Harvard PhD Candidate, Adam Anderson on The Old Assyrian Social Network 1950-1750 BCE: An Analysis Based on the Texts from K¸ltepe (Kanesh), Turkey
The Harvard Horizons Symposium in Sanders Theatre on April 22, 2014.
In this Harvard Horizons Symposium series, Harvard PhD candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Adam Anderson speaks about the broader meaning of his work on the Old Assyrian past and the 2000 BCE cuneiform texts that reconnect us to the social networks of this long lost society.
For Adam, this past gives a window and indeed a way to frame and give insight into our own larger questions in life. These earliest books known to mankind — the half-million of them scattered in museums across the world and the 5000 of them housed in the Harvard University’s Semitic Museum –include texts in the great literary genres that we enjoy today.
Perhaps the most inhibiting problem however in mapping the contexts and texts of these past literary civilizations however was the phenomenon called papanomy — the rampant practice of naming children after their grandfather — complicating not only the archiving and interpretation of tablets even for a single merchant, but also his or her place it in the wider interconnected web of society.
A solution was later found by collaborating with computer scientist David Bamman in the development of a “probabilistic latent variable statistical model” that could map out the “internal hierarchies of the texts and the merchants that were mentioned in them”. The data was then combined with 5000 Old Assyrian tablets and translated into a “graphical database” “depicting the names of these merchants and the relationships to one another as nodes and edges”.
This system could illustrated the entire scope, the structure, indeed the organization and the complexity of the Old Assyrian social network and life. It provided a solution to papanomy by allowing the reconstruction of these social networks thus providing a structure and an organization to access a previously inaccessible group of texts.
These ancient social networks are also in themselves an insight into the larger questions in life by showing us the inherent human interconnectivity in life. It seems that despite our alienation and all of our divisions, “we are all inherently connected to the same great social networks of humanity”.