Nodes & Networks in the Humanities: Geometries, Relationships, Processes

4th Annual University of Kansas Digital Humanities Forum
12-13 September 2014
Lawrence, Kansas

The network has emerged as a powerful model in humanities scholarship in recent years. It is used as a visualization and analytic tool to explore objects, ideas or events and their relationships; as a method to discover, link and create new resources and data; and as a social structure through which we conduct our scholarly and social lives and develop our self-identity. Our digital objects, and our digital selves, all exist in "the Net." As Elijah Meeks argues, "The network is not a social network or geographic network or logical network but rather a primitive object capable of and useful for the modeling and analysis of relationships between a wide variety of objects."

KU’s 2014 Digital Humanities Forum will explore these and related topics in a full conference day on Saturday, September 13, which will follow a full day of (gratis) Digital Humanities workshops on September 12.

Keynote Speakers

Steven Jones

Steven Jones

Professor of English & Co-director of the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities, Loyola University, Chicago

"The Network Inside Out and the New Digital Humanities"

The rise to prominence of the Digital Humanities in the past decade can be understood as a response to a simultaneous shift in the collective imagination of the digital network. What was once understood to be a transcendent virtual reality apart from the body and the physical environment is now experienced as if it had turned inside out and spilled out into the physical world, a ubiquitous mesh of data and connections to data that we move through every day. This topological shift in the way we figure the network--what author William Gibson has called the eversion of cyberspace--has important implications for the theory and practice of the humanities, calling for a heightened critical attention to the social, locative, embodied, and object-oriented nature of our experience in the networked world.
Isabel Meirelles

Isabel Meirelles

Associate Professor, Graphic Design, Northeastern University

"Learning from Constraints in Visualizations of Information"

Visualizations have been part of both humanistic and scientific knowledge production and dissemination for quite a long time. In recent years, however, its use has risen exponentially, fueled in part by the need to extract meaning from huge amounts of information and our inabilities to make sense of data without the aid of external devices. The result is that information visualizations have gained unprecedented prominence and we experience a burgeoning practice of visualizing information in all corners of academia, which includes visual systems and representational tools tailored to humanistic inquiry. It is indisputable that they can and often act as cognitive devices whether aimed at communicating information or for exploration and analyzes of data. Much has been discussed about the benefits offered by visual representations of information. In this talk, I will present the other side of this story and examine several specific constraints imposed on and by visualizations. By means of a series of examples, I will elucidate their capabilities by scrutinizing their limitations. I would like to argue that, though powerful by nature, information visualizations should not serve all research problems uniformly. Ultimately, my goal is to open a conversation about how we can employ information visualizations as research tools in a more critical manner.
Scott Weingart

Scott Weingart

PhD Candidate, Indiana University

"Networks In and Of Society"

Networks are increasingly invoked in the humanities and computational social sciences both metaphorically and formally to interrogate ourselves. Simultaneously, individuals, corporations, and governments employ networks as a means to prestige, profit, and power. When in 1696 Leibniz compared the scientific method to putting nature "on the rack," he was not literally connecting torture to evidence gathering. In the intervening centuries, however, the metaphor has become frighteningly apt. Network analysis, an ostensibly scientific method, is used to justify targeting of terrorists and is instrumental in inferring private lives from public sharing. This lecture will address the relationship between networks and the digital humanities; what DH can learn from network analysis elsewhere; and importantly, how DH can contribute to these broader ethical discussions. Indeed, if we do not contribute our ethical concerns to the discussion, it is unclear who will.


Morning: Introduction to Visualization Principles of Relational Structures by Isabel Meirelles

Afternoon: Introduction to Complex Network Analysis: Micro, Meso and Macro Perspectives by Michele Coscia


Isabel Meirelles, Northeastern University | Associate Professor, Information Design

Michele Coscia, Harvard University, Cambridge | Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for International Development

This workshop, for which no prior experience in visualization is necessary, is structured into two introductory parts: in the morning we will examine visualization principles as they relate to relational structures, and in the afternoon, we will cover the theoretical backbone of complex network analysis. The goal of this six-hour workshop is to provide a theoretical and practical foundation to using network methodologies for analyzing all sorts of data in the humanities.

The morning session will start with a brief historical overview of how relational structures have been used over time to represent information in diverse disciplines. Then we will examine several strategies available for visualizing network data vis-à-vis the perceptual and cognitive processes involved in each. We will finalize with a critical look at recent visualization practices that will involve a group exercise.

In the afternoon we will examine the theories and practices of network analysis at the micro, meso and macro levels. This will be an interactive session in which you will use the software “Cytoscape 3” to examine those metrics in a social network case study. Micro level analysis focuses on single nodes and edges, such as detecting the number of connections of nodes (the node degree) or the level of embeddedness in dense areas (clustering). In the social network example, this would translate into detecting the number of friends someone has or her membership in social circles. The meso level analysis focuses on groups, such as the detection of dense modules (community discovery) and of critical nodes. In our social example, we would be able to detect social circles and individuals in power positions. Finally, at the macro level, the focus is on the network structure as a whole, such as getting the degree distribution or the clustering coefficient, which would translate into testing the cognitive limits of social interactions and how people connect to each other.

Requirements: Please bring a laptop with Cytoscape 3 installed. No previous knowledge required, this workshop was designed for beginners.

Workshop facilitators, Isabel Meirelles and Michele Coscia, are active researchers in visualization as well as complex network analysis. Meirelles is an Associate Professor of Information Design at Northeastern University and the author of “Design for Information” (Rockport, 2013). Coscia is a post-doc fellow at the Center for International Development, Harvard University in Cambridge, mainly working on mining complex networks, and on applying the extracted knowledge to international development and governance.

Instructor: Erik Radio, Metadata Librarian, University of Kansas Libraries

Web content provides a valuable source of data that can fuel research interests in the digital humanities. Fortunately, many content providers have made their data accessible for reuse through freely available means. This workshop will explore harvesting data through APIs from a variety of sources with a focus on understanding the basic syntaxes used across most systems. Several other tools for scraping less accessible content will also be covered. Finally, attention will be given to best practices for data cleaning and reformatting of harvested content. Participants will be able to apply skills learned during the workshop across different research areas in the humanities.

The workshop will also provide a basic introduction to using the command line. No prior experience is required.


Windows users should have Cygwin installed on their computer prior to the workshop, and the accompanying wget module. Installation instructions can be found on the Cygwin site.

Mac/Linux users should ensure that wget is on their machines, and if not install it.

Assistance will be available prior to the workshop to help with installations.

Instructor: Jeff Rydberg-Cox, UMKC, Director of Classics and Ancient Studies

This workshop will focus on using methods of social network analysis to explore concepts and themes in collections of texts. I will very briefly describe a current research project to use techniques of social network analysis to understand ideas of happiness as they are expressed in Ancient Greek Tragedy. My project represents words describing concepts related to happiness as actors within a social network that connects characters both within and across the corpus of Greek tragedy. The short presentation about my work in Greek Tragedy will serve as a jumping off point for concrete conversations about ways that workshop participants can use apply these methods to texts in their field of research (I.e. other literary works, historical documents such as wills, contracts, linguistic data, etc.)

Note: If you would like to bring your own data to work with or discuss during the workshop, please feel free to do so. If you have your own data that you would like to work with or discuss, feel free to bring it along. If there are enough interested participants, we MAY schedule an extended workshopping session after the first 90 minutes to work with or discuss your data, depending on interest. Please let us know (in the comments section of the registration form) if you would be interested in participating in such a session.

Instructor: James Coltrain, Faculty Fellow, Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska

Participants in this workshop will have the opportunity to work with an early version of the 3D Scholarly Toolkit (S3DT), being developed by Professor James Coltrain at the University of Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. This web application allows for the easy viewing and exploration of historical 3D virtual environments, directly in a web browser, and also allows creators and visitors to annotate the scene, as well as to import documents, maps, images, and other forms of data into a single online space.

The session will begin with a brief review of workflows and applications for producing and capturing 3D content useful to the humanities, and then move on to showcasing the current features of S3DT. Participants will experiment adding metadata and linking multimedia primary sources to 3D objects in a test version of S3DT, as well as leaving their own notes in the scene in space and time. The session will finish with a discussion so that feedback from participants can be incorporated in the application’s final version.

No 3D experience is required, but if any participants have 3D content they would like to test in the application, they can send an email to to make arrangements before the session. All participants are encouraged to bring their wifi connected laptops.