The growing interconnectedness of knowledge in the fast communicating nodes of the internet leads to an inherent dynamic production of knowledge. In order to profoundly understand the knowledge system resulting from these dynamics, it is crucial to also understand the development of knowledge systems in their historical unfolding.
To achieve this understanding, it is necessary to obtain a description of knowledge systems development that is not only rigorous from the historical perspective, but also formalized from the mathematical standpoint, covering the dynamical interactions of people, materials, and ideas.
The theoretical basis for the project is the approach of socio-epistemic networks for the description of dynamic knowledge systems. Developed and elaborated by scholars of Department I of the MPIWG, this approach will be further extended such that it can become an instrument enabling a formal description with the following main goals:
- to be used across disciplines to enable a comparison between different network studies in historical research
- to integrate these studies by carrying out quantitative analyses on high-quality databases based on an ontology that is created as the outcome of historical research
- to better describe and understand the dynamics of historical knowledge systems.
The analysis of knowledge system dynamics requires an integration of two different theoretical approaches: network-theoretical descriptions and modeling-theoretical descriptions. In terms of network theory, this primarily means adopting SNA methods. The mathematical formulation is based on graph theory, using linear algebra in the form of the matrix representation of dependency relationships. Modeling-theoretical descriptions include the modeling of the semantic structure of a network through ontologies and their formal representation, as well as the development of analytical models for historical dynamics.
The research will be carried out on the basis of case studies from the field of the history of science that are ongoing in Department I of the MPIWG, namely in the three projects The Formation of the Research Field of General Relativity—Social Networks and Semantic Modeling; The Sphere; and the Research Program History of the Max Planck Society. In parallel, at the beginning of the project, a workshop will be carried out with the aim of identifying further projects that should be included in the proposed methodological and conceptual framework. This early workshop will ensure connectivity from the outset. Further workshops, which are an integral part of the project, will enable the continuous exchange between the involved projects.