Network analysis is used by a variety of fields in the sciences and the humanities. Social network analysis, for example, is deeply integrated in quantitative social sciences. The new developing field of historical network analysis applies the methods developed in these fields to historical questions. In this respect, Department I is addressing questions ranging from the development of trade networks in antiquity to the formations of research fields in the post-war era.Although largely separate from developments in network analysis, semantic modeling for the description of data and its structures has become increasingly popular for combining heterogeneous data in a semantically meaningful way. The outcome of such modeling processes is an interlinked network of distributed resources, which can be queried and to which such computational methods as interference or coherence checks can be applied. In the literature, these structures are now commonly described as knowledge graphs.
Although both approaches result in the description and analysis of networks—one focusing on dynamic changes and its driving forces, the other on the semantics of the network—the two approaches are seldom combined. Department I has now begun to utilize both approaches to reach a better understanding of the development of knowledge.
Network analysis is increasingly used as a methodology for understanding historical processes, while network theory serves as a tool to systematically describe the structure and evolution of knowledge systems. Network theory can be used to reconstruct, document, and explain the way in which knowledge systems emerged, persisted, transformed, and eventually disappeared. In adopting network analysis for historical research, the challenge lies in the fact that the social and material aspects are usually fuzzier, less precise, and often ambiguous.
In line with the basic concepts of historical epistemology for describing knowledge structures, the project is investigating three types of networks: semantic networks, semiotic networks of external material representations of knowledge, and social networks of actors. These networks correspond with knowledge structures that are understood as codified experiences and potentials for action: cognitive structures, external representation, and social structures.