Resource: Japan Biographical Database

Today’s resource is the Japan Biographical Database. This bilingual, interactive database is a network studies project run by a research unit of the Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Focusing on early modern Japan, the participants have spent years cataloging information on individuals in historical sources, including their names, occupations, status, family or social relationships, events in which they participated, and more. Aiming to consider the larger networks of relations between individuals or groups in society, the project offers network analysis and geographic visualization tools to which that data can be selectively applied.

Digging into the database, it’s fairly straightforward to seek out a historical figure by their name (in kanji or in romaji), location, or birth/death, with simple data tables and a search function. You can also switch between perusing persons, events, or the sources from which information originated.

Clicking on an individual entry, you’ll find a breakdown of basic information from the database. The example to the left shows an entry for a lecture that took place in 1782.

For ease of use, each of the participants listed appears by both kanji and romaji versions of their names, and are linked directly to their individual “persons” entry so that it’s convenient to jump between connected people and their sites of interaction.

In the visualization suite section of the site you can play with different parameters to generate your own network analysis or map. There are a wide variety of options for your visualization, including person (by name, source, status, or occupation), the type of relationship to show (events, kinship, non-kinship), whether meeting or exchange will determine the connections, and what attribute (gender, status, occupation, place of birth or residence) should be used to highlight specific groups. In the example below, you can see that I randomly selected everyone with the surname Nakagawa to visualize.

And after fooling around with some settings at random for the sake of getting a graph, I ended up with a large set of people with social connections!

It will probably take some experimentation and reading on the site to fully master specific results that you make want, but the database itself is fairly easy to use and may just as well be interesting to poke around in.

At the bottom of the main page there is also a list of presentations, workshops, and associated publications about the project that can provide much more detailed information about the cool things that have been done with it and the construction of the overall site and its foundations. Anyone interested in digital humanities, network analysis, visualizations, and early modern Japanese history will find a lot of fascinating things here. Happy browsing!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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