My contribution bears the provisional title – ‘Simulating Patronage & Resource Extraction: an agent-based Roman economic model’
“Starting with the idea that the Roman economy was socially and politically embedded in networks of patronage, this paper explores the ramifications of that understanding for natural resource extraction, using an agent-based model. Agent models employ hundreds of autonomous, individual software agents, interacting in a digital environment, according to the rules we specify. In this case, the rules are drawn from our understanding of how patronage worked in Roman society. The initial pattern of interactions is based on resource-extraction networks visible in the archaeological record. The environment is one in which the agents extract a scarce, yet renewable, resource (coppiced woodland). Under what circumstances is such a system sustainable? When - and how – can it break down? The patterning of results suggests a framework for understanding archaeological patterns of resource exploitation in the Roman world.”
For our last question, I would like to ask you to consider the act of publication for this blog carnival. How could we best capture the interplay, the multimedia experience of blogging as a more formalized publication? What would be the best outcome for this collection of insights from archaeological bloggers?
The relationship between blogging and other academic forms of discourse is certainly in the aether right now. One need only look at ‘Hacking the Academy‘ or Ian Bogost’s thoughts on ‘Beyond Blogs‘ to see that we archaeo-bloggers are not alone in considering these questions. For me, right now at where I am in my career, the best outcome of this rich back-and-forth we’ve been having is some sort of refereed publication. Some time ago, Tom Scheinfeldt of the CHNM suggested that all of us digitally inclined folks should start producing digital cvs (excellent example of which is here . In response to Tom’s argument, Adam Crymble wrote, “The vulnerable have to eat, so they have to play the game. The strong can change the rules.” I think we #blogarchers have an opportunity to try to change the rules, but I think too that we are all of us vulnerable: and so what would secure us is if we can fit this new medium of expression into the safe boxes required by our annual assessments – hence a refereed publication, knowing full well how awkward that would be to produce.
That said, were I invulnerable, what might I do? Well, I think I might recycle an olde post here. In that post, I talk about Anthologize, a wordpress plugin for turning blogged content into the safer, more comfortable multi-authored volume. And then maybe look at releasing it via Kindle Singles?
For an aborted attempt at putting individual blog posts together into a quasi-referred quarterly publication, see here and here on ‘PDQ – The Past Discussed Quarterly. Maybe an idea whose time has finally come? A number of us were involved in that project, but given where we all were (and the various stages of our careers and lives), we couldn’t make it work. Here was our optimistic blurb:
From the official website:
“PDQ is a journal designed to provide a bridge between blogging and academia. It will provide stable citeable references for selected weblog posts focussed upon or of interest to the pre-Renaissance past. It is compiled from articles submitted by bloggers on a quarterly basis. The journal is available in three formats. There is a PDF downloadable copy for free. There is a paper copy which can be ordered via Lulu, which is set to the cost of printing and delivery only. Finally we intend that the journal will also be placed in a repository for long-term curation. Until the details are finalised it will be available in XHTML format from a server based at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.
We won tickets to see the Ottawa – Tampa Bay game on Saturday night. 100 level. Row B. This is a big deal for a hockey fan, since those are the kind of tickets that are normally not within your average budget. More to the point of this post, it put us right down at ice level, against the glass.
Against the glass!!!
Normally we watch a hockey game on TV, or from up in the nose-bleeds. From way up there, you can see the play develop, the guy out in the open (“pass! pass! pleeeease pass the puck!” we all shout, from our aerie abode), same way as you see it on the tv.
But down at the glass…. ah. It’s a different scene entirely. There is a tangle of legs, bodies, sticks. It is hectic, confusing. It’s fast! From above, everything unfolds slowly… but at the ice surface you really begin to appreciate how fast these guys move. Two men, skating as fast as they can, each one weighing around 200 pounds, slamming into the boards in the race to get the puck. For the entire first period, I’d duck every time they came close. I’d jump in my chair, sympathetic magic at work as I willed the hit, made the pass, launched the puck.
For three wonderful periods, I was on the ice. I was in the game. I was there.
So…. what does this have to do with Play the Past? It has to do with immersion, and the various kinds that may exist or that games might permit. Like sitting at the glass at the hockey game, an immersive world (whether Azeroth or somewhere else) doesn’t have to put me in the game itself; it’s enough to put me in close proximity, and let that sympathetic magic take over. Cloud my senses; remove the omniscient point of view, and let me feel it viscerally. Make me care, and I’ll be quite happy that I don’t actually have my skates on.
Good enough virtuality is what Ed Castronova called it a few years back, when Second Life was at the top of its hype cycle.But we never even began to approach what that might mean. I think perhaps it is time to revisit those worlds, as the ‘productivity plateau’ may be in site.
In an earlier post, Ethan asked, where are the serious games in archaeology? My response is, ‘working on it, boss’. A few years ago, I was very much enamored of the possibilities that Second Life (and other similar worlds/platforms) could offer for public archaeology. I began working on a virtual excavation, where the metaphors of archaeology could be made real, where the participant could remove contexts, measure features, record the data for him or herself (I drew data in from Open Context; I was using Nabonidus for an in-world recording system). But I switched institutions, the plug was pulled, and it all vanished into the aether (digital curation of digital artefacts is a very real and pressing concern, though not as discussed as it ought to be). I’m now working on reviving those experiments and implementing them in the Web.Alive environment. It’s part of our Virtual Carleton campus, a platform for distance education and other training situations.
My ur-dig for the digital doppleganger comes from a field experience program at a local high school that I helped direct. I’m taking the context sheets, the plans, the photographs, and working on the problems of digital representation in the 3d environment. We’ve created contexts and layers that can be removed, measured, and planned. Ideally, we hope to learn from this experience the ways in which we can make immersion work. Can we re-excavate? Can we represent how archaeological knowledge is created? What will participants take away from the experience? If all those questions are answered positively, then what kinds of standards would we need to develop, if we turned this into a platform where we could take *any* excavation and procedurally represent it? I’m releasing students into it towards the start of next month. We’ve only got a prototype up at the moment, so things are still quite rough.
The other part of immersion that sometimes gets forgotten is the part about, what do people do when they’re there? That’s the sympathetic magic, and maybe it’s the missing ingredient from the earlier hype about Second Life. There was nothing to do. In a world where ‘anything is possible‘, you need rules, boundaries, purpose. We sometimes call it gamification, meaningfication, crowdscaffolding, and roleplaying. Mix it all together, and I don’t think there’s any reason for a virtual world to not be as exciting, as meaningful, as being there with your nose at the glass when Spezza scores.
Or when you uncover something wonderful in the digital dirt. But that’s a post for the future, when my students return from their virtual field season.
(cross-posted at Play the Past)
It takes roughly an hour or so to get here in the morning. I have to navigate across one of the oldest bridges on the Ottawa River, and it’s always jam-packed. On the plus side, it takes me through some of the oldest industrial heritage in the region. Ottawa was one of the first cities in Canada (perhaps North America?) to become electrified, courtesy of the power of the Chaudiere Falls, which is where the bridge crosses. Next year, I’m teaching a course in Digital History that will focus on this complex, using augmented reality as our expressive form. Each morning then I start by thinking about that class, and what we will do in this amazing spot.
But this morning, I have my first year Digital History seminar to prepare. We get going in about twenty minutes. Attendence on a Friday AM is always a bit sparse. But today we’re working en-masse on their group projects. We’ve partnered with a community organization, the Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa and their crowdsourcing history portal, Ottawagraphy. My students are preparing projects that will be hosted on Ottawagraphy, on different aspects of Ottawa’s history. One group of students are working on a smart phone guided tour of the Parliament Hill precinct; others on the development of various neighborhoods. It’s a pretty eclectic mix. What’s exciting about it is that these students were not overly critical consumers or producers of digital content when they started – I think they’ve come a pretty long way.
And so begins my day of Digital Humanities.
This image represents all of the contributions in response to Colleen’s first question for the Blogging Archaeology Carnival. It was created in Gephi using the HTTP Graph plugin. With Gephi open and running, you set your browser to pass its information through Gephi, which then represents all of the resulting data in terms of its network relationships.
So, I began by pointing my browser to Colleen’s post. Data began to fill the Gephi window. Then, I clicked on each link in turn, which would pour more data into Gephi. I returned to Colleen’s post, and then clicked on the next link. And so on. The resulting image (click here for an svg/pdf higher resolution image) shows how we’re all interconnected. One can automate this process by using Chrome with a web crawler (or see the video).
(by the way, you could use this to visualize all sorts of relations scraped from online databases – that’s a post for another day)
So, in response to the questions posed for this week’s edition of #blogarch , I would say that one way I try to understand where my blogging fits into the wider ecosystem is to actually map it out from time to time. A bit of navel gazing I suppose, but who hasn’t googled themselves at one point or another? My more serious point is to build on Bill’s observation:
Of course the model for understanding blogs that downplays the atomized post:comment relationship is not a product of the digital age and the internet. In fact, I think that the way most people read and write to the web has close parallels with traditions of modern academic writing and reading. Most academics do not pause to comment on specific articles or even individual conference paper (although books and reviews are an exception); instead they build references to these articles into their own work through the predecessor of hyperlinks: footnotes. The networks that have emerged among bloggers find have nice parallels with the intellectual networks manifest in academic citations. The biggest difference between the two practices is the speed with which the discourse can develop (and evaporate) through digital publication.
I was over the moon when I got my first comment on my blog, oh-so-long-ago; I was especially chuffed when Bill had kind things to say about my blogging too (thanks Bill!). Nowadays what comments I get on average tend to be spam. Like Bill (and I suspect, everyone else) I sometimes get emails, phone calls, or ‘by the way’ notes that reference something I have blogged. I recently heard that a class at York in the UK uses some of my blogs in their course work (as examples of best practice or good ideas, I hope!) In which case, I think it is a useful exercise to try to map out the networks that we are creating through this prolonged short-form engagement with the profession, the public, and our subject matter. Blogging sometimes is a bit like “launch and forget”… but we need to have some idea who our community is and how far our thoughts are likely to percolate . We need to be aware of possible network effects in our blogging, and to use these to get our professional voice out there in those top five search results. Is anybody listening? Yes, probably; what I’ve tried to do in my little experiment today is to show how we can begin to approach the question of ‘who?’.
Beyond the general problems that come with performing as a public intellectual, what risks do archaeologists take when they make themselves available to the public via blogging? What (if any) are the unexpected consequences of blogging? How do you choose what to share?
When I started this blog, back in my dark days in the academic wilderness (ca 2007), this question was easy to answer. I blogged whatever caught my fancy, as long as it fit with my general theme (see the masthead). I tried to read widely, outside my comfort zone, with the idea that I could find interesting digital applications from other fields, reporting back to my archaeological readership.
Which, at the time, was an audience of one (thanks Mom!)
But I persevered, and continued to write, and the number of people I reach has increased quite nicely, thank you. One unintended consequence of that increase in numbers was the way that the feedback stats (the drug which I mentioned in the previous post) started to form and push subjects that I would write about. It forms a positive feedback loop… and suddenly, your blog isn’t quite what it’s supposed to be about, any more.
You become a bit of a cyborg, where your relationship with the machine starts to influence what you write, and who you read. On that note, some work by machine-learning experts S. Bethard and D. Jurafsky, take that idea to a new level. In, “Who should I cite? Learning literature search models from citation behavior”, S. Bethard & D. Jurafsky, ACM Conf. on Information & Knowledge Management, pdf at www.stanford.edu/~jurafsky, they describe a system where, given the text of an abstract for a scholarly paper, the machine can predict what the paper OUGHT to cite, given the kinds of things other papers written on similar topics tend to cite. Think IBM’s Watson for academic research.
Machine learning + echo chamber = canalization function, where a certain delimited number of authors become authorities.
This would be a very bleak outcome, indeed; but my correspondent who alerted me to the paper argues instead that it would be easy to tweak such a system to introduce an element of serendipity (perhaps this is what DevonThink does; I’m not a mac person, so see Steve Johnson‘s descriptions of using it). So another unintended consequence of blogging is that, in reaction to the feedback loop I described above, I try to pay attention to the serendipitous, the marginal, the things on the outside: and use those to inform my writing.
Finally, I’ve come to realize that a blog can be at its most useful, its most powerful, when it chronicles failure. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” said Tolstoy. If I try an experiment, and record on my blog that “Hooray! it worded just as I wanted it to!”, I don’t know whether I’ve really accomplished anything. On the other hand, My Glorious Failure is my most-read article on Play the Past. Knowing what doesn’t work helps you explore the phase-space of possibility.
The greatest unintended consequence of blogging? The discipline of keeping this blog, of reading and writing to my digital media theme, turned me from just a Roman archaeologist with technological leanings, into a digital humanist. I know this, because it says so on my door. I don’t think I would have the position I have today, without the progression of this blog to shape me.
Of course, the following is still true too…