Matthew Lincoln, a data research specialist at the Getty Research Institute, is participating in an interdisciplinary panel about network analysis titled “Visualizing Futures of Networks in Digital Humanities Research” alongside Micki Kaufman, Zoe LeBlanc, Yannick Rochat, and Scott B. Weingart as part of the 2017 Digital Humanities conference in Montreal.
Network analysis studies relationships between entities – whether it’s a social network of humans, a physical network like the electrical grid, or even a conceptual network such as the citation links between academic publications. These methods can identify clusters and communities, find “holes” where the network is weak or loosely connected, and chart which entities have particularly powerful positions. Matthew says, “Our discipline [art history] thinks about networks a lot, though we don’t always call them networks. Artists influencing each other, artworks influencing artists, patrons influencing artists, and physical objects moving around the world are all forms of networks. Network analysis allows for a different perspective, one that we can’t get from looking at individual objects alone. We can use this to move from thinking about stories individually to thinking about stories structurally.”
Each member of the panel will bring their own expertise in the histories of art, science, and diplomacy, along with mathematics, visualization, and pedagogy, to assess the current state of network analysis in DH and its future uses in scholarship and research. The roundtable also aims to shed light on process and lessons learned, as well as provide a space to discuss problems with the way network analysis is being taught, how software is developed, and access—the theme of this year’s conference.
Network analysis is currently being used at the Getty to explore the history of the global art market and the collecting of artworks through data from the Provenance Index. This research will culminate in a future Getty Publications title co-authored by Matthew and collaborators Sandra van Ginhoven and Christian Huemer.
If network analysis is new to you, Matthew suggests Miriam Posner’s Introduction to Network Analysis as a place to begin. For a more advanced look, Matthew suggests the in-depth bibliography and resources compiled on the Historical Network Research website.
Ultimately, Matthew’s goal is to get scholars to think more about data. “You may be already using data and not realize it. A catalogue raisonné may look like a book, but it’s a database. How does data structure your thinking, what you argue, and what questions you ask? Art historians work a lot with data, whether at a museum or library. There are many more questions to be asked once you become aware of that.”