China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Elites and networks have figured prominently in the scholarly production of the last three decades. Yet previous studies have made a very lax use of these two terms, individually or combined. In terms of approach and methods, these studies have relied on qualitative materials and data culled manually from sources. This panel interrogates elite networks from two different angles: the use of new or untapped sources and the implementation of innovative methods of information extraction, analysis, and visualization. In recent years, very large corpora of historical documents have become available in full-text format, allowing for wide range exploration and data extraction to a scale heretofore unknown. Access to these vast repositories of knowledge with newly developed tools can generate a radical revision of almost all aspects of modern Chinese history. The individual contributions in this panel focus primarily on well-identified groups of elites (intellectuals, manufacturers, political activists, shareholders) and seek to explore whether, how, and to what extent these groups interacted within networks not just among themselves, but more broadly with other sectors of society, and what impact they made on the transformation of Chinese society, especially that of elites in China. The panel seeks to encourage innovative thinking about long-standing questions and to open a new research agenda that breaks through the Westerners/Chinese divide to re-think the role of elites in Republican China. This panel demonstrates not just the promise of digital methods in historical research but the very process of digital approaches to history.