The Gordon Childe Lecture and Seminar, 2016: Professor James C. Scott: ‘A Brief History of Flight from the State’

David Wengrow, UCL Institute of Archaeology, GB

James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University, and Director of their Agrarian Studies programme gave the 2016 Gordon Childe Lecture on 10th May 2016 (Fig. 1). James (Jim) is best known for his work on the logic of state power, and the conscious strategies by which groups – from early times down to the present day – have managed to avoid the reach of the state; strategies that for him must always involve some interplay between political structure, geography, and subsistence choices. How, for instance, were the world’s great marshlands, deltas, and mountain ranges transformed from ancient hubs of political and economic power into modern refuge zones for some of the most persecuted and disenfranchised peoples on earth? What insights can be gained from studying such geo-political processes over a period of millennia, rather than the shallower timescales usually adopted by social scientists?

Figure 1 

Professor James C Scott with the Director of the Institute, Professor Sue Hamilton (Photo UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Professor Scott’s track record of publication on such topics is formidable. Weapons of the Weak (1985), Seeing Like a State (1998), and more recently The Art of Not Being Governed (2009) are classics of their genre, natural successors to Lattimore’s (1940) Inner Asian Frontiers of China, Hobsbawm’s (1959) Primitive Rebels and Wolf’s (1982) Europe and the People Without History. Jim is currently completing what he modestly describes as a ‘trespasser’s reconnaissance report’ into the world of archaeology, extending his interest in the ‘agro-ecology of state power’ back to the emergence of the earliest known states and empires in the Bronze Age: a field of study that is already profoundly influenced by his ideas (see, for instance, Norman Yoffee’s [2005] Myths of the Archaic State).

The Childe Lecture, provocatively entitled ‘A Brief History of Flight from the State’, gave staff and students of the Institute a foretaste of Jim’s take on these themes, soon to be published as a major book. He introduced us to concepts such as the ‘Late-Neolithic, Multi-species Resettlement Camp’ and the idea of the Bronze Age as a ‘Golden Age of Barbarians’. The lecture highlighted the fragility of agrarian empires, whose courtly societies – in places such as Babylon or Xianyang – perfected the arts of self-aggrandisement, but were in reality highly unstable; and it examined the strategies by which more mobile societies in neighbouring coastal, highland, and steppe regions – often stereotyped as savage hinterlands – nevertheless retained a degree of independence, interacting for millennia on an equal footing with their more populous, grain-growing neighbours.

In his appreciation for the lecture, Rodney Harrison highlighted the current interest in Professor Scott’s work within cultural heritage and museum studies, notably with regard to state bureaucracy and the ‘simplification’ of culture. The following day I had the pleasure of chairing the Gordon Childe Advanced Seminar, where our lecturer responded to stimulating presentations by the Institute’s Dorian Fuller, Corisande Fenwick, and Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, each exploring the relevance of his ideas on a wider comparative scale, ranging from Neolithic China to Amazonia, and the early Berber kingdoms of Mediterranean Africa. The ensuing discussions, including lively contributions from the floor, confirmed the value of putting archaeological specialisms into dialogue with wider fields of political analysis.

It was stimulating to hear from one of the world’s leading political scientists that we as archaeologists currently have at our disposal most of the key information needed to overturn core assumptions about the sources of social power and inequality; assumptions which have dominated western philosophy since the Enlightenment. It was also challenging to be reminded that, unless we step up to the task of telling other people what we’ve discovered about the ‘big questions’ of human history, scholars in other fields will continue to do so on our behalf. What more suitable message, and warning, for a lecture named in honour of V. Gordon Childe?

Launch of New MSc in Computational Archaeology: GIS, Data Science and Complexity

Mark Altaweel, UCL Institute of Archaeology, GB

With rapidly changing technologies, increased computational power and the long tradition of this Institute being at the forefront in the use of computation in archaeology, a new MSc in Computational Archaeology: GIS, Data Science and Complexity was launched in the autumn term of 2016. The program will provide opportunities for students to learn and utilize GIS (geographic information system), data mining, different forms of databases, complexity science, remote sensing, photogrammetry, agent-based modelling, web development and science, network analytical methods and other areas. These are used for a variety of purposes in archaeology, from understanding theory, to finding archaeological sites, locating patterns in data, managing data, and promoting work (Fig. 2). At the core of this degree, students will develop computational skills so that they are able to utilize a range of free and open source tools that are now making an impact on research and are increasingly utilized in industry. This MSc draws on UCL’s unparalleled concentration of expertise in one archaeological department, where students will be able to maximize their research interests that require computation and gain skills that make them attractive to employers.

Figure 2 

Images demonstrating computational modelling and spatial analytical techniques (Images UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Few opportunities exist for students anywhere where they can be trained broadly in the computational and data sciences in archaeology, while also having opportunities to develop more specialised interests such as GIS, computational modelling, complexity, or network analysis. The intent of the degree is to re-evaluate where GIS now fits in the wider world, as it is increasingly used along with an array of data scientific tools. We are also now in an era where increasing data give us challenges in knowing how to find what is relevant. By training students in the importance of filtering, manipulating, analysing, storing and deploying data, they will be better prepared for present and future challenges as technologies continue to change.

The core required course of this program will be Archaeological Data Science (ARCLG338), which will introduce students to information science methods. This will include a strong emphasis on developing good programming skills, database utilization, web development, crowdsourcing techniques, photogrammetry and other computational areas. The intent is that students can directly utilize the skills learned in further developing these areas or extending into other courses offered within the degree. The other core course will be an introduction to concepts of complexity, space, and human history, entitled Complexity, Space and Human History (ARCLG339). It will introduce students to methods in spatial organisation and long-term unfolding of human history. It will be useful to those seeking an overview of how ideas from complexity science, evolutionary biology and modern spatial analysis are utilised in archaeology today. Students are then given a variety of options to further their knowledge. This includes developing skills in GIS (GIS in Archaeology and History [ARCLG090] and Geographic Information Systems in Archaeology II [ARCLG091]), spatial statistics and networks (Spatial Statistics, Network Analysis and Human History [ARCLG117]), agent-based modelling (Agent-based Modelling of Human History [ARCLG055]), remote sensing (Remote Sensing Archaeology [ARCLG207]), and other areas, including web and mobile GIS offered in the UCL Department of Civil and Geomatic Engineering. The degree structure, therefore, has minimal course entry requirements, but provides students with a core foundation that can be further developed toward a number of options, giving them opportunities either to advance their education through further academic study or to attain the key skills in computation needed in the workplace today, including archaeology and beyond.

The new degree will be taught by Dr Mark Lake, who has wide experience in open source GIS, software development, agent-based computer simulation and spatial statistics. He is the co-author of the widely-used textbook, Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology (Conolly and Lake 2006), and will teach one of the core courses (Complexity, Space and Human History [ARCLG339]). Another major contributor will be Professor Andrew Bevan, who has a strong background in GIS applications for archaeological landscape survey, crowdsourcing, photogrammetry and spatial analysis techniques. Dr Mark Altaweel, another major contributor, will teach the core Archaeological Data Science course and bring research interests in GIS modelling of land-use, agent-based simulation and broader computational social science techniques to the programme, including database and web techniques. Dr Kris Lockyear will contribute his specialist knowledge of geophysical prospection techniques, digital topographic survey and the appropriate design and use of relational databases.

Dusting off the Institute’s Egyptology Quartos: Rejuvenation, Heritage, and Access to Library Resources

Massimiliano Pinarello, UCL Institute of Archaeology, GB

The Institute Library’s collection of Egyptology quartos – large-sized books – includes excavation reports, museum and exhibition catalogues, and papyrological and other miscellaneous case studies, in a total of about 2600 volumes. The excavation reports, in particular, include some of the oldest Egyptological publications dating back to the latter half of the nineteenth century. Because of the materials and technology used at that time in publishing and because of the books’ continued extensive use in modern teaching and research, several volumes are today delicate artefacts of an earlier archaeology, yet a vital source for students and scholars. The collection has to be available, consultable, and preserved at the same time.

I examined the condition of each Egyptology quarto volume, inspecting general appearance, structural status, spine lettering and shelf mark label, interior workmanship such as status of cover and joints, paper condition, and the presence of humidity damage, mould, and foxing. Most of the books are in good condition, and some heavily used items and older volumes have already been professionally conserved. However, I identified 105 volumes in need of care, mainly due to text block and binding issues, page embrittlement, and cover or spine damage due to heavy circulation. I first created a list with a brief description of each item including wear and/or damage, and a further list of second copies available in the Library Stores. I then mended a few items where possible and swapped almost 50 volumes with copies from the Stores.

The dates of the 105 selected books range from 1885 to 2006, 10 dating to the end of the nineteenth century, 80 to the first half of the twentieth century, and 15 to more recent decades. There are three main reasons for the fact that most of the delicate/damaged volumes date from the first half of the last century: publication technology of the time, outbreak of excavation fever in Egypt in those years, and heavy use for modern teaching and research. From the mid-nineteenth century, book production went through an industrial change which brought mechanisation and use of different resources—for instance, high demand for, and production of books saw wood pulp replacing linen and cotton pulp for paper. This caused damaging acidity in paper which was not fully understood until the mid-twentieth century, causing frequent deterioration of books from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—particularly page embrittlement (e.g. Bendix & Pickwoad 2006, 477; Brandon 1981, 1908–1909).

Between the latter half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the Second World War, Egyptology reached its busiest period in archaeological excavation and subsequent publication, mainly by British and French scholars. These volumes form the majority of the books identified as in need of care. Because of their prominence in the history of excavation in Egypt and the consequent formation of large collections of ancient Egyptian material distributed in the museums around the world, these publications are constantly used by students and researchers, frequently causing excessive wear on the books.

A few volumes among the quarto collection – including some in the list of 105 needing repair – retain original dedications by the authors, usually addressed to other famous Egyptologists, adding unique interest and identity to the collection. Some of them include former Edwards Professors’ signatures and dedications to the Institute, such as W.M.F. Petrie’s and J. Černý’s. One of the most exciting finds is a hand-drawn map glued inside the cover of Petrie’s Tanis I (1885) (Fig. 3). This is a faithful copy signed ‘R. W.-P.’ (most likely Egyptologist Reginald Stuart Poole’s son, Reginald Ward Edward Lane Poole) of a map drawn by Petrie, preserved in the Egypt Exploration Society’s Lucia Gura Archive, Correspondence Catalogue COR.EES.XVI.f.28. The original bears a note on the top left hand corner stating ‘received Monday May 5th 1884’ and was part of a progress report sent by Petrie to the Committee of the then Fund (B. Balanda, pers. comm. 23/10/2015).

Figure 3 

The hand-drawn map found inside Petrie’s 1885 copy of ‘Tanis I’ (Photo Massimiliano Pinarello).

The immediate outcome of this project was to offer better access to some of the most delicate sources on open shelf in the Institute’s Library, honouring the first intentions on which the library was originally created by Petrie himself: ‘I hope that then you will find here [UCL] a library in which every useful work on Egyptian antiquities will be at hand.… I shall therefore make an attempt at uniting a reference and a lending library here’ (Janssen 1992, 99).