The main aim of the GEHIR project is to produce knowledge within the area of interest, which is the ancient Mediterranean, and contribute to the academic discussion. We have a web page, facebook, and blog. Therefore, our scientific results are no longer excluded from the public space and everyone may find them.
Web psychologist, Liraz Margalit, defines the web users into two groups a) goal-oriented visitors and b) unintentional visitors. Unintentional visitors are in her words in "browsing state of mind", and rely on "limited cognitive resources and allow the website to guide [them] through interaction". Then there are the goal-oriented visitors who come to a website with specific needs and aims. These visitors are more willing to use up their cognitive resources and prefer text over the video and images (link here). To sum up, by bringing the project to the public, the GEHIR members need to present their scientific results in various packages to satisfy different audiences.
So far, all public domains of the GEHIR project (web page, facebook, blog) offer texts. Even this is another text. However, not all visitors, as Liraz Margalit explains, are willing to waste their time or cognitive resources on reading long posts. Well, what are the other options? One can imagine that graphs, maps, and other visualizations are not so time-consuming and cognitively heavy as long scientific texts.
Let's have a look at the following image:
It is a political map of the Aegean sea during the Hellenistic period. Its aim is to visualize the relationship between Egyptian temples and army on the maritime transportation network. But why is this map focusing on this particular problem, what is the Nesiotic league in the legend, what is the difference between the army base and garrison? In other words, the image is not self-explanatory and needs the text which clarifies the relations of the map regarding the research questions and describes the visualization in depth. Otherwise, the legend of the map would have to be enormous and contra productive. Visualizations definitely enhance texts, but even with pictures the GEHIR web page might loose browsing visitors. However, there is no need to render visualizations too pessimistically. See for example the Information is beautiful database where many of them don't need additional text at all.
After a long brainstorming, we decided to present the research in an alternative way in order to increase its attractiveness. Currently, we are developing a game which tries to explain one of our case studies interactively. The plan is that a player of this game should feel as a researcher verifying the key hypotheses. Showing the scientific results through game mechanics is possibly more comprehensible as the player is actively participating in search for a solution and unfolding the explanation by himself. This way of presenting research is also used in the segregation simulation by Vi Hart and Nicky Case based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning game theorist, Thomas Schelling (link here).
Our game we are developing right now is called Gods on the Barge and is inspired by one of GEHIR case studies which analyzes the successful spread of the Egyptian cults during the early Hellenistic period (4th – 2nd century BCE). The main hypotheses considered in our actual research are that the spread of the Egyptian cults was so successful because of:
a) the maritime trade (supporting evidence: Egypt was one of the main exporters of grain and Egyptian sailors could carry the cults on their travels because the goddess Isis was a patron deity of sailing)
b) political propaganda (supporting evidence: Egyptian cults were closely related to the ruling Ptolemaic dynasty and Ptolemies were politically active across the whole ancient Mediterranean)
We are thus focusing on uncovering the relative importance of these key factors - and so is the player of the game. The player operates mainly as a coordinator of the maritime trade and pays attention to politics. Ships loaded with grain sail across the maritime transportation network and unload parts of the cargo in ports on their way to final destinations. As a side effect, each ship can spread the selected cult while it is anchored in a port. Therefore, by upgrading ships, strategically selected ports or political choices the player can gain various advantages in the process of the spread of the cult. It needs to be noted that the model behind our game is, for the most part, realistic. The transportation network is constructed from the ancient navigational guides and the weather and agricultural production on each island is based on actual environmental datasets. We also presented this idea in Leiden during the Interactive pasts conference (4th-5th April) and gained important feedback.