Following my previous post, which looked at Genre Networks in five antebellum New York City theatres, I have started working on a graph of actors and actresses through August-December 1839. Using the same theatres (The Park, the Bowery, The National, The National (at Niblo’s), and the Chatham), I built a different graph that attempts to measure what actors appeared with what actresses. I am interested in finding out how connected prominent actresses were to the male stars of the period and vice/versa. The idea for this project began while I was transcribing Odell and noticing that there was a high number of theatrical couples appearing together onstage. I was curious to see if having a husband/wife team onstage was an significant draw, so I recorded how often husband/wife pairs were present in productions compared to those same actors appearing with someone else.
From the data that I have used, the answer is highly variable. What I did find, however, suggests that a look at actor networks in the period can provide insight into the lives of performers that might be more obscure if we only looked at the data on a close basis. This is what I love about digital humanities work: it has the potential to provide a wider perspective that one might not otherwise notice on the day-by-day scale. However, as many people will say, “distant reading” is not an end-product, but a means to indicate directions for further work. In making this graph, I found some great clues that I look forward to researching in detail.