April 19, 2012 by Amanda Visconti

Mapping the Flow of Knowledge with "View DHQ": ACH Microgrant Award

I am one of four winners of the 2012 Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) Microgrants awards! ACH Microgrants reward enterprising ideas that serve the digital humanities community; read more about the awards here, or read on for info on my funded project.

The digital humanities movement is often conceived as a community of practice, with defined networks such as the Digital Humanities Now Twitter list, Digital Humanities Questions and Answers forum, and various journals acting as platforms for sub-genres of DH research. Digital Humanities Quarterly, while a fairly recent journal, attracts more broadly relevant and interdisciplinary work than more focused fora such as Digital Medievalist; this breadth makes DHQ an excellent test case for tracking the flow of knowledge in the digital humanities via attention to the citation networks of its articles. Thisƒ application proposes a visualization of DHQ’s citation networks with an eye toward identifying key digital humanities texts.

DH is no stranger to citation network analysis. A 2009 DHQ article, Neel Smith’s “Citation in Classical Studies”, argued for citations as “descriptive of the subject of study”: “citation is a form of ontology: how we cite the objects we study identifies and describes the material of our domain independently of any technology” (link). Mapping of digital humanities articles across journals is not new (e.g. Salah, Leydesdorff, and Scharnhorst 2010, link), but the focus of such research has been on exploring which journals include DH work, not which individual DH works are cited within journals. Citation network research that includes information sources other than journal articles is not yet widespread in the digital humanities.

This ACH Microgrant will support making the existing DHQ citation content more visible and more easily analyzed through a visualization; the grant also allows MITH to provide code that could be used in future dynamic citation network visualization implementations. MITH Assistant Director Travis Brown assisted me in conducting preliminary investigations with DHQ’s citation data to ensure it is usable in my visualization tool of choice, Gephi. For an example of Gephi used in DH network analysis research, check out Elijah Meeks and Molly Wilson’s ongoing work using Gephi to visualize self-reported digital humanities affiliation at Stanford; my final visualization should combine the visual appeal of Meeks and Wilson’s work with an easy way to drill down and view the individual works and citations involved in the network.

A key issue in my work will be the current size of the DHQ dataset (110 articles), a small amount of articles from which to draw conclusions. However, my visualization work remains useful because my focus is on mapping connections, not asserting significant authority for any individual author or work. Also, my visualization process can provide a foundation for ongoing citation network visualizations as DHQ continues to grow.

The final deliverables will be one or more visual files of the citation network visualizations, the code used to capture and clean the citation data for visualization, and a final report. The final report will both technical and conceptual, documenting my scraping and visualizing process and addressing future paths for network analysis with DHQ’s citation data.

Possibilities for future work include exploring the bibliographic details of what is cited (e.g. publishing format and venue, academic discipline and job title of author) as well as analyzing which academic fields are under-represented and which formats are mentioned within articles but not cited (as is sometimes the case with digital archives and academic blog posts). Linearity (who cites whom) and time elapsed between publication and citation are other interesting places for visualization and analysis. Additionally, I may be able to visualize a meaningful subset of DHQ articles citing other DHQ articles as the DHQ dataset grows. As I explore these possibilities for more detailed visualizations, I will articulate their proposed interpretations, keeping my emphasis on network exploration rather than asserting authority for any individual works or authors. The outcome of this work should stretch beyond these deliverables by offering DHQ a basis on which to eventually create a dynamically updated citation network visualization.