Six Degrees of Francis Bacon lets you explore the fascinating connections of 16th century Britain


Francis Bacon had a posse, and Six Degrees of Francis Bacon is here to help you learn about them.

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon is a map of “who knew whom in early Modern Britain,” as the dry, but informative, introductory video puts it. It’s centered around the philosopher, scientist, and political figure Francis Bacon (1561-1626) because Bacon knew a lot of important people, and was connected to even more, from Queen Elizabeth I to King James Stuart I.

The map of Francis Bacon’s connections is as vast as film actor Kevin Bacon’s. It looks like this:

The project, which is collaborative (i.e. anyone can offer suggestions for changes), has been available in a beta version since September last year, though it’s existed in some form for a couple years now. It’s designed and run by a group of scholars, mostly at Carnegie Mellon University, who are interested in the period and in figuring out easier ways to map the social interactions of notable figures from the time.

The data is pulled from a number of sources, particularly the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a set of tomes that offer a “record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century.”

A social network map is nothing new, but this one is kind of a lovely way to look at history. I ended up spending a chunk of time last night crawling my way through it, looking at how people met, and when, and where those relationships intersected. I’ll be honest, I was mostly looking for people whose names sounded interesting: There was John Overall (bishop of Norwich), Sir Giles Mompesson (a member of the house of commons), and Julius Caesar (a civil lawyer, sorry to disappoint)!

The project has its kinks. For example, not all the relationships on the map seem to have information (what type of relationship it was, when it started) available. But it is in beta, so perhaps that’s to be expected.

My biggest criticism is borrowed from/shared with the scholar Hillary Nunn, who points out in a blog post from this summer that the usefulness of the map is limited by the fact that “only 6% of the people included are women. In addition, a name needs to appear five times in the ODNB subset of 13,000 entries in order to be represented.” But, hopefully, that’s a function of the map still being in beta.

My second criticism: I’m not sure it goes six degrees from Bacon. The title may be a joke, but you’ve gotta deliver on the joke! C’mon!

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at [email protected]

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