Oct 19 2011

* Social Network Analysis (SNA) as an Analytical Research Method for the Humanities*

“From texts to models, then; and models drawn from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary theory.”

In his Graphs, Maps, Trees, Franco Moretti proposes three methods for literary studies. It is fascinating that he sees literary history as a sort of collective system, not merely the sum of individual cases, and then strives to find a pattern in navigating through a series of major canons and other minor texts. However, one might want raise the question of whether his notion of so-called ‘distant reading’ could mislead readers to neglect the importance of close reading for unique aesthetic quality or textuality of individual works.


Over the past year, while conducting my dissertation research, I explored/tested a couple of DH methods, hoping to discover a solution to the dilemma between the distant reading and close reading. Among various DH methods, SNA, which I learned from a sociology class taught by Peter Marsden, gave me the idea that the structural approach of SNA could be used for literary studies, not only for drawing overall patterns of literary history, but also for measuring relationships among authors, texts and all other possible factors affecting the production of texts.

In our ThatCampNE, I’d like to propose a session about SNA and its possible applications in the humanities. We might try answering questions such as the following:

  • How do we define relationships among actors/agents in literary works to achieve a conceptual/qualitative level of outcomes?
  • What kinds of SNA models could be used? Graphs, centrality, subgroups, etc.?
  • What major limits will we have to keep in mind while using SNA for the humanities?
  • What about programs? UCInet? Gephi? Or any others?

If people are interested, I also have a personal project for which I would love to get feedback. Frankly, I’m rather overwhelmed by all the mathematical discussions shared among SNAers due to my limited mathematical/statistical training. I hope to be able to share my questions and difficulties with other ThatCampers….

About the author

Jamie Jungmin Yoo

Jamie Jungmin Yoo, a Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Jamie earned her B.A. in Chinese Classics and Korean literature, M.A. in Korean Literature, and Ph.D. (ABD) in Pre-Modern Korean Literature and Comparative Studies from Korea University.

Jamie’s dissertation aims to establish a literary topography capable of delineating cultural interactions and information flows between Korea and China in the 18th century, in terms of literary networks, reading and poetry image-building practices, as well as print and manuscript culture. An offshoot of her genuine passion for classical poetry and philology of traditional East Asia, her earnest exploration of new research methodology, including Social Network Analysis (SNA), Geographical Information System (GIS) and text-mining methods (XML), enables her to embrace both macro- and micro-level critical approaches to her studies.

Jamie is an active member of the Book History Writers’ group at Harvard, a former officer of Harvard Toastmaster’s Club for leadership and public speaking, and an International Dharma Missionary of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.


Permanent link to this article: http://newengland2011.thatcamp.org/10/19/social-network-analysis-sna-as-an-analytical-research-method-for-the-humanities/


  1. Amanda Rust

    I think this sounds quite interesting — I know people have started to use Social Network Analysis to look at literature (Moretti himself works on a possible model with network theory here), and I would love a chance to discuss these ideas.

  2. mschich

    Hi Jamie, I just proposed another session focussing on complex networks. It would be great if we could align both of our sessions for two censecutive hours of fun.
    For my abstract see newengland2011.thatcamp.org/10/21/complex-networks/
    Best, Max

  3. Jamie Jungmin Yoo

    @ Amanda — thanks! I’ll look into the link for more ideas proposed by Moretti. thanks again and look forward to discussing more about it in and outside the session!

    @ Max – that’s a great idea! i’d love to do that. personally i hope to learn about the complex networks. we could have a joint session or align ours for two hrs. nice! I read your abstract, and it looks great. i don’t think i touched the deeper level of analysis shared among science people. but it’s truly awesome you are working on art history! i definitely hear more about it. thanks a lot!

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