A hallmark of the first two Early Modern Digital Agendas institutes was their method of moving up and down the meta-analytic register so that participants could think critically about the uses to which a particular tool, approach, or methodology might serve in terms of both their own projects and the larger aims of the field. Following the success of EMDA 2013 and EMDA 2015, the NEH's Office of Digital Humanities has generously funded a third Early Modern Digital Agendas institute for the summer of 2017.
This instantiation of EMDA moves beyond the survey phase of Digital Humanities, and even the broader “advanced topics” phase of topic development, to focus on one especially promising field: network analysis. Such an focus allows us to concentrate on the best practices for building and curating network analysis projects while ensuring that each participant comes away with their own understanding of how their project fits into broader developments, on the one hand, within the disciplinary field of early modern studies, and, on the other, within the larger ecosystem of Digital Humanities.
Network analysis offers a meaningful and transferable way of responding to “big data” in the humanities. This two-week institute takes advantage of a growing expertise and interest in the field of Network Analysis and its scholarly applications for early modern scholars. The time is ripe to gather the leading practitioners in the field to assess the most effective tools and methods, to take advantage of increasingly rich data that has been structured and analyzed, and to think through the theoretical possibilities for doing so.
Under the co-direction of returning EMDA director Jonathan Hope and EMDA 2015 distinguished faculty member Ruth Ahnert, "Early Modern Digital Agendas: Network Analysis" (EMDA 2017) will bring together experts from the field of network analysis from 17-28 July 2017 to examine one of the most “quantitative turns” in early modern digital humanities. As before, participants will investigate tools developed by visiting faculty to manage, analyze, and visualize data in new ways. In this more focused exploration, however, dedicated “build sessions” will be interspersed to guide the participants’ experiential learning of the most advanced techniques available. As the curriculum (forthcoming) describes, these “build sessions” will guide participants through the process of selecting their source material, extracting data for network analysis, building and structuring their database, cleaning their data, visualizing and analyzing their data with off-the-shelf tools. This will precede teaching them how to write their own code to perform tailored network analysis. The two weeks will culminate in presentations by participants (either individually or in groups) in which they demonstrate the data sets and analyses they have built during the Institute, or respond to the ideas they have encountered in relation to their own future plans. In past iterations of EMDA, these presentations have been the highlights of the Institutes.
EMDA 2017 thus has the potential not only to shape the ways people are using Network Analysis methods and developing new network tools and projects, but also to determine the future trajectory of a field that we might term “cultural network analysis.” The application of computational methods from the fields of network science with aesthetic principles from the field of design technology gives us new ways to engage with some of the thorniest questions at the heart of early modern studies; they also allow us to pose questions impossible to even imagine before the age of digitization. This, however, is a field in its infancy: one that has yet to establish protocols, best practices, and even the language by which we invoke technical processes and methods. We have the opportunity during this institute to begin to reach some consensus on these issues. It promises, then, to be an important intervention within the discourses of both digital humanities and early modern scholars, not only for the participants and faculty, but for the whole scholarly community.
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