For a class project early in my PhD program, I pitched an interactive exhibit in the form of a social network for ancient Persians traveling throughout Asia.
We know about these travelers from an archive of their business transactions recorded on clay tablets. That archive was burned and buried in a collapsed fortification at the ancient city of Persepolis. Many of the thousands of tablets in this archive show the impressions of cylinder and stamp seals belonging to people who traded goods along a vast network of royal roads and way stations. If you track the occurrence of a particular seal across several tablets, you can reconstruct how the seal’s owner interacted with others in this vast social network.
My project started with an assignment: investigate the owner of seal #49, an elite guide named Išbaramištima. Where did he go? Whom did he meet? How big a network can we reconstruct starting with just one person?
To bring my project to life, I tried two approaches: using Facebook and building my own social networking site. Read my original proposal here. While Facebook made it easy to whip up a profile page for Išbaramištima, it was more of a social engagement tool than a practical choice for an interactive exhibit to be displayed in a museum gallery. I then created a site on my university’s SiteMaker installation and built profile pages for Išbaramištima and several of his contacts, filling the pages with information about their occupations, travels, and contacts.
I never got the chance to turn this project into an interactive exhibit in a museum gallery, but I did learn a lot about social networks and a bit of basic web development.