Visualizing the Evolution of Historical Networks Using Small Multiples in Grid Charts




Historical time, dynamic networks, small multiples, grid charts, German history


Historical time presents interesting conceptual problems for network visualization. The manifestations of time in historical network research (HNR) are similarly numerous and distinct. Time in HNR cannot always be reduced to the concept of chronological time, which is often implicit in abstract scientific models of networks, particularly since historical networks do not contain all the data about times and paths, but merely what has been documented. The complexity of historical networks exists at all levels and extends from data to visualization to interpretation. Further, historical datasets do not always contain the kind of accurate timestamps that would allow researchers to plot all time-dependent paths, nor to know which ones are missing, and time markers are rarely as accurate or detailed as those in datasets created by current technology. Thus, a model of time with variable temporal units is more generally appropriate in HNR than a regular chronometric one. Likewise, historical accounts often contain more than one agent’s perspective on the evolution of a network. In this article, we present a method for visualizing historical networks that can be used at various timescales and is responsive to various kinds of historical time. To display snapshots of a network, we propose an agent-perspective-time matrix that is flexible and puts the visual emphasis on change in the network rather than states of the network. We use small multiples placed within a grid chart to represent states of a network at a particular moment and/or from multiple perspectives. Using examples from German history, we discuss two case studies with different conceptions of time, as well as other problems that we frequently encounter in re-constructing networks. Finally, we propose a visualization technique for use in the small multiples: using color to reveal changes in the network. Whereas color is often used in HNR to represent the static characteristics of nodes, edges, or communities, it is possible to use color to emphasize the evolution of the network. When color is used to highlight the dynamic aspects of the network, nodes and edges are colored according to whether they emerge, persist, or disappear; network growth and dissolution are thus foregrounded. This method is, therefore, preferable when network dynamics are of greater research interest than the static qualities of the network, such as the properties of nodes or communities.

Author Biographies

Melanie Conroy, University of Memphis

Melanie Conroy is Associate Professor of French at the University of Memphis, United States. She received her doctorate from Stanford University and master’s degrees from the University of Buffalo and the University of Paris, VIII. Her research explores the intersection of networks with literature, cultural history and visual studies in modern European culture. She is currently working on a cultural history of European salons as sites of literary production and a digital humanities survey on literary geography in the French realist and post-realist novel.

Kimmo Elo, University of Turku

Kimmo Elo is Adjunct Professor and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku, Finland. His current research interests include text/data mining, network analysis, knowledge visualisation, computational history and German and European history since 1945, as well intelligence studies.

Malte Rehbein, University of Passau

Malte Rehbein is Professor and Chair of Digital Humanities at the University of Passau. He has published on manuscript studies, digital editions, text encoding, information visualization, and pedagogy. He is editor-in-chief of the Digital Medievalist Journal and is a member of the Executive Board of the German-speaking Digital Humanities association DHd.

Linda von Keyserlingk-Rehbein, Independent Scholar

Linda von Keyserlingk-Rehbein, geboren 1980 in Berlin, studierte neuere und neueste Geschichte sowie neue deutsche Literaturwissenschaft an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin und der Universität Greifswald. Sie ist Kuratorin am Militärhistorischen Museum in Dresden sowie Leiterin der dortigen Dokumentensammlung, für die sie zahlreiche Nachlässe zum 20. Juli 1944 aus Privatbesitz gewinnen und der Forschung zugänglich machen konnte.

Keyserlingk-Rehbein hat sowohl Sonderausstellungen zum 20. Juli 1944 kuratiert als auch den entsprechenden Bereich in der neuen Dauerausstellung des Militärhistorischen Museums konzipiert. Seit vielen Jahren publiziert sie zu den Themen Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus und Methoden der Historischen Netzwerkanalyse.

Model of a Layered Grid Chart (Time-Perspective Matrix)




How to Cite

Conroy, M., Elo, K., Rehbein, M. and von Keyserlingk-Rehbein, L. (2022) “Visualizing the Evolution of Historical Networks Using Small Multiples in Grid Charts”, Journal of Historical Network Research. Luxembourg, 7(1), pp. 86–113. doi: 10.25517/jhnr.v7i1.87.