Six Degrees of Francis Bacon has pioneered a method to digitally reconstruct historical social networks that people from all over the world can collaboratively expand and revise. It harnesses digitized texts, natural language processing, network inference methods, and distributed historical expertise to create the broadest, most accessible source of who knew whom in early modern Britain.
The beta version of Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, created collaboratively with undergraduate programmers, has received over 50,000 hits since September 2015; on one hand, it allows users to explore a network of relationships between people whose names appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (www.oxforddnb.com) and, on the other hand, it allows users to contribute to the database and edit the data underlying that network. However, humanists’ “long-standing resistance to visual forms of knowledge production” has also limited Six Degrees’ reach.
In this preview presentation, we detail ongoing efforts to improve the design of the platform and the data visualizations it involves so that scholars, students, and citizen humanists can produce new humanistic knowledge at the intersection of humanities and design. In the ongoing process of redesigning Six Degrees (http://bit.ly/6dfb-redesign), we aim to transform it into an accessible, sustainable, and vital resource for the scholarly community, but also to provide a blueprint for scholars interested in creating similar resources for other historical cultures.