Tag Archives: Digital Humanities

Winter Break @CulturePlex

Well it’s already the 20th of December, classes have been over for two weeks and things are a bit more relaxed around here at Western. Campus is strangely deserted and it’s hard to get that 4 p.m. cup of coffee that you know every grad student requires for survival. Everyone is closing up shop, mopping the floor and stepping out early. It’s that time of year.

What is dbrownbeta doing for vacations…drinking margaritas in Cabo…or perhaps a bit of SCUBA in Roatán—maybe mounting a quick roadtrip to Utah?

Not this year folks. Just sitting tight in Canada waiting for the snow.

I am taking advantage of this time to get a few things done. When school is in session it’s tough to get much real work done with the nonstop itinerary of classes and meetings and readings and speakers. Your job is grad school and grad school is your life. Does that make sense? So your job is really to live your life of a grad student. Confusing? Yes it confuses me as well.

Moving on to more technical and less ridiculous topics, I want to talk a bit about what I am doing this Winter Break. Let’s do this.

Finishing Up My CourseWork

Last weekend I finished my project for the class the Máquina cultural. Although the essay wasn’t my finest work, the models I made turned out quite nicely, and I got a chance to experiment with Gephi’s Geo Layout. And I got to add a new function to my Gephi/Python library.

The graph consisted of the metadata of a corpus of literary and critical texts laid out in Gephi. The majority of nodes were just standard nodes with normal attributes, however, the nodes that represented geographical locations (cities) were arranged based on their lat/long attributes using Gephi’s Geo Layout.

These geonodes were then fixed in place using my new fix_set function in combination with other functions from the Gephi/Python library. Then the other nodes were arranged around the geonodes using ForceAtlas 2.

Pretty neat huh?

CulturePlex Projects

I am also working on a few CulturePlex projects this Winter Break. I recently received the chance to help out with the Sylva project. The lab is getting ready to officially release Sylva to the public, and because one of the priorities of Sylva is ease of use, we want to provide comprehensive documentation. I am helping to develop the content of this documentation. We are working on creating three types of documentation: a user guide that describes all of the features of Sylva, a step by step tutorial to creating your first graph with Sylva, and a help menu with FAQs, solutions, etc.

We are also beginning work on a new period of the Preliminaries project. In this phase we will focus on the time period of 1643-1661 during the administration of Luis de Haro. We are particularly interested in this period because this is when Pedro Calderón de la Barca began to be published prolifically. In this case, the graph will be used not only for general network analysis, but also as a supplement to studies on the contemporary reception of Calderón’s work. We have just barely begun to assemble the first editions list for this phase, but we plan to have it finished before May.

Personal Projects

I have three personal projects this winter break: learn HTML/CSS, learn JavaScript for use in web pages and the Google Maps API, and build a personal web page. I started learning HTML last Sunday evening, and my colleague Roberto showed me on the Bootstrap on Wednesday. Bit by bit, my website is coming along:


It’s called xitōmatl and it will provide links to my social networking sites, descriptions of my projects (personal and CulturePlex) with their associated image galleries, my personal profile and CV, etc. Also, I plan on creating a page that focuses specifically on the research of New Spain. Here I will provide a variety of content supplemented with links to digitized rare New Spanish books, various websites useful in the study of New Spain, and a few resources for learning Classical Nahuatl (another project coming soon). xitōmatl is available at this Gist if you want to take a look. It’s still a bit sloppy (a bunch of style elements that need to be is a CSS), but you get the idea.

That’s it for today…time to get back to work.

Happy Holidays




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The Miracle

Hello and welcome back! It’s hard to believe that two weeks have already passed and it is time for another blog entry. Although Preliminaries is alive and well and still developing, I would like deviate a bit today and talk about another project that I started a few days ago called—for the current lack of a better title—Guadalupe.

Here Guadalupe is a reference to the beloved and famous Virgin de Guadalupe, a painting that, according to legend, miraculously appeared on the maguey cloak of  Nahautl speaking Juan Diego on December 9, 1531. As close as a painting can come to being a rock star, Our Lady of Guadalupe inspired thousands of copies during the colonial period of New Spain, copious amounts of literature, entire lines of merchandise, and fervent devotion amongst the Mexican people.

I first became interested in New Spanish painting because of a class I took last spring with Alena Robin, an art historian and Assistant Professor here at Western in the Hispanic Studies department. This fall I have been taking another one of her courses called “Migration and Ethnic Relations in Colonial Latin American Art” in which we spend a lot of time discussing ethnic interactions in the American colonies and its artistic expressions. The Virgen of Guadalupe fits quite well with this theme for a variety of reasons: the location of her shrine at Tepeyac (associated with the  goddesses Tonantzin), the fact that Juan Diego was of Mexica heritage, the strong base of Nahuatl language literature documenting the apparition, the appearance of a Nahautl speaking Virgin Mary etc. So I chose Guadalupe as the subject of my term paper and began to investigate.

What I am really interested in right now is how culture works as a process, how it is coded as information and spread throughout networks, and ways to model and evaluate large cultural data sets to better understand cultural phenomenon. The Virgin of Guadalupe fits perfectly within this model because of her long-term success in Mexican culture, the quantity of cultural production centered around the miracle, and the interesting transcultural implications presented by her mythology and cult. To get a better look at the Guadalupe phenomenon, I decided to gather a big data set from her colonial era production to try to do some network analysis in Gephi. Wait a minute, a big data set for a term project? How the heck am I gonna do that? Luckily, I was able to build upon the work of other digital humanists and put together the first phase of my project in a couple hours.

Using the CulturePlex’s Baroque Art Database, I quickly located around 700 paintings with a Guadeloupian theme. From there I simply downloaded the data in various .csv files, coded up a couple quick functions in Python to clean up the data and off I went. After playing around in Gephi for a few minutes I had a nice image of the data:


It makes for a pretty picture, but it doesn’t really tell us much other than the basic structure of the database. One thing you notice (if you have a magnifying glass) is the large number of anonymous paintings. A little frustrating for a social networks project, but it’s the nature of the beast: most colonial paintings were not signed. Oh I forgot to mention, the schema used for this part of the visualization was quite simple. All of the Guadalupian paintings are linked to the original, miraculous painting, and the painters are linked to the paintings they signed. That is why we see the strong central prescence of “The Miracle”.

As I said before this doesn’t tell us much, so I am currently working on improving the data set through the addition of published texts with a Guadalupian theme, manuscripts gathered from the historiography of New Spanish painting, and institutional affiliations. So far I have only added a few manuscripts described in Mina Ramírez Montes’ “En defensa de la pintura. Ciudad de México, 1753”, an article detailing 4 documents uncovered by historians that all refer to the 18th century New Spanish painters’ desire for improved working conditions. These documents provide a wealth of information for network analysis, as each one is signed by a variety of painters, prominent and otherwise. After adding the documents, we start to see some more interesting results:

Here we see distinct communities beginning to form and the bridges between them. First of all we notice the “halo” around the miracle. These are the anonymous painting from the Baroque art database. Further out we see paintings with known authorship, and their painter appearing in red. Also we see the various documents in green, and their associated groups of painters. Here we begin to notice two communities: the first is generated by the earlier documents dating to the 1720’s, the second by the later documents from the 1750’s. Also we can see the bridges that form between the two groups passing through Nicolás Enríquez and Jose de Ibarra. These results–however obvious they may be–are the kind of connections and communities I hope to detect within the larger data set once it has been assembled and the quantity of information makes it difficult to detect these patterns without computational tools.

That’s it for today folks. As always I would gladly answer and questions at dbrow52@uwo.ca or @dbrownbeta

Ramírez Montes, Mina. “En defensa de la pintura. Ciudad de México.” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Núm. 78 2001: 103-128. Print.


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Traversing the Graph: the Coded Text of the Prelims Project

Hello and welcome back! Two weeks have passed and it is time go back to the Preliminaries Project graph and take a fresh look at what  lies hidden within its multicolored mini-universe of nodes and edges and digitally encoded information. Sound daunting? It is. Coming from a primarily humanities background, I still retain a slight fear of the digital world; it intrigues me and at the same time  it frightens me. Doesn’t look like a book…Doesn’t smell like a book…Hey that’s not a book! Humanities, welcome to the 21st century.

Although my Gephi generated friend and  constant companion the Preliminaries graph is most definitely NOT a book, it does have some similarities with something like–I don’t know–maybe a historical text written in Ancient Greek: it contains a lot of information if you know how to read it. For a guy like me, reading the Preliminaries graph is a ground-up process, I have to decode as I go. Obviously there are a variety of excellent texts and websites to learn about social network analysis; however, it is important to recognize that each data set is unique and to approach it as such. This blog post will share the experience of my first attempt to crack the code of the Preliminaries graph.

A quick note about functions:

From now on I will include any code that I write as a hyperlink to a Gist in which the code is stored. Feel free to download them, play with them, change them, or leave comments. Remember I am a Python (programming) rookie so please be kind!

Ever since I started looking at these kinds of graph I have been particularly interested in the measure Betweenness Centrality because I feel that it is an effective way of measuring a node’s importance in a graph. It is a measure of the number of Shortest Paths that pass through the node, and is an excellent measure of the load placed upon the node in terms of mainting close conectivity between the various communities of a network. I decided to use this measure as a starting point (fig.1) and everything else just started falling in place.

Figure 1 Prelims Graph in Black and White

The above figure is the Preliminaries graph rendered with the OpenOrd algorithm with node size adjusted for betweenness centrality and a size range from 5-40. Obviously, Lope de Vega dominates the graph, but other nodes also stand out: the Count of Lemos, the Duke of Lerma, Felipe Bernardo de Castillo, Gonzalo de Céspedes y Meneses, and Miguel de Cervantes. While each of these other important nodes will recieve further  investigation, today I will focus on the results of a line of inquiry that starts, but does not finish, with Lope de Vega.

First I decided to take a look at Lope’s Publication Network(fig.2). In the previous blog I introduced the concept of the publication network as an important way to understand the social circles associated with literary production. In the Prelims data set a publication network is an ego or neighbors network that extends to four degrees of seperation. This range includes the editors, censors, and other individuals important in the formal process of publication. The publication network also includes any other individuals that are more directly connected to the author: personal realtionships, patronage, dedications in the form of poetry or letters etc. Using the new find_neighbors function I wrote to identify neighbors networks at n degrees of seperation, I determined that Lope’s publication network consists of 1083 nodes or 67% of the nodes in the graph. Ok, he was well connected, that is something we can assume based on the extremely prolific nature of his literary production…so what can the Prelims graph tell us? Well for starters, it can tell who wasn’t in his publication network.

Fig. 2 Lope de Vega’s publication network

Lope de Vega.color = red

In order to do this, I removed the subset of nodes representing Lope’s publication network from the other nodes that make up the graph, then using another new function filter_by_type combined with return_label I was able to return a list of the names of all of the people who are not in Lope’s publication network. A quick review of this list produced some interesting results: I found several authors based in Spain including Gonzalo de Céspedes y Meneses and El Inca Garcilaso, and two authors active in Peru, Diego Dávalos y Figueroa and Pedro de Oña. While a quick look at both Céspedes and El Inca produced interesting results, the two Peruvian authors–actually neither was really Peruvian, Oña was born in Chile and Dávalos in Spain, but they both published books in Lima–attracted my attention. In this period social circles were indeed highly influenced by geography, and it is logical that these authors find themselves at the periphary of a network centered geographically in Madrid; however, I was curious about how far removed they actually are from Lope’s network and furthermore,  how their situation compares to authors working in New Spain (modern Mexico). Using set_intersect to indentify intersecting portions of the various neighbors networks, I found that both Pedro de Oña and Diego Dávalos y Figueroa are connected to Lope’s network at 3 degrees of seperation through their dedications to the Viceroy of Peru Luis de Velasco y Castilla, and at four degrees through Juan de Zúniga, Diego de Ojeda, and the Order of Santiago (fig. 3 and fig. 4)

Fig. 3 Diego Dávalos y Figueroa and Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega.color = red

Diego Dávalos y Figueroa.color = yellow

set_intersect.color = blue

 Fig. 4 Pedro de Oña’s and Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega.color = red

Pedro de Oña.color = yellow

set_intersect.color = blue

As previously noted, the relative lack of connections with the Madrid circle could be inferred based on geographic concerns, so in order to put this in perspective, I decided to take a look at several writers active in New Spain, which although located in the Americas was considerably closer to the center of Spanish literary production. I chose Bernardo de Balbuena an author and politition, who published in Mexico City and Spain, and Juan de Torquemada, a Franciscan chronicler who published in Madrid, both of whom were quite well connected in Spain as shown by the following images(fig.5 and fig. 6).  It is important to note here that there is considerable variation between the networks of the two authors associated with Mexico, an avenue that I hope to explore in the future.

 Figure 5 Juan de Torquemada y Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega.color = red

Juan de Torquemada.color = yellow

set_intersect.color = blue

Figure 6 Bernardo de Balbuena and Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega.color = red

Juan de Torquemada.color = yellow

set_intersect.color = blue

In order to compare the “Mexican” authors with the “Peruvian” authors, I combined the four social networks based on geographic constraints: however, I found that at 4 degrees of seperation there was no direct overlap, so I upped the parameter in find_neighbors to 5 degrees of seperation and produced the following image in which the “Mexican” network is red, the “Peruvian” is yellow, and the overlap is blues(fig.7).

Figure 7 American Connections

“Mexican” Authors.color = red

“Peruvian” Authors.color = yellow

set_intersect.color = blue

As we can see here, even at five degrees of seperation there are few overlaps between the networks. In a way this is a good thing, because it allows us to focus in easily on important points. Coming from the Peruvian side, we can see that the Order of Santiango generates an important connection originating from the Viceroy of Peru, Luis de Velasco and connecting with several individuals who are shared by both social circles(fig. 8).

Figure 8 The Order of Santiago

Also, we can see a connection through Juan de Zúñiga that originates with the Erratas of Miscelánea Austral by Dávalos y Figueroa(fig.9).

Figure 9 Erratas of Miscelánea Austral

Following this connection a bit further, we arrive at what I consider to be very interesting territory: the importance of the House of Zúñiga in the Americas(fig.10).

Figure 10 The House of Zúñiga:Peru

It is well known that the house of Zúniga was powerful in both Spain and the Americas, and also that certain members of this house were important patrons of the arts and literature; however, I don’t know if their role in transatlantic literary production has been adequetly explored–my next mission will be to search for studies that focus on this noble family. Let’s follow this path through the graph a bit more and see where it goes (fig.11).

Figure 11 House of Zúñiga:Mexico

Here we can see the obvious importance of the Zúñiga’s in Mexico during this period (an Archbishop and a Viceroy). This illustrates not only the political importance of the house of Zúñiga in New Spain, but also the importance of  political figures/nobility in publication and how the members of one house can spread their cultural influence throughout geographic space. To take this concept one step further, let’s follow the Zúñigas back the Spain(fig. 12).

Figure 12 House of Zúñiga: Spain

Here we find Alonso López de Zúñiga y Pérez de Guzmán, the Duke of Béjar, and–not surpisingly for all the quixotephiles out there–the first part of Don Quixote. It turns out that American authors were not the only ones soliciting support from the House of Zúñiga: Miguel de Cervantes dedicated part 1 of Don Quixote to the famous Duque de Béjar…hmmm. Interesting? Could be, at the very least worthy of further inquiry.

Here I have conducted a very brief first look at the Prelims graph. Although all of the above connections deserve more attention and some might even merit some real-deal academic concern, it is too early to say with any certainty. For the time being I will continue trying to crack the code of the Prelims graph and faithfully provide any results I can find. Two steps: 1- Hit the books, and then 2- do some old-fashioned number crunching using the Python software package NetworkX and produces some custom .gexf files to use with Gephi…wait did I say old fashioned? HeHe…

Until next time: Saludos


P.S. Thanks versae for all the constructive criticism!


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An overview: What is the Preliminaries Project?

Hello and welcome to the Preliminaries Project official blog!

Today I would like to give a general overview of the CulturePlex Lab’s Preliminaries Project. This blog will be published biweekly, with in-depth information, progress updates, and detailed accounts of the methodology and results of the Preliminaries Project as it continues to develop.

The Preliminaries project was conceived here at the University of Western Ontario by Professor Juan Luis Suárez, director of the CulturePlex Lab, in order to study the complex social networks involved in the production of Early Modern Spanish literature. More specifically, it focuses on literature published in the European Spanish Empire and its American colonies during the 17th century, a period characterized by an increasingly complex globalized structure that allowed for a comparatively rapid exchange of ideas, goods, and cultural objects between Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

The project divides the 17th century into periods based on shifting power structures within the Habsburg dynasty that ruled Spain from 1516-1700. Intuitively it may seem that these periods would be defined by the rise and fall of kings, however, we have chosen to define these periods based on the king’s valido, or royal favorite, who was responsible for much of the day to day governance of the Spanish empire. For more information on validos there is an excellent Wikipedia page in Spanish:


Or a less Spain-specific, but equally valuable page in English:


Currently, the Preliminaries Project is working on the first period (1598-1618), which corresponds roughly with the rule of Phillip III, or more specifically with the era of the valido Don Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of Lerma.

The process:

In order to study the social networks at play during this period, we use information present in the preliminary sections of literary texts published principally in Spain, but also in other regions of the Spanish empire such as Brussels, Milan, and the Americas. This information consists primarily of the documentation of the processes of censorship, approval, and permissions through which all texts had to pass before being published. However, other interesting information can be gleaned from the preliminaries: details of publication and issue, pricing, and literary social circles that appear in the form of dedications and poetry written by various authors and published in their friend’s or associate’s books. To get a comprehensive look at this information, we have generated lists of every edition of every literary text published during the various periods. As we can see in the following screen shot, we have not only focused on acquiring a representative sample of these editions, but every available edition of each literary work.

Now, while I say every edition of every text, it is important to recognize that compiling this kind of data is not a straightforward process. Bibliographic information about this period is imprecise at best, and many editions have been lost, or are too fragile to be opened and scanned. We have not been able to obtain every edition on the list, and surely there are missing publications and what are known as ghost editions, rumored to exist but elusive, or impossible to locate.

After we generate a list, we attempt to acquire scanned copies of the preliminary sections of the texts using WorldCat http://www.worldcat.org/ and the UWO interlibrary loan systems. Then we use the graph database Sylva, designed here in the CulturePlex Lab, to store and organize the information gleaned from the scanned copies. This is achieved through a custom designed system of schemas based on a node/edge relationship system. The schema design will be further discussed in later blogs. For more information about Sylva, visit the official CulturePlex website:


Finally, we are able to export the database to  graph visualization and manipulation software, such as Gephi https://gephi.org/, that allows for visualization and statistical/metric analysis of the network using built-in algorithms and Python based scripting. This allows us to detect important communities within the network, key players, important objects, and physical hubs of production. Also, it makes pretty neat looking pictures that allow the user to visually analyze something that was relatively abstract before.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, but that is how we like it here at the CulturePlex Lab.

Coming soon: More information on methodology, results, historical processes, and progress.

P.S. An emphatic thanks to all the libraries that have helped us acquire the preliminaries sections of these old and rare texts, especially the Biblioteca Nacional de España, which has tirelessly provided us with PDF´s from their extensive collections.

For more information email David Brown at dbrow52@uwo.ca



September 26, 2012 · 4:07 pm