I have been wanting to visualize the network of African American intellectuals and activists that I work on for a long time. This is for several reasons. One, it would be nice to have pretty maps in my future book. Two, I would like a computer to find patterns that I may have missed. Three, I would like a computer to keep track of everybody so that I don’t let important connections slip in my mind. Unfortunately, though, the heart of this is a detailed database. This is unfortunate because it is something I should have been keeping since the beginning of my research. It is a bit daunting to think about going back through the hundred or so people that populated my dissertation and create a rich database. The next problem is figuring out what columns to use in the database, particularly since one of the primary things I want it to do is track relationships. To me, relationships are not something you can describe in one, reusable word like “strong” or “weak.” For example, A small sub-theme of my work is the relationship between black intellectuals and their white graduate school mentors and classmates. Each relationship was marked by certain strains inherent in cross-racial interactions, but each relationship was also unique in the ways that it worked or did not work.
At any rate, something to share and a question to ask:
The most important thing I learned at THATCamp, for me, is that there is a software that does just what I want (well, I’m not sure if it can be overlayed on a map, but there is also other software that can place my network’s physical locations on a historical map). Gephi is “an interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems, dynamic and hierarchical graphs.”
The question–have you seen network visualization put to good intellectual use? Beyond pretty pictures? Did an author find something by quantifying their data that they would not have found by relying only on their brain to draw patterns?
(Images courtesy of Creative Applications Network).