Several days ago I had an idea for an article: a study of humanities scholars' social and professional networks, using names mentioned in the acknowledgments sections of scholarly monographs. If you assembled enough data, I bet you could build a network graph, and if you had some way of representing people's areas of specialization, you could start to map the way various fields overlap and intersect. And then you could use that information to think about any number of library-oriented questions -- the nature of scholarly communication, the "invisible college" phenomenon, how to tap existing networks to do outreach, and so on. It would be a bit like doing a citation study, but more geared toward finding out the less obvious connections, i.e. who helped a book get written as opposed to who gets directly cited in footnotes.
My main concern is about the ethics of aggregating and publishing this kind of information, even though all of it would already be publicly available. Even though it's common knowledge, in theory, that X thanks Y in her acknowledgments, it's not quite the same to put together a big pool of data showing X's connections to Y (and Z, and W, and A and B) all in one place. Collegial relationships often shade over into personal friendships, and it feels a bit intrusive to map those connections. Could one anonymize the information, somehow, and just label everyone with letters of the alphabet or something else neutral, and only identify their research specialty? It would probably mean more work, but I'm still thinking it would make a really interesting project.
So, O blogosphere, is this a viable idea, do you think? And if it turns out to be, would anyone be interested in co-authoring?