Lord of the Rings, Disney’s Mulan and the stuff I do: it’s all the same

beacons
Yes, there are similarities between my work and things that people actually want to spend time listening to. But you really have to look hard for them. I’ve given a lot of presentations over the last few years and noticed that one of the best ways of getting a difficult idea across is to use a movie analogy. I also learned I was very bad at preparing my presentation in time to think up movie analogies. So here’s a blog post to make up for it, inspired by a new paper I wrote that just came out in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. My work is a bit like Lord of the Rings and Mulan.

But not in the way you hope it is. There is nothing near as exciting in my research as the cavalry charges in both those movies, and I definitely never experienced a ‘montage’ moment that provided me in a ridiculously short timespan with the crazy skills needed to destroy the baddie.

What my work has in common with both Mulan and Lord of the Rings are fire signals. This video shows the memorable scene from Return of the King when the fire beacons in Gondor are lit, triggering the lighting of a chain of other beacons. The message is clear and reaches its target quickly: Gondor looks to Rohan for help.

The opening scene of Disney’s Mulan is similar: when the bad guys attack, beacons are lit all along the great wall of China to warn the Chinese people of the coming threat.

These scenes are not completely unthinkable fantasy scenarios, but are inspired by early communication systems that actually existed in the past. In times before telephones and telegraphs, signalling systems using fire, smoke, sound or light could have been used to spread messages over very long distances.

Archaeologists studying the Iron Age of Spain believe such a communication system might have existed in some regions. And it is easy to understand why. The settlement pattern in much of Spain during the Iron Age was dominated by large fortified urban settlements on hills, hence they are sometimes referred to as hillforts. These large urban settlements were surrounded by smaller rural settlements. The surrounding landscape could be visually controlled from many of these hillforts, and the hillforts were visually prominent features that could be seen from far away.

Now what scene of Lord of the Rings does this remind me of? That’s right: the Eye of Sauron perched on top of the massive tower of Barad Dur, scanning the surrounding landscape for his enemies, and to his followers acting as a visible reminder of who’s boss.

Many archaeologists believe these large urban settlements were located on hills on purpose, and not just because a hill was easier to defend but because of the views it offered: visually controlling the landscape, being visually prominent from its surroundings and acting as a good link in a fire signalling network.

And this is where networks come in! If archaeologists argue that settlements might have been located with visibility in mind for the three reasons mentioned here, then we should approach these statements as hypotheses that need testing. And we can do that in three ways using network science:

1) visualise the network of inter-visible settlements using our knowledge of the settlement pattern;
2) explore its structure to see whether it would function well as a communication network, or whether some settlements are more visually prominent;
3) simulate a process where places are settled so that a well-functioning communication network and/or a few more visually prominent settlements is established, and compare this simulated settlement pattern with the observed one.

This is what I do. The first approach uses network data representation and network layout algorithms to show a network of inter-visible settlements, and explore this pattern in a new way by extracting it from its geographical context and focusing just on its structure for a change. The second approach then uses exploratory network analysis techniques that tell us something more about individual nodes in the network and about the network as a whole (e.g. identify most visually prominent settlements, identify chains of inter-visible settlements). The third approach is in my eyes the most interesting one because it is totally new: using simulation models we generate millions of networks according to the process we hypothese might have taken place and we compare the simulated networks with the oberved ones using the same exploratory network analysis techniques as in the second approach.

This new approach to simulating our hypotheses about visibility networks is called exponential random graph modelling for visibility networks. A pair of papers just came out in which we introduce this method and apply it to Iron Age and Roman Southern Spain. The results are really interesting: there is no evidence for a well-functioning communication network, but there is definitely reason to believe that the pattern of visually prominent settlements that visually control surrounding rural settlements was purposefully established in the Iron Age. The importance of visibility as a factor determining settlement location then gradually decreases throughout Roman times.

Our recently published paper in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory tells you the full story. The method is explained in detail in our paper in Journal of Archaeological Science. Both are available through my Academia.edu page or my bibliography on this blog. Enjoy!

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Registration: Telling stories with maps

Hestia_logo_whtTime for the third in the series of Hestia2 conferences! After great meetings in Southampton and Stanford we now move to Birmingham for ‘Telling stories with maps: the geoweb, qualitative GIS and narrative mapping’. The prgramme is included below. You can register for this meeting via eventbrite.

Telling stories with maps: the geoweb, qualitative GIS and narrative mapping
Digital Humanities Hub, University of Birmingham, 30 April 2014

Free registration is now open <http://tinyurl.com/ptdogvz> for this one-day workshop, organized as part of the HESTIA 2 initiative – a public engagement project based on the spatial reading and visualizing of texts. This workshop will examine the role of GIS as a tool for mapping texts of different kinds.

As Caquard (2013, 135) has noted, there has been considerable interest in ‘the relationship between maps and narratives’, especially in the context of the spatial turn among literary and film scholars.  In many ways this field is being driven by technological innovation, particularly the rise of easy-to-use online mapping tools developed by companies like Google to exploit location-based data; everyone can now map their story.  Nonetheless, the standard critique of GIS is that it replicates a Cartesian, positivist conception of the world through allocating geospatial coordinates to objects.  This brings the temptation to ignore a technology closely associated with domination and control, to see mapping purely as metaphor rather than geospatial ‘grid’.  Geographers, particularly those working in critical and qualitative GIS (e.g. Cope and Elwood 2009) have dissected this critique and highlight the analytical potential of GIS for those interested in qualitative data.  Just what does it mean then, to use geospatial technologies to map people’s stories?

The event runs from 10.30-16.30 (with coffee and registration from 10.00) and includes a free lunch.
Register now at Eventbrite http://tinyurl.com/ptdogvz

There are a small number of UK travel bursaries available for postgraduate students – email p.i.jones@bham.ac.uk to apply.

We have an exciting international and interdisciplinary line up of speakers, including:

Vanesa Castán Broto (UCL)
‘Mapping stories, urban energy’

Nela Milic (Goldsmiths)
‘Belgrade log BG:LOG’

Agnieszka Leszczynski (University of Birmingham) and Sarah Elwood (University of Washington)
‘Telling stories with new spatial media’

Ekaterina Yahyaoui Krivenko (NUI Galway)
‘Challenging the Narrative of International Law through GIS: limits and opportunities’

Miranda Anderson  & James Loxley (University of Edinburgh)
‘Mapping the Factual and the Counterfactual’

Pietro Liuzzo (University of Heidelberg) and Francesco Mambrini (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)
‘Storytelling and geographical data in EAGLE’

Ian Gregory, Chris Donaldson (Lancaster University) and Patricia Murrieta-Flores (University of Chester)
‘Exploring Lake District writing using GIS’

Akiyoshi Suzuki (Nagasaki University)
‘A Good Map is Worth a Thousand Words: 3-D Topographic Narrative of Haruki Murakami’

Moacir P. de Sá Pereira (University of Chicago)
‘Robert Jordan’s nearest neighbor: A “For Whom the Bell Tolls” GIS’

Øyvind Eide (University of Passau)
‘Narratives of maps and texts. The role of media differences and stepwise formalisation’

For more information contact:
Phil Jones (p.i.jones@bham.ac.uk)
Stefan Bouzarovski (stefan.bouzarovski@manchester.ac.uk)

Free GIS workshop in Lancaster

homepage01The Spatial Humanities team in Lancaster is organising a free two-day workshop in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for postgraduate students and early career researchers. The intensive two-day course does not require any prior knowledge on GIS and will introduce you to its data management, mapping and export functionality. I can definitely recommend attending this workshop, the team in Lancaster is doing some great pioneering work in spatial humanities and will make sure you get excited by GIS too.

Deadline for applications in 1 March.

How to apply?

Places are limited, as part of registering please include a brief description (max 200 words) of your research interests and what you want to gain from the workshop. The deadline for applications is Friday 1st of March.

Please email a booking form to: I.Gregory@lancaster.ac.uk.
You can download a booking form on the event’s webpage.

For more details of this and subsequent events see their webpage or contact Ian Gregory at the above email address.

GIS SOFTWARE FOR THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES: A FREE TWO-DAY WORKSHOP

11-12th April, 2013

Lancaster University

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are becoming increasingly used by historians, archaeologists, literary scholars, classicists and others, however adoption of the technology has been hampered by a lack of understanding of what GIS is and what it has to offer to these disciplines. This free workshop, sponsored by the ERC’s Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places project and hosted by Lancaster University, provides an introduction to the use of GIS software aimed specifically at researchers from the humanities and arts.

Outline syllabus:

In an intensive two days we will introduce the basics of GIS software from a humanities perspective. The course assumes no prior knowledge of GIS software but a basic competence in computing is needed. We will provide hands-on training in ArcGIS, the most widely used commercial GIS software package. Other software will also be discussed. The course will cover: how GIS software represents geographically features; the basics of GIS functionality; using GIS to produce high-quality maps; using GIS as a database; getting point data into GIS; and exporting data to Google Earth.

Who should come?

This event will provide a short but intensive introduction to GIS software. It will be relevant to post-graduate students and early career academics who can subsequently develop these skills in their own research. It will also be suitable for more senior academics, grant-holders and managers who want a brief introduction to GIS software to allow them to manage GIS projects. Over the summer we will be hosting a four-day summer school (15-18th July 2013) which will allow us to explore topics in more depth and to which participants can bring their own data, we do not recommend attending both events as there will be significant overlap. The workshop builds on a one-day seminar held in Lancaster in November 2012. People who participated in this are encouraged to attend although attendance at this or similar events is not a requirement.

How much will it cost?

The workshop is free and includes lunch and refreshments, all other costs must be borne by the participants. Accommodation on Lancaster University’s campus includes: Guest rooms from 35gbp per night or the Lancaster House Hotel from 87gbp per night. Please do not book accommodation until your place on workshop has been confirmed.

GIS in the Digital Humanities

My good Paty Murrieta-Flores and her colleagues at Lancaster are organising a free one-day seminar on GIS in the Digital Humanities. It promises to be a fascinating event. More info can be found on this website.

When? Friday 30th November 2012
Where? Lancaster University
How much does it cost? Nothing!
Should I go? Yes!
How do I register? Complete the registration form and email it to Ian Gregory

GIS in the Digital Humanities: A free one day seminar
Lancaster University
Friday 30th November, 2012

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are becoming increasingly used by historians, archaeologists, literary scholars, classicists and others with an interest in humanities geographies. Take-up has been hampered by a lack of understanding of what GIS is and what it has to offer to these disciplines. This free workshop, sponsored by the European Research Council’sSpatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places project and hosted by Lancaster University, will provide a basic introduction to GIS both as an approach to academic study and as a technology. Its key aims are: To establish why the use of GIS is important to the humanities; to stress the key abilities offered by GIS, particularly the capacity to integrate, analyse and visualise a wide range of data from many different types of sources; to show the pitfalls associated with GIS and thus encourage a more informed and subtle understanding of the technology; and, to provide a basic overview of GIS software and data.

Timetable:

9:30 Registration
10:00 Welcome and Introductions
10:15 Session 1: Fundamentals of GIS from a humanities perspective.
11:45 Session 2: Case studies of the use of GIS in the humanities.
13:00 Lunch
14:00 Session 3: Getting to grips with GIS software and data.
15:30 Roundtable discussion – going further with GIS.
16:30 Close

Who should come?

The workshop is aimed at a broad audience including post-graduate or masters students, members of academic staff, curriculum and research managers, and holders of major grantsand those intending to apply for major grants. Professionals in other relevant sectors interested in finding out about GIS applications are also welcome. This workshop is only intended as an introduction to GIS, so will suit novices or those who want to brush up previous experience. It does not include any hands-on use of software – this will be covered in later events to be held 11-12th April and 15-18th July 2013.

How much will it cost?

The workshop is free of charge. Lunch and refreshments are included. We do not provide accommodation but can recommend convenient hotels and B&Bs if required.

How do I apply?

Places are limited and priority will be given to those who apply early. As part of registering please include a brief description of your research interests and what you think you will gain from the workshop. This should not exceed 200 words.

For more details of this and subsequent events see the website. To register please email a booking form (available from the website) to Ian Gregory who may also be contacted with informal enquiries.

Video: urban network analysis

This video is an impressive ad for the Urban Network Analysis toolkit, which I have never worked with by the way. Network analysis in urban environments is quite popular since it is relatively straightforward to identify the obvious nodes and links. A simple transport network can consist of streets as links connecting nodes at the crossing of these links. Urban Network Analysis seems to add buildings and a large variety of attributes (like jobs, residents, …). It uses this to create network maps of cities that can integrated with ArcGIS10 and analysed using network analysis measures. The measures illustrated in the video are quite simple and common, and by no means exclusive to urban network analysis. But they do become quite powerful when looking at large networks, like entire cities for example. The approach taken here has much in common with Space Syntax, although without the theoretical/interpretative baggage. The video is a pretty good introduction to how to see networks in an urban environment, so do have a look.

Urban Network Analysis Toolbox Introduction from Tolm on Vimeo.

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