How are networks useful in the digital humanities, both at a micro (network analysis) and macro (research network) level? Many of this week’s readings attempted to address these questions.
Scott Weingart cautions us to use network analysis wisely, and I think he is right. There is a tendency to jump on the new-tool-bandwagon, regardless of how useful it may be for particular types of research. However, there are many cases where network analysis can, and should, be utilised. As Manual Lima says of the visualizations on his VisualComplexity site “all projects have one trait in common: the whole is always more than the sum of its parts”. How can humanists know when it is appropriate to use network analysis? I think the only answer to this is through education, we need to be able to fully understand questions such as; what exactly is network analysis? What is the underlying theory? What are its limits? Weingart tackles this adeptly in his Demystifying Networks blog post. I found it useful that he stressed the limitations of the algorithms behind the analyses, making it clear that two different types of edges, directed and undirected cannot be represented within the same visualization meaningfully. Much of what Weingart describes would be implicitly understood in ‘real life’ but are important to consider and address in network analysis.
The second idea of networks, the macro, that the digital humanities needs a defined global scholarly network is a logical one. In theory this is an excellent opportunity for the digital humanities to define itself, to organise and optimize research. If it were operating discretely this may be achievable, but in reality we know this is not the case. The humanities by its very nature is interdisciplinary, yes we may not have the ‘generalists’ of the past that Grafton mentions but we certainly engage in cross-disciplinary research (11). There also appears to be a knowledge gap that must be bridged before this would be possible, but as we see in the conversation between the philosopher and the computer scientist in Scholarsource: A Digital Infrastructure for the Humanities this can be achieved.
An animated network analysis of events in the Game of Thrones Book/TV Series: Useful or not?