Networked Corpus Index

I found this today: http://www.networkedcorpus.com  for visualizing the results of MALLET topic models, by reference to exemplary passages. Its creators explicitly contrast this with index building by hand… more about all that later; here’s how to get it working for you.

See the documentation at https://github.com/jeffbinder/networkedcorpus
Install python 2.7, numpy, and scipy. Download the installers, and follow the instructions.

Then download the networked corpus zip file, and unzip it somewhere on your machine.

In the networked-corpus folder, there is a subfolder called ‘res’ and a script called gen-networked-corpus.py. Move these two items to your Mallet folder.

Generate a topic model as you would normally do, from the command line.

Then, type at the command prompt:

gen-networked-corpus.py --input-dir <the folder with your original texts in it> --output-dir <the name of a folder you'd like all the output to be in>

Navigate to that folder in your browser, open the index.html and voila.

 

 

Getting Historical Network Data into Gephi

I’m running a workshop next week on getting started with networks & gephi. Below, please find my first pass at a largely self-directed tutorial. This may eventually get incorporated into the Macroscope.

Data files for this tutorial may be found here. There’s a pdf/pptx with the images below, too.

The data for this exercise comes from Peter Holdsworth’s MA dissertation research, which Peter shared on Figshare here. Peter was interested in the social networks surrounding ideas of commemoration of the centenerary of the War of 1812, in 1912. He studied the membership rolls for women’s service organization in Ontario both before and after that centenerary. By making his data public, Peter enables others to build upon his own research in a way not commonly done in history. (Peter can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/P_W_Holdsworth).

On with the show!

Download and install Gephi. (What follows assumes Gephi 0.8.2). You will need the MultiMode Projection pluging installed.

To install the plugin – select Tools >> Plugins  (across the top of Gephi you’ll see ‘File Workspace View Tools Window Plugins Help’. Don’t click on this ‘plugins’. You need to hit ‘tools’ first. Some images would be helpful, eh?).

In the popup, under ‘available plugins’ look for ‘MultimodeNetworksTransformation’. Tick this box, then click on Install. Follow the instructions, ignore any warnings, click on ‘finish’. You may or may not need to restart Gephi to get the plugin running. If you suddenly see on the far right of ht Gephi window a new tab besid ‘statistics’, ‘filters’, called ‘Multimode Network’, then you’re ok.

Slide1

Getting the Plugin

Assuming you’ve now got that sorted out,

1. Under ‘file’, select -> New project.
2. On the data  laboratory tab, select Import-spreadsheet, and in the pop-up, make sure to select under ‘as table: EDGES table. Select women-orgs.csv.  Click ‘next’, click finish.

(On the data table, have ‘edges’ selected. This is showing you the source and the target for each link (aka ‘edge’). This implies a directionality to the relationship that we just don’t know – so down below, when we get to statistics, we will always have to make sure to tell Gephi that we want the network treated as ‘undirected’. More on that below.)

Slide2

Loading your csv file, step 1.

Slide3

Loading your CSV file, step 2

3. Click on ‘copy data to other column’. Select ‘Id’. In the pop-up, select ‘Label’
4. Just as you did in step 2, now import NODES (Women-names.csv)

(nb. You can always add more attribute data to your network this way, as long as you always use a column called Id so that Gephi knows where to slot the new information. Make sure to never tick off the box labeled ‘force nodes to be created as new ones’.)

Adding new columns

Adding new columns

5. Copy ID to Label
6. Add new column, make it boolean. Call it ‘organization’

Filtering & ticking off the boxes

Filtering & ticking off the boxes

7. In the Filter box, type [a-z], and select Id – this filters out all the women.
8. Tick off the check boxes in the ‘organization’ columns.

Save this as ‘women-organizations-2-mode.gephi’.

Now, we want to explore how women are connected to other women via shared membership.

Setting up the transformation.

Setting up the transformation.

Make sure you have the Multimode networks projection plugin installed.

On the multimode networks projection tab,
1. click load attributes.
2. in ‘attribute type’, select organization
4. in left matrix, select ‘false – true’ (or ‘null – true’)
5. in right matrix, select ‘true – false’. (or ‘true – null’)
(do you see why this is the case? what would selecting the inverse accomplish?)

6. select ‘remove edges’ and ‘remove nodes’.

7. Once you hit ‘run’, organizations will be removed from your bipartite network, leaving you with a single-mode network. hit ‘run’.

8. save as ‘women to women network.csv’

…you can reload your ‘women-organizations-2-mode.gephi’ file and re-run the multimode networks projection so that you are left with an organization to organization network.

! if your data table is blank, your filter might still be active. make sure the filter box is clear. You should be left with a list of women.

9. You can add the ‘women-years.csv’ table to your gephi file, to add the number of organizations the woman was active in, by year, as an attribute. You can then begin to filter your graph’s attributes…

10. Let’s filter by the year 1902. Under filters, select ‘attributes – equal’ and then drag ’1902′ to the queries box.
11. in ‘pattern’ enter [0-9] and tick the ‘use regex’ box.
12. click ok, click ‘filter’.

You should now have a network with 188 nodes and 8728 edges, showing the women who were active in 1902.

Let’s learn something about this network. On statistics,
13. Run ‘avg. path length’ by clicking on ‘run’
14. In the pop up that opens, select ‘undirected’ (as we know nothing about directionality in this network).
15. click ok.

16. run ‘modularity’ to look for subgroups. make sure ‘randomize’ and ‘use weights’ are selected. Leave ‘resolution’ at 1.0

Let’s visualize what we’ve just learned.

17. On the ‘partition’ tab, over on the left hand side of the ‘overview’ screen, click on nodes, then click the green arrows beside ‘choose a partition parameter’.
18. Click on ‘choose a partition parameter’. Scroll down to modularity class. The different groups will be listed, with their colours and their % composition of the network.
19. Hit ‘apply’ to recolour your network graph.

20. Let’s resize the nodes to show off betweeness-centrality (to figure out which woman was in the greatest position to influence flows of information in this network.) Click ‘ranking’.
21. Click ‘nodes’.
22. Click the down arrow on ‘choose a rank parameter’. Select ‘betweeness centrality’.
23. Click the red diamond. This will resize the nodes according to their ‘betweeness centrality’.
24. Click ‘apply’.

Now, down at the bottom of the middle panel, you can click the large black ‘T’ to display labels. Do so. Click the black letter ‘A’ and select ‘node size’.

Mrs. Mary Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound and Mrs. John Henry Wilson should now dominate your network. Who were they? What organizations were they members of? Who were they connected to? To the archives!

Congratulations! You’ve imported historical network data into Gephi, manipulated it, and run some analyzes. Play with the settings on ‘preview’ in order to share your visualization as svg, pdf, or png.

Now go back to your original gephi file, and recast it as organizations to organizations via shared members, to figure out which organizations were key in early 20th century Ontario…

The George Garth Graham Undergraduate Digital History Research Fellowship is Go!

futurefunder-win Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the FutureFunder campaign in honour of my grandfather, to create an undergraduate research fellowship in digital history, achieved its funding goal.

I wanted to thank everyone who contributed. Whether that contribution was through donations, through sharing on social media, or through sending me emails making ‘hey, you should really talk to [person x]…’ connections, this could not have happened without the support and buy-in of the DH community, my colleagues, and the alumni of the History department. Kylie, Pia, and Ryan in University Advancement were also tremendous supporters, helping garner national media attention, making connections, and coming up with novel ideas about how to promote it further.

Thank you, all!

Now begins the *really* fun part! Over the coming weeks, I’ll be working with University Advancement, our department’s undergraduate committee, and digitally-inclined folks hither and yon to set up the formal parameters for awarding the fellowship. One of the conditions of the fellowship would be for the student to maintain an active research blog, where she or he would detail their work, their reflections, their explorations and experiments. It would become the locus for managing their digital online identity as a scholar. I think I will recommend that the student use Reclaim Hosting to do this, since RH’s whole raison d’etre and my own sense of what students need to be doing online mesh very well (and see this post on the future for RH!)

We already have great, digitally-inclined undergraduate students in the history department here. Rob is a HASTAC Scholar. Hollis organized a THATCamp. Oliver is getting into data mining. These are just the three easiest for me to link to. Others like Devin and Joe have done fantastic thinks using Voyant Tools. Matthew, Julia, and Zack have gone into networks in a big way. Allison has been developing expertise with Omeka.

I’m excited to see what’ll happen next. Thank you, everyone, for supporting this Fellowship!

A thousand worlds: sci-fi networks in archaeology

A Guest Post by Tom Brughmans, PhD Student, University of Southamptonrune durham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected relevant publications:
Brandes, U., Robins, G., McCranie, A., & Wasserman, S. 2013. What is network science? Network Science 1(01): p.1–15.

Brughmans, T. 2013.Thinking through networks: A Review of Formal Network Methods in Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Knappett, C. 2011. An archaeology of interaction. Network perspectives on material culture and society. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press.

About the author:
Tom Brughmans is currently finishing a PhD in archaeology as a member of the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the University of Southampton and at the University of Leuven. His main research interest is to explore the potential of network science for the archaeological discipline. Tom blogs at archaeologicalnetworks.wordpress.com
Twitter: @tombrughmans

Personal Learning Repository in Omeka.net; exhibit building assignment

In my HIST2809, Historian’s Craft this term, I’ve been asking for students to maintain a repository of their learning using Omeka.net. Every time we do an assignment or an exercise, that work is meant to go into their repository. The final exercise in the course is to build an exhibit of their learning progress. Here is the assignment prompt; I thought folks might be interested.

Omeka is not just for storing items. It is also for exhibiting them. Exhibits are built around the idea that you are telling a story with these items. You will have collected many different items over the course of this term.

Your exhibit should tell the story of your learning in HIST2809.

Help in building the exhibit is available here. An example of an exhibit built by a student at Carleton is ‘Black History in Canada

Your exhibit should:

  • be built around at least five items, including your assignment 1 & 2 originals
  • incorporate (either copy or link to) 2 items from SOMEBODY ELSE’S Omeka repository, providing citation to the original item location (see the forum at the top of cuLearn for the URLs to other people’s repositories)
  • link outwards to at least three other sites or sources (eg an item in a library catalogue, public zotero page, Wordle, Voyant Tools corpus, existing online exhibit, photo gallery… etc).

The point of this exercise is:

  1. To learn how to make an exhibit in Omeka, which is an industry standard in cultural heritage circles.
  2. To see how the assumptions built into the platform constrain or enable various kinds of storytelling. ALL digital resources have assumptions about how the world should work built into them, from Google to JSTOR to the Digital Public Library of America. Working inside Omeka.net gives you a glimpse of how these things work from the creator, rather than consumer, side.
  3. To learn how to analyze digital sources as we would any other source

WHAT YOU WILL SUBMIT:

1. A 500 – 1000 word reflection that analyzes your exhibit under PAPER headings, with the URL to your exhibit, with a final section discussing your process in building the exhibit.

We will be grading this document, not the exhibit itself.

So: have a title page with your name on it, your exhibit title, and the direct URL to that exhibit.

Then, for the reflection/analysis, discuss your exhibit AS IF you were considering it as a primary resource, explicitly using the PAPER headings.

You will tell us about

  • your purpose (obviously, you want to tell us about the evolution of your learning, but you might have other goals, too, that are expressed through careful use of colour, or … ),
  • your argument (the way you arrange things, force particular paths through the material, or…),
  • presuppositions (your worldview as it pertains to the role/value of digital work, perhaps; you might feel that this is a waste of time, or you might love playing and learning with digital tools; or you might be ok with digital but see them as mere tools whereas someone else might think of them more like paint & clay, as things to create with: how does that effect what you’ve done or reflect within it?),
  • epistemology (what has been chosen? what has been left out? why? to what end?)
  • and of course, related…

(The ‘R’ part might be the hardest: read, cite, and consider your exhibition in the light of this article http://dare.uva.nl/document/215092 Jose van Dijck, Search Engines and the production of academic knowledge. International Journal of Cultural Studies,13(6):574–592.)

  • INCLUDE a final section that tells us about the problems/potentials you experienced in building this assignment. In what ways does Omeka lean towards particular kinds of stories or paths through material? Does this matter?

A rubric will be provided. The balance of points will be towards your reflection/analysis, rather than the aesthetics of your exhibit.

-> You could have a bare-bones, ugly, exhibit: that would be perfectly ok. We’re not grading on aesthetics. But aesthetics do make a difference for the visitor to your site- an analysis of a bare-bones, ugly exhibit would need to reflect on what that design choice does, for the visitor, in terms of your purpose, argument…

I certainly want you to be thinking especially carefully about the ways ‘argument’, ‘epistemology’, and ‘related’ are reflected in your exhibit.

 

FutureFunder Campaign Picks Up Steam!

George Garth Graham

I’m continually fascinated by ways digital media can expand who gets to be a historian, who gets to be an archaeologist. Crowdsourcing expands our readership, too.Open peer review projects allow the potential readership for a volume to have a dialogue with the authors while the project unrolls.

My Futurefunder campaign adds a new facet to this. I’m trying to crowdfund direct tax-deductible donations to a fund that would support undergraduate students as they work on various digital history and humanities projects around the department. The Dean of the Faculty of Arts will match funds if we reach the halfway mark ($2500); the fund is currently only about $800 shy of that point!

I needed to do this. I kept finding that I was pulling funds from various nooks and crannies to send students to THATCamps, to help them get to DHSI, to set up laboratories for exploring data mining, to publish and work with me on projects. I found I was spending weeks a year writing research grants that, when boiled down to their essence, were all about finding funds to train students. This, it seems to me, is a very appropriate idea to take directly to the public, rather than the Tri-council agencies. I was very excited to be interviewed by the Globe and Mail about the project (the story appeared this past Saturday), and the fund has really picked up steam. I would be happy to chat with folks who are interested in this campaign (this experiment!). I would be extremely happy to chat with folks about the amazing work the undergraduates around here do, in digital history.

One last push folks, one last push!

Artwork By Steven Hughes for the Globe and Mail

Graeworks – my tenure and promotion online portfolio

My online tenure & promotion portfolio may be viewed at graeworks.net It is a work in progress, so I would welcome comments and suggestions. I will be applying for t&p this coming autumn.

The department is currently in the midst of setting its own discipline specific language for what counts for tenure, and what counts for promotion. There’s been a lot of hard work on it, and I’m glad to see that there is specific recognition for digital work on its own merits (and not by drawing false equivalencies with print media). I have the option of going up under the earlier non-specific language, but I think I’ll swing for the bleachers here.

HIST3812 Games & Simulation for Historians. A Tenative Course Schedule & Outline

The first time you teach a course, you have to expect some rough edges as things you wanted to try don’t quite work out, some topics aren’t as engaging or don’t tie together how you thought… it’s always a bit of a work in progress. As I design the course, I try to think in blocks of ideas, and arrange them sequentially so that some kind of thread will eventually emerge. This is where I am right now; ask me tomorrow and it’ll probably have changed.

The aim of this course is to explore ways of expressing historical narratives through interactive digital media and simulations.

This does not mean that you have to be a programmer. There are many roles that need to be filled when we enter into this realm. The final project is the creation of a detailed game/simulation design document, working in groups of five.

These documents will be posted online and brought to the attention of the history & games community. The three that generate the most interest (as measured by retweets, likes, or other social media metrics) will receive an XP bonus. I intend to ask PlaythePast.org if they will publish these ones.

Anything you produce above and beyond that (like a working prototype) is also an XP bonus.

XP may be earned by performing any of the tasks listed in the ‘Level Up!’ folder for a given week. They may only be performed during that week. These might involved doing programming tutorials, modifying scenarios or simulations, trying out things in Codeacademy, and yes, playing games. XP can be traded in for a bye on your blogging duties for a given week, or for an extension on certain assignments, or, for those of you in the top third by XP, a small bonus on your final grade.

Required Text: Watrall, E. et al, Play the Past

Topics:

1 – Getting started. How this course works, how assessment works; Intellectual foundations for the study of history via/of games/simulations

2- Historical Consciousness and the video game industry

3- Deep history of games and simulations, from Lascaux to M.A.D. to Monopoly to the Serious Games movement (and probably some formal game theory)

4- Practical Necromancy, or Simulations: how, why, what, when.

5- Meaningful Play and Digital History (looking at playful approaches to the past fostered by digital history, so not necessarily games; I’m thinking here of the conversations about ‘deformative humanities’)

6- ‘Educational Games’ – how games foster learning; why ‘educational’ games are awful…

7- Interactive Fiction – beautiful simulations, and the literary affinities with how we normally write history…

8- ARGs, AR, and blurring the boundaries

9- Civilization and its discontents: on modding

10- Game design presentations 1

11- Game design presentations 2. I have it in mind that it’d be good to live stream these, if I can get permission…

12- Gaming and Simulation for History: A powerful way of writing immersive, engaging history (wrap up).

Assessment:

  • In-Class Participation: 15%
  • Blogging: 20%
  • Critical Analysis of a game: 25%
  • Group Game Design Document: 30% (Missing the checkpoints results in -2% each time). Each group will present their game/simulation during the last two weeks of class. Each member of the group is expected to contribute to the presentation. Missing the presentation, or standing silent/idle during your group’s presentation, will result in -5% for you as an individual. I reserve the right to grade group work on an individual basis.
  • Individual reflection: 10%

Stranger in These Parts After Action Report: Did We Learn Anything?

(crossposted at Play the Past)

There are things you can do, and can’t do, to undergraduate students, I’ve discovered. Recently heard in class:

Math? You want us to do math? But… but… we’re history students!

This of course is my continuing digital antiquity class, ‘Cities and Countryside in the Ancient World’. I have them playing right now with maps and spatial data, trying to do some basic spatial analysis. Earlier in the year, to accustom folks to trying to think about ancient spaces with a suitably ancient mindset, I had the students do some readings, play ‘Stranger in These Parts‘ interactive fiction, and then explore the same territory using the ORBIS simulation of geographic space.

I had broken this assignment into three pieces. The first was a basic seminar discussion of the two articles, R. Ling’s 1990 article, Stranger in Town,  and Tim Ingold’s Temporality of Landscape. Then, play the IF. I ask the students to pay close attention as they played to the way they moved through the game, the things that were easy to do, the things that were difficult to do, and to reflect on their ignorance of the world as they played. The next week, ORBIS. After a few panicky emails, I sent around an email which read in part,

Look at the course objectives. Read Ingold and Ling from week 1. Play through the interactive fiction, paying attention to how you navigate space, and how space is represented. Play with Orbis, looking at the ways the connectivity of places – or the perception of closeness/farness – can change with the seasons, the mode of travel and so on (and note that mode of travel will correlate often with social class!). Reflect on all of this. How is space socially constructed?

Now, I had modeled in class how to interact with both the game and the simulation. I figured this would be a bit of an easy way into some of the more substantive issues of the course. I should’ve known better. This is what happened next. It sounded a bit like this:

Play a game? A game? But… but… we’re history students! We don’t know what you want us to write!

There was great resistance to the idea that playing the game could have some sort of valid pedagogical outcome, which came down to a very instrumental view of what education is about. Write the standard historical essay. Write the midterm. Write the final. Get grade. Repeat. The sheer fear of doing something other than writing a research essay meant that I had to throw my lesson plans out the window. To calm nerves, we had to play the game together, as a class, me running the computer, them suggesting things to try. By turning it into a collaborative game, it seemed to take some of the danger away – what if I play the game wrong? Students still had to write their own reflection pieces, but I discovered that I couldn’t push them to do the playing on their own, at least at first.

So was it worthwhile? The best results looked similar to what student A wrote:

[...]The ‘PlayFic’ interactive fiction (Graham: 2012) further emphasizes the fragmentary nature of travel and reminds the reader of the social interactions that would have been necessary for the ancient traveller in order to properly find their way amidst an absence of public transport, urban or international, and of regular signposting. This immersive fiction gives a practical experience of ancient travel and space to modern readers, and also attempts to impart the sense of noise, movement and business of cities and urban hubs. Far from the neat remove of ‘Orbis’, the IF conveys the messiness and overwhelming frustration of packed city-living and uncertain directionality in travel. No clear route may be chosen, but must instead be gleaned through socializing with others. Directions are had on an ad hoc basis. Travel on foot or by ox-cart are cross-over option features in both ‘Orbis’’ and ‘PlayFic’s’ journeys, highlighting popular means of transit in antiquity.

Ingold’s article, ‘The Temporality of Landscape’ (1993) gives a philosophical explanation between the concepts of landscape and environment, cityscape and taskscape, seeking to intelligize cityscape and landmarks through cultural/temporal perception. At the same time, Ingold echoes the blueprint for ancient travel as laid out in ‘Orbis’ and the IF: “In the landscape, the distance between two places, A and B, is experienced as a journey made, a bodily movement from one place to the other, and the gradually changing vistas along the route” (Ingold, 154:1993). As well, the connective importance of networks and crossed pathways is given consideration: “…the landscape is the world as it is known to those who dwell therein,  who inhabit its places and journey along the paths connecting them” (Ingold, 156:1993).

And sometimes, people got very much into the details. B, who was concerned more with ORBIS than the Interactive Fiction, wrote:

[...]The Roman world in the first half of the fifth century A.D. was plagued with invasions both before and during the reign of Attila the Hun, the scourge of God. The greatest problem that the Romans had with the Huns was that, even when they were not organized under Attila, they moved so quickly, in a time when long range communication moved only as fast as a messenger on a horse, that The Romans could not respond quickly enough. By the time they arrived, the Huns had already sacked and burned the countryside after simply riding past all Roman fortified locations. In the year 443, the Huns sacked the city of Philippopolis and Margus faster than the Romans could respond. If we use ORBIS, and place in the start city of, say, Apulum which is well into Hunnic territory in the 5th century, and place the destination in ORBIS as Philippopolis and place the speed at which the Huns would’ve ridden, ‘horse relay’, we can get an approximate duration of travel; in this case, 2.6 days in the month of July on the fastest route possible. Also, ORBIS shows the route taken by means of primary roads; this is also important because the Huns, who would’ve known very little of Roman Geography, would just have followed the roads straight from Apulum to Philippopolis. If we assume that a messanger from Philippopolis races to Constantinople on ‘horse relay’, it would take him 1.7 days to get there and then another 7.1 days for the army to March immediately from there to Philippopolis in order to save the city. Thus it would take approximately 9 days in order for the Romans to support the semi-defenseless city!

So did we learn anything? The majority of students came away with at least an idea that how we imagine space is at least as important as how space actually lays out, geographically speaking. The best students did what A & B did here, making far deeper connections. I certainly learned that the only way I’m going to get any traction for my playful approaches to history in these parts is to break everything into very small pieces, and to do as much of it collaboratively, in class room time, as possible. I need to ‘flip’ my classroom, leaving lectures to video and the hands-on stuff when I’m right there to guide, to reassure, to cajole, and to encourage.

It’s sad, in a way, that we as educators have beaten so much of the playfulness out of students that when encouraged to go play, the first instinct is to run back to the box.