Category: Okategoriserade (Page 1 of 2)

The CDHU’s involvement in national research infrastructures: Why now and how?

CDHU is a member of three research infrastructure consortia that were awarded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet): SveDigArk, led by Archaeology at UU, HumInfra (led by HumLab at Lund University), and Infravis (via the Centre for Image Analysis at Uppsala University and led by Chalmers University of Technology). In the following post, Director of the centre, Associate Professor Anna Foka describes the particulars of CDHU’s involvement in large national infrastructure consortia and the importance for developing humanities and social sciences infrastructure at a national level. 

Uppsala has a brilliant tradition in historical-philosophical studies since at least 17th century, and the Heritage Law saw the formation of the first antiquities department here, the predecessor to the National Heritage Board of Sweden (Riksantikvarieämbetet). The first professor of Archaeology in Sweden was also at Uppsala, Oscar Almgren, in 1914. So, it should not come as a surprise that Uppsala is becoming involved in such national infrastructure projects. But why is this happening now?

One factor is the maturity of resources; there is now a Centre for Digital Humanities at Uppsala University, awarded with 30 million kr for the next five years and supported across disciplinary domains (HumSam, TekNat) and faculties (HistFil) which additionally supports these infrastructure initiatives from within by providing both socio-technical resources and providing support and access to a supercomputer (Uppmax) and a stable open cloud infrastructure (Central IT).  

This means that we can now financially support these nationally awarded infrastructures. The SveDigArk application led by our extraordinary colleagues at Uppsala Archaeology is supported by us via a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expert.  We are further a part of HumInfra: the National Digital Humanities Infrastructure led by Humlab at Lund University; there our role as CDHU and within our module is to support artificial intelligence (AI) training, methods and tools for the humanities and social sciences, as well as to connect to European such infrastructures from the perspective of information science and information organisation. Our mission is develop our AI Laboratorium within CDHU. For InfraVis: The National Scientific Visualisation infrastructure led by Chalmers in Gothenburg, we are tapping onto another excellent resource: the Centre for Image Analysis at Uppsala University to experiment with the latest trends in scientific visualisation methods and tools. 

A second point is that we, academics, researchers, scholars, are currently more aware of how fast-pacing technology leads to organisational change, which then leads to new scientific discoveries and vice-versa. Having the opportunity to study those phenomena at a national level is also a consequence of technological development. 

A final factor is how we, global academics of the socially and environmentally challenging 2020s, seem to comprehend the importance of collegiality and collaboration for global impact. Researchers in any discipline are now commonly called upon to correspond to research questions that are not necessarily compartmentalised in disciplines or strictly bound to one geographical region, but are grounded in the complexities and relations of the real world and are meant to have global impact—in other words, to be both transformative and generative for humanity and society. This is what CDHU hopes to inspire, beyond digital methods and tools that we can all parse and process.

For research in the long run, these three projects mean that, across humanities and social sciences within UU and in Sweden more generally, we will together pioneer a number of trending digital methods and tools for research: namely Artificial Intelligence (such as image processing, natural language processing, machine learning) as well as Data Science, GIS, and Scientific visualisation more generally. It also means that we as researchers will be given the possibility to discuss these incredible new technologies within national clusters and complement each other’s findings, thus bringing Sweden to the forefront of international research. 

Meet our newest team members at CDHU!

We are happy to begin Autumn 2021 by welcoming several staff members to the CDHU! The research engineers, coordinators, and staff at the Centre for Digital Humanities work together offering consultation, practical, and technical support for world-class research that integrates digital methods and tools.

Our staff can support different stages of the research process—from research design to obtaining data, statistical analysis, data visualization, and more.

Research Engineers at CDHU have expertise in a variety of technical skills and knowledge sets, such as coding and data science, to statistical analysis, machine learning, and natural language processing.

Read below to learn more about our research engineers and coordinators:

Ekta Vats
Research Engineer

Ekta Vats

Research Engineer– AI and Image Processing

I am a Research Engineer at the Centre for Digital Humanities where I work as an image analysis and data science expert. I am interested in investigating how research-oriented AI solutions can be adopted in real-world applications in the field of Humanities and Social Science. At CDHU, I would like to help scholars and researchers gain an understanding of AI and data-driven methods, teach relevant courses, share knowledge through creative workshops, and also support their infrastructure needs.

By training, I am a PhD in Computer Vision, and have worked as an AI Scientist at Silo AI Stockholm, and prior to that, as a researcher at the Center for Image Analysis at Uppsala University. I am also working as a Computer Scientist AI/HTR at Folkrörelsearkivet for Uppsala Län on the Labour’s Memory project, which aims at making large scale material from The Swedish Trade Union Confederation-sphere (from the 1880s until today) available and accessible. 

My research interests broadly span computer vision, image processing, machine learning and handwritten text recognition, with applications in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. I like to challenge myself with different types of problems, and also from different domains, and have expertise in deep learning and data science. My most recent work includes large-scale image analysis and machine learning for digital palaeography, using computerised methods to automatically analyse Swedish medieval charters.

Mudassir Imran Mustafa 
Research Engineer

Mudassir Imran Mustafa 

Research Engineer-Infrastructure

I am a design researcher with a multidisciplinary background (i.e., Information Systems, Computer Science and Software Engineering). As a design researcher, I have the curiosity and desire to learn new things, see new perspectives and be involved in creating a better world. My research interests include the identification of quality characteristics and formulation of design principles to continuously preserve, improve, and adapt the research infrastructure in an academic research context to allow such infrastructure to be maintained and to evolve more efficiently. 

At the Centre for Digital Humanities (CDHU), I would like to help scholars and researchers gain an understanding of how to use the research infrastructure available (e.g., UPPMAX/SNIC) and manage research data.  I hope to use my interdisciplinary research expertise, particularly about understanding and designing digital research infrastructures and digital practices, to offer guidance and support for the various interdisciplinary research projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

More generally, I am very excited to build a sustainable research infrastructure at the CDHU, I believe this is especially important to the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Marie Dubremetz

Research Engineer-AI and Natural Language Processing

I began my studies with a Bachelor’s degree in Classics and Humanities, but following my Master and PhD in Computational Linguistics, I transitioned from a literary background to a more technical profile. 

As a natural language processing specialist, I hope to help researchers in their use of tools to process textual data–novels, news articles, historical texts… Through python, bash scripts, and many other tools, corpora will give the best of themselves. For ideas of what I can do and how I can help, you can have a look at my list of projects on my website: .

Through my career I have witnessed how bringing technology and programming to humanist profile can foster extraordinary research. Whether one is an anthropologist or philosopher, lawyer or historian… humanists cultivate a meaningful approach that the innovation field needs to benefit from. I envision the center as a competitive, inspiring, but also as an open and welcoming place. Transitioning from literary studies to programming is exciting but not easy, especially if you are alone in this process. I will be there to help.

Karl Berglund
Research Coordinator

Karl Berglund

Research Coordinator

My background and PhD is in literature, more specifically oriented towards the sociology of literature, a sub-field that has for a long time applied quantitative methods on literary materials. When digitisation started to take off in the 2000s, it opened up completely new possibilities for systematic literary analyses on a larger scale. I understood that I needed to learn some basic programming and statistics to be able to master these digital methods myself, and this road led me to the digital humanities. 

As a scholar, I am currently PI in a research project on contemporary bestselling fiction called “Patterns of Popularity”. Among other things, I track audiobook consumption patterns from datasets derived from Storytel, along with a colleague at computational linguistics. I am also the founder and coordinator of the Uppsala Computational Literary Studies Group (UCOL). 

At CDHU, I am a research coordinator, which means that I try to help HumSam researchers that need technical and/or methodical support in different ways, mostly by being a link to our engineers. I manage our pilot project support calls, plan workshops and seminars, and am currently in the process of planning a PhD course in “Cultural Analytics”, to be held in the spring 2022. I am also the main organiser of the DHNB 2022 conference that will be hosted at Uppsala University in March next year.

I believe that computational methods will be a standard element in the HumSam research toolbox of the future. My vision for CDHU is that we aid HumSam researchers at UU both by providing technical expertise, and by teaching them to do things themselves (and thereby generate interest to learn further). For me, the latter is especially important as I hope it can empower future generations of HumSam scholars.

Clelia LaMonica
Communications Officer

Clelia LaMonica

Communications Officer

My background is in general linguistics, with a more recent focus on English language and use. In my research I have explored statistical methods for analyzing mixed qualitative and quantitative data related to language perception and production, as well as discourse analysis of certain registers such as Legal English, Business English, and teaching English for Specific Purposes. The interdisciplinarity of these topics led me to seek methods of visualizing and combining different forms of data, such as corpus research, network analysis and GIS, and I then became involved in the GIS for Language Studies (LanGIS) group, as well as Digital Humanities here at Uppsala.

My focus at CDHU as communications officer is to connect with and expand our network, both internally among the faculties, centres, departments, and scholars, and externally among international universities, organisations, and research programmes. I would, overall, like for CDHU to communicate a unique profile for academics looking to explore digital methods and techniques, as well as the infrastructure we have available.

My hope is that researchers who have not previously explored digital methods, or who are uncertain what ‘digital humanities’ actually encompasses, reach out to the Centre and expand their digital horizons! The Centre is a fantastic resource that has something for everyone—individual researchers and large international programmes alike—so I look forward to working in Uppsala and across Sweden, as well as with our international partners, to expand the Digital Humanities infrastructures and support that exist for scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

West Norse and East Norse Manuscripts in the Digital Age: Short Report of An On-Going Discussion

Alexandra Petrulevich, Department of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University

Part of the network of West Norse texts appearing in extant manuscripts, which have been digitally catalogued. Yellow nodes: romances, pink nodes: legendary sagas, green nodes: family sagas, blue nodes: kings’ sagas. Based on data from Kapitan, Rowbotham, and Wills, “Visualising Genre Relationships in Icelandic Manuscripts”. For more information, see Kapitan 2021b in the references.

Is there a common solution for editing of West Norse and East Norse manuscripts in the digital age? How do digital repositories impact public and scholarly engagement with manuscript material online? Do current mainstream approaches to digitalisation and digital cataloguing necessarily aid researchers to attain innovative and, most importantly, valid and well-grounded results?

These were some of the questions that were discussed at the seminar “Northern Europe 1200-1500 CE: West Norse and East Norse Manuscripts in the Digital Age” dedicated to digitisation and digital editing of Norse manuscripts as well as current research into this material. The seminar organised and hosted by the TextWorlds network at Uppsala University has gathered infrastructure professionals working with electronic editing software, digital cataloguing and repositories, namely and Alvin, as well as early career researchers, see the list below, that have used these and other similar infrastructures in their finished and ongoing projects. The initial round of infrastructure and current research talks was followed by a prolonged Q&A slot and a panel discussion of future developments in the field of digital philology in Scandinavia as well as major obstacles on the way there.

One of the principal challenges that was addressed relates to current mainstream practices of digitisation and digital cataloguing. It is often the case that outdated analogue materials including catalogues are turned digital without any considerable revisions which in the long run will significantly hamper the development of digital philology. Reproduction of data errors and uncertainties of other kinds undermines the use of “big data” approaches and digital methods as it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable results. Moreover, the agendas and research questions underlying older analogue catalogues are in many cases different from those shaping current research into West and East Norse manuscript material. For instance, nineteenth-century philologists were preoccupied with studies of “high-status” medieval texts and manuscripts such as Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda or Reykjavík, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum, GKS 2365 4to. Much less attention was paid to “marginalised” works of post-medieval manuscript tradition, which becomes evident in the catalogue practices of the time. This principal premise is challenged today since more and more previously neglected West Norse medieval and post-medieval sagas and other materials gain scholarly attention.

In order to improve the quality of available catalogues and other manuscript datasets as well as to ensure constant growth of born-digital data, it is necessary to build a strong, multisectoral community and implement a collaborative approach to building, improving and sustaining manuscript and cultural heritage infrastructures. Ideally, such a community will be able to inform the funding bodies in charge of investments into digital cultural heritage about the issues outlined above and place adequate cataloguing higher up on their agenda.

List of invited speakers:

  • Robert Kristof Paulsen, Head Engineer, University of Bergen Library, Norway
  • Patrik Granholm, Curator of Medieval and Early Modern manuscripts, National Library of Sweden
  • Kent-Inge Andersson and Anna Fredriksson, Librarians, Uppsala University Library, Sweden
  • Agnieszka Backman, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University, USA
  • Katarzyna Anna Kapitan, H.M. Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Fellow at the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark, Iceland and Denmark
  • Oliver Blomqvist, Postdoctoral Researcher, Södertörn University College, Sweden

References and links to invited speakers’ presentations:

Kapitan, Katarzyna Anna (2021b). “Perspectives on Digital Catalogs and Textual Networks of Old Norse literature.” Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies 6:1 (will appear in Gold Open Access in May 2021).

A Digital Approach to Global Intellectual History: Text Mining UNESCO

Benjamin G. Martin, Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University

Alexander Calder’s sculpture “Spirale” (1958) at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo credit: UNESCO / H. D. Berendt.

Recent years have seen a burst of interest in “global intellectual history.” Practitioners debate the precise meaning of this phrase, but it evidently reflects an ambition to take a more inclusive approach to the history of ideas around the world—beyond the Western European core on which the field has traditionally focused—paying attention in particular to the cross-cultural contacts that are so important to our globalized present. [1] The last decade or so has also witnessed growing interest in what could be called digital intellectual history. This trend is characterized by the application of tools and methods from the digital humanities to approach questions in the history of science and ideas. Intellectual history’s digital turn is less well established than its global one, but it seems likely to continue and to grow in scale. [2]

These two trends in intellectual history -— the global and the digital —- seem to have a lot to offer one another. But so far they have developed as it were on parallel tracks: both moving forward but with little contact between them. There are several reasons for this. But one particular challenge to using digital methods as part of a global approach to intellectual history has to do with sources. Locating historical source materials that give us access to a “global” realm is hard enough by itself. Few scholars can handle more than a few languages, and studies of the transnational movement and reception of ideas have often tended “simply to multiply the frame of national history.” [3] Locating sources that are global and amenable to digital analysis is harder still. Most of the big text repositories that intellectual historians have used -— like Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, used in the historian Peter De Bolla’s recent book The Architecture of Concepts —- are national in character. [4] Newspapers, another source in which to follow language use and, perhaps, concept development over time, are likewise almost always national. Moreover, the historical sources that get digitized have so far tended to be from wealthy countries in the global north, with their large, well-financed libraries and expensive digitalization facilities. So far, then, an intellectual historian’s effort to go digital would appear to be at odds with the aspiration to go global.

There is, however, one major arena in which, for the last half-century or so, representatives of nearly every country on earth have regularly met and interacted, and about which a growing mass of digitized historical source materials is available: the world of international organizations. As the historian Sandrine Kott has observed, bodies like the United Nations, the World Health Organization, or the International Olympic Committee can be studied not only as actors in their own right, but as “open social spaces through which we can observe exchanges and circulation” —- including exchanges and circulation of ideas.[5]

This is the point of departure for the research project International Ideas at UNESCO. In this study, researchers and systems developers at Uppsala University and at Humlab (the digital humanities center at Umeå University) apply cutting-edge tools of digital text analysis to a selection of texts produced by this international organization. Founded in 1945 to promote “peace in the minds of men,” UNESCO has debated and acted on matters of particular interest to intellectual historians: the organization and dissemination of knowledge, the role of cultural expression in human communities, and the power of communication across national, ideological and cultural boundaries. Since the early 1960s, when the organization was joined by many newly independent post-colonial states, it has handled these matters as a truly global forum. In recent years, the organization has undertaken an ambitious digitalization project, rendering large quantities of its publications and archival documentation available to the public. In fact, many of these texts still require a good bit of curating before they can be analyzed with digital methods; that curating is what we are working on now! As we move forward, our hope is that new methods of digital text analysis, sophisticated enough to chart conceptual relations and development, will offer exciting ways to explore the global discourse captured in these sources.

Can intellectual history’s digital and global turns be brought together in a way that benefits both? At its most ambitious, International Ideas at UNESCO is an effort to find out.

[1] See for example Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); and the journal Global Intellectual History.
[2] See the discussion of this trend in: Dan Edelstein, “Intellectual History and Digital Humanities”, Modern Intellectual History 13, 1 (2016): 237-246; Mark J. Hill, “Invisible Interpretations: Reflections on the Digital Humanities and Intellectual History”, Global Intellectual History 1, 2 (2016): 130-150; and Jennifer London, “Re-imagining the Cambridge School in the Age of Digital Humanities”, Annual Review of Political Science 19, 1 (2016): 351-373.
[3] Christopher L. Hill, “Conceptual Universalization in the Transnational Nineteenth Century”, in S. Moyn and A. Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 135.
[4] Peter De Bolla, The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

On human remains and immersive experiences: A few remarks and concerns

Dr. Agiatis Benardou
Digital Curation Unit, ATHENA Research Center and Department of Informatics, Athens University of Economics and Business

Despite reservations expressed sporadically about the applications of digital methods and immersive technologies (3D modeling, artificial intelligence, augmented and mixed reality) in enhancing, complementing and augmenting human remains for educational or similar purposes in the context of museum exhibitions, historical sites or even television popular culture, it is evident that immersive experiences considerably attract wider audiences, expand potential stakeholder groups and enhance visitor experience (Ynnerman et al. 2016).

The application of digital methods to human remains concerns researchers and specialized practitioners. The ability of 3D modeling to quickly collect high-quality data from anthropological specimens has had wide-reaching implications, from conservation and restoration, to public engagement, to the production of replicas and increased accessibility of digital data (White, Hirst, and Smith 2018).

The latter accelerated the adaptation, adjustment and eventual transformation of these methods in order for digital human remains to be exhibited, often in interactive environments, to the general public.

Some notable examples of immersive technologies for the display of human remains are the interactive visualization and digital anatomy of the Gabelein Man at the British Museum and the immersive experience of the Grauballe Man at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, where visitors can activate animations of votive ceremonies (Asingh and Linnerup 2016).

On a more controversial tone, in 2019 BBC1 aired the ”Jack The Ripper – The case reopened” in which a number of experts tried to shed new light on the modus operandi of the famous serial killer by using new technologies and virtual reality. Through a combination of archival records with autopsy simulations, the end result raised concerns about the privacy of the victims and that of their relatives or descendants (Benardou 2019).

While major cultural organizations such as the British Museum regularly review their policy and regulatory framework (Fletcher, Antoine, and Hill 2014), issues still raised by the application of immersive technologies to the public display of human remains remain unresolved; what are the ethical concerns around these practices and in which cases do these concerns revolve just around the remnants themselves rather than around the sensitive narratives that frequently accompany them? Are digital surrogates the answer in cases of unpublished anthropological material and its exhibition to wider audiences? And what are the restrictions (licensing, curation, reuse) of “human remains as data”? The answers will be provided gradually, as the irreversibly ever-evolving immersive technologies are being applied to an increasing number of human bodies of the distant or recent past.


Asingh, Pauline, and Niels Lynnerup. 2016. “Bog Bodies: The Grauballe Man.” Technè. La Science Au Service de l’histoire de l’art et de La Préservation Des Biens Culturels 44: 84–89.

Benardou, Agiatis. 2019. “Πόσες φορές ακόμα πρέπει να «ζωντανέψουν» για χάρη της ψυχαγωγίας τα θύματα του Τζακ του Αντεροβγάλτη;” LiFO, April 6, 2019.

Fletcher, Alexandra, Daniel Antoine, and JD Hill. 2014. “Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum.” The British Museum. .

White, Suzanna, Cara Hirst, and Sian E. Smith. 2018. “The Suitability of 3D Data: 3D Digitisation of Human Remains.” Archaeologies 14: 250–71.

Ynnerman, Anders, Thomas Rydell, Daniel Antoine, David Hughes, Anders Perrson, and Patric Ljung. 2016. “Interactive Visualization of 3D Scanned Mummies at Public Venues.” Communications of the ACM 59 (12): 72–81.

Video: Enriching metadata – Enriching Research (June 2020)

Recordings from Enriching metadata – Enriching Research are now available online!

The webinar series was organized by The Swedish National Heritage Board in collaboration with DH Uppsala and with support from the Europeana Research Grants Programme.

The event, which was held in June 2020, was aimed at researchers, students and professionals working with museum and archive collections, digitalization and/or research strategies. The aim was to provide examples and advice on using metadata for research and outreach, inform about standards and practices regarding metadata, and highlight the benefits of heritage institutions collaborating with Academia in enriching collection metadata.

Read more here and here.

You can view the whole series through this youtube-playlist – and the introduction is embedded below:

Death in a Digital World: the (re)construction of a Bronze Age tomb from Ayios Vasileios, Greece, using Virtual Reality

Yannick de Raaff, Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen

In this blogpost I would like to illustrate how and why we have applied digital techniques (photogrammetry and Virtual Reality) to solve a specific archaeological problem. Our study concerns the architecture of a Bronze Age (early Mycenaean; ca. 1700-1420 BCE) tomb from the North Cemetery of Ayios Vasileios, Lakonia, Greece. This particular tomb (called Tomb 21) is roughly rectangular in shape (inner dimensions ca. 2.26 x 1.33 m), and was filled to the edge with a large mass of some 200 stones, evidently the remains of a roof (figure 1). However, even after the complete removal of all the stones, careful recording and the excavation of inhumations underneath we were unsure about the original shape and construction of the roof. How would this hodgepodge of stones once have formed a cover, and how had it collapsed? Rebuilding the roof in real life was not possible, since the tomb had been backfilled after the excavation was completed. Therefore, we decided to address this issue by using digital techniques.

Fig. 1 The mass of stones found inside the tomb. Presumably these form the remains of the original roof of the tomb prior to its collapse.

With the financial help of several grants we started working together with the Virtual and Augmented Reality experts from the Reality Center of the University of Groningen. A VR-environment was created in Unreal Engine using a surface model of the empty tomb, and 3D models of the collapsed stones were made and added to it. Both the interior of the excavated tomb and the stones were modelled with Structure for Motion (Sfm; also called photogrammetry). The VR-environment offered us three main advantages. Firstly, we could scrutinize the still standing walls of the tomb from any angle, even after completion of the excavation. Secondly, by carefully studying the various photographs and videos of the collapsed stones as they were being excavated, we could approximate their position within the tomb and place them in that position within the VR-environment. That allowed us to better understand the relative position of the various stones within the tomb and vis-à-vis each other, and thus the collapse (figure 2). Lastly, the stones could be restacked interactively in an attempt to recreate/approach the original appearance of the tomb’s roof and explore which types were likely and which were not. 

Fig. 2. Several slabs have been placed back into the tomb. Their position has been approximated through the careful examination of excavation photos. Note how several slabs have a highly similar gradient. 

After the modeling, programming and the gathering of parallels of contemporary tombs, it was finally time to put on the VR-goggles, strap on the controllers, and start with our life-size three-dimensional puzzle. Weeks were spent in the virtual tomb, labouring under a virtual Greek sun, grabbing stones with the controllers, moving them around, putting them in place, pressing the ‘save’ button, and trying again. After many attempts, we were able to confidently refute a number of designs – most likely, the tomb was first covered by a series of beams on top of which were placed first the largest slabs (these were found deepest inside the tomb and must therefore have fallen down first), and then the remainder of the stones were placed on top, creating a cairn (figure 3). Judging by the way the stones had fallen down, it seems likely that the beams broke and caused first the slabs and then the rest to tumble inwards. Instead of merely hypothesizing about the tomb’s cover and its collapse, the digital techniques have made it possible for us to test hypotheses in a structured and argued manner. Virtual Reality was in a way used to perform experimental archaeology in a digital environment.  (For further information, see the embedded video below.)

Fig. 3. We think it is most likely that the tomb was covered with wooden beams laid across the widths, which in turn were covered first by the slabs and then the remainder of the stones. 

The project is included in the DIG IT ALL-exhibition of the University Museum (University of Groningen), and so is the video added below this blogpost. More information on the exhibition can be found on the website: The exhibition is part of the centennial celebrations of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology and includes various other archaeological projects that have included innovative digital techniques. Our project has been presented so far at various conferences (click link for PowerPoint presentation), and a scientific article will appear in the proceedings of the Lakonia conference.

The excavations at the Ayios Vasileios North Cemetery are directed by Sofia Voutsaki, as part of the Ayios Vasileios Project, directed by A. Vasilogamvrou, Director Emerita of Laconia Ephorate, and carried out under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens. Our thanks go out to the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (GIA), the Ammodo Foundation, the Institute of Aegean Prehistory, the Mediterranean Archaeology Trust and the Centre of Digital Humanities. This reconstruction project was a collaboration between archaeologists from the GIA (Yannick de Raaff, Sofia Voutsaki, Theo Verlaan and Gary Nobles) and staff of the Centre for Information Technology, interfaculty V / AR hub (Gert-Jan Verheij, Frans van Hoesel and Pjotr Svetachov. 

“Digital Ayios Vasileios”. Video of the reconstruction.

Working across philology, landscape archaeology, and digital humanities

Below the 5th century BCE inscription of Darius the Great at Bīsutūn, Iran, in August 2018

I started out as an Assyriologist*, specializing in the world of cuneiform, a script in broad use across much of the Middle East from c. 3,300 BC until c. 100 AD. Not too many are studying it, and relatively few of that exclusive lot were doing much with a computer. Later, for my doctorate, I ventured into landscape archaeology, a field which had next to nothing to do with cuneiform, something my doctoral supervisor gently pointed out to me when he said that I had committed quite a career suicide by coming over. At least in the short term. For the first year, I locked myself into a basement trying to learn the basics of GIS and remote sensing, with a whole bunch of nerds who knew nothing whatsoever about cuneiform, but very much about exotic abbreviations such as GPS, GCPs, CRS, LIDAR, UAV, and DEMs, and compound curiosities like georectification, least-cost-pathways, viewscapes, panchromatic, and shapefile. I found myself constantly returning to my supervisor’s office half a day after each meeting we had, to say that we fundamentally misunderstood each other concerning whatever interface between philology and landscape archaeology we had last discussed.

Gradually, however, I also realized that each of those meetings produced something genuinely new because, being so wildly unfamiliar with common knowledge in each other’s fields, we constantly found ourselves asking new questions, addressing new issues, seeing new perspectives in matter otherwise all told and accounted for. A lot of this came straight out of the elementary yet stimulating challenge of how to integrate data and knowledge from very different fields of research within a common frame. And that’s what I found so immensely fascinating about digital fora in an academic setting, then and now. That subtle ability of a shared methodological or technical forum to bring different perspectives, different minds, different disciplines together, oftentimes for purposes that were rarely immediately clear to anyone involved. Thus, my doctoral dissertation came to deal with a very novel combination of quantitative approaches to data contained in a couple of thousand administrative texts – and settlement patterns as derived from spatial data sets that the nerds in the basement had been playing around with for years. The core argument was that, when properly scaled within a formal and coherent analytical frame, ancient texts could indeed be brought to bear on conclusions derived from satellite imagery and site mapping at a regional level. In my case casting some decent, and empirically solid, light on the material size of early state economies.

Draft distribution map of close to 250,000 cuneiform texts ordered by genre from c. 200 archaeological locations across the Middle East

My current work at Uppsala University, and my engagement with Digital Humanities Uppsala, is very much a result of those early exposures to very different ways of studying and approaching the past. Our brand-new research project at Assyriology, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and called Geomapping Landscapes of Writing, or GLoW for short, aims to trace the distributional and compositional outlines of a discrete historical record, namely the cuneiform corpus, in its entirety. Counting perhaps half a million known texts, spanning a temporal transect of some 3,000 years, and traversing a geographical area reaching from the central Mediterranean to the eastern deserts of Iran, this corpus offers an opportunity to study the role of writing in early human history, its material distribution and composition, from a birds-eye perspective. Such an undertaking would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and its methodology owes as much to landscape archaeology as it does to cuneiform studies. Related ideas underpin the research network TextWorlds: Global Mapping of Texts from the Pre-Modern World, another new initiative that I am involved in, funded by CIRCUS, which will bring together philologists, archaeologists, and historians from across the university to discuss and explore shared traits between written corpora from around the world. A crucial basis for such initiatives is the ability to work from a shared, read digital, methodological platform able to capture vast amounts of data from seemingly disparate disciplines, each with their own way of approaching and studying the past, and oversee it within a shared frame of scholarly inquiry. So, over the next three years, I am looking forward to spending even more time lingering over applications, programs, and code with researchers from across the humanities and social sciences, debating, experimenting, and discovering new ways of fusing together our various specialties. From past experience, I would say that fora like Digital Humanities Uppsala are perfect for that sort of activity.

* Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is. Back in the pre-digital age, one of my teachers had been enrolled at Psychology for most of his undergraduate years because the university administration didn’t know either.

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