Cybernetica Mesopotamica

A Balzan Foundation Research Project

I. The Project

Project’s history: the Bibliography domain

Giorgio Buccellati – December 2022

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After an early intimation in 1974, when the approach was still exclusively geared to a printed medium, the notion of a discursive bibliographical website and, beyond that, of a full fledged cluster of websites, took shape only in 2012. The experience developed with the archaeological record on the one hand, and, on the other, the more articulate approach to the theoretical principles helped in establishing the appropriate ground rules.

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Back to top: Project’s history: the Bibliography domain

1974: Akkadian Grammatical Studies

The earliest work on the bibliography domain was not intended to be in a digital format: it was an annotated bibliography of Akkadian Grammatical Studies prepared in 1974. It was meant to be published as a companion volume to my book A Structural Grammar of Babylonian, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996. However, it remained unpublished, but it was digitized and it served eventually as a potential model for the other websites in the bibliography domain.

But nothing else happened until a similar case arose with regard to my other book, A Critique of Archaeological Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017 – some fifty years later.

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Back to top: Project’s history: the Bibliography domain


When completing for publication my volume on Mesopotamian religion, I went back to the idea of an annotated bibliography, this time in digital format; it was also to include a set of notes that could find place in the original printed version. On p. XXIII of «Quando in alto i cieli…» (Milano: Jaca Book, 2012) I referred to such a resource, giving link to my personal website. As it became apparent that the final result was going to be too extensive to be included there, an alternative solution presented itself: a set of bibliographical websites, that would include not only the other books to appear in the series The Four Banks, but also the old material on Akkadian Grammatical Studies and the new book A Critique of Archaeological Reason. The latter was to be the first website to open in that cluster.

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As I was gathering material for a website initially conceived as an “annotated bibliography” I came to realize that what was really needed was a type of website that would also implement, as was already the case for the archaeological websites, a full-fledged argument – what would eventually come to be defined as a digital discourse.

In 2019, Jonah Lynch joined the project and took on the responsibility of serving as Associate Editor of the website. He also expanded the research group approach started in 2014 within the framework of the research on the Critique-of-AR website. He also introduced a new indexing feature. The companion website came rapidly to take shape and is now very close to being open.

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While preparing for publication my volume Alle origini della politica, I had put together the basic structure of a companion website.

Marco De Pietri joined as Associate Editor in 2021: he formatted all the material for use with the DABI program, and we are currently planning to establish a research group and to expand the website as needed.

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In 2014-15, while working on A Critique of Archaeological Reason, I offered an informal seminar in the Philosophy Department of the Catholic University of Milan. Devoted to the “Hermeneutics of Archaeology,” it dealt extensively with the digital aspect, and it involved a considerable number of students, ten of whom contributed directly to the website. It was what I called an “open forum,” that was to continue as a Research Group. This will be realized now under the auspices of the Balzan project.

In 2015 Laerke Recht joined the project as Associate Editor, and gave a great impulse to our work. It was thanks to her efforts that the companion website could open in 2017, coinciding with the publication of the printed book.

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Following the publication of the Critique book, I started working on the Italian version of the Literature volume, entitled Il pensiero nell’argilla, and for this, too, I intended to have a companion website. In the process, began to gather material and reached a fairly substantial body of data, with regard to both bibliographical entries and special themes.

In 2022, the website was reformatted according to the DABI format, and is currently in a develeoping mode.

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2017-2021: The DABI program

The “Digital Analysis of Bibliographical Information” (DABI) program was written by Bernardo Forni to format the websites in the 4banks cluster. The program is constantly being updated to meet new needs as they arise.

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2020: The MNI program

The Multi-nodal Index (MNI) program was written by Jonah Lynch to produce a network diagram of keywords extracted from the bibliographical summaries given in each website.

It goes well beyond visualization. Unlike something like a set of bar histograms, which gives a graphic rendering of numeric information, a multi-nodal index is interpretive: bar histograms visualize the known, whereas it may be rightfully said that a multi-nodal index visualizes the unknown. This is because the images that are produced are “force directed,” i.e., they are, we may say, natively graphical: they emerge from a recognition of how bits of information cluster with each other, how they cohere out of their own “force” into a new whole, the cluster, that is not otherwise apparent.

This is a very significant use of visualization, which is properly expressed by the notion of “network analysis.” The network is not apparent of its own, it is born when the connections among the filaments are identified by the program that creates the visual.

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The old material from 1974 was converted by Marco De Pietri to the format suitable for the website. was then opened for internal use only.

John L. Hayes, who had been a key player in the very early stages of the project, rejoined our group as Associate Editor of the new site, with the assistance of Terri Tanaka.

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All the companion websites of the 4banks cluster (previously working in HTML) have been fully converted into DABI/MID.

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