Yes, the title of this blog describes my research very well. But it is also the name of a conference with a preceding PhD workshop I recently attended. Organised by Tom Brughmans, Lieve Donnellan, Søren Sindbæk and Rubina Raja – all dedicated to networks in archaeology and history – those events took place at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions in beautiful Aarhus. And in person, can you believe it???
The Connected Past (https://connectedpast.net/) is a community of researchers that focus on network and complexity science in archaeology and history, thereby forming a powerful network themselves and connecting peer researchers with each other. This year’s conference focused on “Artifactual Intelligence”: Extending agency from human beings to objects, taking into account that matter is active as well and shapes everything that interacts with it.
15 PhD students, including me, started off the week with a workshop. After giving an overview of network science in archaeology and history, Tom Brughmans introduced us to Vistorian, an online tool to visualise networks (https://vistorian.online/). Although it has some bugs and might be a bit slow depending on the internet connection, Vistorian is a really nice tool to get a first impression of the data and form some initial theories. Datasets can be easily uploaded to the platform and visualised in different ways, for example as a matrix, a map, a node-link network or as time arcs. Note that Vistorian only offers visualisation, further analysis has to be carried out with a different tool.
The next item on the agenda was something I really appreciated and which is, in my opinion, very much underrepresented in academia and research: Talking about failures. Anna Collar and Fiona Coward told us about how they (accidentally) got into network science, how they tried to work with this then new methodology and most importantly, what challenges and pitfalls they encountered on their way. For me, this was more than helpful and I have learned some valuable lessons from them.
The next day started with another software tool: Visone (https://visone.ethz.ch/). Unlike Vistorian, Visone allows not only a nice network representation, but also some initial analysis, for example centrality, clustering or density as well as data manipulation and transformation. It comes with an easy-to-use GUI which makes it also attractive for people who are not used or able to write their own code to visualise their networks with a less intuitive tool like R or Python. Exporting files can be done to a variety of data types for further editing, like .pdf, .svg, .png or .net.
We ended the workshop with presentations of our own research projects. Amazing, how we all have so different topics, ranging from theory development and evolution in British and American archaeology, to social networks of Greek mythology or networks of German artists in Florence during WWII, up to uncovering criminal networks of looting in Italy during the 1980s. I cannot express how excited I am to have met all these great people and learned about their fascinating research!
But the week was not over yet! We spent the next two days at the Connected Past conference, with network scientists from all over the world studying historic and ancient societies (and not only archaeologists and historians, even physicists!!!) presenting their research. Keynote speaker Juan Barceló explained how to solve inverse problems in archaeology with Bayesian belief networks – inferring the probability of a variable based on the outcome (i.e. the archaeological record we see today). Really great stuff, I can tell you!
Besides the workshop and the conference, it was really great to get in touch (in person!) with other “networky” people from archaeology, see what they are doing and how they approach their research questions. The discussions (especially the ones over a pint or two after the hard work) were very valuable and fruitful and even paved the way for some possible future collaborations. With all that still fresh in mind, I can’t wait for the next Connected Past conference next year in Heraklion!