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Last week I had the pleasure of (finally) attending the ASOR Annual Meeting in Boston. I was invited by the lovely Ludovico Portuese to present a paper in his session called “Manners and Etiquette in the Ancient Near East”.

The session was on the last day, so I attended sessions on pastoral nomadism, the transition from the Neo-Assyrian to the Neo-Babylonian period, and digital history and archaeology beforehand.

The session itself was wonderful. Manners and etiquette is not my normal topic, but the session proved it was an important aspect to consider when assessing ancient documents.

The participants of the “Manners and Etiquette in the Ancient Near East” session at ASOR. I’m on the far right in the yellow jumper.

My paper was about how we can see Assyrian etiquette in how the scribes and artists wrote about their interactions with the “Queens of the Arabs” Samsi and Adiye.

I’m looking forward to writing up my paper for the proceedings of the session.

The other fantastic aspect of ASOR was being able to meet and spend time with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I also was able to meet up with the other editors of the proceedings for GeMANE 4 and 5, as well as someone else who I want to organise a session with for next year.

I think I had a fantastic first ASOR, and I don’t think I could have had a better first impression. I definitely want to attend next year.


Digital Applications in Assyriology Summer School, Uppsala, 2022

This week I had the pleasure of participating as a teacher in the Digital Applications in Assyriology Summer School, hosted by Uppsala University, in collaboration with ANEE at the University of Helsinki.

The staff and students of DAA 2022

I was one of six teachers: Rune Rattenborg, Seraina Nett, Aleksi Sahala, Stefan Smith, and Lena Tambs. We had 12 students attend from all over Europe – France, Belgium, and Denmark were all represented!

Me teaching Python

I was asked to give a Python 101 module, where I introduced the students to the programming language Python. Then I took them through a piece of code that opened a .txt file and did some simple statistical analysis.

I also gave a longer module where I introduced the Lexical Network Analysis method developed by ANEE in Helsinki. I gave a basic introduction to word co-occurrences, and Aleksi Sahala talked them through the basics of Pointwise Mutual Information. Then I walked the students through the workflow with a case study. I asked them to make and analyse networks to explore the semantic domain of animals in Neo-Assyrian texts.

The students now have a week to work on their assignments. They need to choose a small project that would use the applications they were introduced to during the week (html markup; Tableau; OpenRefine; Python; R; QGIS; Github; Gephi), and write up their methods.

My favourite photo of me telling the students my experiences with Python

I was so proud to hear that a third of the students wanted to use Python in their projects! Even better, at least two wanted to do some sort of lexical analysis of their data!

I had a wonderful time, and I’m so grateful for being invited to teach in a wonderful environment surrounded by excellent people. I hope this happens again next year, as I can only see this becoming more and more useful for future Assyriology students.

All photos were taken by Rune Rattenborg, and shared with permission.


Last week was the final stage in the Finnish PhD process: the Promootio.

The event is held over several days, and is when the Masters and Doctors of Finnish universities receive their insignia. For Masters, this is a laurel wreath and a gold ring. For Doctors, it’s a top hat and sword.

After the event, at Senaatintori, with my top hat and sword

If you want, you can watch the whole two-and-a-half-hour event on youtube:

The insignia won’t be used very often, but it was amazing to take part in such an old aspect of Finnish culture.

I’m a Dr!

Me (Ellie) standing at a long desk looking at a screen. Next to me is Saana Svärd sitting behind a laptop at the same desk. Behind is a large screen showing Prof. Lorenzo Verderame during his statement about my dissertation.
Me listening to the statement from Professor Verderame, and Saana Svard as Custos.

Yesterday I passed my thesis defence at the University of Helsinki. As part of the proceedings, I had to present a lectio praecursoria. This was a 20 minute presentation about my dissertation, titled ‘The “Queens of the Arabs” During the Neo-Assyrian Period’ (and is available to download).

The opponent was Professor Lorenzo Verderame, and after my presentation he gave a glowing statement about my research. Then was a really nice discussion about the process behind my decisions, as well as some interesting suggestions for future research.

After this discussion Professor Verderame recommended that my dissertation be accepted by the Faculty. In the Finnish system, this is when I passed the oral examination.

I’m very proud of myself, and I’m proud of the work I produced. But I’m blown away by the support I’ve had here in Helsinki, and the support of my family.

Here’s to the start of an equally successful career!

Paper Presentation: Using Networks to Investigate Semantics of Masculinities During the Neo-Assyrian Period

Global graph from Gephi. It shows a network made up of words about masculinities, and the words they are likely to occur with within a random 20-word window in a Neo-Assyrian text.

On the 8th of October I presented my most recent research regarding masculinities during the Neo-Assyrian period.

I have been using the techniques developed by the Semantic Domains team in ANEE to investigate the wider meanings behind masculinities. This has meant using probability measurements to measure how likely two words would occur together in a specific window of text, and then visualising the results to make analysis easier for the human researcher.

The results are preliminary, but I was able to identify some interesting ‘topographical’ patterns. More importantly, I was able to identify some traits of masculinities alluded to by archery equipment. These traits were both those which were the ‘ideal’ in Neo-Assyrian society, and traits which were not desirable for a man to attain.

This method has proven to be promising, and I hope I will also be able to explore how masculinity intersected with other aspects of identity using this method.

You can watch the recording of the presentation here:

Seminar Talk: Being Online As A Researcher

Last week on the 16th of September I was invited to speak at the Cultural Heritage, European Ethnology and Museum Studies (CHEEMS) seminar for PhD students at the University of Helsinki. The Seminar was about how to have an online presence as a researcher, which can be daunting – particularly to PhD students, who are just getting used to being thought of as ‘researchers’.

The seminar was in two sections. The first was my presentation, where I outlined some of the platforms and methods open to PhD students to advertise themselves. I wanted to highlight that you can use online tools in two major ways: to disseminate your academic work to colleagues; and let the public know about your research.

The second half was a really useful discussion. A lot of it was focussed on Twitter, and I think that reflects just how important it is to connecting and networking academics in the modern world. There was an important comment made, which was that one PhD student pointed out that they don’t remember the last time they read a blog post. Definitely food for thought, considering how many institutions think making a blog constitutes a digital platform.

I definitely learnt a lot from the seminar, and many of the concerns brought up I’m going to take with me in my work on the Science Communications Workgroup at ANEE.

End of my first working week!

I might have neglected explicitly saying this, but I got the position of Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki!

So the past few weeks have been very hectic, and this week I’ve spent settling in to academic life.

I’m part of a wider research group called the Centre of Excellence: Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE for short), and I’m working in Team 1 (of three). The group’s goal is exploring social identities across a huge timespan in order to see how they change during different empires. It’s a huge project, and Team 1 is looking into using tools from Digital Humanities (the buzzword of the moment) to investigate this more.

My own project is going to be using these tools to investigate masculinities in texts that have survived which have been written in Akkadian and have been digitised. I’m hoping to see changes and developments of how Mesopotamians thought about ‘being a man’ based on time, place, age, ethnicity, so on and so forth.

(I’m still working on my elevator pitch for my project, so please bear with me)

I am SUPER excited to be part of this amazing team and a group full of lovely and wonderful people, so fingers crossed I get good results!

Finland, Finland, Finland!


You are now reading the blog of the new Postdoctoral Research at the University of Helsinki’s Centre of Excellence: Ancient Near Eastern Empires!

My research is going to involve using computer code to work out the cultural associations of words relating to ‘masculinities’. So I am essentially finding out what the Akkadian equivalent of ‘man up’ was.

It’s pretty daunting – so far I have a limited experience with coding, but I was able to pick up a lot from a quick visit there in June, so I’m hoping that small amount will carry me a long way.

I’ll also be helping out with the team’s wider goals, so I’ll be doing some extra reading on ethnicity, Neo-Babylonia, and Late Babylonian records and texts.

An important thing about postdocs is that they are normally short-term in my field, so my new position is for two years. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with all the legalities and loopholes of moving countries, though! Luckily the University (like most) have a relocation service that help with stuff like this, so I have someone to guide me through the Finnish paperwork (thankfully).

So after receiving that news I very happily turned off all my notifications for funding deadlines, and I sent off my paper to my tutor. They’ve had a skim of it, and recommended some people to give it a once-over for me. This will be the most peer-reviewed paper under the Sun….

And for the rest of the week I (finally) got on with prepping for my viva (or thesis defence – it’s the examination for PhD students). I’ve taken the approach of just reading widely, read the stuff my examiners have written, and annotate my thesis.

So overall, a pretty good week! Definitely deserved spending too much money on a Nintendo Switch and a new tablet….

Week 2: One Helluva Pizza Order!

Report: HTC in Final Negotiations to Sell Smartphone ...

I have had a doozey of a week.

So on Saturday, as part of my new ‘Ellie will do ALL THE WALKING’ I walked up a hill with Erik. It was lovely, but we accidentally walked 11km when we should have done, like, 4. Woops….

So to celebrate (and soothe my aching hip) we ordered pizza. To order the pizza, for some reason they had to send a code to my email, so I dutifully opened by email to see…. A JOB OPENING AT HELSINKI!!!

Now, for clarification: all my research interests point towards Helsinki. Helsinki is literally the perfect place for my work. I’ve visited it recently and kind of fell in love (granted, it was in the middle of Summer). So to see this in my inbox whilst full of insecurity about my future was AMAZING.

So naturally I said ‘yes, I’m up for that’, and the first few days of the week was spent making sure I had all the documents for the application. Academic job applications are pretty intense, with 3 page CVs, 2 page cover letters, and a research proposal (depending on the position, this can be 12 pages long). So I got all of those together and sent them off.

The rest of the week was… well… less productive.

I’ve noticed that when I don’t have a dedicated workspace away from my house, my productivity tanks. Especially during periods of high stress (like this week).

To combat this, I’ve been trying a new productivity hack. It has a particular name, but I seriously cannot remember what it is right now…. The premise is simple. You can have a MASSIVE to do list, but you can only be working on THREE things at a time.

I’ve been using Asana for this. It’s an online task manager which can organise tasks into columns. So I have one which is my to-do list, one which is my doing list, and one which is my done list. It’s really helped me focus on only one or two items at a time, which is a Godsend when I have ALL OF THE JOB APPLICATIONS, thesis prep, a paper to finish and find time to remember how to code again…

But the main productive moment this week has been to send off an updated draft of my paper to my tutor Rocio. It’s part of a programme where you’re paired up with a tutor who oversees your work and makes sure it’s up to par so it can be published. I’m hoping I’m now at the stage that I just need to polish the Akkadian bits, spellcheck it, and it’ll be good to go. After all, it’s now been read by four people – that is basically an entire peer-review process!

So yeah, between applying for a dream job that will have a quick turnaround (I should find out tomorrow morning), and sending off a paper, it’s been a doozey of a week…

Week 1: It begins…

Good Friday, everyone!

By which I don’t mean the religious holiday, but my weekly update of what I’ve been up to academically.

It’s been dominates by applications, VIVA prep, working on my masculinities paper, and a lot of confusion.

Postdoctoral positions require a very long CV and a research proposal that would fit with the position you’re applying for, but some are pretty open. So I’ve been applying to do a project based on what I was doing at the University of Helsinki the past couple of weeks. My plan has been to then tailor to every position I apply for, and just apply for as many things as humanly possible.

One thing I’m hoping will make my applications stand out is the fact that I’m using Overleaf to make these documents. It’s an online LateX (yes, I know what it looks like – it’s pronounced ‘lay-tek’) editor, so the documents look really nice in comparison to Word.

Something I’m struggling with is condensing everything into snappy paragraphs that will make sense to a non-expert in my field, but also lays out the ‘deliverables’ and project aims in a concise way. It’s beginning to seem like a never-ending joke…

None of this will work out though if I don’t pass my VIVA. My supervisor gave me some extra articles to make sure that I definitely have a good grasp of the field. So first on my reading list has been Drewe’s important article about the MKRB in South Arabia. A summary: people agree it’s a title for rulers in pre-Islamic South Arabia, but no-one can agree on the exact definition or meaning of the title. Literally no-one. It’s kind of amazing.

An important part of VIVA prep is also including making sure I know the background of my external examiner, so I’ve made a start on some of the more important and accessible pieces of work (thank God for…).

Finally I’ve been working on my paper about masculinities. I found out it’s due at the end of August, and since this will be the first publication to my profile, I need to get on with it. After the feedback by someone in Helsinki, I realised I need to make sure the structure makes total sense, and that some details weren’t really accurate… But that’s being fixed now, and I like to think it’s proof that I’m developing a more adult approach to feedback. Remember Ellie, it’s all done to improve your work so you can be really proud of yourself!

I realised I had a massive gap in my knowledge about the Coronation Ritual, so I’ve spent longer than I care to think about trying to find an accessible translation. It appears this doesn’t really exist for the Middle Assyrian version, so I may need to ask around if anyone has a copy I can borrow…

One thing that became REALLY clear is the need to streamline my filing system for articles and books. The problem lies in the fact that I work best reading from a physical copy, but I’m trying to be more eco-friendly, so I’ve been wracking my brain for a system.

I think I’ve now got one. Now I’m using this reference software called Zotero (I am VERY late to the party on this one). You upload the bibliographic information of something you’re reading onto Zotero, and through a plug-in you can then easily import the information into Word. Importantly for my new system, you can add pdfs of the stuff you’re reading, and add important notes. So now my system is getting the pdf, put it onto OneNote, write notes on there, when I’m done I put the bibliographic info onto Zotero, upload the pdf file, put the key notes onto the file, add some identifying tags so I can easily find it, and then I can put the info into what I’m writing.

So that’s been my week so far. Next week the goal is to get the application for BRIHC completed, and then I can focus on preparing for my VIVA, all the while finding some time to practice the coding I learned in Helsinki and work on my paper.