9 Feb

Musings on History


History can be extremely complex.  Events and changes are often immersed in strands of connections.  So is it possible to do with history what Franco Moretti does with literary works in Graphs, Maps, Trees?  What happens when history “undergoes a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction?”[1]  I will offer some initial thoughts on applying history to graphs, maps and trees. I would say that Moretti’s models have value, but historians must also be cautious about using the right information for the right model.

Graphs are perhaps the simplest form.  For these, firm quantitative data, like census information or even Moretti’s example of number of books published, are required and can reveal patterns in the data.  However, explanations for these patterns are not something as easily graphed.  Limiting data subsets cannot limit all of the various ungraphed factors that go into an event.

Digital historians have already been…

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2 Responses to “”

  1. Tim Rainesalo February 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    I think your take on Moretti encompasses the general message most of us seem to be taking away from his work. He offers some good ideas, but, as with all interpretive techniques, we must be cautious in order to avoid giving an oversimplified misrepresentation of the past to our audiences. Even then, our first priority should be to assess whether such an abstract visual representation is even the correct tool for the job. Sometimes, words can be just as effective as pictures.

    I also liked your focus on the strengths and weaknesses of Moretti’s use of circular maps to explore the relationship of butter and cheese in a geographic area. I sympathize with your struggle to think of an effective use for trees in history, let alone in a public setting. In my understanding, Moretti’s focus on trees as morphological maps is idea for tracking change over time–but, again, this depends on the subject you’re analyzing. In my own post, I suggest that certain methodological approaches, like applying lexical analysis to trace the changing connotations of Civil war ‘buzzwords’ in a cache of regimental letters, could benefit from a tree diagram.

  2. Elena R February 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Thanks for the example – it’s interesting to see how you could apply some of Moretti’s ideas to your thesis. I guess like anything else, you choose what models work best for your data.

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