Story+ Project

Visualizing Philosophers' Networks with Project Vox


Project Vox

This Story+ project explores how Project Vox might visualize philosophers' networks: what could a network visualization look like, and how can it reflect the feminist mindset of the site? Over the course of its 2022-2023 project year, Project Vox will be re-centering its focus on the collective: from increasing the diversity of figures featured on the site (in ways that force us to rethink our approach to individual entries and how we define who is marginalized) to shifting attention to collective ideas rather than just individuals. This Story+ project will lay the foundation for that work, by focusing squarely on how we represent individuals and their ideas as part of a collective.

While we have long considered the possibility of creating network visualizations for our philosophers and developing these routinely going forward for new philosopher entries, we hesitated for several reasons. First, there are challenges involving technical details and sustainability: e.g., what visualization tool would introduce the least maintenance challenges? Second, there are methodological and representational questions: e.g., what would count as an intellectual connection, and would visualizations reinforce supposed certainty about connections and influence that our project has in principle been working against? Third, there are practical questions: e.g., how will this impact the research and production effort required for creating new philosopher entries, and who will use these visualizations? Finally, there are pedagogical concerns: e.g., how could these visualizations be used effectively by instructors? We've made piecemeal progress towards developing our approach to network visualization, namely by constructing preliminary visualizations for different philosophers using Kumu, documenting the workflow, and noting points of concern about how these visualizations effectively convey the collective formation of philosophical ideas and gaps in the historical research that they elide. This Story+ project will continue this work, interrogating what it means to create network visualizations using archival data and as part of a site focused on reforming a discipline by encouraging new ways of seeing and positioning the work of marginalized groups; and undertaking the work involved in constructing and incorporating network visualizations into this already public-facing and widely used resource.

You can see the 2021-2022 Bass Connections Project here: Project Vox: Training a New Generation of Collaborative Scholars (2021-2022). And previous Bass Connections work here: Project Vox (2018-2019); Project Vox (2019-2020); Project Vox: Recovering the World of Women Philosophers in Early Modern Europe (2020-2021).

Project Sponsor(s): 

Dr. Andrew Janiak, Professor, Philosophy
Dr. Liz Milewicz, Librarian & Department Head, Duke Libraries,

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Kelsey Brod, PhD student in Computational Media, Arts and Cultures (CMAC)


Junyi Tao and Karen Nielsen


The Project Vox Story + students, Karen Nielson and Junyi Tao, systematically tackled the question posed to them by Project Vox this summer—how do we make a visualization of Project Vox research? The students first identified a workflow for data visualization: 1) establish a unique methodology for data collection based on a goal, question, or hypothesis, 2) create a template for the data and collect it, 3) import the data into a database management system (such as the graph database management system Neo4j), 4) work with the agility of the management system to learn from the data, 5) build a visualization from an interpretation of the data, and 6) maintain and evolve the database and visualization(s) over time. So far, the students have completed the workflow steps 1-4 on a project to visualize the entire known correspondence between philosophers Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Both Karen and Junyi will continue the work as their senior thesis, or signature work, for the 2022-2023 academic year. Additionally, Junyi Tao created a network visualization of philosopher entries published on Wikipedia, a remarkable work that highlights the marginalization of women philosophers through noted absences, such as the absence of noted connections to contemporaneous male philosophers. These very connections that Wikipedia seems to erase are present in Project Vox research, only further highlighting the need for Project Vox. Junyi continues to work toward publishing this project.



  • Networks
  • Philosophy
  • Visual Media
  • Women