians. Annual workshops have been provided by The Connected Past and the Historical Networks Research communities and at the CAA conference.
  • Finally, a community of archaeologists and historians should develop guidelines to best scientific practice in using these techniques. This could follow the format of the ADS guides to good practice.

I would like to call upon everyone interested in the use of network science for the study of the past to contribute to the development of these guidelines. Get in touch, blog, tweet, comment. Here is my attempt to develop a few very broad guidelines to good practice:

  • Network science techniques are methodological tools with clear rules and limitations.
  • Archaeologists could be provided with guides to good practice and archaeological examples, making them able to understand what kinds of questions different network science techniques are designed to answer and to evaluate whether it allows them to achieve their research aims. To do this hardly any familiarity with mathematical and computational techniques is required, only a willingness to explore the potential of a scientific method.
  • An evaluation of the potential contribution of network methods to addressing a particular research problem might be enhanced by working explicitly through the network science research process (Brandes et al. 2013), which again does not require much technical skills.
  • However, once archaeologists have decided to apply a specific network science technique, then a thorough understanding of the technical underpinnings of this technique is not an option but a prerequisite for a critical interpretation of its results. Archaeologists could be aided in this process by multi-disciplinary engagement and collaboration where possible.
  • Network concepts developed in network science are associated with specified data requirements, which should be acknowledged by the archaeologists adopting them. If the data requirements cannot be identified in empirical or simulated data then the network concepts loose all explanatory value.
  • When developing new network concepts, one should formulate network data specifications such that it becomes clear how the concept differs from exisiting concepts.
  • Formulating specifications of how network concepts are represented in network data allows for different conceptualisations of the same past phenomenon to be compared and possibly falsified.
  • A shift in perspective from the study of static structures to the emergence of empirical observations and past phenomena might be needed.
  • Confirmatory network science techniques offer archaeologists an approach to understanding how large-scale patterns emerge through the particular interactions of individual agents or relationships.
  • Confirmatory network science techniques can only be usefully applied when specifications are formulated of how the network concepts used should be represented as network data.
  • Confirmatory network science techniques require one to explicitly acknowledge the dynamic nature of past processes and the dynamic assumptions underlying the definition of ties. Because of this, I believe these techniques reveal the potential contribution of network science for archaeology far more than the exploratory network techniques.
  • The past systems we study were governed by dynamic phenomena and the network approach used to understand these phenomena should reflect their changeable nature.
  • Only in cases with a small number of nodes and where dependence assumptions gave rise to specific easily visually identifiable patterns, were network visualisations preferable over other types of data representation for communication purposes.
  • Even in cases where network science techniques do not offer additional functionality compared to other more common archaeological techniques, it could still lead to interesting insights by forcing one to explore a dataset or hypothesis through the lens of one’s assumptions about why and which relationships matter.
  • If a method is needed where the boundaries of entities are ill-defined and fluid, and where one argues these can not under any circumstances be tied down for analytical purposes, then network science does not offer the solution.
  • Network science can never be separated from the archaeological theoretical motivations of how and why certain archaeological evidence allows one to better understand a past phenomenon.
  • Some past processes are unknowable, due to our current techniques and datasets. All archaeological approaches suffer from this disadvantage and network science is no exception.

CAA NL-FL Call for papers, for those speaking German with an English accent

August 24, 2015

caanlThe Computer Applications and Quantitative methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference has many national chapters who also organise annual meetings or other activities, usually in their own language. The Dutch-speaking low countries of the Netherlands and Flanders have teamed up for this purpose. Their annual meeting will take place on 22-23 October 2015 at the University of Amsterdam. The call for papers is open now until 30 August 2015, so hurry up to get your abstract in.

You might need to understand some Dutch, but according to my wife it’s just German spoken with an English accent … I totally disagree with this statement, Dutch is a proper language with its own vocabulary and grammar. But I always fail to get popular support for my case once people ask me to count to 10 in Dutch: een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven, acht, negen, tien… (nothing like German with an English accent if you ask me, but apparently that’s a minority opinion. Yet another reason why the Dutch-speakers teamed up to form their own CAA chapter).

What? CAA NL-FL chapter conference

When? 22-23 October 2015

Deadline CFP? 30 August 2015

Cost? 20 or 30 Euro

More info on the website.

CAA call for sessions open

August 5, 2015

caaThe countdown to CAA 2016 in Oslo has begun! Time to submit your awesome session and workshop proposals!

The annual Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference will be held in Oslo, Norway, from March 29th to April 2nd 2016. The Call for sessions and workshops is now open until 7 September 2015. More info about the conference can be found on the conference website.

To propose a session or workshop, go to the CAA Open Conference System and click on the ‘Submissions’ link on the right-hand side of the page.

Hope to see you all in Oslo for my favourite conference of the year!

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency or Network Science? Let’s get our networky jargon right!

July 29, 2015

gentlyWe’ve all heard it before, people saying stuff like “everything’s connected to everything else”. Most often this phrase is used in the way Dirk Gently would use it in Douglas Adams’ novels. Dirk runs a ‘Holistic Detective Agency’ which means that what sets him apart from other more traditional detective agencies is that he solves crimes by figuring out how all people, things and events are related to each other. In practice, it means he has very few customers since this method can never be consistently applied within an acceptable time limit. In the end Dirk is always reliant on dumb luck to solve his cases, although he backs his decisions up with pseudo-scientific jargony nonsense.

Network scientists including archaeologists and historians rarely talk like Dirk Gently-style detectives (I believe anything between Sherlock Holmes and Poirot best describes the range of fictitious detective analogies for us applying networks to figure out the past, I’m on the Poirot side if you’re wondering). They are more specific in their description of how things are interrelated, thanks to their use of network science concepts: arcs, edges, actors, nodes, centrality, cliques, path length, etc. This sadly does not mean that these academics make themselves any more understandable to their audiences than Dirk Gently does, just because they happen to use jargon usefully and consistently.

When talking to network scientists you really need a dictionary at hand. I often catch myself assuming that many terms like, closeness centrality or ego-network, which have very specific formal definitions are widely known or at least intuitively understandable. It turns out this is definitely not the case: assuming jargon is widely known leads to bad communication, assuming it is intuitively understandable leads to no communication at best and bad science at worst. This issue is particularly problematic for us network scientists who try to contribute to archaeology or history, disciplines where network jargon is entirely unknown.

I am delighted that we are finally starting to overcome this issue. Archaeologists and historians: your networky dictionary has arrived! A while ago we published a special issue of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory on archaeological network science. Because so many network science concepts were used over and over again in each paper of this issue, we decided to write a network science glossary. You can find this  network science glossary on the Tutorials and Resources page of this blog as well as in the original paper. The glossary was written with an audience of archaeologists and historians in mind. It provides unambiguous non-technical explanations of key concepts as well as a number of examples. All of us who worked on it really hope this will help archaeologists and historians in particular to start critically engaging with all the amazing new work that’s appearing, and to produce some of it themselves.

Check out the network science glossary on the Tutorials and Resources page of this blog.

It was first published as part of the introduction to our special issue of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory on archaeological network science.

Please cite the glossary as follows:

Collar, A., Coward, F., Brughmans, T., & Mills, B. J. (2015). Networks in Archaeology: Phenomena, Abstraction, Representation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 22, 1–32. doi:10.1007/s10816-014-9235-6

Book: support networks for persecuted Jews in WWII

July 22, 2015

9783110368949I find support and assistance networks extremely interesting! Mainly because they pose so many interesting missing data problems, and as an archaeologist I like a good data problem from time to time. These kinds of networks are very much based on trust, since once a person or connection is compromised it will have disastrous, often murderous, consequences for many in the network. This topic is explored for the case of persecuted Jews in National Socialism during World War II in Marten Düring’s work. He traced a number of different groups of people, how they got in touch with each other, and how they provided assistance to persecuted Jews. Marten told me in most cases the support networks grow slowly and are built on strong trusted relationships. Often new individuals will be introduced to the network through a common contact who has received assistance before and vouches for the individual. However, there are a few cases when individuals gambled and got in touch without a pre-existing well-trusted connection. Such decisions could be disastrous, sometimes leading to the entire network being rounded up by the Gestapo, questioned and sentenced (which is often why these support networks are documented and why Marten was able to reconstruct them). The ‘data problems’ I mentioned are a consequence of the sheer secretive nature of the support network: hiding the fact you offered support to persecuted Jews was a question of life or death. It is particularly hard to reconstruct support networks that were not caught by the Gestapo, and one can only assume that those that were caught are not entirely documented, that there are a lot of missing nodes and links. Marten Düring offers us an in-depth look at a few cases which are particularly well-known, thanks to his rummaging around in archives for years.

I believe this study will prove invaluable for better understanding support networks and the missing data problems they pose. I see particular similarities with networks of the trade in licit antiquities, organized crime and really any type of so-called ‘dark network’. This work offers a reminder of how the study of the past can help us tackle challenges in the present.

Marten’s work was recently published by De Gruyter as a book, check it out here and find the abstract below.

Also keep an eye out for Marten’s chapter in the forthcoming ‘The Connected Past’ edited volume to be published by Oxford University Press early in 2016 :)

Why did people help Jews hide from the Nazis? This study examines interactions between helpers and aid recipients using the methods of social network research. Based on six Berlin case studies, the author looks at the social determinants for willingness to help, trust formation, network effects, and the daily practice of providing help from the perspectives of helpers and aid recipients.

Three more days to send in your Digital Classicist Berlin abstract

July 14, 2015

dcbThose trained in the ways of Classics and fearless of the computer beast: submit your abstracts now to the Digital Classicist Berlin seminar series. The deadline for the call for this year’s edition is in three days, at midnight 17 July. I had the pleasure of presenting my work at this venue once (see the video on my bibliography page). Aside from giving the talk in the lovely fancy hall of the German Archaeological Institute which makes you feel like a little Schliemann, it does attract a good audience of experts who are not afraid to ask you the difficult questions (which is exactly what you want by the way). There is plenty of time for discussion after your talk, and I definitely gained some unique insights and new contacts through the experience. Definitely consider applying.

Deadline 17 July

Digital Classicist Berlin website

We are pleased to announce the Call for Papers for the fourth series of the Digital Classicist Seminar Berlin [1]. This initiative, inspired by and connected to London’s Digital Classicist Work in Progress Seminar [2], is organised in association with the German Archaeological Institute and the Excellence Cluster TOPOI. It will run during the winter term of the academic year 2015/16.

We invite submissions on any kind of research which employs digital methods, resources or technologies in an innovative way in order to enable a better or new understanding of the ancient world. We encourage contributions not only from Classics but also from the entire field of “Altertumswissenschaften”, to include the ancient world at large, such as Egypt and the Near East.

Themes may include digital editions, natural language processing, image processing and visualisation, linked data and the semantic web, open access, spatial and network analysis, serious gaming and any other digital or quantitative methods. We welcome seminar proposals addressing the application of these methods to individual projects, and particularly contributions which show how the digital component can facilitate the crossing of disciplinary boundaries and answering new research questions. Seminar content should be of interest both to classicists, ancient historians or archaeologists, as well as to information scientists and digital humanists, with an academic research agenda relevant to at least one of these fields.

Anonymised abstracts [3] of **300-500 words max.** (bibliographic references excluded) should be uploaded by **midnight (CET) on 17 July 2015** using the special submission form [4]. Although we do accept abstracts written in English as well as in German, the presentations are expected to be delivered in English. When submitting the same proposal for consideration to multiple venues, please do let us know via the submission form. The acceptance rate for the first three seminar series was of 41% (2012/13), 31% (2013/14), and 40% (2014/15).

Seminars will run **fortnightly on Tuesday evenings (17:15-19:00)** from October 2015 until February 2016 and will be hosted by the Excellence Cluster TOPOI and the German Archaeological Institute, both located in Berlin-Dahlem. The full programme, including the venue of each seminar, will be finalised and announced in September. As with the previous series, the video recordings of the presentations will be published online and we endeavour to provide accommodation for the speakers and contribute towards their travel expenses.

[1] http://de.digitalclassicist.org/berlin/
[2] http://www.digitalclassicist.org/wip/
[3] The anonymised abstract should have all author names, institutions and references to the authors work removed. This may lead to some references having to be replaced by “Reference to authors’ work”. The abstract title and author names with affiliations are entered into the submission system in separate fields.
[4] http://de.digitalclassicist.org/berlin/submit


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