- The first case study. Baelo leading us forward with the WebGIS
Last month we met in La Rochelle to kick-off our WebGIS database with training by our database expert Frédéric Pouget. After this four day training we were sent into the deep waters of WebGIS. Luckily Frédéric was on the side watching us and making sure all went well. The advantage of this early user process is that we can make changes on the go. Using the WebGIS database we discover some small issues with the search function, but nothing that cannot be solved. Other things we discussed are more on the aesthetic side of things. The icons we have now need improvement. Luckily Sabine knows a very patient designer… Each time he created a new version we wanted icons added or deleted. We fear he has created at least a dozen versions of our icons. However, these will make our maps look smashing.
As you know our first case study is Baelo Claudia, which is quite fun and challenging. The challenge is the fact that there is so much work published and accessible (see for instance: https://journals.openedition.org/mcv/7667) that it is difficult to get acquainted with the whole debate. Studying a site from the desk is another challenge. Understanding archaeological reports and reading the archaeological plans is greatly improved by visiting a site. Under current circumstances that was not an option. However, here Baelo Claudia is again a good starting point since most of the archaeological site can be digitally visited. Now we don’t want to state that this comes even close to visiting the site and seeing it with your own eyes. Autopsy is not just a thing to visit the beach of Baelo. But in these times of travel limitations the street view has been helpful at times.
As you might have noticed in our Twitter feed we have been working on the epigraphy of Baelo Claudia. Unfortunately, there are only a few late antique inscriptions to be found. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting ones, such as the funerary inscription to Sabina. This early sixth century inscription is a great example showing the presence of a Christian community in Baelo.
Another approach we have is that of the digitization of archaeological plans for late antique Baelo Claudia. We aim at providing maps for late antique Baelo for different periods, to show the dynamics of the city. Most of the work has gone in collecting and researching the different elements for the late antique period. Each archaeological trace that can be related to our research period has been entered and described in the database. Last week we gave an example of one of our archaeological sites: La Silla del Papa.
A few days ago Laurent, Sabine, Pieter and Ada had a virtual meeting to share and discuss all the work done on Baelo Claudia. By then most of the archaeological and all the epigraphic remains were already added to the WebGIS and we could exchange our views and interpretations on the evolution of the late antique city. It is actually very helpful to see all the late antique buildings, urban infrastructures and inscriptions at a glance in the map. Moreover, having incorporated the most recent archaeological findings has provided us with a slightly different picture than that offered by previous studies. Indeed, a general plan of late antique Baelo is still lacking and our project aims at creating one. This will be a great tool for analysing Baelo’s urban development but also for comparing it with the other case studies for which we intend to produce new plans as well.
Returning to our meeting, we started our discussions on the evolution of Baelo in late Antiquity. In the traditional literature we find that an earthquake (possibly dated to the third century) is treated as a breaking point in history. The focus on the Imperial city and its apparent destruction by this earthquake have led to a clear watershed in research. Often we find that the period from the third century onward is less profoundly treated. Our goal is to bring together the evidence we have for Baelo Claudia in Late Antiquity and reconstruct the late antique city. In the end we will write a discussion of the evolution and our interpretation of Baelo in late Antiquity in the city record. This is an encompassing record that allows for these overarching discussions. It is here that we will revisit the idea of a city in decline after the supposed earthquake of the third century.
After three months of spending our time on the ‘small town’ at the Atlantic coast it is time to pack our bags and move to our next case study. On July 1st we will refresh at the xenodochium of Masona before entering the next case study at the banks of the Ana.
- Linguistic immersion and WebGIS workshop in La Rochelle
As we mentioned in the previous post, this May the ANR-DFG ATLAS project planned a training workshop for our WebGIS in La Rochelle. Thanks to strict compliance with all the relevant health measures, this meeting was able to take place in person between 17th and 21st May at the University of La Rochelle. Laurent Brassous generously welcomed Sabine Panzram, Pieter Houten and Ada Lasheras at the train station. Without a doubt, this workshop has been a success and has allowed us to give an important boost not only to WebGIS, but also to the development of the project in general.
The workshop started on Tuesday 18th with a detailed presentation of the functioning of the WebGIS website by Frédéric Pouget. During this presentation, he also showed us the ins and outs of the WebGIS database. Interestingly, students of Frédéric Pouget have developed our database as part of a university course. And they did a great job! Frédéric’s explanation has been fundamental for our understanding of the wide range of possibilities offered by these digital techniques, but also for the optimal incorporation of historical and archaeological data. But what is a WebGIS?
Screenshot of the web interface of the GIS – as you can see, we started with Baelo.
The acronym GIS stands for “Geographic Information System”, which refers to a set of digital applications that allow the storage, integration and analysis of geographically referenced data (See here for an online course organised by Toletum). Their application in archaeological and historical studies has grown exponentially in recent decades, to the point of becoming essential tools for managing and visualising large volumes of data in the geographical plane, in turn aiding a more complex analysis of the data. In the specific case of our project, this GIS is presented in a web interface hosted on the Huma-Num server, a research infrastructure for the human sciences developed by the CNRS, the Campus Condorcet and the Université d’Aix-Marseille.
Part of the team at work during the WebGIS workshop. From left to right: Ada Lasheras, Pieter Houten, Frédéric Pouget y Laurent Brassous.
But, of course, this training workshop was not all theory, we also put it into practice! From Tuesday 18th to Friday 21st we have been incorporating all the information gathered on Baelo Claudia which, as you know, is the case study we decided to start with last April. The workshop allowed us to share and debate ideas with the La Rochelle members Laurence Tranoy and Stephanie Guédon to improve the database in its earliest days. Thus, in parallel to the debate on the names and organisation of the different elements or on the way of presenting the information, we have been able to implement new improvements in the database and WebGIS itself.
As you can imagine the course and discussions at La Rochelle university have been a linguistic challenge for those less well-versed in French. For Ada and Pieter this was a deep immersion into French. The WebGIS training incorporated a French class, as all was explained in French, but by a very patient Frédéric, speaking slowly and kindly repeating when needed. Where we went completely astray, Laurent was so kind as to provide a translation in Spanish. As this is the language we all have in common, we decided to use this language for our discussions. Admittedly, we also used German and English just to complicate matters a bit more. In practice we have no problems representing the multilingual nature of our project. Nonetheless, one of our discussions is how to represent the trilingual nature of our project in WebGIS. Well that needs some thought and discussion, we will return to this in another blog. Follow us on this page, or even better via Twitter: @ATLAS_cities
- We have started!
On April 16th the ANR-DFG project ATLAS started with the first meeting to kick-off the project. This first meeting was in a small group and, as has become standard at these times, digital. We had three homeworkers joining in: Sabine Panzram joining from Hamburg, Laurent Brassous from La Rochelle and Pieter Houten from Utrecht. Ada Lasheras joined in from her new workplace: Casa de Velázquez in Madrid. The three home workers were a bit envious, as we had planned to do the first meeting at the Casa de Velázquez. We had hoped to start the project with a meeting including the whole team of almost thirty researchers. However, as we are quite an international team, mostly coming from France, Germany, Spain and Tunisia, we will have to wait before we can gather all in one place. Fingers crossed that we will meet soon!
The very international set-up brings another challenge with it: what language to speak. To be as inclusive as possible we are a multilingual project, being Spanish, French and English the main languages. This way we hope to be able to communicate with as many people as possible in our research areas. Our website and blogs will be in these three languages. On how multilingual communication works within the team we might dedicate another blog…
Back to our first digital meeting, after the introductions we discussed the first steps of our project. We started with a taster of the intuitive and very promising WebGIS interface. As the full title of the project already implies, in the next few years we will investigate the urbanism of Late Antique cities from the southern Iberian Peninsula (mostly from the ancient Baetica province) and North Africa(Africa Proconsularis). To be precise, we will look at ten cities, five in each region, as case studies. The WebGIS allows us to collect and analyse the archaeological, literary and epigraphic data for each of our ten case study cities (see map). In the next three years we will start working on these case studies one by one. During the meeting, we have decided to start with Baelo Claudia as the first case study. If you know about recent publications on Late Antique Bolonia we should not miss, let us know!
One of our goals is bringing together the most relevant publications of each of the case studies and for the study of Late Antique urbanism in general. With the open access principle in mind, we are using the reference manager Zotero to bring together the bibliography. After the project, we will publish our Zotero bibliography with the most relevant references online. Using this open source programme we aim at providing you with all the needed material to advance the study of ‘our’ Late Antique cities.
The first steps have been made; our research is slowly taking shape online. As we want to keep up the spirit and hope to combine the digital with the analogue, we aim at a meeting in La Rochelle to get formal training for the WebGIS. We hope that the situation clears soon and permits an analogue meeting at our Atlantic coastal seat at La Rochelle.
We hope you enjoyed the first blog of our project. Next month we will introduce the team with a bit more detail. Our goal is to write a short blog each month. If you think we should address something about our research, let us know! Stay tuned for further news, information about the research questions we tackle, events we are organising and the challenges and fun of our project!