Historical network research on the web!

I just discovered the work by Marten Düring and his colleagues on Historical network research. They established a platform for scholars to discuss their network-related work and advertise events. Their website also includes a bibliography listing many historical applications of network-based techniques. In addition, some workshops are organised, the next one taking place 26-28 May in Saarbrücken, Germany. Definitely of interest to people reading this blog!

Here is what these scholars have to say about the scope of the platform:

This website aims to be a platform for scholars to present their work, enable collaboration and provide those new to network analysis with some helpful first information.

The concepts and methods of social network analysis in historical research are recently being used not only as a mere metaphor but are increasingly applied in practice. In the last decades several studies in the social sciences proved that formal methods derived from social network analysis can be fruitfully applied to selected bodies of historical data as well. These studies however tend to be strongly influenced by concerns, standards of data processing, and, above all, epistemological paradigms that have their roots in the social sciences. Among historians, the term network has been used in a metaphorical sense alone for a long time. It was only recently that this has changed.

The social sciences with their focus on the present-day have a vast range of tools at their disposal, such as interviews or questionnaires, to obtain data that are both informative and comprehensive. Historical research however is limited to the extraction of relational data from fragmentary and contradicting sources. Alongside with the paucity of sources this hampers the comprehensive, valid and meaningful application of methods drawn from social network analysis. Despite these obstacles, the relational perspective of network analysis has helped historical research to gain an entirely new methodological vantage point.

Historical research has faced up to the challenge posed by social network analysis. The latter has emerged as a young and dynamic field in historical research; it is still in its formative phase and as a consequence hard to view as a whole. Until now however, social network analysis methods and theories have been applied to historical data in various fields, for example in the study of correspondences, of social movements, of kinship and in economic history. The fragmentary nature of their sources often leads scholars to rely on rather robust concepts of centrality measures, bimodal networks, visualizations and the adaptation of widespread theorems such as brokerage or the concept of strong and weak ties.

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