Tom’s Oxford mini-tour

February 9, 2016

oxfordOne of the awesome things about my job is that I get to travel around and talk to people about the stuff I love (read “bore people by ranting about a niche interest”). This week I am in Oxford and I will be giving two talks tomorrow (10 February 2016). So if you are in the neighbourhood and are prepared to be talked to about networks and Romans, come along!

At 1pm I will give a talk at the Institute of Archaeology as part of the Roman Discussion Forum seminar series. The talk is called “Introducing MERCURY: an agent-based network model of ceramic distribution for studying Roman economic integration”. You can get the slides here.

At 5pm I will give a talk at Corpus Christi college as part of their classics seminar series. The talk is called ” The potential of network science for archaeology illustrated through a network study of the Roman economy”. You can get the slides here.

Loads of networks in Oxford Classical seminar series

February 1, 2016


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:

CFP seminar linguistic and literary networks

February 12, 2014

esseRecently heard about the below call for papers for a seminar on visualising historical linguistic and literary networks. Might be of interest.


Marina Dossena, Univerrsity of Bergamo, Italy,
John Corbett, University of Macau, Macao SAR,

This seminar to be held as part of the 12th ESSE conference in Kosice, Slovakia (29th August to 2nd September 2014), invites participation from scholars involved in the visualisation of linguistic, literary and historical relationships. There has recently been an upsurge of interest in linguistic and literary cartographies, and in particular the use of digital media to map linguistic change, literary data and historical networks. The seminar offers an opportunity for researchers this area to showcase their work in progress, and to share good practice in the development of methodologies and software. We anticipate that the session will be of interest to those working in the areas of historical corpora, correspondence and social networks, lexicography and the digital humanities.

Abstract Submission:
We invite abstract submissions (max 200 words) for individual paper presentations by 28 February 2014 directly to the conveners ( and ). The following information should be included in the abstracts:

Name & Surname
Title of paper
Equipment needed (all seminar rooms will be equipped with a computer and a projector)

According to the conference guidelines, presenters will be asked to circulate reduced versions of their papers in advance of the seminar, and they will have 15 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for discussions.Proponents will be informed about the acceptance of their papers by 31 March 2014, and ESSE conference registration will open on 1 April 2014.Please do feel free to contact the seminar conveners in case you have any queries.

ESSE Conference information more generally is available at

With best wishes

John Corbett
Professor of English,
University of Macau

Livestream Crabtree seminar Tuesday

January 17, 2014

crabtree_webNext Tuesday (21-01-2014) Stefani Crabtree will give a talk entitled ‘A Tale of Two Villages: How Food Exchange Led to Aggregation in the American Southwest’ in the Archaeological Computing Research Group here in Southampton. This talk will be livestreamed via this URL, so no reason not to watch this promising talk! Stef’s work will be of interest to all of us who love their networks, adore agent-based-modelling, have a passion for the archaeology of the US Southwest … or those who just enjoy a great talk by an inspiring researcher.

When? Tuesday 21 January 2014 5pm GMT
Where? Southampton and online!
Livestream URL
Stefani’s abstract is attached below, and have a look at the poster for her talk by clicking on the image above.

Want to know more about the research done at the Archaeological Computing Research Group? We’ve been pretty good in sharing our work on our group’s blog lately, so check it out there!

In this talk I use computer simulation to explore the extent to which food-sharing practices would have been instrumental for the survival of Ancestral Pueblo people across the patchy landscape of the Prehispanic American Southwest. Social networks would have created stable bonds among these exchanging individuals, further helping the survival of those individuals and their progeny. Specifically, I engage Sahlins’s notion of balanced reciprocal exchange networks (BRN; when unrelated individuals rely upon reputation building to inform exchange relationships) within the experimental test-bed of the Village Ecodynamics Project’s agent-based simulation.

CFP Digital Classicist London

January 16, 2014

DCThe Digital Classicist has become a bit of an institution, offering great examples of how and why classicists should not necessariy be afraid to use modern technology. The series is gearing up for another year of seminars, the call for papers is now open with a 9 March deadline. The organisation, audience, venue and presenters are generally awesome, so I can only recommend submitting an abstract. More info below or on their website.

The Digital Classicist London seminars have since 2006 provided a forum for research into the ancient world that employs digital and other quantitative methods. The seminars, hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies, are on Friday afternoons from June to mid-August in Senate House, London.

We welcome contributions from students as well as from established researchers and practitioners. We welcome high-quality papers discussing individual projects and their immediate context, but also accommodate broader theoretical consideration of the use of digital technology in Classical studies. The content should be of interest both to classicists, ancient historians or archaeologists, and to information specialists or digital humanists, and should have an academic research agenda relevant to at least one of those fields.

There is a budget to assist with travel to London (usually from within the UK, but we have occasionally been able to assist international presenters to attend).

To submit a proposal for consideration, email an abstract of approximately 500 words to by midnight UTC on March 9th, 2014.

Further information and details of past seminars are available at:

A thousand worlds: sci-fi networks in archaeology

October 28, 2013

Rune Rattenborg presenting at 'A Thousand Worlds' in Durham

Rune Rattenborg presenting at ‘A Thousand Worlds’ in Durham

Here is a common plot in sci-fi literature and movies (based on a popular physics model): the world you know is but one in an endless range of parallel universes, where each one is slightly different. Who would ever have thought this would be a good starting point for archaeological discussions? Yet the meeting in Durham I recently attended showed that parallel universes might have more in common with archaeology than we think.

(this review was originally published as a guest post on Electric Archaeology, please join discussion there)

I was invited by Rune Rattenborg to join a workshop in Durham called ‘A Thousand Worlds: Network Models in Archaeology’. This concept of a thousand worlds can be interpreted in an archaeological research context in different ways. On the one hand, and most similar to the sci-fi parallel universes plot, you could think about the many different reconstructions of past realities that could all explain a single archaeological pattern. Literally thousands of hypotheses could be raised to explain a certain pattern, each of them suggesting different mechanisms driving human behaviour and ultimately its expression in the archaeological record. On the other hand, you could think about the many academic perspectives archaeologists find useful for understanding the past. Perspectives ranging from highly quantitative (you can place me in that camp) to very qualitative, from local to global, from scientific to philosophical, and from an explicitly present-day perspective to attempting to recreate past perspectives. Each one of these is a valid way of thinking about past human behaviour and behavioural change (or rather every configuration or combination of these perspectives).

Both of these interpretations motivated Rune to title his workshop ‘A Thousand Worlds’. He noticed that archaeologists interested in questions of past connectivity and those of us using network perspectives often address the challenges we are faced with in very different ways. The only common ground of most network perspectives seems to be that the relationships between entities are considered crucial to understanding the behaviour of these entities. For example, the romantic relationship between two individuals will affect the decision to stay in and watch a Hugh Grant romantic comedy or to go out for a beer with the guys. But Rune also noticed that each perspective allows for a wide variety of reconstructions of past realities. These two issues seem to confuse archaeologists who might be interested in using such a network perspective in their archaeological research. I totally agree with Rune’s motivation to create some order in this chaos. The main questions of this workshop therefore were: what different network perspectives are out there? What rules govern them? What do they allow us to do that we could not do before? And what are their limitations?

To some extent the meeting was successful in addressing these questions. A number of very different perspectives were discussed by selected proponents: I introduced an extremely formal network science approach, which was discussed rather more pragmatically by Anna Collar; Michelle de Gruchy highlighted some interesting challenges in a geographical context; another group of presenters (Kristoffer Damgaard, Eivind Heldaas Seland, Sofie Laurine Albris, Rune Rattenborg) used the concept of connectivity and explored how it could be reflected in archaeological and literary sources. Finally Ronan O’Donnell introduced the actor-network theory (ANT) perspective through a fascinating case study on a post-Medieval landscape in Northumberland, UK, from which the strong difference between the aims of the ANT and network science research perspectives became particularly clear.

Nevertheless, by the end of the meeting it became clear that we were not entirely successful in addressing the many questions we set out to answer. Eivind Heldaas Seland skilfully summarised each paper and formulated three key questions that require more attention: how can these different perspectives and approaches usefully work together? What is the added value of some of these compared to a more traditional description of our sources? How can we better use these perspectives in the future? The fact that we were unsuccessful at addressing these questions shows how complex and non-trivial they are (and we also ran out of discussion time). But for what it’s worth, I take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on these questions, combined with some of the points I picked up from others during the discussion.

First of all, I believe the first question presents the false impression that the different network perspectives can and need to work together. I would argue that, many network perspectives do not need to and most of them do not work well together at all. This is because some of them (like ANT and network science) are designed to address very different questions. But even those approaches that have more in common, like the quantitative vs. qualitative use of network science, don’t necessarily need to be combined into an almighty network approach. There is no need for a great unifying theory or method in archaeology, not even for one that just focuses on questions of connectivity. Rather, I consider the different network perspectives as tools that function according to certain rules, and once these rules are known the tools have a potential to make small but crucial contributions to our knowledge of the past. I believe that if we are to ever achieve the full potential of these exciting new approaches for archaeology we will need to first critically explore them in isolation.

Secondly, the added value of these perspectives is more obvious than how they should be applied. Many in the audience seemed to agree that the concept of the network itself is a powerful tool to think with. It forces us to consider the potentially important role played by relationships between entities (however defined: humans, molecules, parallel universes), which might allow us to ask and answer new questions. For me the added value lies in the recognition that all archaeologists make assumptions about the nature of such relationships when they formulate hypotheses about past phenomena. It can be useful to think about these assumptions in terms of network concepts and, most importantly, there is a real need to be critically aware of their existence and formulate them clearly. Network science can help archaeologists to think about their assumptions of past relationships, to formally express them (in words and/or in numbers), and to evaluate their implications for past behavioural change and its reflection in the archaeological record.

Finally, the “better use” of such approaches and perspectives is not optional, it is necessary if they are ever to become useful within an archaeological research context. However, a critical use and application is not just a critical awareness of the rules that govern them. Rather, an equal if not larger effort should be afforded to the archaeological interpretation of network science results, or the differences in the interpretative process that a networks perspective implies. I believe none of the scholars that attended the Durham meeting would disagree with that. The studies they presented could be roughly divided into two groups: those that THINK through network and those that DO networks. I believe the former is more important than the latter, because there can be no doing without thinking. Although this sounds like an obvious statement it is worth emphasising it because the use of quantitative network analysis is too often treated like a “black box” approach, which it is not. Every network science study in archaeology, no matter how quantitative, aims to better understand (aspects of) past phenomena. When doing so, the scholar formulates a hypothesis, expresses their assumptions about past relationships and their roles, or at least clearly defines what they mean by the network concepts they use. Only after this phase of network thinking can a scholar proceed to network doing, which involves representing hypotheses/assumptions/the archaeological record as network data (points and lines, and what they mean). The ability to use advanced quantitative tools should not be an excuse for the post-hoc imposition of a theoretical framework that fits the results nicely; nor should the appeal of using fashionable network concepts lead to reluctance to formally express what is meant by them and to evaluate their implications for understanding past phenomena.

Even though none of the three key questions about the role of the networks perspective in archaeology can be conclusively answered at this time, I felt that its future is nevertheless bright. The diversity of possible approaches and perspectives is encouraging and will lead to critical research that promises to help archaeologists better evaluate what approach is useful for their studies of past connectivity, and what is not. Some of these approaches might require multi-disciplinary collaboration, especially the more scary and maths-heavy techniques in the network science toolbox. But archaeologists should never be tempted to outsource the network thinking part of the process. Critical knowledge of the archaeological literature and data leads to an awareness of the relevant research questions, and the same knowledge will lead to valuable interpretations of analytical results and research processes. There might be a thousand pasts out there, and there might be a thousand ways of reaching them, but this quest will always need to be undertaken by archaeologists.

Selected relevant publications:
Brandes, U., Robins, G., McCranie, A., & Wasserman, S. 2013. What is network science? Network Science 1(01): p.1–15.
Brughmans, T. 2013.Thinking through networks: A Review of Formal Network Methods in Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.
Knappett, C. 2011. An archaeology of interaction. Network perspectives on material culture and society. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press.

Networks and regulation seminar programme Paris

October 25, 2013

Construction_tour_eiffel5A fascinating set of papers is announced for this year’s “Networks and regulation” seminar series held in Paris and organised by Claire Lemercier, Emmanuel Lazega and Julien Brailly. If you are in Paris during any one of these dates then do attend these talks, some great speakers in there:

Mercredi 20 Novembre : Johannes Glueckler, Universität Heidelberg (16h-18h)
“Organized Networks and the Creation of Network Goods”

Lundi 25 Novembre : Mark Mizruchi, University of Michigan (16h-18h)
“Political Economy and Network Analysis: Further Thoughts on Their Connections”

Lundi 9 Décembre : Ulrik Brandes, Universität Konstanz (16h-18h)
“Centrality in Networks: Measurement and Social Theory”

Lundi 20 janvier : Pierre Gervais, Université Paris-3, Guillaume Daudin, Université Paris-Dauphine (16h-18h)
“Est-ce que tout compte? Essai de mesure statistique de l’effort relatif d’enregistrement dans quelques comptabilités marchandes du 18e siècle”

Lundi 3 février : Gabriel Garrote,
Université Lumière-Lyon 2 (16h-18h)
“Une relation triangulaire : familles – territoire – institutions (sagas notabiliaires dans le Rhône du premier 19e siècle)”

Lundi 10 mars : Valery Yakubovitch, ESSEC (16h-18h)
“Formal Foci and Informal Ties in Organizations: the Problem of Disembeddedness”

Lundi 12 mai : Laura Prota et Maria P. Vitale
, Università degli Studi di Salerno (16h-18h)
“A network perspective to explore dynamic cooperative behaviors in Italian technological clusters”

Lundi 16 juin : Bernie Hogan, Oxford Internet Institute (16h-18h)
“The emergence of interactive social networks: Implications for users, designers and researchers”

Center for the Sociology of Organizations, 19 rue Amélie, 75007 Paris (metro La Tour-Maubourg – ring the bell in the street, then first room on the left)