I’m a fan of using networks to break through genealogical brick walls. My shorthand for this is “People tend to marry someone they know.” When you’re studying a community it helps to start mapping everyone. Look at their relatives, look at their neighbors, look at the other people who sign the same documents. It’s time consuming but not hard.
It’s called social network analysis. I remember reading something from Tony Proctor at Parallax View, I can’t put my finger on it right now. I also remember seeing something with the leaders of the American Revolution. Can’t find that either.
Instead I find some old bookmarks about researchers who analyzed the social networks in three epic poems: the Greek Iliad, the English poem Beowulf, and the Irish Táin Bó Cuailnge. It turns out these three have the characteristics of real-life social networks.
Then, the researchers analyzed four works of “modern fiction”: Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter, Les Misérables, and Richard III. The social relationships in these are flatter. They don’t have the interlinked connections with other characters that people have in real-life networks.
I feel like I could almost have guessed, even before I read about the study. In high school I read Gone With the Wind, with some of my friends. As a group we ended up having many different discussions about idealizing the past and distorting the evils of slavery. In among the politics and ethics, I also thought this novel was a bit unusual in the number of relationships among minor characters. Kathleen Calvert. The Tarleton twins. Mrs. Mead. It’s common in novels. I thought it might be that Margaret Mitchell based the story on real life, just because of the network depth she gave it.
Now I’m going to go figure out where I’ve stashed all my info on social networks. Must be around here somewhere.
- HeritageDaily staff. “Physicists Study the Classics for Hidden Truths.” HeritageDaily <heritagedaily.com>, July 2012. Retrieved Apr. 15, 2020.
- Dienekes Pontikos. “The social network of the Iliad is highly realistic.” Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog <dienekes.blogspot.com>, July 26, 2012. Retrieved Apr. 16, 2020.
- NNDB: Tracking the Entire World. Retrieved Apr. 15, 2020. “The NNDB Mapper is a visual tool for exploring the connections between people in NNDB, linking them together through family relations, corporate boards, movies and TV, political alliances, and shadowy conspiracy groups. Maps can be saved and shared for others to explore.“
- Veronique Greenwood. “The Viking Facebook: There’s much to learn from studying mythical social networks.” The Verge <theverge.com>, July 15, 2014. Retrieved Apr. 26, 2020.
- Swede White. “Analyzing Social Networks of Colonial Boston Revolutionaries with the Wolfram Language.” Wolfram <blog.wolfram.com>, June 29, 2019. Retrieved Apr. 15, 2020.
Updated Apr. 26, 2020 to add link.