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Davidson's Founding Fathers

Nodes: 44

Edges: 302

Node Size: Degree (number of connections). Bigger nodes have more overall connections. In this graph, I "weighted" the degree measure so that every connection counts separately, even if it is between two men who are already connected. For example, if two men served on three committees together, they each have three connections between them. I felt that using a weighted degree better represented the full extent of a man's committee involvement, rather than using an unweighted degree measure which would have only represented the minimum number of social connections.

Node Color: Betweenness Centrality (measure of a node's bridging capacity, i.e. the number of times a node connects two other nodes that would not otherwise be connected). Darker nodes have a higher betweenness centrality score.

Edge Thickness: Weight (an edge gains weight if men served on more than one committee together). Thicker edges have more weight.

Edge Color: Weight. Darker edges have more weight.


Background information

SNA posits that information flows through a network of people via social connections. Thus, if a person has more social connections than another person, the first person has access to more information than the second. Furthermore, SNA understands information to be valuable. The more information channels that flow through a person, the more power she has in the network. For SNA researchers, distributive potential indicates a powerful social position.

People in the network are called "nodes," and the connections between and among them called "edges." The network of Davidson's founders uses men mentioned in the Presbytery minutes as nodes. Edges exist between two men if they served on a committee together that dealt with the logistics of creating Davidson College, such as the Land Purchase Committee or the Building Materials Committee.

Features of this network

One of the primary features of this network is its high density. On average, founders are connected to fourteen other men. Additionally, the network has a diameter of only 3, meaning that the two founders who are farthest apart in the network are only separated by two other people. These measures indicate that there was a relatively high flow of information within the founder's network; even without Presbytery meetings, it would not have taken long for someone at one end of the network to hear the latest developments about the new college. 

Relatedly, there is a relatively even distribution of power within this network. There are are only two nodes with only one connection (James Morrison and John Erwin), and several similarly large nodes with a plethora of connections to their colleagues (Like Robert Morrison, John Graham, William Lee Davidson, and John Davidson). This dispersal of power reflects both  the general structure of the Presbyterian Church at the time and my methodology of data collection.

American Presbyterian church structure was founded on principles of democracy and decision-sharing. Presbyteries consisted of all ministers in a given district as well as church Elders from the district. The Presbytery reported to the Synod, which reported to the General Assembly. Decisions were made at the lowest level possible with as much leader consensus as possible (Loetshcer 1978:61-62). As Walter Lingle (1944:15) writes, the design of the church structure was meant to “bind all the individual churches into one organic whole.” The picture of the committee-work organized by the Concord Presbytery reflects its democratic ideology. Additionally, because I chose to look specifically at committee work, the network consequently looks collaborative. The extent of the collaboration however, was not a given, and it is significant that so many men were so greatly involved in decision-making.

Of course, this democratic ideology only shows up in the network after its been filtered to include men whom the Presbytery gave decision-making power. If I were to add in all the other Presbyterians living in the surrounding area at the time, these men would emerge as a powerful, set apart cluster. Power is only dispersed in this network among the powerful. Because the Concord Presbytery set the bounds of my network, it only includes the local Presbyterian in group. 

Lastly, Robert Morrison stands out not only for his degree of involvement, but also for his bridging characteristics. His node is the most darkly colored by far, showing his high betweenness centrality. This measurement shows that Robert Morrison contributed to many committees that did not otherwise have member overlap. With little staff support, as Davidson's first president Robert Morrison had to take on many extra duties. His committee involvement that led to a high betweenness centrality, however, proceeds his tenure as president. Morrison was a key bridge for dispersing information before he wore such varied hats as president. It is possible, then, that Morrison's appointment emerged from the Presbytery's perception of Morrison as the go-to man for all things Davidson. This finding cannot be substantiated by network analysis alone, but would require additional evidence describing the motivations behind Morrison's appointment.


Social network analysis is inherently limited because it focuses only on quantitative data. While I can gain insight into the structure of collaboration, SNA tells me almost nothing about the nature of collaboration. It is entirely possible that one or another of these men absolutely dominated the groups they were part of, putting the democratic nature of the network in suspicion. More in-depth, qualitative research is needed to illuminate the actions behind the network structure.


Works Cited

Lingle, Walter. 1944. Presbyterians: Their History and Beliefs. Richmond: John Knox Press.

Loetshcer, Lefferts A. 1978. A Brief History of the Presbyterians. 4th ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.