We are stuck with a discontinuity. We know a great deal about the area and culture which surrounded Foigny, but very little about the abbey itself at its height. The usual sources simply do not exist. In order to understand this important intellectual and economic hub’s connection with its surroundings, we need to utilize a more modern innovation: social network analysis.
The development and analysis of social or friendship networks is not in and of itself new to the study of history. Prosopography – collective biography – has long been a tool in the historian’s arsenal, and scholars have been looking at an important figure’s friends as a way of understanding the exercise of power and influence and the transmission of ideas at least as far back as the mid-twentieth century. Such early studies were, however, of fairly limited scope, restrained by technological and conceptual limitations. Social networking analysis via software has freed historians of these limitations, allowing us to look at data in new and interesting ways.