Draw me a network

It would only seem natural, since we aim at reconstructing networks on the basis of our digital information, to set ourselves the ultimate goal to visualize them – you know, mapping-wise. But somehow I am reluctant to go this way. I feel like someone who would be given a car, the keys to it and even the directions to go from A to B, and would still not be able to get there.

My reluctance has first to do with the fact that I really do not get how a bunch of lines and arrows can give you more information than a sorted list. The only persons in awe for this kind of visualizations are those who are able to interpret them. And as far as I am concerned, being a text kind of person, drawings are not particularly hermeneutically inspirational to me.

There is a more general problem, though. Why would you want to reconstruct  networks when you work in German Literature? It is a different thing when you are, say, historian. Making network reconstruction fruitful in German Literature means being able to draw lines between writers and texts, and gaining conclusions that concern content and form of the texts. That is one thing. But there is also the peculiarity of the period we work on, where cooperative thinking and writing is structurally dominant. So the first step of the network extraction consists in reconstructing who contributed how to certain works (giving the first idea, correcting the manuscript, writing a review,…). There is no way to visualize all of those mechanisms as a whole. You have to pick a particular work or literary debate and see how several personalities work out a position around it in a very limited period of time. The idea of reconstruction “the intellectual network” is in itself absurd, as there are many networks interlaced with one another in relationships and in time.



Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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