Using Today’s Tech to Map Social Networks of the Past

republic of letters

Exploring Correspondence and Intellectual Community in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800)


This project by some students at Stanford is pretty fantastic. One thing I have noticed over my adult years is that I read more biographies. As I read and read and read – and realize certain connections; it gives me a perspective that I feel like my history classes never could. For instance – reading Katherine Graham’s autobiography and learning that it was her mother that supported the gallery that forwarded Alfred Steiglitz’s photography as “art”; that made photography and art at all! – it was an “aha moment”. I’ve often thought that professors should require biographies more often as part of reading lists.

Back to this post…. I love reading collections of letters – there is something about the voyeuristic nature of them that allows me to feel as though I am uncovering truth. Even in today’s blogosphere and all of the social networking – how will it be archived? How will future historians trace the twitter feeds between the luminaries of today? One of my favorite books long ago was Posession by Byatt. Two PhD’s, a love story, history – all unfolded through the discovery of a piece of paper locked away in a box. (Even enough to tolerate a it being turned into a not so fabulous movie…more than one viewing admittedly!)

I love the idea of using modern mapping technology to bring a deeper understanding to the connections throughout history. Click the image to see the project — and make sure you have an hour or so!