Knot is a digital tool for exploring historical social networks, developed within a multidisciplinary research context involving DensityDesign, humanities scholars (The Mapping the Republic of Letters Initiative, Stanford Humanities Center) and computer scientists (Sébastien Heymann, LIP6, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris).

The adoption of digital tools and visualization has become fundamental to modern humanities studies but, while natural and social sciences have a long tradition with these technologies, humanities scholars face the scenario where well-established research methods and practices are not well integrated. The main reason for this is the lack of digital tools designed specifically for humanities studies.

The goal of our tool is to provide scholars and researchers with an environment for exploring the multi-dimensional and heterogeneous data, using the Mapping the Republic of Letters project as a case study. Our tool enables researchers to discover and create explicit and implicit relationships between people, places and events of the early modern period.

What distinguishes our approach from traditional network analysis is a shift in attention through the visual interface to the active construction of a or several network graphs, rather than a reliance on the static observation of the end product, which is often a ‘spaghetti monster’ when seen in its entirety. Knot also aims at exploring new opportunities for interface and information design within the definition of novel research practices in the humanities, bringing together humanistic, design and computer-science communities.

Try a demo of the tool with 17th and 18th Century Correspondence Networks data by Electronic Enlightenment Project, read more about the project in this paper submitted to CHItaly 2013 or watch a keynote about this project at Hestia2 conference held at The University of Southampton on 18 July 2013.