Epistemic Network Analysis: A Technique for Modeling Discourse Networks in Historical Source Material

Andrew Ruis

Time and Place: Friday, 02.07., 15:00–15:20, Room 1
Session: Software Demos

Keywords: epistemic network analysis (ENA); discourse analysis; text analysis

Network models, and in particular social network models, have improved understanding of a variety of historical phenomena, including correspondence communities, trade networks, citation patterns, dissemination of information, and so on. In many cases, social network analysis has been used to show relationships among people––who corresponded with, traded with, cited, or otherwise interacted with whom? But what if we extended our scope to consider the networks of knowledge created by these individuals? Network techniques can be used not only to understand social relationships within some community but also to understand the discourse of that community.

This demo will introduce participants to epistemic network analysis (ENA), a powerful technique for analyzing and comparing discourse networks both visually and statistically. ENA, which can be accessed free of charge using either a web-based interface or an R package, is a versatile method that can be used to model patterns of association in any system characterized by a complex set of dynamic relationships among a relatively small, fixed set of elements. As such, it is particularly well suited to analyzing textual data and other source material of the kind that historians routinely study. Critically, ENA preserves the links between the original qualitative data and the quantitative features of the model, enabling triangulation between the network model and the material on which it is based.