Day 1: Family reunion

By David McMeekin and Michael Carter

Sunday night saw the Ancient Itineraries group come back together ready for the coming 2-week meeting based at the Swedish Institute of Athens. There were handshakes, hugs, noise, laughter, talking and eating. It was amazing watching 20 people who less than a year ago mostly did not know each other personally and, in some cases, didn’t know that the other even existed somewhere on this planet. Yet after 2 weeks in London, at the first Institute meeting, it was really like a large family coming back together. As with most families, the diversity amongst us is great: Art Historians, Classists, Archaeologists, Museologists, and Computer Science people. It was obvious by the end of the night, the coming 2 weeks is going to be another incredible time moving towards the overall goal of the Institute: to broker in world peace, a solution to climate change, and hunger, as well as resolving Brexit…slightly side tracked there. The driving goal is to explore the notion of “Digital” as it applies to art history and archaeology. We will look at ways of negotiating the provenience, geography and visualization of object narratives, emphasizing how context and material alteration matters as much as an artefact’s use and display.

London saw these three “distinct” areas of provenance, geographies and visualisations being examined as modes of object itineraries. What became clear is that although these 3 things are distinct, they must work together to complete an object’s biography. A little like a family that needs all of its members to be complete.

In the opening address to our collective family, Dr. Jenny Wallensten, the Director of the Swedish Institute at Athens, clearly identified that digital representation of objects is important and serving a purpose, but there is no substitute to experiencing that object with all of your senses. It is both the digital and the analogue the help to facilitate a deep understanding of the object’s narrative.

After 45 minutes this morning, the excitement from Sunday night was clearly evident, the discussion was rich, questions were being asked, the conversation was unfolding and the framework to drive these 2 weeks was appearing.

The Provenance group presented their continued work from London. The groups philosophy started from a point of no resource limitations. They blueskyed how provenance could be defined, and what the chanllenges would be in understanding provenance in object itineraries.

An object has a timeline, this becomes part of defining the object’s provenance. Digital datasets list provenance in multiple and varied ways. Hence, provenance is described within datasets in different ways, with different terminology and even different meanings. Therefore, provenance is interpreted in many different ways, even to where it is not included in some datasets.

A charter defining provenance would facilitate the minimization of the misunderstanding, misuse and even omission of provenance in dataset creation. When digitising an object, provenance can be clearly defined in what is and is not included along with clear explanation describing the provenance interpretation used.

In data collection, how do we respect the nuances of the data collection? How was it collected? From where was it collected? Who collected it? When we create datasets that can be machine to machine processed, that is, interact with each other, what is lost from the above-mentioned collection things? What it lost because it actually didn’t exist in the first place? Was it lost because it wasn’t actually shared or not interoperable or thought to be not important how much do we lose in doing this? This small data is extremely important, it captures so many of the data’s’ nuances. When datasets are created, we introduce new inconsistencies. These introductions aren’t wrong, but they must be identified as existing and even included in the provenance.

Then came the Geographies group. They are specifically looking at how can we represent the geographies/spaces of ancient art objects? Within ancient art objects, how can the multiplicities of geographies, spaces and connections that are in inherent within the object be captured and then represented. When looking at geographies/space we need to think of the connections in the space, how the space is defined by the networks, and how to visualise them.

The discussion that followed covered a lot of ground. When an object is digitally born how does the geography of this work? When we put something into the Digital Space how do we map this out to show the relationships that exist within the space of this object?

As the conversation evolved, a question emerged around whether we are trying to visualise space or are we trying to visualise something into space? This is a slight but significant difference as it actually alters the entire paradigm. There are places that are discussed such as Hades which has no place within the Earth’s space as we know it, but it did have a supposed multilple entrance points within our space. These need be included within a mapping of geography/space. Hence, the geography needs to be represented in a non-traditional way. When working within the Ancient World, to not include Hades would be to miss something that was significant within that world because we don’t know how to do with it. As Hades had an entrance point from the real world, we can represent that and link into the space of Hades that is not necessarily on Earth, but its starting point is on Earth.

In many ways, the digital world is similar to Hades. It is a place that doesn’t really have a geography, but it does have an entrance point with a geography. The geography is the location of our device, and it is our device that is the entrance point to the digital world.

We map the geography of something by “location”, but what about mapping something by the experience encountered when interacting with the object. Where are things placed in a museum display, where did the object come from, how did it come to be in the display, who interacted with it on the journey, those who interacted with it, where did they come from and where were they interacting with the object and is this important?

This led into considering the social networks of art objects and digital art objects. When we understand the social network interacting and connecting the object, it becomes possible to look at the intellectual interactions and the intellectual space and geographies that connect with the object. Linking objects intellectually, mapping the intellectual relationships of an object begin to facilitate a new understanding and creation of new knowledge connecting objects and people and more.

Moving towards a network analysis creates a non-traditional geographic mapping of an object. It facilitates a way to cartographically map an object’s interconnectedness in the geospatial world and then from a geospatial perspective we can link into non-geospatial realm that is interconnected but not actually linked to a specific location on the Earth. This would allow for the displaying go multiple different dataset layers on top of each other but not necessarily cartographically linked but also may be cartographically linked.

Ancient Itineraries II, day one, much was covered. The scene has been set for the next 12 days of intense thought, challenging discussions and enriching the family connection!

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