Loads of networks in Oxford Classical seminar series

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Classics and archaeology are fiercely complimentary disciplines and I love playing a balancing act between the two. This of course means: playing with networks by drawing on both written and textual sources of the ancient world. The use of network science in Classics is really taking off, as much as it is in Archaeology. This is reflected in work by Irad Malkin in his book ‘A Small Greek World‘ and by the HESTIA team including Elton Barker who just published a volume entitled ‘New Worlds from Old Texts‘. Both will present in the series, as will I. So do come along if you can.

When? Weekly 5pm, 27 January – 9 March 2016

Where? Corpus Christy College, Oxford (UK)

Networks in the Ancient World
27th January

Elton Barker (Open): Network thinking: textual maps, conceptual frameworks, scholarly practice

 

3rd February
Eivind Heldaas Seland (Bergen): Rome and the not so friendly king: The social networks of local rulers in the Roman Near East

10th February
Tom Brughmans (Konstanz): The potential of network science for archaeology illustrated through a network study of the Roman economy

17th February
William Mack (Birmingham): Social Networking for Poleis

24th February
Irad Malkin (Tel Aviv): title tbc

2nd March
John Tully (Cardiff): Social Proxenoi: SNA in the Hellenistic Cyclades

9th March
Esther Eidinow (Nottingham): ‘What Will You Give Me?’: Networks, Narratives and the Sacred

For a printable poster for the series or any other enquiries please contact: virginia.campbell@classics.ox.ac.uk

Review of Malkin’s A Small Greek World published

9780199734818_450The end of 2011 for me was marked by the publication of two new networky books. The first one was Knappett’s An Archaeology of Interaction, which I reviewed for Antiquity (and I wrote a more in-depth review on this blog). The second one was Irad Malkin’s A Small Greek World, my review of which finally appeared in the journal Classical Review. You can access it on the journal’s website, download it from my bibliography page or read it here.

IRAD MALKIN. A small Greek world. Networks in the ancient Mediterranean. xix+251 pages, 18 illustrations. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 978-0-19-973481-8 hardback $60.

History books too often read like a series of unconnected events, dates, places and people, the sum of which is considered the historical narrative. In ‘A Small Greek World’ Irad Malkin does the exact opposite by focusing on the ties that bind and give meaning to historically attested entities. The reader is taken on a guided tour through the web of countless historical relationships between people, places and cultural practices in the Archaic Mediterranean and Black Sea. One is invited to explore this “Greek Wide Web” as a set of nodes and links to appreciate its small-world network structure and how long-distance links were instrumental to the emergence of “Greek civilization as we know it” (p. 5). At least, this is the hypothesis Malkin advocates in his latest book.

The introductory chapter sets out Malkin’s network perspective, which forms the book’s main innovative contribution to the study of ancient history (mainly due to an adoption of concepts from physics), which is why this review will be largely concerned with evaluating this aspect of the book. Malkin adopted the concept of small-world networks from two physicists, Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz, who use the term to refer to a range of networks with a high degree of local clustering and a low average shortest path length. This means that although nodes are largely only connected to nodes within their cluster, every so often a link appears that bridges the gap between clusters and facilitates the flow of material or immaterial resources between clusters. Malkin was also influenced by two other physicists, Albert-László Barabási and Réka Albert, who coined the term scale-free networks for networks that exhibit a power-law distribution in the number of their nodes’ links. For the creation of this type of network structure, Barabási and Albert suggested a process of preferential attachment in which nodes are continually added to the network and preferentially create links with nodes that are already well connected, thus giving rise to super-connected hubs. In this book Malkin argues that during the Archaic period people and places around the Mediterranean and Black Sea were connected in a way that resembled a small-world structure, driven by processes of preferential attachment. Malkin stresses throughout the book that it was the long-distance links and decentralization of the small Greek world that facilitated the emergence of what he calls Greek civilization.

These network ideas are not expressed and validated in a quantitative manner, however, since historians of antiquity are considered not to possess enough data to identify such patterns and processes with any statistical significance (pp. 19, 25). Instead, Malkin takes a qualitative approach by adopting the vocabulary of network science, and the key features of small-world and scale-free network models in particular, and applies it to a series of historical examples in chapters two to six. Regardless of this, Malkin does consider his qualitative network perspective more than a mere description of the historical Greek network and stresses the explanatory value of his approach. The aims of the book are therefore twofold: to point out networks and processes of network formation through numerous examples, and the interpretation of the implications of describing structures and processes using a formal network vocabulary.

Chapters two and three illustrate reverse processes of the emergence of identity (as identified by Malkin through abstract as well as concrete historical examples) through networks. In chapter two the Rhodians’ dispersal overseas is seen as the reason for the consolidation of the island identity of Rhodes. Chapter three turns this process on its head by arguing for the emergence of the Sikeliôtai identity of Greeks from all over converging in Sicily. The altar of Apollo Archêgetês, only accessible to the Greek residents of Sicily, is considered the earliest expression of this ‘Greeks away from home’ identity. Chapter four brings Herakles the Greek and Melqart the Phoenician to the stage as examples of the existence of mythical and cultic networks, facilitating coexistence and peaceful mediation as well as justifying antagonism between ethnic groups. Malkin continues his series of example networks by focusing on the Phokaian network in the western Mediterranean in chapters five and six. Most interestingly, the evolution of this network is seen as changing from a many-to-many structure to one consisting of local clusters dominated by hubs with long-distance links, giving the example of Massalia and the coastal zone in southern France (described as a middle ground). In chapter six Malkin explores the similarities in cults (Artemis of Ephesos) and institutions (nomima) of the Phokaian network, which are considered to express the Phokaian’s self-perception. The concluding chapter rephrases many of the examples into a rich description of Malkin’s small Greek world hypothesis, which shows strong similarities to his previous work on the emergence of Greek identity but now seen from a network standpoint.

The sheer number of examples and the detail to which they are described makes the book’s narrative difficult to follow in places. Indeed, for most chapters the approach taken and crux of the argument are not clearly stated in the introduction and conclusions. At times this leads one to loose track of the bigger picture and the general aim of the book. The figures are of high quality although they are limited (with the exception of chapter one) to maps indicating the places mentioned in the text.

The descriptive first aim of the book is definitely achieved, through the identification of historical links, networks and problems that are better served by a networks approach. The second aim of interpreting the implications of the network perspective is very thorough as far as the description of the small world hypothesis is concerned. In this reviewer’s opinion, however, it does seem underrepresented in one important respect: the absence of convincing argumentation why the emergent property that is “Greek civilization” could not have emerged on a “Greek Wide Web” with a structure other than the hypothetically identified small-world. Malkin’s discussion of the alternative network structures advocated by Braudel (pp. 42-44), Horden and Purcell (pp. 44-45), and Jean-Paul Morel (p. 153) does not give the impression that the likeliness of his hypothesis is any greater. On the other hand, Malkin rightly argues that dynamic network processes add explanatory power to these structures, and he illustrates this throughout the book for his own hypothesis. Malkin seems to be very aware of this issue when stressing that “The identification of connections and particular networks falls within the historian’s search for ‘what was there’ (the factual, or the truth level); the suggestion that network dynamics forms the Greek ‘small world’ is by contrast an interpretation, but to my mind it is one that has a high probability of being right” (p. 207). Yet the book too often reads like a summing up of historically attested ties in a one-to-one relationship with complex network concepts that are by no means exclusive to small-worlds (e.g. emergence, self-organization, hubs, fractal patterning, preferential attachment, decentralization, multi-directionality, phase transitions, clustering) to allow for disregarding alternative network structures out of hand. The innovative network perspective is also only to a limited degree utilised to revisit concepts like ethnicity, Greek civilization, and identity. It is a new hypothesis that focuses largely on explaining past processes of emergence from given states.

Malkin, therefore, piles up evidence for his hypothesis to create the fascinating concept of the small Greek world, which will no doubt prove a rich and useful perspective for future research. However, he does not increase its credibility through falsifying other possible structural incarnations of this network approach. ‘A Small Greek World’ illustrates the potential of a network perspective for understanding the emergence of Greek culture and identities (concepts that themselves are by no means less ambiguous than the ‘small Greek world’ hypothesis), but it is really only a starting point that requires further formalisation and explicit confrontation with the implications of alternative hypothetical network structures.

Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel: Interactions and Parallels

I would like to bring an upcoming conference to you attention entitled ‘Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel: Interactions and Parallels’. It is organised by Irad Malkin (whose network analysis work I discussed before on this blog) and Alexander Fantalkin. The conference will take place on 28-30 October 2012 at Tel Aviv University.

More info on the website.

Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel: Interactions and Parallels
(10th-4th Centuries BCE)

October 28-30, 2012

Room 496, Gilman Building, Tel Aviv University

Collaboration between the European Network for the Study of Ancient Greek History and Tel Aviv University

With the support of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung
Conference Organizers: Irad Malkin, History Department, Tel Aviv University and a member of the European Network (malkin.irad@gmail.com); Alexander Fantalkin, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University (fantalk@post.tau.ac.il)

The world of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, has often been studied against the background of Near Eastern civilizations. Yet, aside from the enormous hinterlands of the Near East, the ancient land of Israel also neighbored the Mediterranean. As a collaborative conference between the European Network for the Study of Ancient Greek History and Tel Aviv University, we wish to concentrate on interactions and parallels between the ancient Greek world and the Eastern Mediterranean, with an emphasis on the period before the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

How do we, at the start of the third millennium CE, perceive and interpret the almost simultaneous arrival of the two cultures whose self-definitions still mark out the meaning of western civilization? We wish to discuss the key concepts of “parallels, similarities, and influences” in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean. Are they due to general human reaction to comparable historical situations or do they depend on actual contacts and influences, directly or via third parties? Drawing on specific case-studies we will discuss the usefulness of these key terms and analyze the likely contexts for interaction and/or the evidence of actual contacts.

The question of what is comparable as such and what is owed to actual influence is often debated. Whereas former approaches tended to regard the issue of influence literally, “in-fluence,” “flowing into,” as if cultural contacts are necessarily uni-directional; their “source,” therefore, needed to be identified and located in a hierarchy that is either temporal (“who was first?”) or spatial (“first from where?”). Such approaches may indeed be valid at times. Today the cutting edge of the discourse of civilizational parallels and contacts seems rather to consist in a multi-directional, non-hierarchical perspective, which may hopefully find its expression in the conference.

An overview of The Connected Past

Over the weekend of 24-25 March 2012 a group of 150 archaeologists, historians, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and others from 19 different countries met at The University of Southampton. Their objective: to discuss the critical application of network and complexity perspectives to archaeology and history. The result: a stimulating and friendly gathering of academics from very diverse backgrounds who collectively created the exciting discussion platform the organisers believe is crucial to the development of future critical applications in our disciplines.

The last few weeks were hectic for Anna Collar, Fiona Coward and myself. There were many last-minute decisions to be made and problems to be solved. But in the end everything and everyone arrived on time to kick-start the symposium. Most delegates arrived from all over Europe and North America, and some joined us from as far as Australia and Japan. We were happy to welcome delegates from over 60 different universities. The most important work during the symposium took place behind the scenes by Lucie Bolton and her great team of volunteers who were there to welcome all delegates at 8am and make sure they were fuelled with lunch, coffee and cakes throughout the day. The Connected Past would not have been possible without them.

Jon Adams, head of the Department of Archaeology here in Southampton, opened the symposium and introduced our first keynote speaker Alex Bentley. Alex discussed in what cases certain types of network approaches are useful when exploring complex social systems. His paper provided a great start of the conference by setting out a framework for complex systems simulation and identifying the role networks could play within this. A first session of the symposium followed with a very diverse group of papers discussing a range of theoretical and methodological issues. Tom Brughmans explored the evolution of formal archaeological network analysis through a citation network analysis. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller argued for the incorporation of Luhmann’s systems theory in historical network approaches. Andy Bevan explored the issues involved in tracing ancient networks in geographical space. After a coffee break Astrid Van Oyen presented us with the Actor-Network-Theory perspective and how this might be usefully applied in an archaeological context. Søren Sindbæk made some very critical remarks concerning a direct mapping of exchange networks from distributions of archaeological data. Finally, Marten Düring presented a particularly fascinating approach of support networks for persecuted Jews in World War II and compared the usefulness of different centrality measures on it.

After lunch we reconvened for a session called ‘Big data and archaeology’, which included presentations of big datasets that showed particular potential to explore using networks on the one hand and archaeological applications of network analysis on the other. The session was opened by Barbara Mills who presented the work of her team on exploring distribution networks of a large archaeological dataset from the US southwest. Caroline Waerzeggers presented a dataset of tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets which hold a large variety of past relationships that can be usefully explore with network techniques. Mark Depauw and Bart Van Beek similarly presented an impressive dataset which includes references to almost half a million people living in Graeco-Roman Egypt. After tea Eivind Heldaas Seland introduced us to a highly qualified view of networks of travel and religion in late antiquity. Alessandro Quercia and Lin Foxhall presented their networks of loom weights, which is part of the wider Tracing Networks project. Angus Mol took us to the Caribbean with his network approach of a rather small but fascinating lithic assemblage. Finally, Craig Alexander discussed his study of visibility networks in Iron Age Valcamonica.

At the end of the day we had the pleasure of listening to Carl Knappett live from Toronto via a Skype call. We decided to go for this low-tech option because sadly we could not guarantee tech-support during the weekend and wanted to avoid complications. I am sure this is the first time Carl had a Skype meeting with 150 people at the same time. Carl Knappett suggested that in order for network approaches to be usefully applied in archaeology we need be aware of the diversity of available approaches and preferably work in collaboration with network specialists. In some cases, however, networks are not the best perspective to approach our archaeological questions. In his recently published ‘An archaeology of interaction’ Carl points to a wide range of theories and methods that may or may not work within the same framework, but knowledge of this diversity might lead to their more critical and useful applications. This second keynote presentation was followed by a wine reception and a visit to our local pub The Crown.

After a long night out and a nights-sleep further shortened by daylight savings time we were surprised to see almost all delegates appear at 9am to listen to our third keynote Irad Malkin. Irad recently published ‘A small Greek world’ in which he sees the emergence of Greek identity through network goggles by using a vocabulary adopted from complex network analysis to describe the processes he identified in ancient sources. Irad’s keynote address stressed how a networks approach allows us to revisit old questions and how it allows for spatial structure to be compared with other types of relationships. The subsequent session titled ‘Dynamic networks and modelling’ began with a great presentation by Ray Rivers stressing that archaeologists need to be aware of the implications of decisions made when modelling the past and selecting ‘Goldilocks’ networks that seem just right. Next, Anne Kandler presented her network model for exploring the transmission of ideas, which shows how the structure of complex networks influences cultural change. Caitlin Buck presented the work by her team on a new (and very robust looking) model for the spread of agriculture in Britain and Europe at large. After the break Tim Evans presented a much needed paper comparing different network models and their potential uses. The discussions after this paper revealed that such a comparison along with archaeological case studies would be a very welcome resource to archaeologists interested in networks. Juan Barceló presented a Bayesian network approach to explore causal factors determining the emergence and the effects of restricted cooperation among hunter-gatherer societies. Marco Büchler presented his fascinating work on text re-use graphs he and his team in of the eTraces project in the Leipzig centre for eHumanities are working on.

After lunch we had the pleasure of listening to papers in our last session ‘Personal, political and migration networks’. Wilko Schroeter presented on marriage networks of Europe’s ruling families from 1600-1900. Ekaterini Mitsiou moved our attention to the Eastern Mediterranean in her discussion of aristocratic networks in the 13th century. Evi Gorogianni made us look at dowry in a new way by stressing the relationships they establish and express. After tea Elena Isayev made us explore the early 3rd century BC networks of Italy outside the Italian peninsula. Claire Lemercier provided us with some critical comments on the historical use of formal network techniques and illustrated this through a case study on migration in northern France. Amara Thornton traced networks of individuals linked to the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Finally, Katherine Larson showed us a particularly creative way of seeing networks in the archaeological record by linking sculptors’ signatures on ancient statues.

In our eyes The Connected Past was a great success. We enjoyed the experience of organising the event and were delighted with the overwhelming response to our call for papers and registration. We received some great reviews from Tim Evans and Matteo Romanello. In the end, however, it was the delegates themselves who seized the opportunity to engage in multi-disciplinary discussions and to consider future collaborations in innovative research directions.

The Connected Past does not end here! In some time we will make some of the recorded talks available online, we will publish the proceedings and we have plans for future meetings. All to be revealed in time. For now all we want to say is: thank you for a fascinating weekend and keep up the multi-disciplinary discussions!

A small Greek world, by Irad Malkin

Irad Malkin’s new book ‘A small Greek world: networks in the Ancient Mediterranean’ has just appeared with Oxford University Press. Looks like a fascinating read, seeing Ancient Greek history through network goggles. Now available at a reduced price as well! See the offer on the publisher’s webpage.

Here is the book’s summary:

Greek civilization and identity crystallized not when Greeks were close together but when they came to be far apart. It emerged during the Archaic period when Greeks founded coastal city states and trading stations in ever-widening horizons from the Ukraine to Spain. No center directed their diffusion: mother cities were numerous and the new settlements (“colonies”) would often engender more settlements. The “Greek center” was at sea; it was formed through back-ripple effects of cultural convergence, following the physical divergence of independent settlements. “The shores of Greece are like hems stitched onto the lands of Barbarian peoples” (Cicero). Overall, and regardless of distance, settlement practices became Greek in the making and Greek communities far more resembled each other than any of their particular neighbors like the Etruscans, Iberians, Scythians, or Libyans. The contrast between “center and periphery” hardly mattered (all was peri-, “around,” nor was a bi-polar contrast with Barbarians of much significance.

Should we admire the Greeks for having created their civilization in spite of the enormous distances and discontinuous territories separating their independent communities? Or did the salient aspects of their civilization form and crystallize because of its architecture as a de-centralized network? This book claims that the answer lies in network attributes shaping a “Small Greek World,” where separation is measured by degrees of contact rather than by physical dimensions.

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