Scholars, Teachers and Students in Early Medieval Europe: Towards a Total Network
By J. Clare Woods
Given at Duke University, on October 19, 2013
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other global social networking tools, networks and ways in which we can (re)construct and analyze them have become an important focus of research across the disciplines. This is no less true for those of us studying the premodern world, where networks (whether social, political, familial or intellectual) were both the fabric and the driving force of societies. This talk, part of a larger project, is concerned with intellectuals (scholars, teachers and their students) active in the late eighth through ninth centuries, a period usually referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance.
By interrogating recent scholarship on early medieval intellectuals and their networks, Professor Woods demonstrates the limits of text-based network studies, and argues that we cannot gain a fully nuanced and accurate understanding of early medieval intellectual networks unless we use new digital tools to visualize our data. The very process of visualization enables–even requires–us to ask different and larger questions of our sources. Visual models handle complex data more effectively than text-based narratives: layering different sorts of network — correspondence, travel itineraries, manuscript distribution data — leads to new discoveries, and new avenues for research.