Further and Further Into the Woods: Lessons from the Crossroads of Cuneiform Studies, Landscape Archaeology, and Spatial Humanities Research

Rune Rattenborg (Durham)

Digital Classicist London seminar 2018

Friday June 15th at 16:30, in room G21A, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livecast at Digital Classicist London YouTube channel.

Abstract: If the first developmental stage of digital humanities has been concerned with the conversion and storage of analogue information in a digital form, then the second must be devoted to the formulation of interpretive and inclusive approaches to the structuring and organization of such data sets for large-scale analysis. Focusing on administrative cuneiform texts, a huge and unrivalled, if widely disregarded resource of quantitative information on the social and economic structure of the pre-Classical Middle East (c. 3000-0 BCE), the present talk reviews the results of doctoral research carried out at the Fragile Crescent Project of the University of Durham Department of Archaeology from 2012-2016.

My research project started from an initial, and relatively innocent attempt to gauge the scale and extent of political economies of a well-defined transect of the cuneiform world. Juggling a couple of thousand texts assembled from multiple geographical locations eventually lured me into the world of landscape archaeology, and the conversion of digital tools from this field into applications suitable for working with textual sources.

Over time, this came to include setting up a novel, Microsoft Access-based data structure for the mining and statistical analysis of quantitative historical data, the concurrent integration of this data structure with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) applications and archaeological survey records, and an altogether altered perspective on modes of standardizing and integrating data from a formally diverse, if substantially homogenous, assemblage of historical records.

Drawing on these experiences, the present talk aims to review primary methodological problems and solutions associated with building standardized data sets for large-scale digital analysis, how to keep analytical data sets open to research reuse and integration with new research questions, and how to maintain macro-historical data compatibility without loosing micro-historical perspectives.