Directed searching vs. Data-driven research
The Art of Counting project is based on the combination of a custom-built relational database and advanced statistical methods. The database revolves around a core of variables that are recorded in a binary (yes or no) manner. In the case of my dissertation project, which focused on the king’s regalia, the Medinet Habu database tracked 132 binary variables. Many of these were focused on pharaoh and his costume–is he wearing a khepresh (Y/N)?, an atef (Y/N)?, horns on headgear (Y/N)?, beard (Y/N)?, sandals (Y/N)?, wine jar in hand (Y/N)?, bow in hand (Y/N)?, disc hovering above (Y/N)?, sunshade behind (Y/N)?, in contact with a deity? etc. The other actors in the scene (humans?, aggressive foes? Amun? an ithyphallic god?), scene type identifiers (i.e. slaughter?, festival?, offering?, smiting?), and locational data (north wall? portal? column? exterior?) rounds out the layout used to capture Medinet Habu.
By entering data in this way, two things are greatly facilitated–performing directed searches of the database and the application of a wide variety of statistical analyses. ‘Directed searches’ simply means that the researcher directs what is being investigated; for example, once you have all the data entered, you might choose to see how many times a particular variable occurred (a frequency analysis). Direct searches can be extremely useful and revealing when the researcher has a specific line of questioning in mind. For instance, if your research is focused on a particular costume variable, such as sandals, using the database you can quickly identify the appearances of any combination of other variables with sandals. The database then allows you to revise that search in myriad ways to rapidly investigate numerous lines of inquiry.
Data-driven research, on the other hand, can instantly identify all of the patterns apparent in the dataset. With the data-driven approach, the researcher may choose the analytical method (such as tetrachoric correlation), but will then let the methodology and the data lead the way from that point on. The researcher can then choose the patten that interests them the most and proceed along that path, using directed searches in the database to help flesh out the subtleties of the interactions.
The Art of Counting believes first and foremost that you should let the unfiltered data lead the way and then follow up with directed searches. Other types of analyses where you apply your ideas to the data (such as cluster analysis where you choose the number of clusters, making it a hybrid of a directed search and a data-driven approach) are quite valuable, but allowing the data to lead the way removes bias and provides discoveries that can’t be found any other way. Letting the data lead the way is the closest thing we have to having direct access to the ancient Egyptian mindset.
If you’d like to see a video that goes into some more detail about this process, please see here.