Crossing the border

The borders of a discipline are often quite interesting, also because less research has been done and one can try out novel approaches. Some time ago I did this with the project on snails in art, and this time I ventured to explore the social sciences to get more insight in the history of malacology. Last week I crossed the border in a double meaning, not only to the domain of the social sciences, but also to Germany where I participated in the 10. Trier Summer School on Social Network Analysis.


The week consisted of two days on the theory of social network analysis (SNA), and 3.5 days of application with different software programmes and own research projects. And as the whole course was in German, my mastering of that language did improve as there is no progress without exercise 🙂

As I have elaborated here, malacologists operate (and have operated), like all scientists, in a social network. The question is what research questions are possible, especially when focussing on the 19th and early 20th centuries? For a better understanding of how malacology as a discipline developed, it would e.g. be interesting to understand how the links between malacologists in the past were functioning (see here), and who played an important role or acted as a broker between different parts of the network. But the question is how to reconstruct these links from the past that tied together the malacologists in an ancient science network.

Since historical research depends on the quality of the data sources, I was happy to have had access to the Dautzenberg archive (Breure, 2015, in press), and to work on the Crosse archive. This allowed for a validation of the idea that eponyms are a proxy for contacts between malacologists. Eponyms have been given, especially during the 19th and early 20th centuries as a tradition, to collectors providing material and to collegial authors. The validation process (Breure, in preparation) proved to confirm the idea that eponyms may act as a proxy for contacts, provided that contextual information is used.


The figure above is the result of gathering the eponyms given and received by six French malacologists: Crosse, Drouët, Mittre, Morelet, and Petit de la Saussaye. The size of the name reflects the importance in the network, as calculated by statistics in Gephi. Interesting is that Morelet is the most important person in the network of six, and not Crosse as one might have expected.

These results are interesting enough to attempt a follow-up on this interdisciplinary avenue. To be continued…

Breure, A.S.H., 2015. The malacological handwritings in the autograph collection of the Ph. Dautzenberg archives, Brussels. — Folio Conchyliologica 33: 1–111.
Breure, A.S.H., in press. Philippe Dautzenberg (1849–1935) and his time, towards the reconstruction of an ancient science network. — Basteria 80 (in press). Preprint available at DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.3672.4726

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