ANEE Annual meeting 2019

The annual meeting of the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires was held in late August in the heart of Tallinn’s old city, an ideal inspirational setting for the three days of stimulating sessions. Doctoral student Rotem Avneri Meir writes about his experience attending the centre-wide meeting.

The meeting opened with a workshop focused on the migration tool and database developed by ANEE. The migration tool is intended to facilitate the creation of a large database of evidence for migration in imperial contexts in the ancient Near East. The database, along with the tags that the tool provides, allow for easy access to comparative case studies and textual and archeological references dealing with ancient migration. The database will therefore enable future students of migration to broaden their perspectives and studies of particular topics.

During the annual meeting, each of ANEE’s three teams presided over a methodological session related to its specific goals. Team 1 gave an introduction to social network analysis: the use of tools borrowed from the digital humanities in the study of ancient texts. Each of the members of team 1 then introduced a small group of ANEE members to Gephi – a network analysis and visualization software that is key to their research. Through the use of Gephi, team 1 animates abstract notions of connectivity, even when the links are between semantic domains rather than between persons. Team 2 conducted an experimental session on group identity that linked social identity theory and Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of field and habitus. In the experiment, ANEE’s foreign members conducted group interviews with the Finnish members and asked them questions relating to Finland’s recent victory in the Hockey World Cup. We then analyzed the results together and reflected on the place of the Finnish hockey team in the construction of national, social, and cultural identities. Team 3 headed a session entitled ‘Empire Strikes Back’ which began with a fascinating talk by Andrea Berlin on the use of archaeological evidence as a proof-text. It was then followed by a ‘learning café’ in which each of the members of team 3 led a discussion on material culture and its association with imperial contexts, with a focus on architecture, ceramics, administrative tools, exotic imports etc.

A highlight of the meeting was a poster session that focused on the characteristics of kingship and queenship in the empires that are of particular interest to ANEE: Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Achaemenid, Ptolemaic and Seleucid, Parthian, and Roman. The posters were the outcome of fruitful collaboration between the different teams that comprise ANEE – members of all the teams contributed to the posters, even if they were not necessarily familiar with the period in question. This resulted in the sharing of ideas across diverse areas of specialty among the members, be they philology, social theory, or archeology.

In the view of this doctoral candidate, the annual meeting was an excellent opportunity to better understand the goals and methods of the different teams, and to expand my methodological toolkit. I also had the opportunity to present my project in an ANEE-wide forum, which proved invaluable thanks to the comments and suggestions raised by the members and the advisory board. Special mention should be made of Scientific Advisory Board members Andrea Berlin (Boston University) and Philip Esler (University of Gloucestershire), whose insightful comments and active role in the sessions contributed immensely to the work process and goal setting of all of the teams. I personally found the poster session extremely engaging, because it allowed me to directly tackle concrete questions and then create a tangible product that may provide the foundation for further research and publications. The annual meeting and its sessions strengthened my conviction that the way to advance the study of ancient empires and achieve innovative insights is through the interdisciplinary discourse that ANEE promotes.