How can I use the concept of Thematic Networks for genealogy?

I believe one of the great ways Thematic Networks can be used is in the synthesizing of information from oral interviews.

But, let’s not get too excited here.  It appears to me that Thematic Networks are just an different form/refinement of the concept of clustering.  Clustering is when we put like points of data, topics or phrases into groups that relate in some meaningful way.  In the oral interview we may ask questions in a certain order (chronological is usually the approach taken).  While this may be our intent, it is more likely that the interviewee will go in a more random path and the result, if we were to write up the interview in a way that mirrors the interview, would appear to be discombobulated.

Using my notes from the interview, I took each short phrase or topic and put each on its own post-it.  I then took each post-it and put it on the board with the intent of finding the Basic Themes.  The first one I pulled from my stack was the date of immigration of the father, so I decided that a Basic Theme would be “Immigration”.  See the photo below for how this looked initially.  I then pulled off a post-it that had a list of values learned from the interviewee’s mother; I made a Basic Theme called “Values” and posted the post-it under it on the board.  And so on.  It only took about 10 minutes to do the sorting exercise.  I ended up with only one post-it under the Basic Theme of “Values” and so I pulled it off and placed it instead under “Parents”.  I ended up with six Basic Themes:  Immigration, Parents, Restaurant, Al himself, Music and Family.  If I follow Attride-Stirling’s approach, the Basic Themes of Parents, Al and Family would combine to make an Organizing Theme under the Global Theme of “Al’s Childhood”.  I decided that I will use the Basic Themes as my organizing elements for the purposes of writing the paper.

So, whether you call this clustering or you embrace the concept of Thematic Networks, or whether you use post-it’s or not, this approach seems to be a good way of looking at multitudes of bits of information in an organized way.

I am pleased with this approach for the analyzing the information gathered at the interview.  While I think the written document would have eventually arrived at a reasonable organization, I would suggest that it happened much faster by using the method outlined above.

Note: the colors have no meaning although they could. and I apologize for the placement of the photos.  This framework of the theme I have chosen for the blog is not very photo-friendly.

So, think about this methodology the next time you struggle with how to organize your data.  It might help.  I would also appreciate any feedback you might give me about how you would approach this.

Happy New Year!


What I have done since the last post: done the post-it exercise.  Renewed my raft of books that I have checked out of the library for my writing project for my class.


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