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Digital Scholarship Research Guide

What is Network Analysis?

Network analysis is the exploration and visual representation of the connections among entities in a dataset. Often in the humanities and social sciences, network visualizations represent social networks exploring the connections among people; however, networks can also represent relationships among places, things, concepts, etc. Typically networks must consist of entities or “nodes” (often represented by dots or circles) and then the connections or “edges” among those entities (often represented by lines drawn to connect nodes).

One example could be to choose a movie and visualize all scenes as a network visualization. The characters in the movie would be the nodes, and the times in which they appear in a scene with one another would be the edges. Other aspects of these character interactions can also be represented in a more complex network visualization. For example, characters who appear in scenes together often could have an edge that is thicker than edges between other characters who appear onscreen together less often. This is called a “weighted” network.

Arrows can also be added at the end of lines between nodes to indicate the direction of the interaction, if applicable. In the example of the movie scene visualization, arrows could indicate when a character speaks to another character.  The edges with arrows are referred to as “directed” while edges with no arrows are “undirected.”

Other attributes of your network such as the gender, age, or occupation of a character; the genre, category, or date of a publication, etc. can be represented visually by different colors or shapes of the nodes. These visual variations can then be used to explore differences in relationships or communication frequency by one of the defined attributes.

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Further Reading and Resources