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updated: Jan 11, 2012, 11:45 AM
If the poet William Wordsworth belonged to LinkedIn, his network might include
colleagues Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey; his sister, Dorothy
Wordsworth; and his former classmate, Robert James. It might also include Alan
Liu, professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, who edited a collection of
As it is, Liu is listed on Wordsworth's profile page in the Research-oriented
Social Environment (RoSE) that brings together social and bibliographical
paradigms and allows for novel interactive research practices and a sense of
social engagement with the past. With a $50,000 grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), RoSE, a program of UCSB's Department of
English, is moving from prototype to working model.
"RoSE is an attempt to model the bibliography of past humanities knowledge --
books, authors, and documents -- as a kind of social network environment that's
connected to ourselves as live users," explained Liu. "The concept is that
nobody is really alive in the system, and no one is really dead. Everyone has
changing profile pages, depending on how research on him or her continues to be
The project is still in its infancy -- or, perhaps, toddlerhood -- but when the
site is up and running, visitors will be able to click on the profile pages of
thousands of books and authors, contemporary or otherwise. Metadata for the
pages has been mined from larger publicly available documents and repositories,
such as Project Gutenberg; YAGO; and Social Network in Archival Contexts, a new
project currently being developed at the University of Virginia.
So, back to Wordsworth. A visitor to the poet's profile page would see how he is
networked to a society of knowledge around him, including other authors,
critics, and written works. In addition to Liu, Wordsworth's profile page
includes connections to Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Butler Yeats, John Milton,
and Robert Frost, among others. Clicking on any of these authors will take the
user to a separate profile page and a list of that individual's connections.
Switching to the site's visualization format, the user will encounter what looks
like an interactive navigable map of Wordsworth's connections, with Wordsworth
at the center, and lines extending to individuals and works. Clicking on an
individual connection will re-center the graph on that author, with all of his
or her connections extending from that hub.
"It's a kind of orientation or landmarking system," Liu said of RoSE. "Students
or scholars doing research on a topic don't necessarily know a lot about that
field. It's not just that they don't know about particular authors or works, but
they don't know how the field was shaped, or how it has developed over time.
This is a system that allows them to get an initial sense of the density of the
field, where the major structures are, and where people have been delving into
At the end of the yearlong grant period, the researchers hope to make the site
available to a larger test group, and, if additional funding can be identified,
bring it to an even larger audience. "Ultimately, I have a dream of bringing the
dead back to life," said Liu. "It shouldn't be the case that past authors are
static entities. It should be the case that they have something like profile
pages or wall pages that change as new knowledge about them is created.
"You can imagine that Shakespeare's page would feature quotations from his works
based on what's been happening in the news today, as if the author were still
interacting with us."
In addition to Liu, who leads the project, the research team includes co-
directors Rama Hoetzlein, assistant project scientist in UCSB Department of
English, and Rita Raley, associate professor of English at UCSB. Graduate
student research assistants on the team come from the English department and
from the campus's Media Arts & Technology Program.
Notes to editors: Alan Liu is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 893-
3478. Downloadable images of Liu and of a screen shot of RoSE can be found at
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