Open Context

opencontext.jpgI once was part of a project where I had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the raw data of others’ areas-of-interest, since they hadn’t published it yet. This was a problem for me, for my own work depended on that data. Did I have to wait until other people’s work was published before I could publish my own? Eric Kansa, of the ‘Digging Digitally‘ blog of the Alexandria Archive recently pointed me to a project that promises to mitigate those sorts of concerns, and it points to a fundamentally new way for archaeologists to make their work known to each other and the wider world.

Open Context currently has 164063 items

Open Context‘ is an impressive beta-stage project to make archaeological datasets dynamically searchable, and to provide hosting for archaeological datasets. In a sense, it responds to similar needs as the Omeka system. A nice feature is the use of tags – as people search the data, they add their own tags to it, allowing the collective wisdom of the archaeological crowd to impose a kind of order to the data:

Open Context features an innovative folksonomy system that will encourage individual users to add value to the information in Open Context. This powerful social software allows users to add meaningful tags (keywords) to data they discover in their searches.

  • Tagging helps guide users to discover interesting facts, images, maps, and other types of content that other users have tagged.
  • Tagging also acts as a simple, yet powerful, way to make meaningful links and comparisons of research data compiled from different sources.
  • Tagging helps to integrate Open Context’s pooled body of diverse datasets without forcing overly rigid, difficult to apply, predetermined standards on contributors .
  • Tag sets can be saved by users to be searched and cited by others and used in future studies or publications.
  • Tags can help manage the complexity of querying multiple datasets– users can build complex searches in a series of simple stages or increments.

Open Context also provides stable citations to any page in the data which is an extremely important feature – the sort of thing that would allow people to get their data out into the world, while still maintaining the original rights to it. Archaeologists it often seems, do not really want to share their data. Open Context tackles that head on:

“Open Context is a searchable resource that recognizes the importance of authorship in scholarship. Unless explicitly indicated, the content in Open Context is NOT in the public domain. Contributors to Open Context own copyright to the content they contribute. Contributors license their content for certain uses. By using Open Context, you agree to the licensing conditions (if any) that contributors impose on their content. By using Open Context you also agree to adhere to appropriate social norms for your profession. In other words, please treat the content presented here as scholarly. This means you should properly cite and attribute authors for their scholarly contributions. Failure to do so violates professional ethics and may violate the legal terms of some copyright licenses.”

The biggest problem for these sorts of online repositories is usually from the point of view of the user: ‘How do I get my excavation archive online with a minimum of fuss?’ Open Context is developing a tool to do just that:

Open Context is a free resource for the community to contribute, use, and comment on cultural heritage data. In order to simplify its use, the AAI will introduce a desktop authoring tool for Open Context contributors. This data-weaving tool, called “Penelope”, will enable individual researchers to publish their analytic data, notes, images, maps, and other types of content in the Open Context system. Penelope will be available in Fall 2006 as a download on this website and will come with simple instructions on how to prepare and upload content.

Well, Penelope hasn’t arrived yet, but when putting datasets online becomes as easy as writing & having a blog, or slapping together a document in a wordprocessor, then we’ll begin to see some real changes in the practice of archaeology. Half the battle, it seems sometimes, is getting access to the materials of others’ excavations.

Or even worse, figuring out what you did with your own context sheets from that excavation you did three years ago.

For more on Open Context, read the following:

“The Nov-Dec 2007 issue of Educational Technology magazine is an entire special issue dedicated to “Opening Educational Resources”. A series of articles in this issue highlight open educational models, including OpenCourseWare, Connexions and a piece on Open Context called “Open Content in Open Context”, co-authored by Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Eric Kansa. Click here to download the article.”

or view & listen to a lecture by Eric Kansa here .

Open Courseware

 Just came across the Open Courseware site, a repository of links relating to a plethora of online course materials – for instance, it led me to a course from MIT on ‘Computer Games and Simulations for Investigation and Education‘. Very nice! Under ‘civilization -> ancient’ are filed the following:

Foundations of Western Culture II: Modernism 21L.002-3, Spring 2004 (MIT) Show Details

A broad survey of texts, literary, philosophical, and sociological, studied to trace the growth of secular humanism, the loss of a supernatural perspective upon human events, and changing conceptions of individual, social, and communal purpose. Stresses appreciation and analysis of texts that came to represent the common cultural possession of our time. The leading theme of this course is the question of the difference between the ancient and the modern world. Students who have taken Foundations of Western Culture I will obviously have an advantage in dealing with this question. Classroom discussion approaches this question mainly through consideration of action and characters, voice and form.

Tags: action ancient characters civilization common communal cultural culture discussion european events form foundations human humanism individual literary literature medieval modern modernism philosophical possession purpose renaissance secular social sociological studies texts voice western world

The Ancient City 21H.405J, Spring 2005 (MIT) Show Details

This course focuses on the archaeology of the Greek and Roman city. It investigates the relationship between urban architecture and the political, social, and economic role of cities in the Greek and Roman world. Analyzes a range of archaeological and literary evidence relevant to the use of space in Greek and Roman cities (e.g. Athens, Paestum, Rome, Pompeii) and a range of theoretical frameworks for the study of ancient urbanism.

Tags: ancient archaeology architecture athens city civilization economic evidence frameworks greece greek history literary paestum planning political pompeii roman rome social space studies theoretical urban urbanism

The Ancient World: Greece 21H.301, Fall 2004 (MIT) Show Details

History of Ancient Greece from the Bronze Age to the death of Alexander. Major social, economic, political, and religious trends. Homer, heroism, and the Greek identity; the hoplite revolution and the rise of the city-state; Herodotus, Persia, and the (re)birth of history; Empire, Thucydidean rationalism, and the Peloponnesian War; Platonic constructs; Aristotle, Macedonia, and Hellenism. Emphasis on use of primary sources in translation.

Tags: age alexander ancient aristotle bronze civilization constructs death economic empire european greece greek hellenism herodotus heroism history homer hoplite identity macedonia peloponnesian persia platonic political primary rationalism religious revolution social sources studies thucydidean translation trends war

The Ancient World: Rome 21H.302, Spring 2005 (MIT) Show Details

History of Rome from its humble beginnings to the fifth century A.D. First half: Kingship to Republican form; the conquest of Italy; Roman expansion: Pyrrhus, Punic Wars and provinces; classes, courts, and the Roman revolution; Augustus and the formation of empire. Second half: Virgil to the Vandals; major social, economic, political and religious trends at Rome and in the provinces. Emphasis on use of primary sources in translation.

Tags: ancient augustus century civilization classes conquest courts economic empire european expansion fifth form general history italy kingship origins political primary provinces punic pyrrhus religious republican revolution roman rome social sources studies translation trends vandals virgil wars world

The Emergence of Europe: 500-1300 21H.306, Fall 2003 (MIT) Show Details

Survey of the social, cultural, and political development of western Europe between 500 and 1300. Topics include: the Germanic conquest of the ancient Mediterranean world; the Carolingian Renaissance; feudalism and the breakdown of political order; the crusades; the quality of religious life; the experience of women; and the emergence of a revitalized economy and culture in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Tags: ancient barbarian byzantine carolingian charlemagne civilization conquest crusades cultural culture development economy empire england europe european feudalism germanic gothic high history islamic life medieval mediterranean monarchy political politics religion religious renaissance rome social studies western women

The Human Past: Introduction to Archaeology 3.986, Fall 2006 (MIT) Show Details

Archaeology reconstructs ancient human activities and their environmental contexts. Drawing on case studies in contrasting environmental settings from the Near East and Mesoamerica, considers these activities and the forces that shaped them. In laboratory sessions students encounter various classes of archaeological data and analyze archaeological artifacts made from materials such as stone, bone, ceramics, glass, and metal. These analyses help reconstruct the past.

Tags: age agriculture ancient civilization collapse decline engineering gatherer grid history human hunter materials maya mercator mesoamerica natufian neolithic olmec prehistoric prehistory science society stone studies sumer technology tehuancan transverse universal urbanization uruk utm

The World Since 1492 21H.912, Fall 2004 (MIT) Show Details

Civilization IV World Builder Manual & other needful things

So perhaps you now have a copy of Civilization IV, and you want to begin scenario building or even a larger scale modification to the game’s mechanics. What do you do?Roman ruins from Veii, photo from Bryn Mawr Lantern Slides of Classical Antiquity

Before you begin, you need to understand how the Worldbuilder works in Civ IV – here’s the manual and a discussion of what’s what – note that you have to add the code ‘chipotle’ to “cheatcode = ” in the Civ IV ini file, to get the full worldbuilder experience.

Now. What do you want to model using this game? A particular war? a battle? a long period of cultural interchange between two peaceful peoples? Answer this question well, and be very clear what it is you hope to accomplish. Let’s say, for interest’s sake, you want to make a scenario focussed on Veii, and you want your student – the player – to understand the urban dynamics of central Italy during the protohistoric period (you’ll want to describe it much more snappily to your students, when the time comes). You’ll need a map then for the playing board. Here’s a google map centred on Veii. (Maybe you’ll want to zoom out a bit). Open it up in your graphics program, clean it up, and save it as a bmp. It doesn’t have to look like a Civ IV map yet; we use another program to do that.

To turn that map into a playing board for the game, use this bmp-to-wbs utility. This will allow you to make the map exactly as you want it, the placing of resources, etc etc. It comes with an excellent tutorial on mapmaking and scenario design. Alternatively, you can try this tool instead.

That’s all you need to get a good scenario up and running; other interesting tools and utilities are available here.

Things you should think about: Civ IV uses XML files to store lots of the information. To really get rolling, you need to delve into the XML and associate these files with your map – you might try this program here. For instance, in our hypothetical Veii scenario, you might alter the XML files so that you have some Etruscan named leaders, some Roman ones, some Sabine onces, etc. You can change the calendar, so that game turns go in days, or weeks, or months. You can limit how long the game will be played. You can add ancillary information to the opening screen or other pop-ups.

Say you don’t like the way the game imagines the progress of technology. You can use this tool here to tweak it to your heart’s content. You might want to make it so that certain technologies are never available to the player. You do this by altering the ‘cost’ of them in time (so that it becomes impossible for a player to get to, say, feudalism, within the confines of your scenario). You can use this tool for that.

The key things to remember always are ‘why am I building this? what teaching goal do I hope to achieve? how does playing this game – even with my neat-o scenario – make that possible?’ Remember, you can’t just leave your students to play the game and expect them to learn something. You have to be there while they play it, you have to talk it out with them. You make the anachronisms and emergence of the game work for you.

In fact, the best way you can make this game a part of your teaching is to get the students to design the scenarios/mods themselves. These tools I’ve collected here will help you enormously (and thanks again to Civfanatics and the great people there!)

ps, I’ll do a similar post for Caesar IV once I figure out how to make the game editor do what I want. One final note: lots of the graphics in both games come as dds files. You need a converter to put your artwork into the game if for instance you want to create an etruscan augur unit – try this program; you can also get similar programs from nVidia’s website

UPDATE Feb 28 2010: This continues to be the most popular post on this blog. Click around – there’s an awful lot more here than this! :)  If you’re really interested in the nuts-and-bolts of modding all of the various games in the Civilization franchise, please see the Civilization Modding Wiki and this tutorial.