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Tudor Networks of Power 1509-1603

P.I.: Dr Ruth Ahnert, Queen Mary University London
Fellowship Grant ref:  AH/M004171/1 on Gateway to Research

An AHRC-funded project has produced a new web tool that promises to reveal new stories and connections hidden within historical archives. Building on an explosion of research into complex networks, Dr Ruth Ahnert (Queen Mary University, London) has brought these cutting edge methods to the study of large collections of handwritten letters where the volume of data makes it difficult to tease out the detail contained within.

The modern world is a networked world; we are all linked through complex social and professional networks that leave digital traces of our many connections. But such networks are by no means a new phenomenon, and those created within the fluid and often dangerous world of Tudor politics have left long-lasting footprints within the document archive that comprises State Papers Online.

With over 132,000 letters sent between more than 20,000 separate individuals, deciphering those networks and finding the stories they can tell us presents an overwhelming task for researchers working through traditional methods. In AHRC-funded Fellowship Tudor Networks of Power 1509-1603, a novel web tool to explore these connections was developed in collaboration with physicist Dr Sebastian Ahnert (University of Cambridge) and designer Kim Albrecht (Harvard University and University of Potsdam).  The results of this project promise a springboard for other researchers, archivists, librarians and even creative writers to delve into complex bodies of historical information to draw out new and exciting material, untold stories and hidden histories. The potential to identify new projects and learn more from existing archives is considerable.

The project has also led to international working groups and workshops on applying network analysis to historical records, including a two-week long institute funded by the US National Endowment of the Humanities at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, at which Dr Ahnert was the co-director. Dr Ahnert has also consulted on a new network visualisation tool being developed at Stanford University; she is chair of one of the working groups on COST Action Reassembling the Republic of Letters; and she is also co-writing a new monograph that is designed to teach arts and humanities scholars about the value of using network analysis in the study of literary history. This work has been presented at numerous seminars and conferences, including ones at the University of Maryland; Stanford University; the National University of Ireland; Oxford University; Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges; Fundan University (Shanghai), and the University of Edinburgh - this project has relevance and reach for global scholarship.

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