I am interested in hearing about the implicit (or explicit) tension between simplicity and complexity I’ve detected in this week’s readings. An example in Weingart: “As it stands now, network science is ill-equipped to deal with multimodal networks [networks that are intuitively more interesting or relevant for humanists]. 2-mode networks are difficult enough to work with, but once you get to three or more varieties of nodes, most algorithms used in network analysis simply do not work.” Further on in his article, Weingart adds: “Besides dealing with the single mode / multimodal issue, humanists also must struggle with fitting square pegs in round holes.” Again, humanists care more, at least in principle, or for a habit, about differences (distinguishing factors) than similarities or regularities, i.e. what makes a book, a painting, an idea, new, original or unique…(Idiographic versus Nomothetic, again): “that is the very information they are likely to lose by defining their objects as nodes.”

On the one hand, we are invited to simplify the range of questions we, as humanists, are interested in, in order to make them more manageable by network science (algorithms): on the other, we are told (by Paula Findlen, in the Republic of Letters video, for example) that visualization “adds complexity” to a relatively monotonous task such as that of “reading letters.” The good news is that when we build a network in the humanities, albeit a simple one, we already have some (in some cases, a lot of) discursive (non-formalized or semi-formalized) information (metadata, etc., existing critical lit, etc.) to play with. Read against this rich and dense backdrop, even relatively simple networks can produce complex questions and interpretive issues…

On the Republic of Letters site there is the image of a narrative panorama illustrating the project: it is the work of a Milan-based group that we already encountered, Density Lab (http://www.densitydesign.org/research/network/). What I find interesting in this and other similar output of this group is the attempt at using rich graphic representations of networks rather than the standard abstract graphs, automatically produced with the tools at our disposal…Here’s another example of how humanists can add visual complexity to relatively simple, self-generated graphs…by using them as the skeleton for their visually richer representations…

Another example is this conceptual network hand-drawn by visual artists Paolo Rosa in preparation for a lecture about “narrative Museums” he gave here at Brown, last year:
Paolo_Rosa_drawing

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