Reconstructing Historical Networks Digitally. New Approaches, Opportunities and Epistemological Implications of Social Network Analysis

25.10. - 27.10.2018, Conference, DHI Washington

Third Annual GHI Conference on Digital Humanities and Digital History 
International Workshop and Conference at the German Historical Institute Washington

Conveners: Matthew Hiebert (GHI), Simone Lässig (GHI), and Katherine McDonough (Stanford); in collaboration with Stanford University

This event seeks to assess through international dialogue the state-of-the-art in social network analysis (SNA) for creating genuinely historical knowledge, both in respect to tools and their applications, but also with regard to methodological and epistemological implications. Established since the 1970s in the social sciences, network analysis conceptualizes individuals as embedded within webs of social structures through which influence and other resources are transferred disparately. The method is increasingly being adopted and transformed by scholars studying global and transregional history to reveal illuminating patterns and to make new arguments.

This event is intended as an opportunity to discuss advantages, challenges, and limits of adapting and applying SNA tools to historical research. The conference aims at reflecting upon the impact of the method on conceptions of history, historical methodology, and Quellenkritik and vice versa—to think through, first, how approaches to social network analysis might change the discipline of history and the knowledge it produces. Second, the conference will discuss pitfalls, methodological challenges, and limits than can be identified when applying principles of social network analysis and existing software programs to historical research, which has to take into account not only space and place, but also time.

The development of web-based environments for social network analysis—facilitating collaborative research, enhancing data integration, and combining other digital methods—is transforming ways in which social network analysis is being undertaken. These and more traditional SNA tools are allowing historians to clarify social factors affecting historical agents and to develop arguments in new ways. Notably, historians are increasingly turning to SNA for analytically contending with the entanglements, human ties, and geographical distances of transnational communities and actors. The integration of SNA with advanced data visualization, semantic web and Resource Description Framework (RDF), mapping, and collaborative techniques promises further research advances within history.

This event focuses on processes and implications of historical social network analyses towards exploring how approaches, platforms, and standards can be used to model networks reflecting quality data, accurate results, and new insights. To open up opportunities for critical inner- but also inter-disciplinary theoretical-methodological reflection and comparison, the event seeks to present and discuss a large range of approaches and historical topics. We especially welcome, therefore, proposals that are comparative in scope, projects integrating several digital techniques, and approaches contending with multiple geographical regions.

While the overriding concern of the event is the use of social network analysis in historiography, from the Early Modern period to the present, the range of approaches is open and may involve digital humanities, cultural history, political history, history of knowledge, (post)colonial history, urban history, the methodological history, or other critical frameworks. Although research centered on nation-states is relevant, we are particularly interested in the question of how to use historical SNA for transnational, transregional, and global history sufficiently.

(Conferences are not public. If you are interested in participating, please contact the GHI convener.)

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