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Overcoming the limits?


The literary field could be considered as a network of networks, consisting of several agents who are active in the field and who occupy a certain position. Within those networks, objective but also less verifiable relations between the different agents exist. Any researcher investigating the constitution of the literary field of a given period encounters the problem of finding a way to work with a mass of data in order to unfold the networks. Setting up a relational database seems to be a suitable solution for storing the data in a structured manner. Furthermore, data structured as such could later be visualized and analyzed by social network analysis programs such as UCINET or Pajek. To carry out this task, the researcher should, however, have some background in information technology.

In my research which deals with the role of networks of cultural transmitters in the reception of Scandinavian literature in the Netherlands and Flanders at the turn of the 19th century, I consider the use of technology to be indispensable. Even though I did not have a prior knowledge of Microsoft Access, I have started to set up a relational database in which I collect all the data that are pertinent for my research. As I am developing this database myself, I am able to adapt its structure to my needs and my research questions. Since the objective of my research is to interpret the relationships between people, assembling the data does not constitute a goal by itself. One can wonder, however, how much time I am actually gaining or losing by trusting technologies.

In this paper I focus on the benefits of using technologies and quantitative methods in the humanities, and in network analysis more specifically. By a demonstration of my database, I will explain how I am trying to overcome the well-known, over-emphasized and generally feared limits of the quantitative methods. By giving the example of my own research, I want to open up a discussion addressing the question to what extent the use of technologies can add something to research in the humanities.

SvD, October 2009

  • Conferences > NEWW November meetings > 2009 > Biesemans

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