The two main articles for this week’s class readings, Caroline Winterer’s “Where is America in the Republic of Letters” and Shin-Kap Han’s “The Other Ride of Paul Revere: The Brokerage Role in the Making of the American Revolution,” were engaging works that enhanced my understanding of aspects of American history that have received little attention from scholars or the public. Both scholars used network methods to approach the study of their subjects in a new way and to learn more extensive information about them than other historical analyses had revealed. Like some of the other digital techniques that the class has studied this semester, network methods unveil patterns and connections that would be much more challenging or even impossible to discover otherwise. In “Where is America in the Republic of Letters,” the use of network mapping offered Winterer a means to aptly demonstrate Colonial America’s involvement in the republic of letters and the intellectual community’s connections both among themselves and with other areas of the world. In “The Other Ride of Paul Revere,” Han utilized a network approach much differently and more heavily than Winterer.
Through intricate network analysis, Han reveals the significant roles of Paul Revere and Joseph Warren at the beginning of the American Revolution, ones that he believes were more important than the roles that they are most famous for. Han argues that Revere and Warren’s membership in and strong associations with the various loosely tied social groups in Boston resulted in them connecting the organizations into a unified and effective movement. Han asserts that people in connective and brokerage positions like Revere and Warren were necessary to bridge the gaps between the diverse groups and forge them into an efficient movement. By discussing the reduction in connection between the organizations if Warren and Revere are removed from the network, Han infers that it would have been much more difficult or even impossible to establish a successful rebellious movement without the two men. Before reading Han’s article, I never thought about perceiving the disparate social groups in Boston as a vast network that could only attain success by being connected together through the links provided by certain individuals. It would be interesting to apply Han’s same network analysis model to other social movements in American as well as world history to learn the invaluable and previously unknown roles that some people played in tying organizations together.
Although I see the benefits of Han’s approach, I still remain somewhat skeptical. Han essentially only relied on his network mapping and charts to make his argument about Revere and Warren’s considerable roles, but he provided no analysis or even details on the ways that they connected the groups together or their actions in eliminating the gaps between the organizations. Just because individuals like Revere were in positions to connect different elements, does not mean that they actually choose to do it or were successful. I believe that Han’s argument and consequently his article would have been stronger and more convincing if he had incorporated textual evidence of Revere and Warren’s brokerage activities and their impact. As discussed by Winterer, “we cannot just digitize and visualize data; we still need to read texts. In short, visualization [and other digital methods] cannot and should not replace the traditional work of the humanist” (599).