Proposal preview

Social Network Analysis and Databases for New Comparative Global History Studies in China, Europe and the Americas

Global historians compare and study different socioeconomic, politic and cultural areas of Asia, Europe and America. One of their aims is to visualize the divergent paths followed by economic progress. The approach focuses itself in the analysis of the contacts, connections and differences between different territories, cultures and civilizations. This outlook has become even more important since the publication of the seminal work of Kenneth Pomeranz (2000) and the constitution of what has been called the California School, global history has challenged the Eurocentric approach that had been common in the field by incorporating the rich debate about The Great Divergence.
The problem posed by the increasing gap experienced in the economic development of the polities in western Europe and the Asian powers (mainly China) since the first Industrial Revolution has become the center of the debate. To implement this research agenda, global history privileges the analysis of big geographical units, and it goes without question that this also means that data repositories must be accumulated and processed; within contemporary global history has become increasingly important to test with empirical evidence the many theoretical frameworks that have emerged during the last decade. This also means that global historians try to account for the complex connections that were needed to globalize the world during the early Modern era, at the same time, they try to find new sources that allow to quantify economic growth during that epoch.
Looking for possible answers to these problems has led global history to further push the boundaries of interdisciplinary research. This feat has been possible, among other developments, thanks to the incorporation of new methods that take advantage of computational power in the era of digital humanities. Among the approaches that have emerged during the last decade, Social Network Analysis (SNA), has become a very important tool for the global historian, because it has been used as a sort of common ground that has the advantage to incorporate sociological, anthropological, historical and economic frameworks within the same analysis.
The use and complementary application in new databases of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), linked-multi relational databases, new forms of codification of computer language to analyze historical sources has become paramount when cross-referencing new empirical evidence that comes from sources such as the local gazetteers (中国地方志), the trade records, custom duties and probate inventories from the of Archives of Macao, First Historical Archives of Beijing to Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Archive de la Chambre de Commerce de Marseille, etc, one might find new empirical data to systematize the big ‘ocean of data’ through a multi-relational database. By going from a local to global approach, we could better observe economic changes in the Yellow River, how Huizhou traders and Shanxi bankers established their alliances, as well as the trade activities of sangleys (Chinese traders in the Philippines) connecting Fujian and Guangdong provinces with the Manila galleons.
Contemporary global history recognizes, almost as a sort of common sense, that databases have become the pillar that sustains the empirical approach. Nevertheless, the ever-increasing pace of the exchanges of information brought by the internet and other modern digital forms of communication, has left little space to a conscious reflection about the way academics have used their empirical information to accumulate information. Precisely, the proposed session will discuss the different experiences that research groups and individuals have accumulated during the last few years when posed with the challenge to build the research categories needed to conform a database that answers the problems that form part of the global history research agenda.


  • Manuel Pérez Garcia, Shanghai Jiao Tong University / GECEM project PI,, Spain
  • Sergio T. Serrano, Research Fellow GECEM project / Pablo Olavide University,, Mexico

Session members

  • Patrick O'Brien, London School of Economics,
  • Ruth Mostern, Pittsburgh University,
  • Joe MacDermott, Cambridge University , jpm1001@her,
  • Jack B. Owens, Idaho State University,
  • Vitit Kantabutra, Idaho State University,
  • Debin Ma, London School of Economics,
  • Lei Jin, GECEM Project / Universidad Pablo de Olavide,
  • Zacarias Moutoukias, Université de Paris-Diderot,
  • Antonio Ibarra, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México,
  • Manuel Pérez, Shanghai Jiao Tong University /GECEM project PI,
  • Sergio T. Serrano, GECEM Project / Universidad Pablo de Olavide,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Shigeru Akita, Osaka University,