Networks in Historical Research | The Historian’s Macroscope: Big Digital History

By Gretchen | September 26, 2013

Welcome to Big Digital History: Exploring Big Data through a Historian’s Macroscope, a co-written manuscript by Shawn GrahamIan Milligan, and Scott Weingart. Over the next few months, and into April 2014, we’re going to be writing this book in public. The book will be published by Imperial College Press, a forward-thinking publisher of scientific texts and monographs, which has allowed us to write using the CommentPress platform. If you click on the ‘blog’ button (the pushpin icon), you’ll find us posting about the process of writing itself.

The finished book will differ in coherence, structure and content as a natural result of the editing process – in due course you’ll be able to purchase a physical or digital edition (we’ll link to it). Our aim is to complete the manuscript by April 2014.

Feel free to read, comment, critique, enjoy, and use. Your comments remain your intellectual property. Road test our material with your classes! Engage with us on Twitter, where ShawnIan, and Scott can be found trying out and debating ideas in public. The various bits and pieces that will make this book will go online, usually on Mondays, over the course of September 2013 to January 2014 (see ‘what this site is not‘ for more detail on our process).

Selection from Networks in Historical Research

¶ 1Leave a comment on paragraph 1 Formal networks are mathematical instantiations of the idea that entities and connections between them exist in consort. They embody the idea that connectivity is key in understanding how the world works, both at an individual and a global scale. Graph theory, social network analysis, network science, and related fields have a history dating back to the early eighteenth century, cropping up in bursts several times since then. We are currently enjoying one such resurgence, not incidentally co-developing along with the popularity of the internet, a network backbone connecting much of the world to one system.

¶ 2Leave a comment on paragraph 2 The use of formal network methods for historical research is much more recent, with only a few exceptions dating back beyond thirty years. Marten Düring has aggregated a thorough multilingual bibliography at for a list of specific instances. This chapter will go over a few examples of how historians have used networks, in what situations you might or might not want to use them, and the details of how networks work mathematically and technically. This first section covers the previous examples.

¶ 3Leave a comment on paragraph 3 In the 1960s, Eugene Garfield created the “historiograph”, a technique to visualize the history of scientific fields using a network of citations or historical narratives laid out temporally from top to bottom.1 Garfield developed a method of creating historiographs algorithmically, and his contemporaries hoped the diagram would eventually be used frequently by historians. The idea was that historians could use these visuals to quickly get a grasp of the history of a discipline’s research trajectories, either for research purposes or as a quick summary in a publication.

Read full post here. (Originally posted Autumn 2013)