What can network visualizations reveal about the music print trade in Restoration London (ca. 1660–1714)? This is what undergraduate students in an introductory-level course sought to define, carried out by utilizing the open-source visualization platform, Gephi. This project, conducted during a two-week workshop, combined data extraction from a database of early modern print materials (Early English Books Online; EEBO) with the translation of archival evidence through visualizations of networks relating to prominent figures in the trade. Students’ analytical objectives were twofold: determine what document information was most integral to understanding connections within the trade, and showcase those connections with narratives that could be demonstrated visually.
Graduate student: Nicholas Smolenski
Faculty: Dr. Astrid Giugni
Course: “Information, Society, and Culture” (ISS 110; Fall 2022)
Students: Erin Burns, Maddie Davies, Lilian Fan, Max Honeybone, Pranav Kannan, Ana Lizier, Clare O’Sullivan, Kairi Rodriguez, Kenneth Vergel de Dios
The print trade throughout the Restoration period, largely based in London, grew exponentially while becoming gradually consolidated by financial backers, such as the monarchy and the City of London. As such, major printing centers like Fleetstreet and The Strand were overflowing with bookstands and print shops. Many printers and publishers lived where they worked, and would often cohabitate with other professionals within the same industry. This created unique “soundscapes” where gossip abounded and professional allegiances were forged after the working day. While these unofficial networks can be difficult to reproduce in concrete visualizations, surviving documents from the period show the interconnected nature of the print trade during this period.
The included image shows how information was typically organized on a title page (from the EEBO database): information about the printer, publisher, and location of production was listed on the bottom half of the sheet. Not every print was consistent, however, for many did not list every person involved with the project, nor were specific locations always offered (e.g., sometimes just listed as “London”). Additionally, the kind of musical output was often different. The image included here shows a publication that includes songs from a larger, staged work written by the composer Henry Purcell (1659–95). Other music publications included songbooks, score engravings, music treatises, keyboard or instrumental music, and “partbooks” comprised of individual voice parts within a larger collection (antithetical to the modern score, which shows every part on one page).
This project was split into two class sessions, held over a two-week period. In the first, students were provided an introduction to the music print trade in Restoration England, and engaged in interdisciplinary discussion about creative processes and musical outputs common throughout the period. This was followed by a quick introduction to EEBO and Gephi; students were instructed how to collect crucial information from seventeenth-century documents within the database, how to organize it into a spreadsheet, and how to convert that data into a visualization. Groups of students then worked to complete their images, including the narratives they wanted to portray within them, over the following week. During the second session, students presented their findings for one another and discussed the larger patterns evidenced in their results. They found that organizing historical figures by location, rather than by active dates or printing medium, produced the most tangible conclusions and displayed broader connections between printers, publishers, and their positioning throughout London.
After compiling all the visualizations and associated datasets, two resulting images display important perspectives of music printing culture in Restoration London: the broad network of printers active throughout the Capital, and connections between a specific composer (Henry Purcell, 1659–95) and his publishers. Both images utilize the same color key, those which designate historical figures by location. The included map of London shows where these places were located, and illustrates how condensed the print trade was within the city. There are transparent similarities in both visualizations: key figures were overwhelmingly prominent within the music printing circuit (e.g., John Heptinstall, Henry Playford), and many of the professionals were stationed on the same thoroughfare (Fleetstreet and The Strand were connected by Temple Bar, and Temple Church branched off from The Strand). This proximity was crucial for certain figures like Henry Playford and E. Jones, who worked alongside printers in nearby locations. It is also clear that these central figures had their own personal networks, and rarely did these individuals work with another major name in the music printing space. Considering the relatively uniform size of nodes for those associated with each figure, employees’ work was doled out fairly evenly, without preference for one person over another.
Despite these similarities, those which demonstrate a consistency of network definition across the music print trade, there are some anomalies worth exploring in both visualizations. John Carr, for example, was stationed on The Strand and worked primarily with Heptinstall (Fleetstreet) and Jones (Temple Church). As is evidenced by the two strands (e.g., edges) attached to Carr’s node, they are differently colored, which shows that Carr regularly shared materials and nomenclature with these two figures. This contrasts sharply from other working relationships illustrated in the images, for the coloration of the edges is consistent with the color of associated nodes. Additionally, the edge between Carr and Heptinstall is thicker than that between Carr and Jones, showing that Carr’s connection to Fleetstreet was stronger than that with Temple Church.
Turning to the Purcell visualization, it is striking that Thomas Cross appears but none of his fellow employees do, unlike his presence in the broader visualization. This could suggest exclusivity between Cross as printer and Purcell as composer; Purcell was one of the most celebrated musical artists in late seventeenth-century England, and Cross may have wanted to work with him personally in order to ensure quality and consistency. It is also worth noting that nobody within Purcell’s network was stationed at the Churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral, despite other music being produced at that major printing epicenter. Further, the inclusion of Purcell’s own node shows that he often worked on his own compositions as publisher. Some nodes in the broader visualization correspond to other composers (e.g., John Blow, William Turner), but the work of composer as publisher was not prescriptive during the period. The edges attached to Purcell’s node show his direct contact with figures like Heptinstall, Cross, and Jones as slightly more detailed than how he became represented in the broader visualization. This highlights a potential drawback when considering the presentation of larger data sets versus data ascribed to one particular historical figure: in order to communicate a cohesive narrative, some simplifications of data visualization may prioritize stronger connections over network complexity.
In this Data Expeditions project, students were introduced to the concept of historical networks within a particular context, and worked to create visualizations of those networks in order to illustrate narratives within the data they collected. As described in the results, there are many consistencies to the work shared between printers, publishers, and composers, but a closer look at the networks of individual composers project a slightly more complex image, likely due to the practice of data consolidation enacted in order to construct a visualization. Students were thus led in a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of network analysis, and how the associated methodologies can complement other historical analyses often deployed within the developing field of digital humanities. This holistic approach to course instruction tackled analysis in overlapping layers: historical content, data synthesis, and the act of producing narratives. The class was therefore successful in constructing unique and original research and discovered that network visualization is just one possible way to engage in historical discourse.