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Below is a draft of the first part of my talk for Scholarslab this week, at the University of Virginia. It needs to be whittled down, but I thought that those of you who can’t drop by on Thursday might enjoy this sneak peak.
Thursday, March 21 at 2:00pm
in Scholars’ Lab, 4th floor Alderman Library.
When I go to parties, people will ask me, ‘what do you do?’. I’ll say, I’m in the history department at Carleton. If they don’t walk away, sometimes they’ll follow that up with, ‘I love history! I always wanted to be an archaeologist!’, to which I’ll say, ‘So did I!’
My background is in Roman archaeology. Somewhere along the line, I became a ‘digital humanist’, so I am honoured to be here to speak with you today, here at the epicentre, where the digital humanities movement all began.
If the digital humanities were a zombie flick, somewhere in this room would be patient zero.
Somewhere along the line, I became interested in the fossilized traces of social networks that I could find in the archaeology. I became deeply interested – I’m still interested – in exploring those networks with social network analysis. But I became disenchanted with the whole affair, because all I could develop were static snapshots of the networks at different times. I couldn’t fill in the gaps. Worse, I couldn’t really explore what flowed over those networks, or how those networks intersected with broader social & physical environments.
It was this problem that got me interested in agent based modeling. At the time, I had just won a postdoc in Roman Archaeology at the University of Manitoba with Lea Stirling. When pressed about what I was actually doing, I would glibly respond, ‘Oh, just a bit of practical necromancy, raising the dead, you know how it is’. Lea would just laugh, and once said to me, ‘I have no idea what it is you’re doing, but it seems cool, so let’s see what happens next!’
How amazing to meet someone with the confidence to dance out on a limb like that!
But there was truth in that glib response. It really is a form of practical necromancy, and the connections with actual necromancy and technologies of death is a bit more profound than I first considered.
So today, let me take you through a bit of the deep history of divination, necromancy, and talking with the dead; then we’ll consider modern simulation technologies as a form of divination in the same mold; and then I’ll discuss how we can use this power for good instead of evil, of how it fits into the oft-quote digital humanities ethos of ‘hacking as a way of knowing’ (which is rather like experimental archaeology, when you think about it), and how I’m able to generate a probabilistic historiography through this technique.
And like all good necromancers, it’s important to test things out on unwilling victims, so I would also like to thank the students of HIST3812 who’ve had all of the ideas road-tested on them earlier this term.
Zombies clearly fill a niche in modern western culture. The president of the University of Toronto recently spoke about ‘zombie ideas’ that despite our best efforts, persist, infect administrators, politicians, and students alike, trying to eat the brains of university education.
Zombies emerge in popular culture in times of angst, fear, and uncertainty. If hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that Zombies are bad news. Sometimes the zombies are formerly dead humans; sometimes they are humans who have been transformed. Sometimes we deliberately create a zombie. The zombie can be controlled, and made to do useful work; zombie as a kind of slavery. More often, the zombies break loose, or are the result of interfering with things humanity was wont not too; apocalypse beckons. But sometimes, like ‘Fido’, a zombie can be useful, can be harnessed, and somehow, be more human than the humans. [Fido]
If you’d like to raise the dead yourself, the answer is always just a click away [ehow].
There are other uses for the restless dead. Before our current fixation with apocalypse, the restless dead could be useful for keeping the world from ending.
In video games, we call this ‘the problem space’ – what is it that a particular simulation or interaction is trying to achieve? For humanity, at a cosmological level, the response to that problem is through necromancy and divination.
I’m generalizing horribly, of course, and the anthropologists in the audience are probably gritting their teeth. Nevertheless, when we look at the deep history and archaeology of many peoples, a lot can be tied to this problem of keeping the world from ending. A solution to the problem was to converse with those who had gone before, those who were currently inhabiting another realm. Shamanism was one such response. The agony of shamanism ties well into subsequent elaborations such as the ball games of mesoamerica, or other ‘game’ like experiences. The ritualized agony of the athlete was one portal into recreating the cosmogonies and cosmologies of a people, thus keeping the world going.
The bull-leaping game at Knossos is perhaps one example of this, according to some commentators. Some have seen in the plan of the middle minoan phase of this palace (towards the end of the 2nd millenium BC) a replication in architecture of a broader cosmology, that its very layout reflects the way the Minoans saw the world (this is partly also because this plan seems to replicate in other Minoan centres around the Aegean). Jeffrey Soles, pointing to the architectural play of light and shadow throughout the various levels of Knossos argues that this maze-like structure was all part of the ecstatic journey, and ties shamanism directly to the agonies of sport & game in this location. We don’t have the Minoans’ own stories, of course, but we do have these frescoes of bull-leaping, and other paraphernalia which tie in nicely with the later dark-age myths of Greece
So I’m making a connection here between the way a people see the world working, and their games & rituals. I’m arguing that the deep history of games is a simulation of how the world works.
This carries through to more recent periods as well. Herodotus wrote about the coming of the Etruscans to Italy: “In the reign of Atys son of Menes there was a great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with patience; but soon, when the famine continued, they looked for remedies, and various plans were suggested. It was then that they invented the games of dice, knucklebones, and ball, and all the other games of pastime, except for checkers, which the Lydians do not claim to have invented. Then, using their discovery to forget all about the famine, they would play every other day, all day, so that they would not have to eat… This was their way of life for eighteen years. Since the famine still did not end, however, but grew worse, the king at last divided the people into two groups and made them draw lots, so that one should stay and the other leave the country’.
Here I think Herodotus misses the import of the games: not as a pasttime, but as a way of trying to control, predict, solve, or otherwise intercede with the divine, to resolve the famine. In later Etruscan and Roman society, gladiatorial games for instance were not about entertainment but rather about cleansing society of disruptive elements, about bringing everything into balance again, hence the elaborate theatre of death that developed.
The specialist never disappears though, the one who has that special connection with the other side and intercedes for broader society as it navigates that original problem space. These were the magicians and priests. But there is an important distinction here. The priest is passive in reading signs, portents, and omens. Religion is revealed, at its proper time and place, through proper observation of the rituals. The magician is active – he (and she) compels the numinous to reveal itself, the spirits are dragged into this realm; it is the magician’s skill and knowledge which causes the future to unfurl before her eye.
The priest was holy, the magician was unholy.
Straddling this divide is the Oracle. The oracle has both elements of revelation and compulsion. Any decent oracle worth its salt would not give a straight-up answer, either, but rather required layers of revelation and interpretation. At Delphi, the God spoke to the Pythia, the priestess, who sat on the stool over the crack in the earth. When the god spoke, the fumes from below would overcome her, causing her to babble and writhe uncontrollably. Priests would then ‘interpret’ the prophecy, in form of a riddle.
Why riddles? Riddles are ancient. They appear on cuneiform texts. Even Gollum knew what a true riddle should look like – a kind of lyric poem asking a question that guards the right answer in hints and wordplay.
‘I tremble at each breath of air/ And yet can heaviest burders bear. [implicit question being asked is who am I? – water]
We could not get away from a discussion of riddles in the digital humanities without of course mentioning the I-ching. It’s a collection of texts that, depending on dice throws, get combined and read in particular ways. Because this is essentially a number of yes-or-no answers, the book can be easily coded onto a computer or represented mechanically. In which case, it’s not really a ‘book’ at all, but a machine for producing riddles.
Ruth Wehlau writes, “Riddlers, like poets, imitate God by creating their own cosmos; they recreate through words, making familiar objects into something completely new, rearranging the parts of pieces of things to produce creatures with strange combinations of arms, legs, eyes and mouths. In this transformed world, a distorted mirror of the real world, the riddler is in control, but the reader has the ability to break the code and solve the mystery (wehlau 1997)
Riddles & divination are related, and are dangerous. But they also create a simulation, of how the world can come to be, of how it can be controlled.
One can almost see the impetus for necromancy, when living in a world described by riddles. Saul visits the Witch of Endor; Oddyseus goes straight to the source.
…and Professor Hix prefers the term ‘post mortem communications’. However you spin it, though, the element of compulsion, of speaking with the dead, marks it out as a transgression; necromancers and those who seek their aid never end well.
It remains true today, that those who practice simulation, are similarly held in dubious regard. If that was not the case, tongue in cheek articles titles such as this would not be necessary.
I am making the argument that modern computational simulation, especially in the humanities, is more akin to necromancy than it is to divination, for all of these reasons.
But it’s also the fact that we do our simulation through computation itself that marks this out as a kind of necromancy.
The history of the modern digital computer is tied up with the need to accurately simulate the yields of atomic bombs, of blast zones, and potential fallout, of death and war. Modern technoculture has its roots in the need to accurately model the outcome of nuclear war, an inversion of the age old problem space, ‘how can we keep the world from ending’ through the doctrines of mutually assured destruction.
The playfulness of those scientists, and the acceleration of hardware technology lead to video games, but that’s a talk for another day (and indeed, has been recently well treated by Rob MacDougall of Western University).
‘But wait! Are you implying that you can simulate humans just as you could individual bits of uranium and atoms, and so on, like the nuclear physicists?’ No, I’m not saying that, but it’s not for nothing that Isaac Asimov gave the world Hari Seldon & the idea of ‘psychohistory’ in the 1950s. As Wikipedia so ably puts it, “Psychohistory is a fictional science in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation universe which combines history, sociology, etc., and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire.”
Even if you could do Seldon’s psychohistorical approach, it’s predicated on a population of an entire galaxy. One planetfull, or one empire-full, or one region-full, of people just isn’t enough. Remember, this is a talk on ‘practical’ necromancy, not science-fiction.
Well what about so-called ‘cliodynamics’? Cliodynamics looks for recurring patterns in aggregate statistics of human culture. It may well find such patterns, but it doesn’t really have anything to say about ‘why’ such patterns might emerge. Both psycohistory and cliodynamics are concerned with large aggregates of people. As an archaeologist, all I ever find are the traces of individuals, of individual decisions in the past. It always requires some sort of leap to jump from these individual traces to something larger like ‘the group’ or ‘the state’. A Roman aqueduct is, at base, still the result of many individual actions.
A practical necromancy therefore is a simulation of the individual.
There are many objections to simulation of human beings, rather than things like atoms, nuclear bombs, or the weather. Our simulations can only do what we program them to do. So they are only simulations of how we believe the world works (ah! Cosmology!). In some cases, like weather, our beliefs and reality match quite well, at least for a few days, and we know much about how the variables intersect. But, as complexity theory tells us, starting conditions strongly affect how things transpire. Therefore we forecast from multiple runs with slightly different starting conditions. That’s what a 10% chance of rain really means: We ran the simulation 100 times, and in 10 of them, rain emerged.
And humans are a whole lot more complex than the water cycle. In the case of humans, we don’t know all the variables; we don’t know how free will works; we don’t know how a given individual will react; we don’t understand how individuals and society influence each other. We do have theories though.
This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. The direction of simulation is misplaced. We cannot really simulate the future, except in extremely circumscribed situations, such as pedestrian flow. So let us not simulate the future, as humanists. Let us create some zombies, and see how they interact. Let our zombies represent individuals in the past. Give these zombies rules for interacting that represent our best beliefs, our best stories, of how some aspect of the past worked. Let them interact. The resulting range of possible outcomes becomes a kind of probabilistic historiography. We end up with not just a story about the past, but also about other possible pasts that could have happened if our initial story we are telling about how individuals in the past acted is true, for a given value of true.
We create simulacra, zombies, empty husks representing past actors. We give them rules to be interpreted given local conditions. We set them in motion from various starting positions. We watch what emerges, and thus can sweep the entire behavior space, the entire realm of possible outcomes given this understanding. We map what did occur (as best as we understand it) against the predictions of the model. For the archaeologist, for the historian, the strength of agent based modeling is that it allows us to explore the unintended consequences inherent in the stories we tell about the past. This isn’t easy. But it can be done. And compared to actually raising the dead, it is indeed practical.
[and here begins part II, which runs through some of my published ABMS, what they do, why they do it. All of this has to fit within an hour, so I need to do some trimming.]
[Postscriptum, March 23: the image of the book of random digits came from Mark Sample's 'An Account of Randomness in Literary Computing, & was meant to remind me to talk about some of the things Mark brought up. As it happens, I didn't do that when I presented the other day, but you really should go read his post.]
Below is a draft of my syllabus for my upcoming class on ‘Cities and Countryside in the Ancient World’ class. I’m very Mediterranean-centric; 12 weeks won’t allow for much else, and stick with what you know, right? Comments, suggestions are welcome.
HIST3902-A Cities and Countryside in the Ancient World
Cities are creatures of the countryside. Understanding that relationship is key to understanding the ancient world. Discuss.
This course looks at the relationship between cities and countryside in the ancient world, as evidenced primarily through landscape archaeology. I will be arguing, amongst other things, that the form of that relationship is the key indicator for understanding the mindset, the nature of, that particular culture. It is no accident that ‘cities’ and ‘civilization’ are etymologically related: thus, looking at cities and countryside will give us an understanding of what being civilized meant in antiquity.
Hacking as a Way of Knowing
Every exercise in this course builds on every other, as we build tools and work with data to construct an understanding of what it meant to be civilized in the (Greco-Roman) ancient world. The course objectives then are to:
- Introduce and explore the study of ancient landscapes, society, and economy
- Develop facility with representing archaeological and historical data using GIS and/or Network Analysis
- Make a positive and public contribution to scholarly knowledge on some aspect of Greco-Roman antiquity as it played out across space.
You will be working with datasets that have been made available to you by scholars working in the field. I am enormously grateful to these partners. Some of this material is unpublished; all of it is rich. You have the opportunity to make real contributions to scholarly knowledge by mining and analyzing this data for new insights. Accordingly, you must maintain the highest standards of professionalism and academic ‘good citizenship’ as you work with this data.
I do not see the point of assigning you work that only I or the TA will read. In which case, we will be conducting certain portions of this course in public on the internet. (For more on my teaching philosophy, see http://bit.ly/LLq765).
Anything posted online may be posted under a pseudonym should you have privacy concerns. You need to discuss these with me during week 1. I strongly recommend you do use your own name, so that you can begin to build your online footprint as a serious scholar. I also suggest you begin to lurk on Twitter, to follow prominent archaeologists and historians there and on Academia.edu, so that you can connect to a world-wide community of practice.
The best student work will be posted and promoted on Electric Archaeology (electricarchaeology.ca) and on Twitter, with the ambition of having the Journal of Digital Humanities select it for formal publication. If your work is selected, you are under no obligation to have your work promoted in this fashion should you so choose.
We will discuss and explore a number of key concepts. Terms that you should watch out for in your readings: primitivist, modernist, consumer city, producer city, bazaar, space syntax, actor-network theory, social network analysis, landscape formation processes, the anthropological nature of time/space, networks, information systems, agent-based simulation, computational economics.
The following is on reserve in the library. Its philosophical and methodological approach will underpin much of what we will do.
Knappett, Carl. An Archaeology of Interaction: Network Perspectives on Material Culture and Society. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2011.
Demonstrating Your Scholarly Growth
- ORBIS and the social experience of space – due in class Wednesday Week 2 (September 19). 10%
- GIS/Network Analysis – due in class Wednesday Week 9 (November 7). 30%
- Final Project – due in class Monday December 03. 40%
These three assignments dovetail into one another. The first exercise involves working with ORBIS The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World http://orbis.stanford.edu/ to experience, via networks, maps, and simulation, something of the social experience of space around the Mediterranean. In the second exercise, you will create maps and/or social network graphs from real data provided by our partners (exact details TBA). In the Final Project, you will combine your understanding of the spatial realities of the ancient world with your maps and graphs in a final project which may combine media and text to answer the question with which we began the class.
- Theory & Practise Exercises – due at end of Week 4 (October 5) and Week 6 (October 19). 20%.
These are a suite of exercises you may redo until you have achieved mastery. You may begin these exercises during Week 2, and submit at any point prior to the due date. The earlier you submit, the greater the chance that we can look at the work and help you. You have to allow at least 4 days for us to look the work over and return it to you. If you submit 4 days before the due date, you will not be allowed to redo the work. Please keep in mind that by offering you this chance, we are accepting a heavy grading load, and we ask for courtesy as we do so.
NB You will note that there is no final exam. DO NOT take that as a sign that this class is not as important as your other classes. By not having a final, I wish to signal to you that you must bring your best work to bear on your class work at all times.
Required (free) Software
You should download and install the following free software packages on your computer – or team up with someone else who can download and install them, should you not have access to a suitable machine. Note that ‘Portable GIS’ is meant to be run from a USB stick, and thus could be run on University computers.
Some of the following simulations can be run in your browser (others you may only read about, as the code hasn’t been released). They (and their associated texts) should be explored. Why do they work the way they do? What are the assumptions behind them? How do they enhance or not your understanding?
Roman Itineraries http://graeworks.net/abm/itineraries.html
Procedural Modeling of Cities http://ccl.northwestern.edu/cities/
Artificial Anasazi (a key archaeological implementation of agent based modeling) http://www.openabm.org/model/2222/version/1/view
Timelines & Mapping resources
Introductory Lecture on Netlogo – Agents in Archaeology (video)
GIS and Agent-Based Modeling http://gisagents.blogspot.ca/
Archaeological Networks http://archaeologicalnetworks.wordpress.com/
The Scottbot Irregular http://www.scottbot.net/HIAL/
Maps, Data and Government Information Centre http://www.library.carleton.ca/contact/service-points/madgic
Digital Humanities Subject Guide http://www.library.carleton.ca/research/subject-guides/digital-humanities#welcome
Greek and Roman Studies Subject Guide http://www.library.carleton.ca/research/subject-guides/greek-and-roman-studies
The following weekly schedule of topics is tentative and subject to change.
Part 1 (September):
- Setting the scene: history & theory. Abandoning your 2-dimensional, top-down view of space: the emic vs. the etic.
- Minoans, Mycenaeans and the Aegean
- The Era of Colonization (Greeks, Etruscans, Phoenicians)
Part 2 (October):
- Maps and GIS
- Agent Based Simulation
- Network Analysis
- Landscape Archaeology & Survey
Part 3 (November):
- Greek Cities
- Greek Landscapes
- Roman Cities
- Roman Landscapes
The End (December 3)
- Answering the questions with which we began.
The following readings are indicative of the issues involved, and will deepen your understanding. This list is by no means exhaustive – consult the works’ bibliographies to pointers to further work! I provide them here to help you, to round out the ideas presented in our meetings. You will be able to make useful contributions to that discussion if you come prepared, having looked at some of these works. If you can’t find them on your own, you *must* ask the Historian/Classics Librarian for help to find other possible books/articles/online resources that can speak to the week’s topic. I expect you to read beyond the works listed here. Do you know how to use Google Scholar? Have you ever used L’Année philologique?
Agar, M. (2003). ‘My kingdom for a function: modelling misadventures of the innumerate’, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 6.3. http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/6/3/8.html
Bang, P., Mamoru Ikeguchi and Harmut G. Ziche, eds. (2006). Ancient Economies, Modern Methodologies : Archaeology, Comparative History, Models and Institutions.
Brughmans, T. (2012). ‘Thinking through networks: a review of formal network methods in archaeology’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 19.2 Online version: DOI: 10.1007/s10816-012-9133-8 http://www.springerlink.com/index/10.1007/s10816-012-9133-8
Conolly, J., and M. Lake. (2006). Geographical Information Systems In Archaeology.
Coward, F. (2010). ‘Small worlds, material culture and Near Eastern social networks’, Proceedings of the British Academy 158, 449-479. http://www.fcoward.co.uk/Cowardsmallworlds.pdf
Frier, B. and D. Kehoe. (2007). ‘Law and economic institutions’, in W. Scheidel, I. Morris, R. Saller (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World. 113-143.
Graham, S. (2006). ‘Networks, Agent-Based Modeling, and the Antonine Itineraries’, The Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 19.1: 45-64.
Graham, S. (2009) ‘The Space Between: The Geography of Social Networks in the Tiber Valley’ in Coarelli, F. and Patterson, H. (eds) Mercator Placidissimus: the TiberValley in Antiquity. New research in the upper and middle river valley.
Graham, S. and J. Steiner. (2008). ‘Travellersim: Growing Settlement Structures and Territories with Agent-Based Modelling’, in J. Clark and E. Hagemeister (eds.), Digital Discovery: Exploring New Frontiers in Human Heritage. CAA 2006. Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. Proceedings of the 34th Conference, Fargo, United States, April 2006. 57-67.
Ingold, T. (1993). ‘The Temporality of the Landscape’. World Archaeology 25.2 152–174.
Johnson, M. (1999) Archaeological Theory.
Lansing, J. S., and J. N. Kremer. (1993). ‘Emergent Properties of Balinese Water Temple Networks: Coadaptation on a Rugged Fitness Landscape’. American Anthropologist 95.1: 97–114.
Laurence, R. (2001). ‘The Creation of Geography: An Interpretation of Roman Britain’ in C. Adams and R. Laurence (eds.). Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire.
Massey, D. J. Allen, S. Pile (eds.) City Worlds: Understanding Cities 1.
Neville, M. (1996) Metropolis and Hinterland : the City of Rome and the Italian Economy, 200 B.C.-A.D. 200.
Orejas, Almudena, and F. Javier Sánchez-Palencia. (2002). ‘Mines, Territorial Organization, and Social Structure in Roman Iberia: Carthago Noua and the Peninsular Northwest’. American Journal of Archaeology 106.44: 581–599.
Pettegrew, D. K. (2007). ‘The Busy Countryside of Late Roman Corinth: Interpreting Ceramic Data Produced by Regional Archaeological Surveys’. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 76.4: 743–784.
Schortman, E. and W. Ashmore. (2012). ‘History, networks, and the quest for power: ancient political competition in the Lower Motagua Valley, Guatemala’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18.1: 1-21.
Smith, M. (2005) ‘Networks, Territories, and the Cartography of Ancient States’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95.4: 832–849.
These are the slides of the talk I gave at the Land and Natural Resources Conference last week at the Free University in Brussels. That talk was a bit more free form than the slides would suggest, so I’m not quite ready to share the written version (mostly because it’s still in a process of becoming…)
But, I think I’m fairly safe to share at least the opening bit….
Could the extractive economy of Rome (such as mining, logging and forestry) promote structural growth? What would be the archaeological signs of structural growth?
So much in the ancient world appears to rely on connectivity and mobility, either literally in terms of things like road-building (Laurence, 1999) or more abstractly, in terms of social connections, bonds of friendship, amicitia, and patronage. Horden and Purcell (2000) make the argument for multiple connectivities, both physical and social, that bound up the Mediterranean world. In my own work, I have argued for social connections becoming ‘real’ in the physical landscape, as a mechanism for the creation of notions of territory and landscape (Graham and Steiner 2008). Sometimes these social connections can be read from the archaeometry of material culture; other times from epigraphy; sometimes from history. In this paper, I want to explore how patronage intersects with natural resource extraction, and whether or not these intersections could promote structural growth. As Mokyer points out, “There is a qualitative difference between an economy in which GDP per capita grows at 1.5 percent and one in which it grows at 0.2 percent” (2005:286). Understanding which possible conditions could promote growth (and to what degree) therefore is a useful exercise.
I use an agent based modeling framework (ABM) for this exploration because I am interested not in simulating the past, but in understanding how different understandings about the past combine. ABM allows me to systematically test the ways these ideas combine and to generate a landscape of possibilities against which I may then lay archaeological or historical evidence.
Agent Based Modelling
Agent based modelling is an approach to simulation that focuses on the individual (indeed, it is sometimes known as individual based modeling). In an agent based model, the agents or individuals are autonomous computing objects – they are their own programme. They are allowed to interact within an environment (which frequently represents some real-world physical environment). Every agent has the same suite of variables (if it were a model of basketball, ever agent would have a ‘height’ variable, and an ‘ability’ variable), but each agent’s individual combination of variables is unique. Agents can be aware of each other and the state of the world (or their location within it), depending on the needs of the model. What is important to note, especially when we are interested in the past, is that we are not trying to simulate the past; rather, the model is a tool to simulate how we believe a particular phenomenon worked in the past (cf Gilbert and Troitzsch 2005:17 on the logic of simulation). When we simulate, we are interrogating our own understandings and beliefs. What is particularly valuable then is that we can build a model, and when the agents begin to interact along the patterns of behavior that we have specified (drawn from our understanding of how various processes worked), we have a way of exploring the non-linear, non-intuitive, emergent consequences of those beliefs. What’s more, in order to code a particular behavior, we have to be clear about how we think about that behavior. It forces us to make our assumptions explicit. A second investigator then can examine the code, critique these assumptions and biases (or indeed, errors) and modify the model towards a ‘better’ state. In this way, the model is both a laboratory and a crowdsourced argument about the past. In that spirit, I offer the code for this model at http://graeworks.net, and encourage the reader to download, adapt, critique and improve the argument. The model is built using the Netlogo modeling environment and language (Wilensky 1999). Simulations make their argument in computer processes, and like all forms of expression, they carry their own rhetoric which must be analysed (Bogost 2007).
Did Rome experience growth? If so, in what ways did that growth occur? What was ‘modern’ about the Roman economy? Why did not Rome make the leap that Europe did? If it is any consolation, historians of the Industrial Revolution are as puzzled by how it happened, as we are by why Rome’s didn’t. An important consideration though comes from Mokyr’s analysis of the intellectual foundations of the Industrial Revolution (2005). For Mokyer, it comes down to the idea not just that ‘useful’ knowledge available had increased, but that the social setting for this knowledge had expanded (2005: 287). For Mokyer, useful knowledge relates directly to the physical world, and how it works.
This is not a view that would’ve been foreign to the bien-pensants of antiquity. Columella, Varo, Pliny all set about to catalogue and categorize the world around them. The difference though is one of quality; an Enlightment description of a phenomenon attempted a degree of accuracy and thoroughness that was alien to the Roman mind.
For Mokyer, the easier it becomes for individuals to access that knowledge, the more likely technological change was to happen, thus resulting in sustained economic growth (Mokyer 2005: 295-6). Though Mokyer doesn’t say it explicitly, he is talking about how information passes through social networks. As Mokyer points out, this useful knowledge did not have to percolate down to the many (301). It simply had to reach those in a position to act on it (a figure he reckons to be at most a few tens of thousands in all of Europe, 301). In Roman terms, to talk about social networks of influence is to talk about patronage.
Once we have created a model that encodes our understanding of the phenomena under question, it remains to interpret the results. A framework for understanding our model of resource extraction in the Roman world is provided by the Canadian economic historian and media theorist Harold Innis (Innis was the mentor of Marshall McLuhan).
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)
I’m happy to report that Play the Past, a collaboratively edited & authored blog about cultural heritage and games, has launched.
Actually, Ethan, our intrepid leader, says it best:
At its core, Play the Past is a collaboratively edited and authored blog dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined). Play the Past contributors come from a wide variety of backgrounds, domains, perspectives, and motivations (for being interested in both games and cultural heritage) – a fact which is evident in the variety of topics we tackle in our posts.It is very important to note that Play the Past isn’t just about digital games, its also about non-digital games (boardgames, tabletop games, collectible card games, etc.), alternate reality games (ARGs), barely games (a term originally coined by Russel Davies – no, not the Doctor Who Russel Davies – and built upon by our very own Rob MacDougall), and playful mechanics (or “gamifying” as its been recently called).
We are also very interested in exploring the spectrum of approaches to games – from the more “philosophical” (as some might call it) games studies side of things, to the more practically applied serious games/meaningful play side of things (and just about everything betwixt and between).
Drop by and see what’s happening!
From Middle Savagery – looks like an interesting day coming up!
Join us for eat, drink, play @ Çatalhöyük, a project led by Professor Ruth Tringham of UC Berkeley that explores the intricate life practices of a Neolithic village in Turkey. Okapi Island, which has been in development since 2006, offers individuals the unique opportunity to explore reconstructions of Çatalhöyük, visit our virtual museum, and take guided video walks through the Island. In this demonstration you will join in authentic cooking lessons, dancing by the firelight, and canoeing down the river of Çatalhöyük. We will present student work and changes we made to the island over the past semester. Don’t miss the chance to explore the unique multimedia exhibits of Çatalhöyük research data and come connect with us on Okapi Island.
eat, dance, play @ Çatalhöyük Activities
2:00- 2:15 PM (PST)
Introduction to Okapi Island by Ruth Tringham (Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator of Berkeley Archaeologists at Çatalhöyük). Join Ruth as she explains the background of the project, current projects, and future goals.
2:15– 2:30 PM (PST)
Tell Tour/introduction to the changes on the Island by Colleen Morgan, including a brief presentation about her 2009 Archaeologies publication.
2:30- 3:00 PM (PST)
Student demonstrations of their work this semester, including cooking lessons and an lecture about archiving cultural heritage in Second Life.
3:00- 4:00 PM (PST)
Extemporaneous Machinima Creation, directed by Ruth Tringham. Dress up in Neolithic clothes and flintknap, dance, and join a feast!
4:00- 4:30 PM (PST)
Film Festival – Showing of movies and machinima associated with the island.
4:30- 5:00 PM (PST)
Chat and dance next to the fire with the creators of Okapi Island.
What is Second Life?
Second Life is a 3-D virtual world created entirely by its residents. Okapi Island is owned and build by the OKAPI team (that’s us below!) and the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk.
To visit Okapi Island, you will need to create a user account and download the client software–both free.
To create an account, visit www.secondlife.com, click on Join (in the upper right corner) and follow the instructions. Note: You do not need a premium account to use Second Life or visit Okapi Island.
Next, download and install the Second Life client for your computer:
Launch the Second Life client and enter your password. You will likely begin in Orientation Island. To visit Okapi Island, click Map, enter “Okapi” in search field and click Search. Alternatively, you can click on the following slurl (second life url) in your browser, and you will be transported there:
See you there!
seeks to study the evolution of prehistoric humter-gatherer settlement pattern in Jomon Japan, to do this I’m exploring a pretty wide range of fields and topics…To list, I’m interested in Spatial Analysis, Agent Based Modelling, Human Behavioral Ecology and Dual Inheritance Theory, and more in general everything about Evolution, Space and Human Behaviour (which basically anything you can think about…)
(Enrico, my TravellerSim might be useful for you; feel free to tear it apart and use whatever’s useful!)
I look forward to seeing what he comes up with! Already on his blog I learned about a plug-in for Netlogo that pushes data into the R stats package, which has *got* to be much more effective that those bloody spreadsheets I’ve been fighting with.
Anyway, one to watch!
Virtual worlds are not all about stunning immersive 3d graphics. No, to riff on the old Infocom advertisement, it’s your brain that matters most. That’s right folks, the text adventure. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have experimented with this kind of immersive virtual world building for archaeological and historical purposes. But, with one thing and another, that all got put on a back shelf.
Today, I discover via Jeremiah McCall’s Historical Simulations / Serious Games in the Classroom site Interactive Fiction (text adventure) games about Viking Sagas – part of Christopher Fee’s English 401 course at Gettysburg College.
Yes, complete interactive fictions about various parts of the Viking world! (see the list below). I’m downloading these to my netbook to play on my next plane journey.
Now, interactive fiction can be quite complex, with interactions and artificial intelligence as compelling as anything generated in 3d – see the work of Emily Short. And while creating immersive 3d can be quite complex and costly in hardware/software, Inform 7 allows its generation quite easily (AND as a bonus teaches a lot about effective world building!)
Explore the Sites and Sagas of the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic through one of Settings of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom IF Adventure Game:The earliest version of the Otter’s Ransom game was designed to be extremely simple, and to illustrate the pedagogical aims of the project as well as the ease of composing with Inform 7 software: In this iteration the game contains no graphics or links, utilizes very little in the way of software functions, tricks, or “bells and whistles,” and contains a number of rooms in each of sixteen different game settings; as the project progresses, more rooms, objects and situations will be added by the students and instructor of English 401, as well as appropriate “bells and whistles” and relevant links to pertinent multimedia objects from the Medieval North Atlantic project.
Using simple, plain English commands such as “go east,” “take spear-head,” “look at sign” and “open door” to navigate, the player may move through each game setting; moreover, as a by-product of playing the game successfully, a player concurrently may learn a great deal about a number of specific historical sites, as well as about such overarching themes as the history of Viking raids on monasteries, the character of several of the main Norse gods, and the volatile mix of paganism and Christianity in Viking Britain. The earliest form of the game is open-ended in each of the sixteen settings, but eventually the complete “meta-game” of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom will end when the player gathers the necessary magical knowledge to break an ancient curse, which concurrently will require that player to piece together enough historical and cultural information to pass an exit quiz.
Play all-text versions of the site games from The Secret of Otter’s Ransom using the Frotz game-playing software.
Play versions of the site games which include relevant images using the Windows Glulxe game-playing software.
In order to view images the player must “take” them, as in “take inscription;” very large images may come up as “[MORE]” which indicates that text will scroll off the screen when the image is displayed. Simply hit the return key once or twice and the image will be displayed.
We hope that you will enjoy engaging in adventure-style exploration of Viking sites and objects from the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic!
Start by saving one of the following modules onto your desktop; next click the above game-playing software. When you try to open the Frotz software (you may have to click “Run” twice) your computer will ask you to select which game you’d like to play; simply select the module on your desktop to begin your adventure; you may have to search for “All Files.” Each game setting includes a short paragraph describing tips, traps, and techniques of playing:
A podcast with Ruth Tringham on her work on Okapi Island: listen here ; transcript at http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/second-life-as-an-archaeological-tool/
Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast. I am Kevin Ammons. Today I am visiting with Ruth Tringham, one of the founders of the University of California Berkley the People in Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology at Berkley (MACTiA). As a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkley Ruth uses an online virtual environment called Second Life in her teaching.Kevin Ammons: Welcome Ruth! How did you find yourself at Berkley exploring the notion of Second Life as an archeological tool?
Ruth Tringham: Well it sort of developed out of my work with digital forms of visualization things like multimedia 3D modeling and of neolithic archaeological sites in southeast Europe and in Anatolian more recently with Çatalhöyük. I actually did know anything about Second Life. It must of been in the early 2000′s because I had been doing this visualization multimedia stuff for – all through the 90′s – at least the last part of the 90′s. But then I was working with this digital technologist I suppose is not really that he is somebody who worked with museums and digital technology called Noah Whitman. He started working with us on a project called Remixing Çatalhöyük and I can tell you about that a little later but while we were working on that, which was really a method of sharing our Çatalhöyük media database with the public, he introduced me to Second Life. He said, “Have you seen this? You might be interested in this.”
On my reading list:
Building virtual models of archaeological sites has been seen as a legitimate mode of representing the past, yet these models are too often the end product of a process in which archaeologists have relatively limited engagement. Instead of building static, isolated, uncanny, and authorless reconstructions, I argue for a more active role for archaeologists in virtual reconstruction and address issues of representational accuracy, personal expression in avatars and peopling the virtual past. Interactive virtual worlds such as Second Life provide tools and an environment that archaeologists can use to challenge static modes of representation and increases access to non-expert participants and audiences. The virtual model of Catalhoyuk in Second Life is discussed as an ongoing, multivocal experiment in building, re- building, and representing the past and present realities of the physical site.