What were the intellectual and social influences on Mohandas Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence? How did Mohandas Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence travel across national borders? And what are the legacies of Gandhian nonviolence within and beyond India? These questions motivate my next digital research project. Existing scholarship on Gandhian social networks is scattered across an unmanageable number of disparate books, articles, and digital archives. A scholar, student, or activist interested in how nonviolent activists were connected to one another and Gandhi has no unified resource to which to turn. I propose building a Gandhian social network that gives scholars a visual way to explore how activist ideas spread and to see what has – or has not – been studied in the extant historiography on Gandhi, India, and nonviolence. In the developing such a project, my work will also contribute to expanding the geographical and cultural lens of digital history beyond a western framework.
The most desirable outcome of the project will be a comprehensive network map of the way nonviolent activists were related to and drew inspiration from each other. Yet practical challenges abound. Social relations are exceedingly complex. In this way, drawing inspiration from digital networks projects, such as Stanford University’s Mapping the Republic of Lettersand Oxford University’s Cultures of Knowledge, I plan to first proceed incrementally and only focus first on relationships directly attested by documents such as letters. Fortunately, collections of Gandhi’s correspondence and related writing are already digitally available, most prominently the collection of Gandhi’s writings made available by Gandhi Ashram SevaGram. Using both close reading and distant reading techniques, including the use of Named Entity Recognition in Python and DreamScape in Voyant, I plan to build a dataset of the key correspondence networks between Gandhi and activists within and beyond India. This approach will enable me to produced relatively small, but highly substantiated networks.