Review of a Digital History Tool: Gephi – Networking through History

The history of network visualization has its roots in the 20th century. Whyte and Coleman both frequently used sociograms to visualize their data, although this was determined by their own artistic and analytic eye (Moody). Gephi is one of the most modern graph visualization applications available and certainly adds to the statistical analysis world. The importance of Gephi and visualization tools is directly from human interaction. It is this human interaction which allows the tool to “leverage the perceptual abilities” of a user to find new features within data (Bastian). This is a very important point on the success of Gephi as a digital tool. The information creates a new capacity for human interaction which is otherwise vacant by a brief summary of statistics (Moody). The design of many digital tools for textual representation only, works as a juxtapose for Gephi. A wide variety of designers were forced into providing tools and transforming prototypes to fit a wider audience (Mirel). However, Gephi, as this review will show, represents a friendly user interface with a sleek design and simple user controls.

The main objective of Gephi is to provide a interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex graphs. Gephi definitely succeeds in proving features which help this objective to be complete. The importance of understanding network theory will be discussed further, later on in the review. For now, a simple description, is that a graph is made of nodes,a person, place or thing, and edges,a relationship between nodes. There are for many aspects of Gephi which open up further and extend the knowledge. Developed modules are used to import, manipulate, spatialise, filter and export networks. Visualization uses 3D rendering through a computer’s graphics card to ensure the processor can focus on a variety of tasks. Nodes can be personalized to include images and no overlapping. Algorithms allow for the data to be molded by the user, this includes real time movement involving speed, gravity, repulsion, auto- stabilization, inertia and size adjustment. These algorithms are easily selected and work in real time which ensures that any user can benefit from the feature.The open source aspect of Gephi extends to the use of free plugins within the application. These help the digestion of large amounts of data, for example the Semantic Web Plugin which allows for specific Sparql, a query language, searches through large files including Dbpedia, a database of Wikipedia entries.

Technical problems with computer applications generally begin with the installation of a product. Gephi proves to be reasonably difficult to install as a result of its Java dependency. Windows 8 will have issues if the newest Java is installed and certain files will need to be altered and changed to ensure the correct running of Gephi. However, away from the installation issues Gephi is a very friendly application which has a plethora of tutorials and a quite simple user interface. The main benefit of using Gephi is that the program can be as complicated or simple as the user wishes. If a user is more comfortable with using spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel then personal information can be placed into the application and made into a graph. A user can delve further into the information and use query language and huge data-sets to represent a larger corpus of texts. The most popular use of these data-sets for Gephi is Sparql, which was mentioned previously. The knowledge of coding does not need to be present beforehand, there are various sample queries and tutorials online which can help towards understanding the data further. This is an important point when discussing the impact that Gephi, as an application and Digital History tool, could have on history.

The impact on the historical community has not been very widespread. Gephi is a untapped resource which would prove very useful for historians if used to a greater extent. Harvard had a series of projects which made use of the program and had some very interesting results. The research team noted that looking at a matrix or relationships isn’t exactly new but the advent of digital technologies is spreading the idea across disciplines (Harvard). One specific example proved to be very compelling. The Inner Life of Empires includes five connection graphs which makes use of various Gephi plugins. One of the graphs can be seen below which represents the relationships between certain people and a full list of information, giving attributes and undirect links. This information is accessed when a node is clicked on and every node within the graph holds the same amount of data.

Gephi blogpost

Kumekawa, Ian, and Emma Rothschild. Interactive Network Map. Digital image. Harvard University, 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Two further popular projects which have used Gephi as a basis are the conjunction with the Google page-rank algorithm to find the most influential novels of the 19th century and the Republic of Letters. A closer look at the Republic of Letters shows the incredible scope which is available using Gephi. The website offers a list of letters and the relationship between some of the great minds in European history. Below is a graph showing the letters of Voltaire, there are various other visualizations of the data and allows for a user’s own method of inquiry. This is an important aspect of history as it grows towards a more universal public history mindset. The true beauty of Gephi is presented here and illustrates just how essential and key it could be for furthering history projects.


Standford University. Comparison between the Correspondence Networks of Locke and Voltaire. Digital image. Voltaire and the EnlightenmentN.p., 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

In conclusion, Gephi is a project which is being used sparingly in the historical world. If history is to keep track with the digital age then its need to find new and useful methods of dealing with information is important. An application like Gephi allows for a person to heighten their perceptual abilities using graphs and data visualizations (Bastian). Important conclusions could be found if the use of this application came to the forefront. However, Gephi will never reach its full potential in the subject of history unless effort is placed into learning about networks, graphs and a variety of digital tools. An education which, if present within a history degree, may help further the discipline into the modern world.



Moody, James, Daniel Mcfarland, and Skye Bender‐Demoll. “Dynamic Network Visualization.” American Journal of Sociology 110.4 (2005): 1206-241. Web.

Mirel, Barbara. “Building Network Visualization Tools to Facilitate Metacognition in Complex Analysis.” Leonardo 44.3 (2011): 248-49. Web.

Bastian, Mathieu, Sebastien Heymann, and Mathieu Jacomy. “An Open Source Software for Exploring and Manipulating Networks.”International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (2009): n. pag. 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

Center for History and Economics. “Visualizing Historical Networks.”Visualizing Historical Networks. Harvard University, 20133. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

HyperCities: An Unrealized Dream

Forever a dream?

HyperCities, created by Todd Presner, is built upon a platform of digital research and education. The project has been sponsored through UCLA, USC and CUNY. However, the response from public organisations has also been substantial.The project is centrally based around history, the history of a given place, whether it be academic or social, personal or cultural. The depth of knowledge is integral to the project which provides a “digital narrative crisscrossing place and time”(Presner, 12). The project began very centrally around the city of Berlin, where Presner had been teaching in a university. Presner’s original idea was to use Berlin as a prism which would lead to a broader scope of Europe. The involvement of his students in UCLA allowed the project to grow further and with very accessible and academically intuitive content it would seem HyperCities had no ceiling.

The project had originally spread across the world to various colleges in Europe and Asia. The European market has used the project to plot the course of Holocaust survivor stories specifically in German Universities. Asian universities have also used the project in a more personal sense, ensuring that a person’s own personal history can remain in a place forever. A South American community has used the project to show the change of land over time to benefit the appeals for grants. The changes in landscape and buildings over the past ten years has been documented and overlaid on the Google earth platform.These are all available through the collection process on the project itself. This proves that there has been an impact, however the result has been a lot less fruitful than the premise. However, the important aspect of the impact, to remain aware of, is that it is far reaching while making use of a Wikipedia type model of authorship and written content, it maintains a tiered, authorship model for evaluating and publishing scholarly research(“Teaching Learning at a Distance, 174).

The unrealized nature of the project ensures that it’s contribution to Digital Humanities cannot be fully tested. However, thus far the project has been proving its contribution in both a public and a technological way. The use of the Google Earth platform is far ahead of the many Digital History projects which work on the basis of Google Maps. The use of Earth ensures that a real life image of the world can be given alongside the older maps which are overlaid in certain projects on the site. This forward way of thinking is much more modern than previous projects and catches the public eye. Presner notes that the public eye is brought and sustained by a number of important aspects related to the project; its nature as a learning environment, evaluation of data and ideas, trans-media literacy, collaboration and collective knowledge, quite similar to Wikipedia and the deep lying trans-disciplinary nature of the project(“Teaching Literature at a Distance, 178). Many of the these terms are quite simple but they all emerge with a weighted meaning. Trans-media literacy was described perfectly by Henry Jenkins as “consumers becoming hunter gatherers, pulling together information from multiple sources to form a new synthesis”(85).

The idea of thick mapping is the main focus of this ten year long program. HyperCities delves further than other history projects, such as Digital Harlem . HyperCities is an amalgamation of mapping technologies, instead of being focused on the quantitative aspect of gathering large amounts of data or focusing primarily on Geographic Information Systems(“HyperCities: Thick Mapping in Digital Humanities” 51). Hyper is described by Todd Presner, in a non-geographical way, as the linking of history to a certain area so a place can have sustained layered history(6). The term which is sometimes coined deep mapping, proves the argument that maps are not a static object, they are varied with time and can hold strong historical influence. The problem which this approach is that the project does not have a concrete end point. If data can be constantly added to a map and thus forwarding the knowledge of a certain area, then when is the project endpoint?

The problem of an unfinished project has just been mentioned in the previous section. HyperCities has no real end point at the moment, which is a problem because it has become slightly stagnant and static itself. A book has just been released by the Harvard Press which has pushed the public gaze fixedly towards Presner’s dream. However, the project needs some severe updating and funding to ensure any kind of future. Many of the images and videos are no longer supported by web browsers. The original history of the project which was based strongly around history and not social aspects has changed. There is a focus towards a more social aspect, such as reviewing your favorite restaurant or where you got engaged. However, how can HyperCities compete with such social heavyweights as Twitter or Facebook? An amalgamation would prove costly to the original focus of the project because the academic side would be lost. Presner released a system which allowed these social media sites, along with Picassa and Flickr to be linked into HyperCities in an attempt to heighten popularity. If the project wants to survive it needs to push for updating and spreading the idea across further schools and universities. The saving grace for HyperCities thus far has been the projects which use its template as a basis, the original real purpose in theory. Universities and Colleges can produce their own projects and allow it to be seen by a wider audience.

The HyperCities project has the potential to be the biggest social, academic and research history project on the internet. The ability to upload scholarly and socially meaningful content in the same area raises its scope. The modernized way of using maps is one of the most impressive aspects of the project. However, the sheer scope of the project hampers its ability to be complete. The correct amount of funding and initiative place towards academic institutions may propel the project further, but at the moment it remains stagnant and incomplete. Presner summarizes the idea importantly, linking the idea of a Utopian world and digital humanities whereby the core notion of participation without condition is integral(140). HyperCities definitely has the potential to be a Utopia the future may present Presner’s realized dream


Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009

Kayalis, Takis, and Anastasia Natsina. Teaching Literature at a Distance: Open, Online and Blended Learning. London: Continuum International Pub. Group, 2010. Print

Presner, Todd Samuel, David Shepard, and Yoh Kawano. HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.