Persons connected by citations and quotes (2018-11-22)
Friday No. 7, November 23nd, 2018
I have proposed that the structural forgetting I want to track might be represented by declining reference frequency and the emergence of an intermittent reference pattern. To put it simply, I take becoming structurally forgotten to consist of people being referred to less often, until they are only occasionally referred to. So far, so good. But this raises the question of the frames these patterns evolve in. Against which background might citations be counted, and frequencies be measured?
Epistemic communities are the problem, not the answer
A full-scale scan of everything there ever was written to see if somewhere inthere the names and writings of my protagonists are mentioned would not only be practically impossible, it would also be conceptually very loose. A frame around everything equals no frame at all. So I need to come down to some handier frames which provide me with a conceptually sound field against which the prominence of an individual might be meaningfully established – and also the fading into oblivion. And as the overall context which I am inquiring into is one of scholarship, learning, and letters, an obvious solution might be to say, well, these guys are part of epistemic communities, and the other members of these communities are those people who really take an interest in referring back to my protagonists. While this is obviously right, it just shifts the problem to another level – and that is: How to identify such epistemic communities? For even if I would assume that they are coextensive with disciplinary boundaries (and that would be a bold assertion to make, and I would rather not do so) this then presents me with the problem of delineating early 18th century disciplinary boundaries. And all the shifts these boundaries undergo during the next centuries, with new disciplines being formed, old ones disappearing, with every merging, splitting, and reshaping of disciplines and fields.
In such difficulties it’s always good that scientific inference works in two ways. If deduction will not work: try induction! So perhaps I might identify my epistemic communities bottom-up rather than top-down. I tried to set my database up in a way that enables such inferences from the start; the only question now left is: does that work?
Do it the other way round!
My basic assumption (one I am bold enough to make, this time) in doing so is that such epistemic communities can be established by tracking two ways of relating to other people and their thoughts: citation and quotation. Citation shall cover references to persons, while quotation shall cover references to publications. This works with publications as well as with letters, and so the letters may provide me a second perspective and perhaps a corrective to the printed works. Yet the database structure is not completely analogous: For building the letter model Iused a structure patterned to reproduce letter co-citation analysis as Gingras had done,so that for each letter, each person and publication referenced are only recorded once.
For printed publications, these results are stored in individual sub-objects, which gives me the possibility to fine-grain analysis here. In my view this becomes necessary because unlike in letters which seldom cover many different topics in depth longer works – and some of those in my database run to over a thousand pages! – may do so. So that being referenced in the same book must not inevitably mean a thematic connection also. To account for that, I tag every reference and quote not only with date and place, but also with the respective page number.
It is now possible to use these data not only to get an overview over such connections but also to visualize them. At least from the level that I have now. So what I have done is to visualize connections from persons to persons via 1) citation references in publications; 2) quotation references in publications; 3) authoring and editing of quoted publications (whether in letters or printed works) and contributing to them; 4) citation references in letters; 5) quotation references in letters.
Wanted! Do you recognize this epistemic community?
The question now is: Does this look like an epistemic community to you?
It becomes a bit trickier still when the diachronic dimension is taken into account. For the patterns for the years 1701–1710 are looking quite different from the aggregated account of relations over this period – compare the video and the graphic you have just seen.
And if you then compare the 10-year-period with the 300-year-period from the header visualization, there is obviously even more difference.
As such this seems a good outcome because it points to changes in the formation ofthese epistemic communities over time, to reconfigurations and shiftingboundaries – and this was exactly what I inductively wanted to account for. But caution is of course necessary: At the moment there are only quite few data in this set, about 300 publications with references and about 400 letters. In addition to this the set is mostly focused on Adrien Reland, who because of this shows up more prominently than my other three protagonists (see the four pictures below). All these reservations aside, I think this is going to work and will provide me with the frames against which I then may come to better terms with my references. Depending on how an epistemic community should look like…
 Yves Gingras, Mapping the structure of the intellectual field using citation and co-citation analysis of correspondences, in: History of European Ideas 36 (2010), pp. 330–339.