Lisa Smith

Visualizing Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Network, c.1690-1705

2011 Seminar Series / Thursday 16 June, 2011

Dr Lisa Smith (University of Saskatchewan) describes her recent digital work on the correspondence of the celebrated physician. Despite neglect in the historiographies of medicine and science, Smith presents Sloane as a facilitator or ‘supermediator’ central to the activities of the early Royal Society as well as the lives of his patients, who corresponded voluminously despite his small number of formal publications. Indeed, Smith is in the process constructing a relational database of Sloane’s many letters – Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online – which she demonstrated during the talk. Emphasising that the resource is a work in progress (although an impressive 1,641 letters have been catalogued so far), Smith used visualizations of the assembled data created with the Yifan Fu algorithm to explore several of the most interesting networks revealed by the correspondence; a surprisingly continental set of relationships, in which connections of patronage, marriage, and friendship loom large. Smith concludes by arguing that network visualizations derived from large datasets are vital in revealing intricacies and overlaps between groups of individuals which would not otherwise have been perceivable, and are of special value in highlighting clusters of relationships (or networks within networks) which can then be reconstructed in more detail.

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