Tag Archives: Uncertainty

On Expertise and Expert Performance

Expert (Chambers Dictionary of Etymology)

What do expertise and expert performance have to do with this digital curation of knowledge creation project?
Well, if I can understand better what expertise is, where it comes from, and how it is constituted, I will have armed myself with a very valuable tool to identify how experts in the reading of ancient documents can be digitally supported in their task.
The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance [1] is a very informative and rich book, which gathers findings on and around expertise as studied from various points of view: from Psychology, from Artificial Intelligence, from the Cognitive Sciences. Here are the highlights of my readings, presented, of course, within the framework of my own interests, that is, my aim to develop a piece of software which experts working with inscribed artefacts (including papyrologists and ancient near-east scholars) will find useful to conduct their research.

How to define Expertise?
Naturally, expertise is defined with respect to a specific domain; experts are specialists, they excel in a given domain. Yet regardless of the domain, there are two stances to define expertise and thereby experts. The first one states that expertise is a talent; this is the absolute approach, where experts are identified as those who produce exceptional results. The other one states that expertise is characterized by a high level of proficiency; this is the relative approach, where experts are those whose achievements and experience are greater than that of novices [2]. In that scope, Hoffman [3] defined the following proficiency scale (analogical to the craftsmanship stages as established in medieval times): Continue reading On Expertise and Expert Performance

On public vs private research

Back from Würzburg, where I attended the “Digital Palaeography” ESF exploratory workshop (talks and abstracts here) – and on which Dr. Dominique Stutzmann reports in his blog – I find myself pondering on issues of public vs private research. Youtie, times before the widespread adoption of digital tools, already commented on this issue in the context of papyrology. In his 1963 paper [1], he presents the internal workings of what papyrologists do. In doing so, he defines public papyrology, which consists in presenting the results of papyrological work by publishing editions of the studied texts. These editions usually offer a diplomatic transcript, a reconstruction of the text, a commentary on the presented interpretation, and sometimes a line drawing of the text, along with photographs of the text-bearing artefact. Once the edition published, further interpretation of the text is open to scholarly debate and to its use as evidence for further historical research. Upstream, the work of the papyrologist, however, is much more of a private activity, which aims to produce a transcription of the text, and is paved with what Youtie [1, p27] describes as:

“[…]the doubts, the hesitations, the numerous false starts and new beginnings; the guesses sometimes confirmed, sometimes rejected by the script;  the continual recourse to books for information of every sort – lexical, grammatical,  palaeographical, historical, legal; the interludes of exhaustion and depression[…]”

Unsurprisingly, I realized at the Digital Palaeography workshop that palaeographers seem to undergo the same type of process. In his keynote, Prof. Eef Overgaauw underlined the fact that uncertainty is ubiquitous: “No answer is final” he said, “No result is conclusive. They are all provisional.”

Not only does this chime with my current reflections on uncertainty, it also made me acknowledge that the notions of public and private research do likely extend beyond papyrology and palaeography, and that the shifting shape of uncertainty Continue reading On public vs private research

Deciphering and interpreting (proto-)cuneiform

Proto-Elamite clay tablet from Susa, in the Louvre (courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s great to be back “in the field”! Well, it’s nothing exotic, really, as I went to Wolfson College, Oxford, to attend one of Dr Jacob Dahl‘s interpretation sessions, where the subject of study for this group of three students, Jacob and myself was a set of Proto-Elamite texts (yes, this is a wikipedia link; it has been approved by Jacob, for more info on cuneiform scripts, check here). When I say it’s not exotic, in fact, to me it is – well, not Wolfson that is, but Proto-Elamite, which I have never encountered before. So far, the interpretation sessions I’ve attended had to do with Latin cursive texts such as the Vindolanda tablets, or with Greek epigraphy; two scripts that belong to the group of segmental alphabet writing systems (as does the script I’m using to write this post). Proto-Elamite, in contrast, is thought to be a derived from the proto-cuneiform script; it is classified as logophonetic and seems to be at times pictographic and at times syllabic. Additionally – and non-negligibly – Proto-Elamite is one of those few ancient languages that Continue reading Deciphering and interpreting (proto-)cuneiform

From Artefact to Meaning

Initialement dans le contexte de la recherche en papyrologie et en épigraphie, mais à plus longue échéance dans le contexte d’artefacts culturels et historiques en général (textuels ou non), ce carnet de recherche vise à documenter:
• l’étude des pratiques des experts lorsqu’ils s’attèlent à la tâche de déchiffrement et d’interprétation d’un artefact.
• les méthodes adoptées afin de provoquer, d’identifier, de soutenir, et d’enregistrer les moments clefs de la découverte, de la création, de l’invention de la signification des objets étudiés et du savoir historique qui en découle. Ces méthodes auront recours à des approches issues aussi bien des sciences cognitives que de la philosophie et de la sociologie des sciences.
• l’élaboration d’un logiciel de support pour cette tâche, basé sur les résultats d’études de cas.
• l’évaluation de l’impact de l’outil informatique sur les pratiques traditionnelles, et son intégration dans le processus professionnel des chercheurs.
L’objectif ultime est de montrer que, au-delà de la curation des (méta-)données attachées à un artefact, il est essentiel d’aussi conserver les étapes intermédiaires de la création du savoir attaché à cet objet afin, le cas échéant, d’en faciliter la ré-interprétation. La contextualisation des objets est cruciale à leur interprétation, et par conséquent à leur signification, telle qu’elle est restituée dans les musées. L’aspect narratif associé à la diffusion du savoir historique et culturel consistera aussi en un des objets d’études de ce carnet de recherche.