Hypothesis Testing in the Humanities? A Digital Contribution to the Debate on Early “Germanic” Identity

Christopher Roberts, ASU graduate student in Anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change will be presenting his award-winning paper at ASU before he goes to the Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University to present at the Medieval Institute in May.
Recent pushes for the creation of digital medieval resources have resulted in a multiplicity of new databases full of information ripe for analysis. What remain scarce, however, are digital tools to help scholars explore this data and apply it to questions of interest to students of the medieval period. With this paper we hope to demonstrate how computerized simulations can help to bring the strengths of the in-depth qualitative research typically provided by humanistic scholars together with digital methods developed in the social sciences to explore large-scale questions with real-world data.
To demonstrate our approach we take up the issue of early “Germanic” identity in the Migration Period (c. AD 400-700) and will try to contribute to the debate between the so-called Vienna (e.g., Wolfram et al.) and Toronto (e.g., Goffart et al.) Schools of thought on the topic. We do so by programming agents in a digital simulation to act according to the logic set out by proponents of the Vienna (or Constructivist) School of early “Germanic” identity to see if the simulation produces results that accord with data from the archaeological record. It is our hope that by formalizing the logic of constructivist approaches to identity, and digitally simulating their effects on society, we might be able to test the efficacy modern theories have for explaining past situations, without a need for data we no longer possess.
At its conclusion we shall demonstrate how digital tools can help bring the generalizing strengths of the social sciences together with the particularizing strengths of the in-depth qualitative research carried out by scholars in the humanities. We will then argue that only by combining our strengths will it be possible for contemporary scholars to approach the highly complex topics that often interest both scholars and the general public today.
About the ACMRS Graduate Student Travel Award:
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) announces a research award for the outstanding paper written by an ASU, NAU, or UA graduate student working in any aspect of Medieval or early Renaissance Studies. The award provides up to $500 toward the travel expenses of the student to attend the International Congress on Medieval Studies sponsored by the Medieval Institute and held every year in May at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. *Please note that in order to receive the award you must be able to attend the next Medieval Congress as posted on their Web site to present (www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/index.html).
The conference is an important international meeting of scholars engaged in the study of Medieval and early Renaissance culture. The quality of the conference has attracted numerous international participants. The Program Committee, however, has continued to welcome the participation of graduate students and junior scholars, making this conference one of the best forums for those beginning their scholarly careers. In support of the ACMRS research award, the Medieval Institute will guarantee a place in an appropriate session on the program for the graduate student selected and will waive all fees for registration, as well as provide for conference-sponsored meals and housing. The winning paper will also be included in the ACMRS Spring lecture series. Applications should consist of a 15-page paper on any subject suitable to the Kalamazoo program and the name and contact information of a faculty mentor ACMRS may consult regarding your work. For more information about the application process, contact the ACMRS Outreach Coordinator (Kendra TerBeek). Applications should be emailed to Dr. Robert Bjork, Director, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Arizona State University, at acmrs@asu.edu by the application due date.

Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Travel Award Winner: Christopher Roberts

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