The Introduction presents historical networks, like roads and postal systems, and the history of analyzing them scientifically. It describes major developments in network science over the past several decades, the ways they have changed our understanding of the world, and the questions they raise about literary history and production. The Introduction then outlines the rest of the book.
This chapter explains the origins of the data for this book and how those data were transformed to allow for digital analysis and exploration. The goal is not merely to make the analysis transparent and replicable, but also to reveal the labor and collaboration that makes it possible. Chapter 1 argues that the tools we use to explore, search, and analyze literary history are crucial to our understanding of that history—and our existing tools have traditionally highlighted authors and individuals at the expense of collectives, circles, coteries, or other laborers in knowledge production. This book relies on tools that were created to counter that bias.
Although book historians now mostly speak in terms of "evolution," this chapter shows that new digital methods make it possible and necessary to speak once again of a print "revolution." This change was not primarily to the speed or technology of printing, but to the newly complex network that emerged and its influence on and by people who were at its center, shaping and being shaped by it—writers like Robert Greene, the era's first literary celebrity; Sir Philip Sidney, its most illustrious courtly writer; Edmund Spenser, its most ambitious print poet; and William Shakespeare, its most enduring author.
This chapter analyzes the English print network between 1564, when Henry Chettle, Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare were born, and 1616, when Shakespeare died and Ben Jonson published his folio Works, in order to ask: During this hugely important period in the development of English literature, who were the most highly connected individuals in the book trade? Although they are little known today, these hubs or superspreaders were vital to creating a system in which information could go "viral," in that its spread was difficult to stop. Taking as its test case the career of the printer Nicholas Okes, it shows that the changes they brought to the network shaped the flow of information in the years leading up to the English Civil War.
The prototypical "hidden histories" have been women's, and this chapter suggests that an exploration of networked "betweenness" may offer a way of clarifying the contributions of some female authors. The chapter explores the careers of two especially remarkable female prophets, Eleanor Davies and Mary Cary. Both have largely been erased from histories of the period. But this chapter suggests that studying these writers' place in the English print network offers some exciting new insights into their influence, the modes of authorship they develop, and the kinds of radical agency they express.
This chapter asks how analysis of network structures and behaviors might reshape our understanding of one of England's most highly celebrated—and even dominant— poetic voices, John Milton. Literary histories of both the old and new varieties have typically approached strong literary voices by exploring the strong ties that shaped them: the closest family members, the dearest friends, the most persistent patrons and mentors. But network science has shown that the most powerful voices are enabled by weak ties, rather than strong ones, and this chapter argues that many of the very documents that seem to imply Milton's isolation actually show him actively establishing and cultivating such ties.
This book is an opening, rather than a final word, on the questions that network analysis can pose within the field of literary studies and book history, and it concludes by pointing to ongoing projects and developments that might expand, deepen, and complicate its conclusions. Not only distinct projects, but especially Linked Open Data, will provide more context for the networks of persons, places, and things discussed in this book, and more powerful methods of network analysis, such as link prediction, will allow us to identify missing collaborators and anonymous authors by their likely association with known figures. Finally, this Epilogue reflects on the status of the digital humanities within the broader humanities and argues for its central—even traditional—position in a field that relies on collaboration and curiosity.