Historical Social Network Analysis: A Practicum

AHA Session 169
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 303 (Hynes Convention Center)
John Padgett, University of Chicago
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel will be a practicum on the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) for historical research. The five panelists, John Padgett (University of Chicago), Zacarias Moutoukias (University of Paris VII), Elaine Parsons (Duquesne University), Elisa Grandi (University of Paris VII) and Colin Wilder (University of Chicago), will share their SNA-based work and introduce the basics of SNA.
SNA is a promising methodology for historians. With the recent massive digitization of historical databases, we often have ample data to describe and analyze complex social and cultural phenomena, but are limited by the difficulty in organizing this information.  SNA does just that, conceiving of groups of entities as networks and mapping and describing their interrelationships. On its most basic level, SNA is a visualization tool, allowing historians to view patterns of connections among a population. SNA also is able to describe qualities of networks and attributes of nodes within networks, in various ways.
SNA has, however, been little used within our discipline. This is likely in part because it requires significant specialized training. At the same time, as it has been practiced in other disciplines, SNA has often focused on static descriptions rather than describing change over time, and, as critics have pointed out, has undertheorized both culture and individual agency. Understandably, this work has lacked appeal for historians. Yet, as our work demonstrates, SNA is compatible with historical analysis that takes culture and individual agency seriously. At the same time, recent technical work in SNA enables theorization of diachronic development.
The panel will begin with a basic introduction to social network analysis and to the capacities of SNA programs such as Pajek and UCINET, highlighting special challenges in using SNA with historical data. Next, each panelist will briefly present his or her historical SNA work-in-progress, discussing the sorts of questions that SNA is suited to answer and the sort of data that it is capable of processing, and walking through our methodology from data-collection to visual representations to writing up analysis. Our chair, John Padgett, pioneered the use of SNA for historical research with his groundbreaking 1993 network analysis of the rise of the Medici family, and is currently involved in a much larger network study of Florentine organizational innovation. Zacarias Moutoukias has used SNA to explore trading networks and political action in the Hispanic colonial world, and is at present concerned with analyzing social network dynamics and the emergence of economics institutions in the Atlantic world. Elaine Parsons explores the social locations of Klan perpetrators and victims in a South Carolina county's criminal subculture. Colin Wilder studies the circulation of ideas among the German intelligentsia during the Enlightenment. Elisa Grandi traces how the strategies of World Bank agents and of Colombian financial elites shaped how the international representatives entered and engaged with the Colombia's existing elite network.Finally, we will leave substantial time to address questions. We hope this panel will encourage historians to join our colleagues in political science, sociology, epidemiology, linguistics, criminology, and other fields which make substantial use of SNA tools and methodology.

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