Graph Databases, Network Analysis (Special Topics in Digital Humanities for the Ancient World)
ISAW-GA 3023 | Spring 2023 | Sebastian Heath
This course will explore the relationship between two overlapping approaches to working with data: Graph Databases and Network Analysis. Students will learn to apply these approaches to their own work within the broad scope of the Ancient World. A “Graph Database” is a collection of heterogeneous entities and the relationships between them. The software tools that allow querying of these collections start from the perspective of the individual entities and allow these entities to be selected, grouped, and counted. For the purposes of this course, a “Network” is a collection of nodes and the edges that connect them to other nodes in the same set. A focus of the tools for working with networks is the whole collection. Which nodes are highly connected? What is the nature of the paths that exist between all the nodes? What subgroups exist within a network and which nodes mediate between those subgroups? It is the case that ‘nodes’ are analogous to ‘entities’ and that ‘edges’ are analogous to ‘relationships’. Starting with working examples, the course will explore these similarities as students learn how to implement these concepts within the context of their own work. How do these generic terms, methods, and questions relate to the past phenomena we study? Existing resources, including the Wikidata graph database and the networks that can be derived from it, will introduce students to specific tools such as the SPARQL query language and the Python programming-language libraries for working with networks. Visualization of results will be one focus of our work. While there is no prior technical expertise required, an openness and commitment to learning digital methods is essential. As the course progresses, students will increasingly work with their own data and this will lead to the development and implementation of a final project that uses the methods we learn in class. Weekly readings will explore working examples of both technologies and explore the impact they are having on scholarship and research in the Ancient World. The course may be particularly useful to archaeologists, historians, art historians, and philologists who want to explore how Graph Databases and Network Analysis can contribute to their own research.