Gods, graves and graphs.

Posted on 20 January 2015

Talk: Frederik Elwert, Simone Gerhards and Sven Sellmer, “Gods, graves and graphs – social and semantic network analysis based on Ancient Egyptian and Indian corpora”

Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-1780-0000-0024-A807-0

Date: Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: TOPOI Building Dahlem, Hittorfstraße 18 D-14195 Berlin (map)


Social networks pre­date the existence of Facebook. Network analysis is increasingly used to study ancient material. Its relational approach is useful to visualize and study structures in historical and literary sources. Coming originally from the social sciences, the application of network analysis in the humanities often focusses on social actors and their relations. This covers studies of letter exchange networks (Winterer 2012) as well as the implicit networks in literary texts (Mac Carron and Kenna 2013). But beyond social structures, humanists are interested in the content of their sources, which is often underrepresented in network models. This issue can be solved by including not only social, but also semantic items like lemmata in the network (Lietz 2007; Tambayong and Carley 2012).

Bringing together scholars from philologies, sociology, and computer science, the SeNeReKo project uses methods from network analysis to study social as well as semantic structures in ancient corpora. In order to stress the generic potential of the developed methodology, we use corpora as diverse as Ancient Egyptian scriptures and Indian epics as sources, representing “gods and graves as graphs”. Given the size of the corpora – 1.1M words in the Egyptian corpus, 3.5M lexical units in the Indian corpora – network analysis can be used to detect structures invisible through close reading. Based on linguistic annotations and prosopographical information in the TEI encoded source corpora, social and semantic networks are built of single texts or entire corpora. Depending on the specific research question, the analysis can assist in studying word use, social structures, or engage with distant reading of large collections.

The talk will present few concrete examples from the corpora to show how this methodology is used by humanists to work on specific research questions. Informed by insights of the distant view on the material, it allows for new starting points for close reading of the sources.

The tools developed in the project are built with generic application in mind and released as open source software. This allows students and scholars outside the project to use them with minimal effort.


Lietz, Haiko. 2007. “Mit Neuen Methoden Zu Neuen Aussagen: Semantische Netzwerkanalyse Am Beispiel Der Europäischen Verfassung.”.

Mac Carron, P., and R. Kenna. 2013. “Network Analysis of the Íslendinga Sögur – the Sagas of Icelanders.” ArXiv e­print 1309.6134.

Tambayong, Laurent, and Kathleen M. Carley. 2012. “Network Text Analysis in Computer-Intensive Rapid Ethnography Retrieval: An Example from Political Networks of Sudan.” Journal of Social Structure 13 (2).

Winterer, Caroline. 2012. “Where Is America in the Republic of Letters?” Modern Intellectual History 9 (3): 597–623.





Or you can just download the video files (.mp4): talk (417,9 MB) ; discussion (521,9 MB).