A teaching philosophy in practice

My field nowadays is the digital humanities; I started my academic life as an archaeologist. In between, I’ve taught in continuing education, distance education, secondary education to troubled students, and started a business. My philosophy of teaching has evolved continually as a result of these disparate experiences.

I was attracted to archaeology by the hands-on nature of the field, by the materiality of it. I became interested in distance education and continuing education for how these two modes opened up academia to broader audiences than a standard undergraduate experience. Working with troubled teens (students whom the system had otherwise failed), I saw both of these strands come together in a program that offered a hands-on experience leading to a vocational diploma. Starting a business taught me that I had to relearn everything I thought I already knew. I recount these experiences to explain where I am coming from.

I first encountered the idea of ‘uncoverage’ in a blog post on Profhacker by Mark Sample. This phrase neatly encapsulates what I have come to believe. In Sample’s post, he defines ‘uncoverage’ by contrasting it with how we normally use the phrase in course syllabi: “…this course will cover the evolution of American public life from the publication of the Federalist Papers to…”. In the race to cover everything on the syllabus, we necessarily end up covering in the sense of ‘protect or conceal, to hide from view’ (Sample, citing Wiggins and McTighe 106). We do not teach understanding; rather we slip and slide over the top of the deeper issues that make these topics worth studying in the first place. For Sample, ‘uncoverage’ then is a kind of digging downwards, to reveal the assumptions and principles that we would normally cover. There is an obvious connection here with archaeology. In archaeology, one begins with the most recent layers and works backward, peeling away the events that form a site, understanding their associations and connections both in terms of breadth and depth. In the same way one would plan an archaeological excavation backwards from the idea ‘what do we wish to learn from this site?’ I implement backwards-design philosophies into my classes: in order to uncover that which is important, what must students understand as a result of having been in this course?

My ambition in every course is to teach for uncoverage. This has the effect of making my research and teaching two sides of the same craft. As a craftsman, I want my work to be visible, public and appreciated. My students therefore are both objects of my craft, and independent craftspeople in their own right. I seek out opportunities for my students’ work to become visible as together we work through the implications of digital media for historical understanding. Digital history is public history: therefore my students’ work is never conceived of as being done for an audience of one. As I tell my students, ‘we’re working without a net, folks: everything we do, we do in public’. I have published papers, articles, blogs and projects with students as a result.

I have blogged my own teaching and research for five years now. I am committed to open access, making not only my process but also my data available to the wider community. Not every experiment results in success; indeed, the failures are richer experiences because as academics we are loathe to say when something did not work – but how else will anybody know that a particular method, or approach, is flawed? This idea that it is ‘safe to fail’ at something, that sometimes what we try just might not work, is something that I try to foster in my classes. If we try something, it does not work, and we then critically analyze why that should be, we have in fact entered a circle of positive feedback. This perspective comes from my research into game based learning. A good game keeps the challenges just ahead of the player’s (student’s) ability, to create a state of flow. Too hard, and the player quits; too easy, and the player drops the controller in disgust. If we can design assessment exercises in a class that tap into this state of flow, then we can create the conditions for continual learning and growth (see for instance Kee, Graham, et al. 2009). What is more important is that these can be tailored to an individual student’s abilities. Why should assessment in a class begin at 100 points and then work downwards? Why not begin at zero and allow the student to rise?

My approach to teaching has changed over the years, and it will no doubt evolve in the future. What I hope to make a constant though is a commitment to celebrate in public the excellent work that my students do, whether that is sharing their blog posts on Twitter, to finding opportunities to publish with them, to finding collaborative projects with the wider community. By teaching for uncoverage, and by exploring the affordances of digital media for historical representation and analysis, I am able to marry the strands of my own evolution as a student, research and teacher, into the best opportunities for my students.

Putting the digital into my humanities


I teach one of the History Department’s core courses in historical method, HIST2809: The Historian’s Craft. This class has a large enrolment of typically 120 students. Instead of surveying the many different ways historians write history and do historical research, I focus instead on cultivating a deeper understanding of the reflexive nature of historical work, so that when students encounter a new possible method or approach they do so with a critical understanding of not just what the approach offers, but also how it delineates what it possible to say or uncover. I emphasize that historical work is not done in a vacuum, but is done within a community of practice.

To support this teaching, I created a WordPress powered website that I extended with the Buddypress plugin. Buddypress allows for the customized creation of a social network platform – a HIST2809 Facebook, if you will. Then, I ‘gamified’ this space by creating ‘achievements’ that students could work towards, with their progress being visible to other members of the classroom. This approach was written about by Nick Ward in This Week in FASS:

‘I wanted students to have more opportunities to practice the ‘craft’ of being an historian, beyond the formal assessments in the class. Obviously, I could’ve assigned weekly exercises, but that would’ve gone against some of the spirit of what I was trying to inculcate in my students-that being an historian is about being part of a community, that there is joy and surprise and discipline in being an historian, and that most of all, one has to want to do these things – to that end, the achievements system was entirely voluntary (but with a healthy dose of competition).’

In this gamified approach, the students started at zero and tried to collect as many points as possible.  All participants would get a small bonus to their participation grade, proportional to the number of points they’d collected. Some of the game challenges included transcribing lines of ancient papyrus, learning the rhetorics embedded in computer code, completing tutorials on logical fallacies, learning some Latin, and participating in online crowdsourcing history projects (including HeritageCrowd.org, Graham’s own experiment in crowdsourcing local cultural heritage knowledge).”

As a result of including participation in the running of some of my own research projects into the achievements system, some of my students became involved in community digital history projects. One student is now a lead author on the writing of a regimental history for one of Ottawa’s military units. Another student became a co-author with me on a case study of the project to crowd-source local history.

An ancillary use of technology in this class is my virtual excavation project in the Carleton Virtual Campus. This excavation is designed to make ‘real’ the metaphors of archaeology. Through interaction with this virtual excavation – where it is safe to make mistakes – students get the chance to explore how archaeological knowledge is created. This excavation is still in a prototype phase, and so it hasn’t been fully incorporated into this course yet. It represents another facet though of how the careful use of game-based elements can enhance one’s teaching and learning in class.

(I also presented my approach to gamification to my colleagues at an EDC brown-bag lunch. As a side note, I used ‘Prezi’, a piece of online presentation software that uses as its dominant metaphor the idea of ‘zooming’ into data. This is in stark contrast to Powerpoint, whose dominant metaphor is the 35 mm slide. I use both pieces of software in my classes to highlight the ways the media we use structure the stories we are able to tell. There is no ‘right’ way to interact with digital 1s and 0s. In a way, we are all disabled in this regard.)



FYSM1405a Digital Antiquity

I have been teaching a first year seminar for two years. In the first iteration of the course, which was then subtitled ‘digital history’, I sought to explore a variety of digital media with my students to explore how these media structure our understandings of history. As part of that course, I partnered with the Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa to use their Ottawagraphy website to tell stories about Ottawa’s history. One of these students later became a co-author with me on the case study on crowd-sourcing local history. Another student is now a co-editor with me on a project to crowdsource the illicit trade in antiquities, heritage.crowdmap.com.

In the second iteration of this course, subtitled ‘Digital Ancients, Digital Moderns’, we focused more on ancient history and archaeology, and how both digital media and ‘traditional’ media create ways of understanding and patterns of power. One of the semester long assignments in this class was to write the Wikipedia. We looked at how Wikipedia articles are subject to a channelization effect, where the earliest structure of an article sets the stage for all subsequent alterations. My students selected an article related to ancient history consisting of only a single paragraph, and then set out to improve it. One such page is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycenaean_pottery . Wikipedia pages now come with ratings, and as of March 2012, the consensus view of this page is that it is ‘well-written’ (in Wikipedia’s page rating shema). That first year students can be responsible for setting what is the de-facto Western memory bank for everything is a shocking experience for these students!

In the second part of this year’s course, I have partnered with the Museum of Civilization on a project to make ‘the Hidden Museum’ accessible to the public via augmented reality. As a result of some postings on my research blog, curators at the Museum contacted me to see if there was a possibility to partner. They opened up their storerooms to my students, and we began a project to create three-dimensional models of artefacts, using free software. The students ended up selecting a series of models related to Mesoamerica. The students then used Lulu, a print on demand service, to create a book which they are in the process of augmenting with smart-phone based augmented reality software (Junaio.com). In this way, they provide a ‘magic-eye’ like experience or pop-up book experience and liberate these museum pieces from the storerooms, providing a new way for the public to interact with them. The students also considered the ethical implications of displaying museum artefacts this way. This experience will be recounted at this spring’s Canadian Archaeological Association conference in Montreal as a case study. The museum curators and I have written a SSHRC application for a much larger study built on some of the themes related to this student work. Should we be successful in winning the grant, I intend to provide opportunities for these students to continue participating in the project.

Our work in this class was written up in the Charlatan Newspaper, Carleton’s Student newspaper, in January 2012.



This year I have been teaching a graduate seminar in our public history program on digital history. http://dhcworks.carleton.ca/history5702/ The entire course is designed around the exploration of the historiographical issues implicit in digital history and the use of digital tools for historical research (the two are not necessarily the same thing). There was a wide range of ability and affinities for digital media amongst the students enrolled in the course. A significant worry for the students from day one was, ‘what if the project/tool x doesn’t work?’ For these students, my concern with making a project ‘safe to fail’ was paramount. I wanted to demonstrate to them that digital history, as public history, is as much about knowing what doesn’t work (and why) as it is with achieving any set result.

The course also was funded by the NiCHE, the Network for Environmental History. They wanted to know whether or not augmented reality was a feasible approach for telling environmental history in Canada. They provided funds allowing us to purchase some smart-phones and data-plans. In conjunction with an exhibit on the urban forest of Ottawa at the Bytown Museum, the students began exploring the ways history could be told in-place using geo-location and augmented reality. I had them chronicle their journey from being digital neophytes to the completion of the project (April 3rd). They did this on a group blog hosted by the Digital History at Carleton platform (a web-space for digital research and collaboration). Each time they posted, I have retweeted to my followers the location of their posts (~ 700 digital humanists, archaeologists, and online education professionals). As a result, important connections have been made between individual students and practitioners in the field, opening up new research avenues.

I encouraged each student to develop an individual project that would further their major research essays. The resulting panoply of projects and the discussion surrounding their implementation and implications, has made for an incredibly rich seminar. Some students are using interactive fiction platforms (Inform7); others using text-analysis (Voyant Tools) or topic modeling (Mallet) software; some are creating 3d models of artefacts from a museum perspective while others are using data mining of Youtube and Twitter. For me to support these projects has necessarily meant working hard to understand how they work, their possibilities and their perils.

I also hosted a Google+ hangout with PhD students and faculty in digital history and archaeology from the UK and the United States. I wanted the students to experience first-hand one of the hallmarks of the digital humanities, its ‘big-tent’ philosophy and its philosophy of ‘hacking as a way of knowing’. The openness of that experience was something commented on by everyone that week in their blog posts.

Independent studies

I am a thesis advisor for a student interested in exploring issues of power and identity in the Greek Bronze Age. We developed a methodology for him to study these power relationships through social network analysis using the open-source platform Gephi (http://gephi.org). He has been blogging his research approach ( http://zackbatist.com/ ) and has made very important connections with practitioners in the field, which he has been able to draw upon as he applies to graduate school. I’ve taken him to a digital humanities ‘unconference’, and he is helping in the planning of an unconference to take place at Carleton next fall.

I am also a collaborator on Jennifer Evans’ ‘Hate 2.0’ project that looks at online hate. I have been training a student funded by the I-Cureus programme in data mining and analysis to support this project. ( http://dhcworks.carleton.ca/onlinehate/ ).

So why are you sharing this?

Well, lord knows I’m not the best teacher out there – but I want to be better. How are you using tech in your classroom, to support your digital humanistic mission? Where are the flaws in my approach? Where are the strengths?


Kevin Kee, Shawn Graham, Pat Dunae, John Lutz, Andrew Large, Michel Blondeau, Mike Clare. ‘Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming’ Canadian Historical Review 90.2 (June 2009). Pp.303-326.

Mark Sample. ‘Teaching for Uncoverage’ August 23, 2011 http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/teaching-for-uncoverage-rather-than-coverage/35459

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. (Prentice Hall, New Jersey: 2005).

Review of Malkin, “A Small Greek World: Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean”

A Small Greek World

Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean

Irad Malkin

304 pages | 21 illustrations | 235x156mm
978-0-19-973481-8 | Hardback | 24 November 2011
Price: £40.00

I was excited to obtain this book.

Unfortunately, this is a book about social network analysis in antiquity that does not, in point of fact, contain any social network analysis. Rather, Malkin uses concepts drawn from networks and theories of evolving networks as metaphors to reframe centre-periphery arguments about the emergence of the Greek world around the Mediterranean as a ‘small world’.

There is much that is good with this book, in terms of its description of colonization and the emergence of the Greek world. He offers up a theory of ‘backwards-propagation’ to explain how the colonies could often be more Greek than Greece. As a Canadian educated in the UK, I know that this is a very real – and timeless- phenomenon; it is indeed a useful concept to bring into the discussion. However, Malkin need never have invoked any network theories in order to use that concept. Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea achieved much by focusing on the idea of connectivity of micro-regions without invoking social network analysis; this work is essentially a deeper exploration of that idea.

The broad strokes of Greek colonization are well known; there is ample material there for network studies of many different kinds (including work that seeks to generate likely networks, for example as in Rihll & Wilson 1991, the work of Tim Evans, Ray Rivers, and Carl Knappett, my own Travellersim). Malkin lays out the groundwork of the relevant concepts in chapter 1. But on p18 and 19 one reads,

Graphic illustrations of wide-ranging Mediterranean networks in the form of connective graphs usually prove to be unhelpful. Two-dimensional representations of connectivity mostly turn out to be messy “spaghetti monsters” with very long verbal explanations that are needed to accompany them… I have opted for the larger canvass of what seems to me highly probable at the risk of not presenting statistics and formulae that I am incapable of offering due to the state of our sources of knowledge”

Malkin takes pains on p16 to distinguish between ordinary (whatever that may mean) ‘networks’ and the ‘networks’ of network analysis, as if the two were distinguishable. They are not. The only difference is that in one we are using a metaphor, and in the other, we have taken pains to try to outline as fully as possible the connections relevant to the question we are asking, to understand the implications of the topology (yes, the statistics) for what they might mean for history. To invoke a small-world (a precise concept in network terms) without actually measuring to see if small world conditions are fulfilled does damage to the concept and to the analysis.

Elijah Meeks has recently written about developing conventions for the representation of network data, drawing on the long history of cartographic literacy. As far as Malkin’s critique of the visualization of networks go, it’s well founded: but the visualization has never been the endpoint, the raison d’etre, for the exercise. It’s the statistics. If you don’t know the shape of the thing, the important nodes (cities, individuals, extra-urban sanctuaries, what have you), how can you claim to be doing any sort of network analysis?

Scott Weingart has written about ‘halting conditions’, about knowing where to draw the linewhen your data are necessarily complex and in practice, infinite:

The humanities, well… we’re used to a tradition that involves very deep and particular reading. The tiniest stones of our studied objects do not go unturned. The idea that a first pass, an incomplete pass, can lead to anything at all, let alone analysis and release, is almost anathema to the traditional humanistic mindset.

Herein lies the problem of humanities big data. We’re trying to measure the length of a coastline by sitting on the beach with a ruler, rather flying over with a helicopter and a camera. And humanists know that, like the sandy coastline shifting with the tides, our data are constantly changing with each new context or interpretation. Cartographers are aware of this problem, too, but they’re still able to make fairly accurate maps.

It is not acceptable for ancient historians to bemoan the incompleteness of our sources – to use that as a crutch for not doing something – and then to go on and write another 224 pages. We’ve been studying the ancient world for several centuries now. Surely we’ve got enough material to be able to draw a line, to map something out, yes?

Should you buy this book? By all means, yes. Its roundup of the major themes and ideas in network studies in chapter 1 is valuable, and will no doubt be useful for those wishing to do formal network analysis, insofar as it establishes network theory in the broader classicist conversation. I’ve focused primarily on the first chapter in this review, since much of my teaching and research at the moment explicitly concerns network analysis in antiquity. The materials presented in subsequent chapters (Island Networking and Hellenic Convergence; Sicily and the Greeks; Herakles and Melqart; Networks and Middle Grounds in the Western Mediterranean; Cult and Identity in the Far West) do indeed move the conversation on from stale center-periphery models, and should be lauded. It would perhaps have been better though if it had not been framed in terms of a theoretical/methodological framework that is not, in fact, used.

[disclosure: I asked Oxford UP for a review copy when I saw it in the catalogue, in the hopes that I could use it as a text in an upcoming course on digital antiquity. I do not think I will be doing so, given my issues indicated here.]

Digventures, Flag Fen, and Crowd-everything archaeology

On 29th February 2012, DigVentures, a social enterprise dedicated to funding sustainable archaeology projects, launched a 60 day funding round for Europe’s first ever crowdfunded and crowdsourced excavation, on the iconic Bronze Age site of Flag Fen.

Archaeology has had a long history of relying on volunteers and patronage (whether individual or institutional) for support. The first excavation I went on, as a college student, was largely funded that year by the members of my class. $3000 a pop, as I recall. That’s a typical model in North America (running one’s academic excavation from fees paid by your crew), which I was suprised to learn was not the case in the UK, when I arrived at Silchester as a grad student.

Digventures is a new spin on the model. Led by Brendon Wilkins, Digventures is trying to raise 25 000 pounds through a crowdfunding model that allows participation at a variety of levels. From ‘inside looks’ at the process to full on dig experience, it’s a nice way of allowing differing access to the process of archaeology:

At whatever level people choose to support, they will be taking part in a groundbreaking, game-changing archaeological experiment as a key member of the team. Every ‘Venturer’ will receive a copy of the site report with their name acknowledged in the front, topped off with an invitation to the End of Site party, where the initial results will be presented.

I really like that everyone involved will receive formal acknowledgement. That’s something that should happen much much more often in archaeology. What I would also like to see happen is that the interpretation of the site be crowdsourced too. David Wilkinson a number of years ago wrote in the IFA’s ‘The Archaeologist’ (I think; pulling from memory here) wrote about the ways all of the experiences of archaeology, the stories, should be incorporated into the overall interpretation. Will participants on the project contribute their own interpretations, experiences, responses to the process? Will these end up in the final report? With digital media, there’s no reason why not.

Good luck to Digventures! You can support the project at http://www.sponsume.com/project/digventures-flag-fen-lives-1

Networks from artefacts …and a way to reanimate the same

[below is the draft text of a talk I will be delivering on March 16th, 2012, at Dumbarton Oaks. Usual caveats apply. If you spot anything odd, please let me know.]

Networks from Artefacts

 Trevor Hodge, a distinguished professor of classical archaeology and a former professor at Carleton University, passed away recently.[slide 2] I was supposed to attend a lecture of his in early February, but due to the regular rhythms of life at a university, meetings and duties conspired against me and I never heard him speak; and now I’ll never have the chance. I deeply regret this, because I wanted to tell him what an impact his book on Roman aqueducts and water supply had on me as a young graduate student.

Through Hodge’s book, I had a connection to Prof. Hodge that always felt personal. We understand that kind of social connection that can exist through the network of author – book – reader. That kind of relationship has influence, and matters: otherwise we would never publish anything [slide 3].  As a student, Hodge and the aqueducts led me to the construction industry of Rome, and thence to the brick industry more specifically. At first, it seemed a dry and sterile field. But then I encountered formal social network analysis, and suddenly, I had real people on my hands again, real people whose actions in the past I could dimly perceive.

In the same way that books can connect us, artefacts can become nodes in a network. [slide 4] Artefacts are the result of human, individual, decisions. They influenced other individuals at the time through their complex resonances of thing and place and object life-history. By considering artefacts and their relationships explicitly in terms of social network analysis, we reconnect with the individual in the past, and we obtain a perspective that allows us to see what kinds of actions were possible in the past, patterns of agency and structure, that those actors themselves could not see.

Anytime one can discern a relationship, it becomes possible to draw a network. In which case, theories of evolving networks & social network analysis should concern us all. Tom Brughmans recently argued (2010) that the ‘social’ should be taken out of the analysis, that we should just be concerned with the networks themselves. I’m not sure I entirely agree. Fiona Coward (2010) wrote,

” … the archaeological record is not a passive by-product of social relationships: rather, it is social relationships (Gamble 1999, 2007; Barrett, 2000[1988]; Knappett 2005). The patterning of material culture is a direct result of the social relationships between individuals and groups in which these objects were caught up. A network perspective provides a much more realistic picture, not only of objective sociality, but also potentially of individuals’ subjective experience of their worlds”

But as Scott Weingart warns us, we also have to take into account the dangers of methodology appropriation. Network analysis comes to us from graph theory, from statistics, from computer science. The methods, philosophies and concerns of those disciplines are not necessarily congruent with archaeology:

“Methodology appropriation is dangerous. Even when the people designing a methodology for some specific purpose get it right – and they rarely do – there is often a score of theoretical and philosophical caveats that get lost when the methodology gets translated. In the more frequent case, when those caveats are not known to begin with, “borrowing” the methodology becomes even more dangerous.”


In which case, let me show you how I draw networks out of the urban fabric of Rome and Constantinople trying to navigate the shoals of this dangerous method, and let us consider what these networks might mean for understanding the way Constantinople and her people worked. And then let’s push it a step further by reanimating those networks with agent based models. Let’s raise the dead.

We’ll start with Rome. This is a typical second century stamped brick from the industry centred on Rome. Other major cities all had their own industries (and occasionally, loads of stamped brick from places like Rome turn up in places like North Africa or Sardinia). The interpretation of stamped brick throughout the Roman world ultimately comes down to recasting the local version in light of what scholars believe was happening around the City of Rome.

Brick stamping at Rome began in the first century and ran, with some interruptions, until the 6th century. A typical second century brick looks like this [CIL XV.1 861][slide 5]




Signum: pine nut.

The consensus is that these elements represents an abridged version of the contract between the officinator and the dominus. Locatio-conductio contracts were one of the usual means of letting out building contracts. In this context there are two varieties. Locatio rei refers to the plant and property used, while locatio operis refers to the finished product itself. Both types firmly involve the dominus in production. If the stamp is an abridged locatio operis contract, then the dominus paid the officinator to make a certain amount of bricks. If on the other hand, the stamp refers to locatio rei, then the entrepreneur is the officinator, contracting with the landowner to use his land for the officinator’s own profit.

These are, of course, social relationships, whatever kind of contract. Brick and brick stamps are ideal things for archaeological network analysis. To produce brick means having the ability to command resources, to control land, and to be tied into the webwork of patronage that physically creates humanity’s machine for living, the city.

In terms of how the stamps actually functioned in day-to-day life, one can imagine them serving multiple roles: distinguishing the output of different officinatores working side by side; for compensation or verification that the work has been carried out; to indicate the products of different figlinae belonging to one dominus; or different domini who used the same warehouse. From legal texts and other notices in the ancient literature, it seems likely that in Rome and in Constantinople, a certain proportion of bricks were levied annually for maintenance of public works. Brickstamps from Constantinople sometimes bear the phrase, ‘indiktionos’, ‘of the indiction’ without referring to the year in the cycle, which Bardill takes to mean that they were stamped to indicate that tax liabilities imposed by the annual indictio on the owners of clay lands had met their obligations.


So that’s a potted history of brick stamp ology. The practice of stamping bricks at Rome continues into the reigns of the Gothic kings, and so is contemporaneous with stamping practice at Constantinople. A typical stamped brick from Constantinople is more difficult to interpret, but again can contain names and years and other signs in various combination. The question is, what can we do with this information? What might it all actually mean, when put into perspective?

There is a lot of information in a typical stamped brick, even if we’re not always clear what it might mean, or what function, precisely, the stamps served. The most typical, and basic, use of brick stamp data by scholars is to help with dating built structures. However, it is also possible to do as Janet DeLaine has done, looking for patterning in the names on bricks from particular buildings, looking for interconnections and tying what she knows to the local prosopography. She is able to identify social patterns of patronage behind the provisioning of materials. In a sense, what she has done is a kind of network analysis without the formal network.

The strong version of Delaine’s approach is advocated by Irad Malkin. Malkin writes,

“Two-dimensional representations of connectivity mostly turn out to be messy “spaghetti monsters” with very long verbal explanations that are needed to accompany them”.

For Malkin, because we can’t have total knowledge of a network it is better to not try to draw out a network. It is as if he views the whole point of networks as the visualization of the network, and any accompanying statistics as suspect. This rhetorical dodge allows Malkin to avoid having to deal with the formal problems of methodology from the outset. Visualizations are simply maps, and maps necessarily simplify. We _necessarily_ put a boundary on a network when we focus on it. Nevertheless, it is better to have some knowledge that can be formally outlined, than to have a hand-waving description that turns out to be infinitely elastic. We can’t know every parameter of an ancient social network. But with brick, we can come pretty darn close.

When we start thinking in formal network terms, we can see that brick is a potentially very rich source. The relationships between the various kinds of data preserved in stamped brick make the stamped brick a rich multi-dimensional fossil of past social relationships. Let’s draw these out and that’s just the epigraphy! [slide 6] Formal network analysis is the most appropriate means to tease out what all these relationships might mean for individuals in the past.

In my PhD work, I began knitting these various dimensions together into various kinds of networks. I performed archaeometric analysis of the fabric of both stamped and unstamped brick, collected from across the Tiber Valley. I was able to cluster bricks into groups sharing the same clay sources, detecting patterns of usage underneath the epigraphic data. Because I had chronological information, I was able to observe how this network changed over time. Similarly, I could knit stamped bricks together on the basis of intersecting names, of estates, workshops, brick makers, and landowners, observing how these changed over time. I was able to calculate various statistics for particular periods, seeing that in some periods, these networks resembled small-worlds and hence, I argued, were self-organizing and emergent: no government control required (there’s a venerable argument that all brick making around Rome was directed by the state). At other times they appeared exceedingly fragile. It was a picture of constant flux and dynamism.

I built a beautiful and elegant argument which I recognize now could be fatally flawed. Is a network connecting landowners and brickmakers a one mode or a two mode network? That is, are all the nodes the same kind of thing, or are they different kinds of thing? If we imagine it to be a one mode network – these are all humans, after all – then all is well. But if it is a two mode network, if landowners and brickmakers are fundamentally different kinds of actors, then some of the statistics I calculated are flawed because the methodology behind the many of the various statistical algorithms I ran assume one-mode. Network analysis can be dangerous.

So, for today’s paper, I went back to the drawing board. I reformed a network of stamp types to findspots in the hinterland of Rome in the Tiber Valley. I have not tried to decompose the epigraphic multi-dimensionality to any great degree (though I probably should do that some day). I then reshaped this network into two one-mode networks: stamps connected to other stamps by virtue of being found at the same location, and locations to locations by virtue of using the same stamps.  Ideally, I would do this for the city of Rome itself, but that is a job of epic proportions; for my purposes today, the Tiber Valley is sufficient.

And this is what you find [slide 7 locations to locations]. What does it mean? There are any number of metrics which could be computed, but the right one depends, I think, on the nature of the data, of what human process could result in these physical traces, these fossils. That’s why we cannot divorce the social from archaeological network analysis.

Let’s begin by assuming that whatever we’re seeing in a network of locations connected by similar stamped brick, is related to the consumption of building materials and thus to ideologies of construction. In the Roman world, construction is a kind of show, a kind of costly signalling that the person having the structure built has access to resources. None of the structures that these bricks came from, if the accompanying assemblages are any indication (polychrome marble fragments, for instance), were simple basic farmsteads; they all appear to have been housing a notch above the ordinary.

Evidence from stamped brick at Rome, and from Cassiodorus, attest to the existence of brick depots along the Tiber – Portus Licini, portus Corneli(i), portus Neapolitanus, and portus Parrae. Evidence from for example the Baths of Caracalla in Rome point strongly to the warehousing of brick; the prosopography of individuals named in the brick seems to suggest a strong patronage element to what gets warehoused where. In which case, an appropriate metric to analyse a network based on locations joined by shared brick types would be community detection, which is also known as modularity.

Modularity, as implemented in the Gephi network visualization suite, depends on finding localized patterns of similar linkages or sub-networks which can then be aggregated at ever larger scales; when it can’t be scaled up it defines that collection of nodes and links as a ’module’ or ‘community’. This particular algorithm was developed looking at cellphone data from tens of thousands of European customers, and seems to work well when tested against networks with known subnetwork structures.

Modularity is a property of the network that no one person within the network could possibly perceive. We can imagine though that communities would tend to have access to the same kinds and amounts of information, or be subjected to the same influences, due to these particular network linkages. The visualization is coloured according to community. There are about X communities here, which perhaps can be interpreted as brick depots serving the Tiber valley (since some of these types are known in Rome too, these depots could well correspond to the named depots known from other evidence).

Some brick types appear to be part of two or more communities, suggesting that domini or officinators have some choice or option in where to ship their bricks. These bricks tend to have higher betweeness scores, too. Betweeness centrality is a measure to which a particular node sits atop the most shortest paths between every pair of nodes in a network. When we resize nodes (brick types) according to betweeness scores, we see that these are at the intersection of communities. Betweeness would seem to imply some sort of social relationship between the warehouses.

The Tiber Valley network shows results that make sense, both from what we know about the structure and organization of the Roman brick industr. Let us turn to the catalogue of stamped brick of Constantinople collected by Jonathan Bardill.[slide 8]

There are approximately 2100 individual stamp types recorded in the immediate environs of Constantinople. I sent an undergrad on a fruitless errand to see if any are recorded at Byzantine sites around the Eastern Mediterranean, but so far we’ve drawn a blank. Instead, I had her create a list of type according to findspot, which I then imported into Gephi. I collapsed this two-mode network [slide 9] into two one-mode networks. Let’s look at the location to location by brick type network . I ran the modularity routine, and determined 7 distinct communities, 4 of which are isolated from the rest. The remaining 3 interconnect, as in the figure. By this analysis, there were at least seven depots serving the city. I calculated betweeness centrality for locations – the larger the node, the more ‘between’ the site. The Great Palace Area, the Land Walls, and the Church of St. Polyeuktos appear most central. The Hagia Sophia is also quite central. In a way, nothing surprising there, that the largest or most complicated building projects should be drawing the most resources. Civil, military split?

If we turn this network inside out, and consider brick types connected to brick types by virtue of being found at the same site, we perhaps glean a more nuanced picture of the Constantinople brick industry. If the first network is a view of consumption, this can be imagined to be a view based on production. The large ‘balls’ on the graph correspond to a dense local network of brick types all at the same location. What are more interesting are the brick types that join these balls together, and places where the balls simply do not connect with the rest of the network. I ran both modularity (colours) and betweeness (size) again.

Modularity at first glance doesn’t seem to be as useful since there are a large number of unconnected bits and pieces; which perhaps indicates a combination of brick makers shipping to depots and directly to the site. (Total #=71). If we take the giant component, paring off the isolates, we end up with 11 communities  (47.56% of nodes are in the giant component; 64% of edges).  [Top 3 types w b/w central: 661.1a, 1394.1a 837.1a 966.1a, 730.1d]

There is a chronological question of resolution that needs to be addressed. These bricks range from the middle 5th century to the middle 6th century. Obviously, this network should be decomposed into sensible chronological chunks; brick demands it, I suppose. But, at the level of resolution we’re looking at here, I think that broad trends are preserved: modularity works, but betweeness should not be leaned on too much, other than implying a social connection between warehouses.

When you plot this network against the real-world geography of Constantinople , you see some interesting patterns there, too. Look at these long sweeping arcs. They connect sites along the coasts of both sides of the Bosporus to sites in the heart of the city. If modularity implies depot or warehouse, the distribution of bricks to these far flung places cannot have anything to do with economic rationality: there must be a social dimension. In point of fact, when I studied the Roman bricks from the perspective of archaeometry, there were very strong indications within the clay fabrics themselves. The patterns suggested that the use of brick was not bound by a purely cost-of-movement shortest-path type argument, like being consumed upriver from where they were likely made: such a movement was not ‘rational’ if we imagine brick to be a bulky, low-value and low significance product.

Obviously, this entire analysis represents a first pass on the data, highlighting some interesting trends that will need to be refined. But even at this rough level, when we reconsider these networks in light of my initial arguments for thinking of archaeological networks as social networks, we have the substrate for exploring ancient society in new, powerful ways. The static network analysis, which focuses on only two metrics, shows the brick industry of both Rome and Constantinople composed of communities and individuals balanced between multiple tensions. It holds the promise of a route into exploring the dynamic interplace between structure and agency.

I would like to conclude this piece by showing how we could reanimate these fossils of individual choices made in the past, preserved for us in brick, within the confines of a digital laboratory for simulation. Archaeologists and historians have had great success with this method explaining such complicated moments as the collapse of Anasazi settlement, the emergence of Bali water-temple networks, or the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar. As far as I know, I’m the only Romanist playing this game at the moment, so please bear in mind the extremely tentative and provisional nature of this step!

The laboratory is the agent based (or individual based) modeling environment Netlogo . This is an open-source platform, with a relatively gentle learning curve and which has a strong track record in the social sciences. We use this laboratory not to raise the dead, not to simulate the past, but rather, to rigorously test the unintended or unpredictable outcomes of the interplay of our own understandings, our own mental models, of how life was lived in the past. If our understanding is correct, and our starting point is grounded in real data about the past (archaeology, literature, etc), then what emerges from the experiment must necessarily have truth value. On the other hand, if the results we generate are so counter-intuitive, so ‘out-there’, then we perhaps have learned that our initial understanding or data is flawed.

Let us create a population of artificial Romans or Byzantines, where each brick type stands for an individual person, and give that person the suite of connections preserved in the archaeology. [image slide 15, 16, 17 import routine] Let us then give them rules for behavior that are based on our understanding of how some phenomenon in the past worked – I would suggest patronage as the best choice. [slide 18] Each individual it should be noted is an individual: they might all have a capacity for remembering who they’ve interacted with, but some will have long memories, some will have short. It is a heterogeneous population. Then, we let these artificial individuals interact with each other according to their pattern of connections. I run this simulation in a world where we can imagine that the economic environment, an individual’s aversion to risk, and patterns of gift-giving matter in cementing patterns of patronage.

I haven’t done this yet for the Byzantine patterns [slide 19 represents a developing model], so my comments are limited to Rome. When we think of construction, especially public building, as a means by which a patron could make sure that economic benefits trickled down through his network of friends & clients, then a simulation of patronage based on patterns found in stamped brick makes a lot of sense. And what I seem to be finding is that extremely high levels of gift-giving seem to go hand in hand with network collapse. It seems to do this by destabilizing the networks: too many people outside particular chains of patrons-clients are shut out of the system.

At least, in my simulation. It’s entirely possible that my understanding of how patronage works is ill-founded. But that’s the nice thing about doing these kinds of simulations. My simulation, my code, is completely available online for perusal, critic, and extension. I would be most pleased if you did so.

I’ve made the argument that archaeological networks are social networks. I’ve shown how I draw networks from archaeological materials, and discussed some of the appropriate metrics for understanding what these network topologies might imply for our understanding of the past. Modularity determines groupings of sites or artefacts that share some common social links. Betweeness can identify key sites or artefact types that act as linch pins for the entire system. I can see patterns of provisioning that seem to respond to social, rather than economic factors; in Constantinople, there looks like a clear civil, military split in the communities suggested by brick use. Then, I went out on a limb to show that once we’ve drawn these networks, the possibility exists that we can reanimate these fossils, and use them to explore questions about the past that previously only existed as thought experiments. They are a very particular kind of thought experiment, one that can be rigorously specified, shared, critiqued, and built upon.

In the same way I felt connected to Prof. Hodge through his book, these artefacts connected all levels of ancient society.  When I look at stamped brick, I see individuals, hard working folks enmeshed in a web of legal and social obligations. Computation & formal network analysis let me begin to untangle it.

A quick scrape of eBay for Roman Antiquities

I scraped 400 items tagged as Roman antiquities from eBay.ca today. One was going for 1.9$ million; consensus on twitter was that it was a fake. Of the rest, the combined valued was ~ $50 000. Only 188 items had more than one bid on them. That subset had a combined value of $4000, so an interesting discrepancy there. The location of the sellers was as you’d expect – USA, UK were the top two. Next up: Germany and Slovenia. So I’d keep an eye peeled on Slovenia as a conduit for illicit materials from the Balkans.

first 400 roman antiquities on ebay march 1 2012