Keynote, Some Assembly Required, now on Youtube

‘Some Assembly Required’, my keynote at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education is now available on youtube.

(If you don’t see me, I’m the second person on the playlist).


Living the Life Electric

I’m addressing the Underhill Graduate Students’ Colloquium tomorrow, here in the history department at Carleton U. Below are my slides for ‘Living the Life Electric: On Becoming a Digital Humanist’

update March 7: here are my speaking notes. These give a rough sense of what I intend to talk about at various points. Bolded titles are the titles of slides. Not every slide is listed, as some speak more or less for themselves.

I wanted to be an archaeologist – I graduated in 2002.

‘Digital Humanities’ wasn’t coined until 2004.

It emerges from ‘humanities computing’, which has been around since the 1940s.

In fact, computing wouldn’t be the way it is today without the Humanities, and the Jesuit, Father Busa.

Eastern Canada’s Only Stamped Brick Specialist -Roman archaeology

Stamped brick

Eastern Canada’s only Stamped Brick Specialist, probably

….things were pretty lean in 2003…

Life from a suitcase

Comin’ Home Again

Youth development grant to study cultural heritage of my home township

Also a small teaching excavation based in Shawville

Which led to a teaching gig at the local high school.

A Year of Living Secondarily

What was it about my academic work that I really enjoyed?


Possibilities of Simulation

Random Chances and the virtues of ‘What the Hell’

Coronation Hall

Meanwhile, I enter business – 3 different startups, one of which has survived (so far!)

Heritage focus

Heritage education – learned how to install my own software, LMS

Trying to monetize the information I uncovered in my cultural heritage study

Coronation Hall Cider Mills

(Shameless Plug).

What are the digital humanities  – think about it: modern computers were developed in order to allow us to map, forecast, the consequences of massive annihilation and death. Simulation is rooted in the desire to predict future death counts. My interest emerged from trying to simulate my own understandings of the past, to understand the unintended consequences of my understandings, to put some sort of order on the necessarily incomplete materials I was looking at. I call it ‘practical necromancy’

Do your work in public blog was originally intended to chronicle my work on simulation, but it has become very much the driver of my online identity, the calling card that others see when they intersect my work – and because it’s been up for so long, with a sustained focus, it creates a very strong signal which our algorithms, Google, pick up. This is how academics can push the public discourse: interfere with the world’s extended mind, their entangled consciousness of cyberspace & meatspace.

Allows you to develop your ideas

Forces you to write in small chunks

Exposes your work to potential audiences

My blog posts have been cited in others’ academic monographs

Has improved the readership of my published work

A quarter million page reads over the last six years.

My book: maybe 40 copies, if I’m lucky.

Basic Word Counts

Top words:

digital 1082 research 650 university 577 experience 499 library 393 humanities 386

History: 177 times

Broadly, not useful or surprising. But consider the structure of word use…

Group 1: gives you a sense of technical skills, but for the most part not the kinds of analyses that one would use that for. That’s an important distinction. The analysis should drive the skill set, not the other way around (a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail)

Group 2: European centres!

Group 3: Canada!

Job adverts – to – topics. Six broad groups based on how the adverts share particular discourses. Gives a sense of where academic departments think this field is going. If I’d done this according to individual researcher’s blogs, or the ‘about’ pages for different centres, you’d get a very different picture – game studies, for instance.


Important point: I wanted to show you how you can begin to approach large masses of material, and extract insights, suss out, underlying structures of ideas. This is going to be big in the future, as more and more data about our every waking moment gets recorded. Google Glass? It’s not about the user: it’s about everything the user sees, which’ll get recorded in the googleplex. Governments. Marketers. University Administrations. Learn to extract signals from this noise, and you’ll never go hungry again.

Keep in mind that in 1994 I wrote that the internet would never be useful for academics. My ability to predict the future is thus suspect.

So how to join this brave new world? Twitter, etc.




Some Assembly Required: Teaching through/with/about/by/because of, the Digital Humanities

I’m to speak at the  Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference at Carleton in May; I’m one of the keynotes. I’ve never done a keynote before… I have a great fear of bringing coals to Newcastle, as it were. Pressed for a title and an abstract, this is what I’ve come up with (for good or ill):

Some Assembly Required

Every day, another university signs up to participate in Udacity, Coursera, or another of the monster MOOCs.  Every day, another job posting makes ‘digital humanities’ a requirement. These two trends are not unrelated. Canadians have been at the forefront of massively open online courses, and in work that has come to be known as ‘digital humanities’, long before the current mania. In this talk, I want to tease apart the strands and histories that conflate these two trends. I want to look at how a perspective grounded in the digital humanities (whatever they are) is not just the latest trend, but rather a prism with a deep history through which we can refract our teaching and learning, and where MOOCs can be transmogrified into good pedagogy. Some assembly is required, and in neither trend can humans be replaced. Rather, the technology requires a humanities perspective in order for it to achieve its greatest potentials.

I’d be happy to hear people’s thoughts on this – inverting the normal order of thing, soliciting comments before the paper…

Partly as a result of speaking at this conference (and also a wedding to attend that week) I won’t be able to hit a graduate student conference on the digital humanities happening one building over.

Prezi for Archaeology

I’m entranced by the possibilities of Prezi for displaying archaeological knowledge. Prezi changes the metaphor of presentation from ‘slides’ to ‘zooming’, which (aside from a bit of nausea-inducing swirls) looks very promising.

For instance, I can imaging starting with an aerial photograph of the site – then zooming down to the ground, then zooming through to the first few days of excavation, and so on…. or alternatively, a prezi of a Harris matrix, and being able to zoom into each context to display/link to each artefact etc…  (you can also pan and drag too) exciting stuff! I’ve got some materials on my other machine that I’ll be playing with.

I searched through the ‘showcase’ and found two archaeological presentations.  Of the two, I think the second one by Natalie Farrell is the more effective – but then again, I haven’t tried creating one myself, so no criticisms from me until I’ve created one.

(I can’t embed them into, so follow the links)

Call for Papers: Complex Networks

Arts | Humanities | Complex Networks
– a Leonardo satellite symposium at NetSci 2010

is taking place at BarabásiLab – Center for Complex Network Research,
Northeastern University in Boston, MA, on Monday, May 10, 2010.


By means of keynotes, contributed talks and interdisciplinary discussion we will explore and identify important issues surrounding the convergence of arts, humanities and complex networks. On the one hand we will concentrate on network structure and dynamics in areas ranging from art history and archeology to music, film and image science. In the same time we are interested in the development and critique of network visualizations from medieval manuscripts to the latest tools, such as Cytoscape and Processing. Our dual focus is based on the opinion that the study of networks and the study of visualizations of these networks complement each other, much in the same way as archeology cannot live without self-reflective art history – studying the represented always presupposes the study of representation. Bringing together network scientists and specialists from the arts and humanities we strive for a better understanding of networks and their visualizations, resulting in better images of networks, and a better use of these images. Running parallel to the NetSci2010 conference, the symposium will also provide a unique opportunity to mingle with leading researchers and practitioners of complex network science, potentially sparking fruitful collaborations.

Confirmed keynote speakers include:
Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg (IBM Visual Communication Lab, Boston):
Ward Shelley (New York artist):

In addition to the keynotes we are looking for ten 15 minute contributions in order to cover a large territory around arts, humanities and complex networks.

Abstracts should not exceed 200-300 words. Applications should include one relevant URL and your most awesome figure. Please send a one page PDF not exceeding 500kb to:

Selected original papers will be published in the Leonardo Journal, MIT Press.
Proceedings will be published online.

Important dates:
The deadline for applications is January 22, 2010.
Decisions for acceptance will be sent out by February 7.

Possible subjects include:
* Multi-modal networks of features and meta-data in art, film, music and literature;
* Citation and transmission of motifs (Mnemosyne);
* Emergence and Evolution of canon in art, music, literature and film;
* Evolution of communities of practice in art and science;
* History of network visualization (genealogies, trees, matrices);
* Art history of taxonomy and evolutionary models (like Darwin‘s corals vs. Wallace‘s trees);
* Networks in architecture (from the Ekistics movement to modern traffic planning);
* Cultural exchange and trade networks (from the Neolithic to modern supply chains);
* Contemporary art and network science;
* Network structure in cultural heritage, film and music databases;…

Attending our symposium will be free of charge. As space is limited, we require registration. Registration will open on January 22, 2010 at

NetSci 2010 attendees can register directly now. For the NetSci 2010 registration fee and deadline please see

The symposium is organized by Maximilian Schich (Art Historian at BarabásiLab), and co-chaired by Roger Malina (Executive Editor at Leonardo journal) and Isabel Meirelles (Associate Professor at Dept. of Art + Design, Northeastern University).

The symposium is a satellite to NetSci 2010 and counts with the support of the BarabásiLab – CCNR and Dept. of Art + Design, both at Northeastern University in Boston, and Leonardo/ISAST.


Arts | Humanities | Complex Networks:
Dept. Art+Design:


Conference: Trade, Commerce, and the State in the Roman World, 1-3 Oct 2009

As I don’t expect I’ll be in Oxford any time soon 😦 , maybe somebody could take notes on William Harris’ presentation on the timber trade in the Roman world? Many thanks! I’ve been interested in that trade for a while – it is woefully underexplored – and I have some thoughts on it coming out in the Cambridge Companion to the City of Rome (due out soon, I believe!), but these are mostly cursory. I’m imagining someone like Harris probably has some very interesting things to say…

Conference: Trade, Commerce, and the State in the Roman World

Oxford Conference on Trade, Commerce, and the State in the Roman World
1–3 October 2009

The Oxford Roman Economy Project will be holding a three-day conference
on trade, commerce, and the state on 1–3 October, with sessions on
institutions and government stimuli, trade within the empire, and trade
across imperial boundaries. Attendance is free, but, in order for us to
plan numbers, please register with Gareth Hughes
( orinst.ox.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Government intervention or stimulation through fiscal instruments,
markets, subsidies for military, long-distance supply etc.

10:00–10:30 Coffee and registration

10:30–13:00 Morning session

• Philip Kay, Oxford —Financial institutions and structures in
the last century of the Roman Republic

• Alan Bowman, Oxford —Taxation and fiscal controls

• Boudewijn Sirks, Oxford— Law, commerce, and finance

13:00–14:00 Lunch

14:00–15:30 Early-afternoon session

• Elio Lo Cascio, Rome Sapienza— Market regulation and
transaction costs in the Roman Empire

• Jean-Jacques Aubert, Neuhâtel—respondent

• General discussion

15:30–16:00 Tea

16:00–18:00 Late-afternoon session

• Hannah Friedman, Oxford—Supplying the Faynan: local resources
vs imperial will

• Salvatore Martino, Lecce —Transport in the Roman
Mediterranean: an integrated system

• Colin Adams, Liverpool — respondent

18:00 Drinks

Friday 2 October 2009

Trade and manufacture within the empire.

9:00–10:30 Early-morning session

• William Harris, Columbia — Trade in timber under the Roman

• Ivan Radman, Arh. Mus. Zagreb —Prices and costs in the textile
industry in the light of the lead tags from Siscia

10:30–11:00 Coffee

11:00–12:30 Late-morning session

• Ben Russell, Oxford — Moving mountains: contextualising the
imperial stone trade

• Emanuele Papi, Siena — Import and export in Mauretania
Tingitana: the evidence from Tamusida

12:30–13:30 Lunch

13:30–15:00 Early-afternoon session

• Danièle Foy, Aix-Marseille —Lacirculation du verre en
Méditerranée antique : matières premières, produitsfinis,
vaisselle, vitres et contenants

• Michael Fulford, Reading — The pull of the north: Gallo-Roman
sigillata in Britain in the 2nd and 3rdcenturies

15:00–15:30 Tea

15:30–17:30 Late-afternoon session

• Michel Bonifay, Aix-Marseille — The diffusion of African
pottery under the Roman Empire: evidence and interpretation

• Paul Reynolds, Barcelona — Supply networks of the Roman East
and West: interaction, fragmentation, and the origins of Byzantine

• Andrew Wilson, Oxford—respondent

17:30–18:00 General discussion

18:00 Drinks

Saturday 3 October 2009

Eastern and Red Sea trade, India, Arabia and the deserts.

9:00–11:00 Early-morning session

• Dario Nappo, Oxford — Costand profit in Red Sea trade

• Jennifer Gates-Foster, Texas — Eastern Desert trade

• Steven Sidebotham, Delaware —respondent

11:00–11:30 Coffee

11:30–13:30 Late-morning session

• David Peacock, Southampton — The Roman Red Sea ports and the
Chinese connection

• Barbara Davidde, ISCR Rome — The port of Qana, a junction
point between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea: the underwater

• Roberta Tomber, British Museum—respondent

13:30–14:30 Lunch

14:30–16:00 Early-afternoon session

• David Graf, Miami — The Silk Road between Syria and China

• Raffaela Pierobon Benoit, Naples Frederico II — From Palmyra
to Northern Mesopotamia: the archaeological evidence

16:00–16:30 Tea

16:30–18:00 Late-afternoon session

• David Mattingly, Leicester — Rome and the Garamantes:
practicalities and realities of Saharan trade

• General discussion

18:00 Drinks

Interface, NETSCI09, and MHR

Oh, if I but had the coin to go to conferences… (I’ll tattoo your logo where’er you want: corporate sponsorship?)

Two conferences appearing on the networks and archaeology mailing list this morning:

InterFace is a new type of annual event. Part conference, part workshop, part networking opportunity, it will bring together postdocs, early career academics and postgraduate researchers from the fields of Information Technology and the Humanities in order to foster cutting-edge collaboration. As well as having a focus on Digital Humanities, it will also be an important forum for Humanities contributions to Computer Science. The event will furthermore provide a permanent web presence for communication between delegates both during, and following, the conference.

Delegate numbers are limited to 80 (half representing each sector) and all participants willbe expected to present a poster or a ‘lightning talk’ (a two minute presentation) as a stimulus for discussion and networking sessions. Delegates can also expect to receive illuminating keynote talks from world-leading experts, presentations on successful interdisciplinary projects, ‘Insider’s Guides’ and workshops. The registration fee for the two day event is £30. For a full overview of the event, please visit the website.

And, on the premise that great conferences always take place in fanatastic locations, NETSCI09 this year is in Venice:

The aim of NETSCI is to bring together leading researchers, practitioners, and teachers in network science to foster interdisciplinary communication and collaboration.

They have a subsection on network science and humanities, which I’d love to attend. On a related note, a paper of mine has been accepted for publication with Digital Studies, on re-animating the brick production networks of first and second century Rome -a proxy for patronage networks- with an ABM that generates civil violence: a theory of civil strife through malfunctioning patronage.

And finally, a book of interest:

Greek and Roman Networks in the Mediterranean

How useful is the concept of “network” for historical studies and the ancient world in particular? Using theoretical models of social network analysis, this book illuminates aspects of the economic, social, religious, and political history of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

Bringing together some of the most active and prominent researchers in ancient history, this book moves beyond political institutions, ethnic, and geographical boundaries in order to observe the ancient Mediterranean through a perspective of network interaction. It employs a wide range of approaches, and to examine relationships and interactions among various social entities in the Mediterranean. Chronologically, the book extends from the early Iron Age to the late Antique world, covering the Mediterranean between Antioch in the east to Massalia (Marseilles) in the west.

This book was published as two special issues in Mediterranean Historical Review.

I’ve skimmed through the original special issues, and – I’m happy to be wrong – it seemed to me that ‘networks’ were being used more as a metaphor than an actual theory with methodological implications, as used by such people like Barabasi. (and now I’ll get some angry emails… 😉