Camel caravan

Camel caravan
Mosaic from Deir al-Adas, Syria, 8th century (photo: J.C.Meyer)
The research project Mechanisms of cross-cultural interaction: Networks in the Roman Near East (2013-2016) investigates the resilient everyday ties, such as trade, religion and power, connecting people within and across fluctuating imperial borders in the Near East in the Roman Period. The project is funded under the Research Council of Norway's SAMKUL initiative, and hosted by the Department of archaeology, history, cultural studies and religion, University of Bergen, Norway.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Meanwhile in Bergen...

It's been too long since I updated this blog, which does not, however, mean that we have been idle. Here is a brief report on some of the things that has happened since May and that will take place over the next few months.

In late May I went to Singapore where I organised a panel at the Asian Association of World Historians  together with Japanese colleagues Masaki Mukai, Hisatsugu Kusabu, and Yasuhiru Yokkaichi. The session was called Pax Romana and Pax Mongolica: New Approaches to the Anatomy of Pre‐modern Martitime Networks (session 4.3 in the program) and proceedings will eventually be published in the open access Asian Review of World Histories, pending peer review. The conference gave the opportunity to indulge in one of my other academic interests, namely world/global history, which interestingly looks different from an Asian perspective despite the disciplines aim to transcend old, Eurocentric paradigms of history. For my interest in networks a splendid session was World Maps as Knowledge Aggregators: from Renaissance Italy Fra Mauro to Web Search Engines (session 5.5. in the program) where the panelists discussed renaissance texts and maps as early examples of hypertext, and how modern software can be used to mine them for information.

Summer started with the Sunbelt Conference om Social Network Analysis in Brighton, where I presented on the social networks of so-called client rulers in the Roman Near East (an updated and hopefully improved version of the study I've written about here. This year there was one archaeological session and several on historical networks. Interest in historical and archaeological networks is certainly up only in the two brief years since I attended the Hamburg conference, and the Sunbelt is becoming a great place for thinking about and discussing methodology with people working with other periods and empircal settings, and for engaging with the social sciences in general, a useful exercice for scholars working with distant periods.

Next stop was in Konstanz, where Tom Brughmans had invited me to visit the Network Science group of professor Ulrik Brandes and to give a lecture on a network analysis of ancient Indian Ocean trade based on the Greek merchant handbook known as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. In addition to the opportunity to have a critical and constructive discussion of some of my case studies with a group of experts on network analysis and graph visualisation I was introduced to the Visone graph visualisation software, which contains a lot of nice features for historical network analyses, such as animations of time sequences, which will come in very handy for the above study of ruler networks that I need to write out for publication soon.

One of the reasons that this blog has been silent over the summer is that the terrible events in Palmyra, Syria has taken time, attention and energy. I had the privilege of visiting Palmyra every year from 2004-2010, and did my postdoc on a project called Palmyrena: City, Hinterland and Caravan Trade between Orient and Occident (2009-2013). Suddenly and tragically expertise on the Roman Near East became much more relevant than I would ever have wanted it to be, and some of my time and much of my attention over the last months have been directed at trying to get information on what has been going on, and telling anyone who cares to listen what Palmyra is and why Palmyra is important. Some of this can be found under media on the publications and talks page or on my Norwegian language blog. On a more positive note the events of Palmyra prompted me to return to my half-finished book manuscript on the trade of the city. It is now finished and submitted. Depending on publisher and peer reviews I hope soon to be able to reveal how social networks is the key to understanding the rise and fall of the remarkable city in the Syrian Desert.

Håkon has also been busy, presenting his work on the Manichaean community in third century Kellis, Egypt at the Historical Network Research Conference in Lisbon this September. He has some really exciting networks of the economic and religious interaction of this religious minority group, which I hope he'll blog about himself.

Lots of nice things are planned for the next months. I'll be giving two talks on Red Sea/Indian Ocean trade at two different conferences, one on trade in minerals, the other on textiles. In both cases network analysis provides opportunities for integrating archaeological and historical data, and arguably gives a better understanding of the interactive and mutual activity of trade than traditional approaches. In November Professor Nicholas Purcell (Oxford) will visit our research group Ancient History, Culture and Religion. Purcell's work with Peregrine Horden on The Corrupting Sea has been instrumental in the surge of interest in network studies within classical and medieval studies, and I'm looking forward to hear hvis view on where the study of connectivity stands now. There's going to be a NeRoNE project conference in December. I'll post details on that when the abstracts are all in, and last but not least Birgit van der Lans, Groeningen, will come to Bergen for her postdoc on a Niels Stensen Fellowship. Birgit works on Jews and Christian in the Roman Empire, partly from a social network perspective. She will join our research group and also be associated with the NeRoNE project.


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