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Creating a network of late Renaissance Venice musicians

The Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Humanities group (CyberDH) in Research Technologies - Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University, has enabled successful student research in the humanities.

The Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Humanities group (CyberDH), Research Technologies – Pervasive Technology Instituite at Indiana University, works to enable successful student research in the humanities, often in conjunction with other IU experts. Mollie Ables, a recent PhD graduate in Musicology at IU, has been examining the network of musicians working in early Baroque Venice, based on documents held at various institutions in the city. The institutions included are those associated with Giovanni Legrenzi, a prominent musician in late seventeenth-century Venice whose career presents an excellent case study of musician networking. The majority of her project was traditional and text-based, but she wanted to incorporate a dynamic network graph to demonstrate the relationships between the musicians and the places they worked and how those relationships changed over time.

Renaissance Network Graph

Network graph created using Gephi

CyberDH and Digital Collections Services head Michelle Dalmau worked with Dr. Ables to create a Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) XML schema for her to encode the documents as she digitally transcribed. Then, as the documents were transcribed and encoded, XSLT (a styling language for transforming XML documents) was used to extract the necessary data points: musician name, place, date, event (hire, mention, membership, death, etc.), the ID of the manuscript in which this data appears, and the actual text of that manuscript to ultimately display with the node. Using this data, CyberDH and Digital Historian Kalani Craig worked with Dr. Ables to build her network graph. The current network graph can be viewed here.

XML markup created for the Renaissance musicians project

In network analysis, measures of centrality identify the most important vertices or fundamental units of the network graph. In Dr. Ables’ work, the differences in centrality are best demonstrated by looking at the place nodes. For instance, there are two main modules of nodes surrounding the Sovvegno di santa Cecilia confraternity: the musicians with only a connection to the sovvegno, and the musicians that had connections with the sovvegno and Saint Mark’s. This demonstrates that Saint Mark’s no longer held the monopoly on the city’s best musicians. In a group that ostensibly comprised the most prestigious musicians in Venice, approximately half of them had no associations with the church.

Renaissance - Fava Node

Module and agile nodes surrounding the Fava Church node

There are also groups of nodes surrounding the Fava church, those in a module that represents church administrators or other members of the religious order, and the module consisting of musicians from outside the church hired to be dedicated maestri di cappella and organists. These musicians – including Legrenzi – have multiple connections and do not form a module. This reinforces one of the points from her dissertation, that the Fava church hired musicians that were (or would be) well-connected to other institutions, making it an important musical point of contact in the late seventeenth century.