Visualizing Art Historical Networks with Graph Commons

Graph Commons is a collaborative platform for mapping, analyzing, and sharing data-networks.

Its focus is on simplicity and collaboration around data, a canvas for visualizing a process and broadening what’s possible. Users need only a Google account to explore networks together in this shared workspace.

Teaching Models to Consider:

As a Collaborative Class Project

Since data means making choices, students might explore a research question based on course content, decide what the actors are (institutions, objects, artists, or concepts), and define the relationships between those actors.

Critical Thinking: Representing data can teach students how to make clear and intentional choices about their research questions. Can lead to critical or theoretical discussions.

Analytical Skills: Students can engage independently or collectively in interpretive action and use the tool as a space for reflection or as a source of criticism.

a. Easy for students to collaborate and share

b. Data can be added over the course of the semester as lectures are completed

c. Can work manually on the blank canvas in Graph Commons or import data from Google Sheets

d. Easily customizable

Individual Project:

Students might individually visualize a network of artistic collaboration: institutions, objects, artists, or concepts. This might include developing a small network that connects to one of their paper topics or research questions.

Creating a Project: Quick Tutorial

Creating a New Project

1. Go to, select “Get started,” and setup your profile with your Williams College Google account. Create new graph from your profile menu: “create graph”

2. When you create a new graph, you see an empty canvas and a tool bar to create nodes (actors) and edges (relationships) manually. If you decided ahead of time to enter data in a Google Sheet, you can easily import into the graph via the import icon on the left side of screen in sidebar.


A new graph with empty canvas.

Adding Nodes (Actors)

1. Click on the Add (+) button or anywhere on the canvas to add a node.

2. “Add node” dialogue will display three options: Type, name, and color. Enter your node’s type (e.g. Artist; Institution; etc.), then enter your node’s name (e.g. Emma Kunz; Moderna Museet; etc.), and click Add.

3. Add another node with the same type.

4. Add another node with a different type.

Add node dialogue with type, name, and color options.

Connect Nodes (Edges aka Relationships)

1. Click on the Connect button (Shortcut: Ctrl + click node), then click on the node you want to connect from, and click on the other node you want to connect to.

2. In the “Connect” dialogue (control panel on left above “delete”), enter the type of relationship, choose a color (optional), and click on check if this is a directed relationship.

3. Connect other nodes with the same type of relationship (e.g., Artist – Exhibition -> Institution).

4. Connect nodes with a new type of relationship (e.g., Artist -COLLABORATED- Artist).

Connect dialogue with type, color, and direction options.

Delete data

1. Select Delete in the toolbar (Shortcut: Select + Backspace)

2. Click on a node to delete it

3. Click on a relationship to delete it

• When you delete a node, you also delete its relations – the edges connected to that node.

• You can undo or redo any changes, if it is not yet saved.

Save your graph

1. Click on the Save button on top right corner

2. Enter a title for your graph

After you save, the save button is removed. When you see the save button, just click it. Whenever you try to leave a window without saving, the browser will warn you. I recommend saving often!

Inviting Collaborators

Use the Share menu (top right) to invite collaborators to your graph. You can invite your collaborators via their email address or name if they are already signed up for a Graph Commons account. You can assign them roles with the right amount of access. Owners have the highest level of access. Recommend faculty as owners and students as admin. Admin access includes all of the same levels of access minus renaming and deleting the graph.

Contact Emily if you would like to plan a Graph Commons project for your course. She can help you think through modeling the graph and support analysis once the network is complete. Emily Leon, Digital Projects & Metadata Specialist, [email protected]

Graph Commons user friendly step-by-step guide