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International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006)

A complex systems approach to history: correspondence networks among 17th century astronomers

David Stokes
Modern History, University of St Andrews

V. Anne Smith
Biology, University of St Andrews

     Full text: Not available
     Last modified: March 31, 2006

(Abstract for poster)

At the time of the scientific revolution, the primary means of communication
among intellectuals was letters. These letters were the media upon which
information was exchanged; thus, we can view letter writing as forming an
information flow network. We can examine this network using techniques of
complex systems analyses. As a demonstration of this potential of complex
systems techniques for historical research, in this poster we examine a sample
of letters from astronomers living in the early 1600s. We examine two networks
formed by these letters, looking at individuals or at geographic locations as
nodes in the network. We show how this complex systems approach can be used to
illuminate historical features such as geographic centers of activity,
professional “networking”, and individual or geographical nexuses of

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