Øyvind Eide: Event-based Modelling of Accounts – From Document Space to Events. Abstract # 15 (random order)

“Opening an accounting record, being it in the form of a leather bound volume, a printout on wide blue bar paper or a PDF document, we see the space of document pages. In this sense the material interface of an account book page is similar to that of any other document. We see a space.

Once we start engaging with the contents of the document, once we try to establish meaning based on the marks on the document space, an account record shows itself as different from most other textual documents. When reading prose narrative, to take one example, the space of the text tends to disappear from the consciousness of the reader and the text appears as a linear structure. This has led to the notion of written texts as being linear in their spatiotemporal interface, as oral texts are, and supposedly different from paintings which are seen as spatial.

Linearity is a fundamental aspect of oral texts, the sound of the spoken word is linear in its material interface. Not so for written texts. And prose narrative is but one text type. Many other types of texts highlights their non-linearity; not only hypertext but also textual forms such as concrete poetry and many modern school textbooks which include a number of different devices including explanatory text boxes.

There is clearly aspects of linearity in account books, and at the very micro level linearity is dominant. If an amount is ß 16,– it is not ß 61,–. But widening the scope just a little bit we see that the structure of the page as a whole is far from linear. Even without understanding accounting we can see a number of spaces organised in a pattern. This pattern looks like a table and it is a natural choice to treat it as one.

But even if we see it as a table we have to adapt to the fact that it is not a strict pattern of square boxes divided by straight lines. Often writing crosses over from one cell to another. In such cases only an understanding of the continuity of the writing, combined with a decoding of the meaning of the signs, can let us decide which cell in the table a sign belongs to.

This is partly connected to the writing event. A number written in one operation can be seen as a number belonging to one cell. However, this is not enough. Additions are often made to account books and these additions can also lead to overrunning the borders between cells.

When an accountant decides to add more information to a record in an account book there are clear, if not necessarily explicit, rules for why and how this is done. An account has a strong perceived link to an external reality. This link does not have to be simple and the “reality” may very well be one the accounting record tries to establish rather than a pre-existing reality to be recorded. Yet, truthful or not, in its rhetoric an accounting record represents a claim about an external world. The relationship between the claim and the external reality can be seen as a relationship between events. In the paper I will present an attempt to model accounting records based on this relationship, to see how far it brings us towards a useful model.

Making an entry into an account book can happen though one or several events. The development of a full volume, with additions and corrections, can be studied as a genetic process. In this sense each record can be seen as one text, or even each cell can be seen as one text. The latter approach will lead to a series of texts (the cells making up a transaction) that has a strong interdependence and structural interconnection, whereas seeing a full record as one text establishes the text as a more free standing entity.

This text can then be linked to an event, claimed to be real in the rhetorics of the accounting record, in the extratextual world. Using this approach the idea of the table can be loosened up, moving from a structural grid based view towards an event based approach. Seen the other way around: the core unit of an account book, the record, is the text found in one document space, or spread over more than one document space, that represents one financial transaction event in an extratextual world. This core unit was created in one or more writing events.

In the paper this approach will be presented in order to be criticised based on evidence from projects working on different types of historical evidence. If the core model seems to be robust it can be developed into a more elaborate model of the relationship between the space of accounting record documents and historical events.”


Øyvind Eide (Universität Passau)

Presentation: Oct 24, 10.35-10.55 a.m., University of Regensburg, Großer Sitzungssaal des Philosophikums (PT 3.0.79) [PROGRAMME]



Picture credits: von Marinus van Roejmerswalen (selbst fotografiert) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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