Networks of medieval Sicily: documents from the Norman period

The Uncharted Networks of a 'Chartered' Territory: Diplomatic Evidence and Relational Sociology for the Norman Kingdom of Sicily

The paper discusses the research possibilities created both by document digitalisation and relational sociology for the study and usage of Italo-Norman charters. Following the footsteps of scholars who have already edited, organised, and classified the documentary heritage for the study of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (codices and cartularia, diplomatic critiques, critical editions, and a handful of local prosopographies), I evaluate here how data collection can be conducted having in mind a socio-relational method. I argue here that the possibility to access a large number of documents—thanks to all the palaeographical and diplomatic work already done—and the opportunity to process them digitally significantly change the way social and political historians (as well as sociologists and political scientists) make use of diplomatic material. The paper accordingly indicates the steps followed in order to extract sociologically relevant relational data from medieval charters. I also provide examples of results obtained so far by examining documents related to the upper aristocracy of the kingdom of Sicily in the twelfth century. The database constructed from the Italo-Norman charters studied has made it possible to organise the prosopographical and diplomatic information, found in a large but scattered corpora of documents, into a series of sociomatrices. This information can thus be visualised as a series of connected systems, and parsed through network analytical tools. I come to the conclusion that relational sociology is not only a pertinent theoretical approach, but also a methodological guideline that helps to relieve the study of social structures as documented in medieval charters from constraints determined by the conceptualisation of its results as lists of attributes or one-dimensional sequences of events.

Text: Hervin Fernández-Aceves, University of Leeds (email: