"From Parchment to 'Big Data'"—a Mellon Sawyer Seminar public lecture

Friday, February 3, 2017 - 1:00pm to 2:30pm
Event Location: 
151 Voxman Music Building
93 E. Burlington St.
Iowa City, IA 52240
photo of Johannes Preiser-Kapeller at his desk

Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, researcher at the Institute for Medieval Research in the Division of Byzantine Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, will give a public lecture on the methods and tools for a computational history of medieval Afro-Eurasia as part of the 2016–17 Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminar.


Approaches of "global" and "entangled history" in the last decades have opened new perspectives on the connections, commonalities, but also differences between regions, polities, and cultures across medieval Afro-Eurasia. A number of ongoing projects at the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna try to combine these approaches with concepts of network studies and complexity theory as well as various digital instruments. These include “Complexities and networks in the Medieval Mediterranean and Near East (COMMED),” “Entangled Worlds: Network analysis and Complexity Theory in Historical and Archaeological Research,” and the Wittgenstein-Prize project, “Mobility, Microstructures and Personal Agency in Byzantium” of Prof. Claudia Rapp. This talk will present the methodological and technological frameworks of these projects and illustrate their analytical value with case studies on the mobility of people, objects (such as manuscripts), and ideas between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern period. In particular, questions of the organization of heterogeneous historical and archaeological data, the integration of temporal and spatial uncertainties, the modeling of social and spatial networks at various scales and the visualization of temporal and spatial dynamics will be addressed. Preiser-Kapeller will also discuss potentials and pitfalls of more elaborate attempts of mathematical modeling and quantitative comparative analysis. The additional benefit of digital tools beyond data collection and their potential to allow for new research questions and analytical results shall be put up for discussion.

The lecture is free and open to the public.