MANIFESTO! for the study of ancient Mediterranean maritime networks


MANIFESTO! Somehow I feel like this word should always be written in capitals and accompanied by an exclamation mark. I feel the same about the word REVOLUTION! I recently co-authored a manifesto for the first time, but the feeling was less revolutionary than I thought it would be. In November 2013 I attended a meeting at the University of Toronto, hosted by Justin Leidwanger and Carl Knappett. The meeting aimed to discuss network approaches to the study of maritime connectivity in the ancient Mediterranean. It brought together a group of archaeologists, historians and physicists working either in the Mediterranean or experienced with network approaches to the study of the past. An edited volume collecting all papers presented at this meeting is being prepared. But the key findings of our discussions were recently published in Antiquity+ as ‘A manifesto for the study of ancient Mediterranean maritime networks‘.

The manifesto has a very clear focus on the past phenomena that fall under the rather generic term ‘maritime connectivity’. A useful but simplifying definition of this term would be: ways in which people, places, and things separated by water were related. The manifesto makes methodological and theoretical suggestions that can be assembled into a research framework that will allow us to better understand past maritime connectivity. It is important to stress again that connectivity and past networks are referred to and treated in the manifesto as past phenomena, as things that actually happened or existed in the past. Although the authors see potential for approaches that conceptualise and formalise past connectivity as network concepts and data, it is not our main aim to understand these concepts and data. We hope to better understand the past social phenomena we are interested in, and we argue that network methods and theories offer some potential to help us do so. Two quotes from the manifesto (which raise discussion points I am particularly passionate about) should suffice to illustrate this focus: “formulating explicitly social questions should necessarily precede examination of spatial networks” and there is a “need to review critically our assumptions concerning the social function of maritime connectivity and the actors involved in these networks”.

The manifesto concludes by stressing the virtue of multi-vocality: there is no need for a single homogeneous maritime network studies approach. I believe this is a cautious and constructive attitude, in particular in light of the novelty of applying network methods and theories in our disciplines. We really have not yet discovered the full potential of these approaches for our disciplines. Until we have, we need to think and do creatively! And most importantly, evaluate critically and constructively! MANIFESTO!

The full manifesto is available for free on the Antiquity website.

In this oneoff, extended Project Gallery article, the participants of a recent workshop jointly present a manifesto for the study of ancient Mediterranean maritime connectivity. Reviewing the advantages and perils of network modelling, they advance conceptual and methodological frameworks for the productive study of seaborne connectivity. They show how progressive research methods can overcome some of the problems encountered when working with uneven datasets spanning large geographical regions and long periods of time. The manifesto suggests research directions that could better inform our interpretations of human connections, both within and beyond the Mediterranean. All references to the authors’ workshop papers in the text denote their oral presentations at the ‘Networks of Maritime Connectivity in the Ancient Mediterranean’ workshop held at the University of Toronto in November 2013.


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