The Hessian Social Network Project: Results, Tools, and Problems from a Social Network Analysis in Progress

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 12:30 PM
Room 303 (Hynes Convention Center)
Colin F. Wilder , University of Chicago
At the round table, I would discuss my ongoing project to study elements of the German intelligentsia during the Enlightenment period, a study I call the Hessian Social Network Project (HSNP).  Methodologically, the project involves a prosopographical database, visualization and analysis software, and the publication of a simple, free, web-accessible social network analysis (SNA) tool.  Specifically at the round table, I will first discuss preliminary findings from the analysis of my data and then give a behind-the-scenes look at how the software tools work.  Substantively, HSNP is a study of who drove legal change in Hesse from about 1648 to 1806, or more broadly how a protoliberal legal and economic order emerged in the German old regime.  The suspects include “legal operators” such as law professors, judges and lawyers, in other words people who interpreted, taught, employed and transmitted law.  Concomitantly the basic tool of the HSNP is an elaborate Microsoft Access database which tracks ties of patronage, collegiality, education and family relations among these actors, and more importantly, how they cited one another’s books.  In the next stage, I convert this set of formalized, encoded relationships into spreadsheet format for visualization in Pajek and analysis of patterns in Stata. These programs are appropriate analytic tools to measure aggregate social patterns among large numbers of actors.  For instance, were the operators diffuse, or were there schools or factions?  Who were the most cited authors? What were the common influential milieus?  I will also give a preview of the final stage of the HSNP, which will be of considerable interest to a broad group of historians and social scientists.  In this stage, I will make an empty clone of the database and associated software available through an open-access, web interface for simple, do-it-yourself prosopography and social network mapping.
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