Category Archives: Does it work like that?

Bits of my theory and methodology for discussion.

Ghost Edges and References

Snippet from the Acta Eruditorum, June 1711 issue, p. 269.

Friday n° 29, April 25th, 2019

If being remembered or forgotten is a function of reference frequency, of circulating information, an obvious conclusion seems to be that if you want to be remembered, you yourself should start circulating information lest you get forgotten. In scholarly contexts, this basically means spreading the word about what one is doing or has produced. This might in turn trigger references to you and your publications, discoveries, theories or other achievements which in turn might provide starting points for other references. Self-advertisement, for this and other, more directly visible reasons, has been and is part and parcel of academic communication. In network analysis, the reasons why such attempts at self-promotion were successful or not is often explained or even predicted by the structural features of the individual’s networks.

Shadowy networks

But what about the networks we are only partially able to reconstruct because of source loss? In some cases, I know that there were connections but can’t say much more about depth and nature of these connections because the source documents necessary to judge this have been lost. Any network reconstructed under such circumstances will be distorted, because the parts of it traces of which have survived as documents will be privileged over those parts where this is not the case. So what to do with the parts of the network which can only be traced as shadows, as ghosts of nodes and edges that once were?

Self-advertisement, done successfully

Let me start with a small piece of circumstantial evidence with throws one such ghost edge in my network of letters into sharper relief. In June 1711, the Acta Eruditorum published a small piece of seven pages titled “On the manuscript commentary of Blessed Jerome which exists in the library of Marcus Meibom in Amsterdam”.[1] Most of the text was composed of excerpts from the manuscript in question, but ahead of this the editorial board of the Acta Eruditorum lost a few words on how they got the paper in form of a short introduction:

“Lately the illustrious Adriaan Reland whom we already have given honourable mention in these Acta more than once has sent us some excerpts from a manuscript commentary on Job by [St.] Jerome, whishing them to be included in our Acta with the intention that scholars may by this specimen pass judgment on whether it is a genuine work by Jerome or not.”[2]  

[Mencke]: De b[eati] Hieronymi commentario m[anu]s[cri]pto in Jobum, AE 30, June 1711, p. 269.

This passage now not only fits in quite well with my overall framework of references and their valorisation in scholarly circles. It also explicitly states what I – based on studies such as that of Huub Laeven on the networks of Otto Mencke (1644–1707) and his son Johann Burchard Mencke (1674–1732), the successive editors of the Acta Eruditorum[3] – already had suspected: that either Mencke sr. or jr., or both, were in direct correspondence with Reland. Until now I just had no tangible evidence for such a connection, as the letters of all parties involved, Otto Mencke, Johann Burchard Mencke, and Adriaan Reland, have only fragmentarily survived. The letter concerning the codex containing the work in question here, the commentary on the Old Testament book of Job supposedly written by St. Jerome, the church father, does not exist anymore (at least not to my knowledge). But the easiest way to account for the passage just quoted is to assume that it indeed did exist.

Ghost edges

As glad as I am to finally have made sure that this particular ghost edge really existed, I am nevertheless aware that the basic problem context underlying this discovery has just become a bit more serious at the same time.

For on the one hand some of his surviving letters already point to Reland being a conscious and very active self-promoter who had a keen eye and good hand in picking opportunities to distribute his publications, and to this another distribution channel – that of the Acta Eruditorum – has just been added now. As there are quite a few “honourable mentions” of Reland by the Acta Eruditorum, like Johann Burchard Mencke wrote (or let write: as leading editor he has to be held responsible for anonymous texts in his journal), this prompts the question of how they were caused in the first place. As there are at least two letters by Reland to Jean-Paul Bignon (1662–1743), editor of the Journal des Savants in Paris, which deal with Reland sending Bignon his publications for distributing them amongst his French connections including review copies,[4] there is no reason to assume that something similar might not have taken place in his correspondence with the leading German scholarly journal as well as with its French model. This might seem to be supported by the rising reference frequency in the Acta Eruditorum concerning Reland between 1701 and 1711:

(Only the text pieces containing references to Reland are counted, not the total of references.)

The upward trend visible here might be taken as just the depiction of a young scholar’s rise of fame while making his way through academia. Reland had been awarded his first professorial post in Harderwijk in 1698/99, only to move to a more prestigious chair at Utrecht in 1700/01, publishing continuously. Or it might be an illustration of a correspondence successfully feeding the editorial board at Leipzig with relevant news and thus ensuring continuous reference to oneself. As I cannot say much more about the ghost edge than that it existed, but not for how long and how intensively it was used, the question has to remain open for now.

And on the other hand, the fragmentary state of the Reland correspondence has by now turned up quite a handful of such connections where there are either indications of direct correspondence and no surviving letters or one or two letters surviving, indicative of a communication channel which must originally have accommodated many letters more. As I already pointed out in one of my earlier posts, the correspondence between Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze (1661–1739) and Reland is only documented by three letters, all of which are no longer extant in the original. Given the close intersection of research interests between the two of them it is highly unlikely that there were not much more originally; but how could this be translated into a meaningful part of a network? The same is true for Johann Baptist Ott (1661–1744) the communication between whom and Reland is only evidenced by one printed letter in Reland’s second treatise on the Samaritan coins, as I pointed out here. It is also true for Marcus Meibom (1630–1711), the scholar whose manuscript was the reason for the note in the Acta Eruditorum which caused me to write this post in the first place. It is even true for another of my protagonists, Johannes Braun, as there are a few letters between him and Reland still extant but the bulk of Braun’s correspondence is also lost. This is by far no complete list, but I am determined to draw one up as far as this will be possible.  

The Chicken-and-Egg of Loss, Forgetting, and References

The question posed by ghost edges is of course how they relate to forgetting. They are clearly indicative of structural forgetting taking place, but in which way? Their presence could be seen as a natural effect of processes of structural forgetting: As someone fades from structural remembrance, his papers or letters become devalued and thus more likely to be sold off, discarded, or altogether lost. But their presence could also be the cause rather than the effect of becoming forgotten: As the papers and letters of someone become sold off, were discarded, or otherwise lost, materials are removed from the archival record which might have triggered new references had they still been there, which in turn leads to a drop in reference frequency and thus to structural forgetting. This is a new variant of the ages-old chicken-and-egg problem, so I have go to searching for additional factor which might help me figuring out if a particular shadowy part of the network is a ghost edge chicken or a ghost edge egg.


[1] [Johann Burchard Mencke]: De b[eati] Hieronymi commentario m[anu]s[cri]pto in Jobum, qui Amstelodami in Bibliotheca Marci Meibomii exstat, in: Acta Eruditorum 30, June 1711, pp. 269-275.

[2] Ibid, p. 269: „Misit nuper ad nos Vir Cl. Hadrianus Relandus, cujus non semel honorificam in his Actis fecimus mentionem, Excerpta quaedam ex Commentario MS. Hieronymi in Jobum, eaque Actis nostris inseri cupivit eo consilio, ut eruditis hoc e specimine iudicandi copia fieret, sitne is genuinus Hieronymi foetus nec ne.”

[3] Cf. Huub Laeven: Otto Mencke (1644–1707): The Outlines of his Network of Correspondents, in: C. Berkvens-Stevelinck, H. Bots, J. Häseler (eds.): Les grands intermédiaires culturels de la république des lettres. Études de réseaux de correspondances du XVIe au XVIIIe siècles, Paris: Champion 2005, pp. 229–256 ; —: “Dies ist wol ohne Streit die größte unter denen Holländischen Public-Bibliotheken“. Johann Burkhard Mencke’s bezoek aan Leiden in 1698, in: Omslag. Bulletin van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden en het Scaliger Instituut 4, 1/2006, pp. 1–3.

[4] UB Leiden BPL 885 – 052 (Rabault-Risseeuw): Adriaan Reland to Jean-Paul Bignon, Utrecht 13 June 1714 (19th century copy), and KB Den Haag 72 D 37, 11 A: Adriaan Reland to Jean-Paul Bignon, 23 June 1714.

What about the Women?

Two Samaritan coins from the collection of Jacob de Wilde, depicted by Maria de Wilde in: Adriaan Reland, Dissertatio altera de Inscriptione Nummorum quorundam Samaritanorum, Utrecht: Thomas Appels 1704.

Friday n° 26, April 5th, 2019

I have touched upon many topics in this blog so far, but gender has not been one of them yet. Not because gender does not play a role in here but because it is – alas – very hard to tackle which role precisely given the circumstances of my project.

How to find women?

First of all, it suffers from the near-universal male bias in intellectual history, history of knowledge, and history of science. Although there have been many attempts to break this male gaze and to also focus on the roles of women in academia for the past centuries, these studies are still isolated in so far as they highlight particular individuals – and because none of these plays into the circles of my protagonists, as far as I can see at the moment, I am a bit lost there. All I can do is try to check my data for the more general patterns of including women and their contributions into academic information circulation. But as the history of knowledge and scholarship in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, which is where most of my sources and data come from, most of the time just silently passed over female contributions of all kinds, I only very rarely am able to substantiate the scattered findings in my sources with more specific information which would point me to further lanes of inquiry.

How to deal with those women found?

Second, there are only scattered findings: my protagonists themselves have left only few traces of their female connections, most of them pertaining to their family life. This was not only their fault. Much of it is due to the ways in which the source materials available today were produced, traded, and ultimately kept, which were quite unconducive to transmit materials connected to women. The surviving letters of all of my protagonists were not directly filed into institutional archives at their death – which is where they are kept today -, but rather passed on privately by inheritance and sale before being donated to or bought by the institutions in possession of them now. While inheritance processes would be favourable to conserving materials connected to women for family reasons, generally spoken they are less favourable to preserve materials connected to women outside of domestic affairs. One might well keep letters and documents dealing with one’s female ancestors or relations, but might accord less value to such materials dealing with female artists, or perhaps even with women engaging in scholarly pursuits. The selections involved in selling the papers of a dead scholar would, on the other hand, be less favourable to materials ‘only’ connected to his (as my protagonists are all male) domestic affairs and relations, as they were for long, and sadly still are sometimes today, considered of minor if any importance to scholarly matters. Autograph collectors would prize letters from famous scholars to other famous scholars but in general be less interested in those materials dealing with less prominent figures, which in their eyes normally applied to women. In both processes, inheritance and sale, some source materials which I would really like to have at hand to provide me with information about the gender dimension in my protagonist’s academic world are likely to have been deselected from being passed on, and as both processes happened in the transmission of these materials, sometimes more than once, this has geared the sources available into a perspective which is hard to overcome.

With official documents it is quite the same; the female contacts figure in these most prominently in domestic matters (contexts such as birth, death, marriage, inheritance) if they are in them at all. And not all documents of such interest are still available.

From 1.838 to 74

But all these restrictions and biased perspectives aside, what do I have got concerning women so far? If I take a look at my database, the figures are not very encouraging: Of 1838 persons in there (as of today), only 74 are female, or a meagre 4 %. Of these 12 modern-day female scientists have to be deducted, leaving me with 62 women mentioned in my sources.

From 74 to 30

If I now also deduce all those who only entered as historical figures, that is, wifes, mothers or sisters of scholars from generations preceding my protagonists, I am left with 30 women for which I recorded anything between 1650 and 1750. Compared to 1128 men for which I have anything recorded for that period, the figure dwindles down to 2.6 %.

This imbalance is of course to be lamented from a point of view concentrating on historical justice. It is quite clear that these numbers are likely not to be accurate in terms of intellectual contributions. Those case studies that we have indicate that women could be involved in academic intellectual production in various roles, at almost each stage of the process, and that their contributions are not to be seen as negligible. There surely is a lot of unacknowledged female labour that went into the publications and discussions featuring my protagonists. But my interest in this particular case of research is not so much in discovering or restoring such female contributions, although this would be a fascinating topic in itself. As I am trying to make sense of processes of structural forgetting here, I take these heavily gender-biased data as a fact in its own sense, and a noteworthy one at that.

Because I have not consciously tried to avoid women in my research, the reason that their presence in the database is so low is not due to my bias but to the source material’s bias. The co-citation approach I am pursuing means that I collect references to persons who are not my protagonists based on three criteria:

  1. these persons are referred to on the same page as one of my protagonists and/or one of his publications
  2. these persons have contributed to a publication cited on the same page as one of my protagonists and/or one of his publications
  3. these persons are necessary to construct the relationships between other persons in the database.

From 30 to 3

The bias in the database now originates from the fact that women are, throughout my sources, almost completely blended out from categories 1) and 2). This results in most women who are in database being entered by way of category 3), that is, they are needed – as wifes, mothers, or sisters – to complete family relations between persons from categories 1) and 2). And while I am convinced that such relations played a vital role in the social formation of early modern academia, it is very difficult to reconstruct them without recourse to primal source material (if it exists), as secondary literature has much too often been silent about kinship ties of academics, too. And if they are acknowledged, this is seldom done in the form of giving concrete references to individual women, such as names, birth and death dates and other information which would come in handy for my purposes, but most often in the form of “X, who was married to the daughter of Y, …”.

So if I now again deduce all women which only are referenced in my database via kinship ties from the 30 women left for the century between 1650 and 1750, I am down to three.

From 3 to 2

The three women who are actually being co-cited with my protagonists in my sources upon closer inspection narrow down to two, because one is the formidable and inescapable Madame Dacier (Anne Dacier, née Le Fèvre, 1654-1720). This is not to belittle her considerable achievements but shall only be taken to mean that she was part and parcel of the discourse about the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, and it was in that context that she was co-cited together with Thomas Gale and 53 other scholars in the October 1734 issue of the Journal des Savants (see here).[1] This rather heavy case of name-dropping does not serve to indicate any deeper connection between Dacier and Gale but rather testifies to both being part of the same epistemic community, in this case of the Anciens party. As this was a rather large community, shared membership only points to some shared assumptions and thus to a purely topical relation.

With Anne Dacier thus deducted, only two women remain who are mentioned in a closer kind of connection to one of my protagonists. These two ladies are Maria de Wilde (1682-1729) from Amsterdam and Anna Waser (1678-1714) from Zürich. Both are not only mentioned in connection to the same of my protagonists, Adriaan Reland (who seems to become kind of inevitable within this project, too), but also by the same source: The June 1705 issue of the Acta Eruditorum (see here). The references were part of the review of Reland’s second treatise on the coins of the ancient Samaritans, the Dissertatio altera de Nummorum quorundam Samaritanorum of 1704 (see here for the whole review).[2] In fact, they were both mentioned together in the closing lines of the review:

“That those [coins] of Reland’s the most excellent maiden, Maria de Wilde, from her father’s[3] collection most elegantly depicted, as Anna Waser, great-great-grandchild of Caspar Waser[4], this posthumously most laudable man, those of Ott;[5] therefore our Reland has finished his little work with two poems in praise of de Wilde’s very excellent artworks, and what more could be remembered in Ott’s letter, will be set aside for another time and leisure.”

Acta Eruditorum 34, 06/1705, pp. 284-285.
Two Samaritan coins from the collection of Johann Rudolf Waser depicted by Anna Waser, in: Adriaan Reland, Dissertatio altera de Inscriptione Nummorum quorundam Samaritanorum, Utrecht: Thomas Appels 1704.

A familiar pattern…

The pattern visible here is a familiar one. Both “the most excellent maiden” Maria de Wilde and her obviously as praiseworthy fellow female Anna Waser contributed the engravings for Reland’s dissertation and Ott’s reply to it. Both were daughters of well-connected men in their respective communities: Jacob de Wilde, a collector of arts and antiquities of international renown, and Johann Rudolf Waser, city official and chief warden of Zürich’s Grossmünsterstift. Both excelled in painting and drawing and were given a good education in these crafts, and through their father’s contacts were introduced to scholars who then utilized their services for making their arguments. Although both of them were close contemporaries of Reland – Anna Waser was two years younger, and Maria de Wilde six years – they served as illustrators at a time when Reland had already advanced to a professorial post in Utrecht. This compares well to the biographies of other scholarly active women of the time, the most prominent example surely being Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). Unlike Merian, Maria de Wilde ceased publishing with her marriage in 1710; while Anna Waser never married and advanced up to the post of court paintress to the count of Solms-Braunfels for three years, 1700-1702, before returning to Zürich where she quit painting around 1708 for unclear reasons.

…and an all-too familiar conclusion

Regardless of their achievements, apart from one scattered reference I have been able to find so far their activities were simply glossed over by contemporary academic publications which were written by men for men. A prime factor for being removed from circulation and thus becoming structurally forgotten obviously was gender. If you were a woman, your chances to be forgotten very soon were 25 times higher than that of a random male scholar of your age bracket.


[1] Journal des Savants 70, 10/1734, p. 699.

[2] Anon., Review of: Adriaan Reland, Dissertatio altera de Inscriptione Nummorum quorundam Samaritanorum, Utrecht: Thomas Appels 1704, in: Acta Eruditorum 34, 06/1705, pp. 279-285.

[3] Jacob de Wilde, 1645-1725.

[4] Caspar Waser, 1565-1625.

[5] Johann Baptist Ott, 1661-1744.

And the winner is…

Snippet of the network visualization for the 502 publication sample described in this post; mind the prominent position of Reland’s “Palaestina Illustrata” (big green dot left on top) and the unconnected component in the lower right corner.

… Adrien Reland’s 1714 Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata!

And so the winner is me, too, for I guessed it correctly.

A two weeks’ post

But one thing after the other. First, the date: this is my blog post for

Saturday, March 9th, 2019, for Friday no. 22;

I seem to acquire a bad habit of posting on Saturdays rather than Fridays. For today, my excuses are, in chronological order, a) I had to help out at my son’s school, fixing some shelves; b) I had to figure out how to clear some financial matters regarding how to pay my salary from this project in a way that some of it actually ends up with me in the end; c) my youngest daughter stubbornly refused to go to sleep this evening. Obviously I am not very good at scheduling my home office work hours, for although I started out at 8:00 in the morning, by 21:30 I had got down to a meagre seven hours of working time. And d) I made a tiny configuring mistake, messed up my calculations, and had to start all over again, ruining some two hours of work. I suspect I better had not started calculating only at 21:30, but a), b), and c) forced me to.

Going for some metrics, step 1: Gathering data

But the calculations are crucial, because that’s what I originally intended to show you. As I announced in my last post, I now have finished three-quarters of my projected sample of scholarly journals, which has taken me two weeks to complete, clean, and analyse now.

That is to say, I have gone through the digitized versions of the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions, and the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt (more info here), between 1700 and 1799. I have added all issues of these journals referencing one of my four protagonists in any way to my database. In numbers, this means 117 issues of the Journal des Savants, 9 of the Philosophical Transactions (yes, only nine, but I have already argued they are somewhat special here), and 89 of the Maandelyke uittreksels – or 205 journal issues in total. In going through these issues I have examined each page on which at least one of my protagonists was referenced, identified all other scholars and all publications on that page, and stored these data, too, as a basis for co-citation analysis to identify perceived epistemic communities and their changes over time. This netted me another 287 quoted publications, and another 739 scholars referred to and/or connected to quoted publications (as authors, editors, translators etc.). I must confess that I am a bit proud of having managed to completely identify close to 690 of these, or more than 90%. But today everything will be about publications, so the really interesting figure is that of 502 publications in this sample.

Going for some metrics, step 2: Setting a framework for analysis

The problem that I now got was how to deal with these data. Plain visualizing did not work out anymore to really map out the intriguing details. So it needed to be done the rough way, by calculating metrics for the sample, hoping for something interesting to turn up. The visualizations did help me, in the way of pointing out which ways to structure the relations to be investigated would likely not yield good results. I first thought I might try something like mapping ‘shared contributors’, that is, connecting publications by way of the same scholars contributing to them (as authors, editors, or translators). This turned out to be pretty useless because it only favoured large edited collections who assembled texts from many different authors. And that’s the reason why this post is not about persons but publications only; the real co-citation analysis still has to wait for a bit. So it seemed better to bypass persons for the time being and only to link publications to publications, and I did so by way of quotations, that is, two publications are seen as connected if at least one of them quotes the other. That brought some interesting results about.

Going for some metrics, step 3: Finally going for metrics!

With the framework set up to network this publication sample, it was high time (half past nine already!) to start calculating metrics. To facilitate calculation, I started with assuming the network edges to be undirected, that is, a link from publication A via a quote in A to publication B works both ways, from A to B and from B to A. I know that this might be a questionable simplification; but as this may be tested by comparison, I will set this matter aside for a rainy day when I don’t have any idea what to write in this blog for the week to have the opportunity to at least redo these calculations for directed edges. (And as I once started tracking time in this post, it is now 4:00 in the morning and high time that I get to bed to have at least some sleep. I’ll continue around noon.) Moreover, as the structure of connections within what one takes to be a network depends on what the question is, and I am interesting in tracing perceived epistemic communities here – that is, publications seen as belonging to shared domains of knowledge – edge directionality is less important than it might be for other questions to ask. (This is a piece of midnight reasoning, but it still looks sound now at 10:30 on the day after.) I could as well also have collapsed the journals into edges connecting the rest of the publications to more explicitly claim this, but I wanted to also get an impression of the position of the individual journal issues, and so I kept them as nodes. Admittedly, this model does have the drawback that relying on quotations only provides only a quite simplified picture of the interconnections structuring domains of knowledge, but it should serve to give a good first impression of the sample’s general structure. Having sample and model settled, I used the opportunity to test Nodegoat’s analysis functions and calculated some metrics.

A lot of numbers

To keep the scores comparable across different metrics, I chose to normalize them where possible. A short look at the visualization (see header for larger picture) made clear what was to be expected: the network is disconnected. Not all publications are referred to as situated in overlapping domains of knowledge; some are distinctly separate from the rest. This is important here because it directly impacts the calculations of the closeness metric. Closeness serves to indicate how close any given node is to all other nodes in the network. In mapping out shared domains of knowledge this might be quite interesting, as nodes with low closeness scores might be supposed to partake of many fields at once being referenced in differing contexts, and thus be important to look at. But closeness measures path lengths to calculate the average distance from node X to all other nodes, and this does not work in disconnected networks (because two nodes between which there is no path would be at undefined = infinite distance from each other). Nodegoat provides a workaround to that by substituting a maximum distance for path length between unconnected nodes, this maximum being equal to the total number of nodes in the network.[1]

First: Betweenness

The first measure I calculated was betweenness[2] (because of the problems with closeness). Betweenness works on disconnected networks and thus was the obvious first choice. Roughly put, betweenness serves to indicate whether a certain node may be considered a gatekeeper, that is, if it is situated at a vital connection point in the network. In assuming an undirected graph, for mapping shared domains of knowledge this resembles closeness: it should point to publications situated at the intersection of several domains, and thus of potential importance for each of these. I must qualify this as ‘potential importance’ because only being situated between different fields of knowledge does not equal making important contributions to any of these fields; this will have to be cross-checked with other metrics, then.

Top 10 Betweenness

These are the top ten results in terms of betweenness for the whole of the network:

And those are the respective results for the top-scoring publications of/connected to:

Adrien Reland, by Betweenness

Eusèbe Renaudot, by Betweenness

Johannes Braun, by Betweenness

Thomas Gale, by Betweenness

What becomes directly apparent is that there are a lot Reland’s publications in the network, not only on vital connection points but also in total. In fact, 37 out of 287 non-journal publications have Reland as their main author/editor, or 12,9 %; the number does matter because I only added publications to this sample when coming across a quotation within the sample. Compared to 2.8 % for Eusebè Renaudot (8 publications), 1.7 % for Johannes Braun (5 publications), and 1.4 % for Thomas Gale (4 publications) this looks even more impressive. But a large output as such does not tell anything about the quality or the reception of that output. There also is one publication by Eusebè Renaudot among the top ten in betweenness, too.

Second: Closeness

As already said, the closeness scores for this sample are to be taken with a grain of salt because of the disconnectedness workaround implemented in Nodegoat. But the prediction I theoretically made when thinking about betweenness in this network – that it would line up quite closely with closeness because pointing to structurally similar positions within the network – did come true in looking at the results for closeness, so I am tempted to regard these results as usefull still. Important: The first score in the “A” for Analysis column is always the one discussed!

Top 10 by Closeness

The top ten publications of the network in terms of closeness scores are:

This again underscores the relevance of Reland’s publications within the network as a whole, and especially of his Palaestina Illustrata.

And those are the respective results for the top-scoring publications of/connected to:

Adrien Reland, by Closeness

Eusèbe Renaudot, by Closeness

Johannes Braun, by Closeness

Thomas Gale, by Closeness

Third: Degree

In undirected graphs such as this, Degree just counts the number of connections any given node in the network has. To be precise, Nodegoat counts the number of all edges starting from and ending at any given node, allowing for duplicates edges, thus producing high scores on average.[3] For an analysis of shared domains of knowledge as proposed here Degree should be relevant as a corrective. Whereas Betweenness and Closeness both point to structural positions of publications in regard to their location between domains of knowledge, Degree points to the importance of a given publication at this structural position. Or, to put it more precisely, to the attention generated by the publication in question, as I am focusing on quotations made by scholarly journals to this publication; and many such quotations do not necessarily point to the scholarly but in any case to the public impact a work made.

Top 10 by Degree

Looking at the Degree scores from this perspective makes clear that while Reland’s publications might share in more domains of knowledge, within their respective domains Renaudot’s publications obviously attracted comparable attention. And looking at the respective results for the top-scoring publications of/connected to Johannes Braun and Thomas Gale in comparison makes clear that they were not only tied more closely to special domains of knowledge but also attracted less attention by the journals in question, perhaps because of this more stringent specialisation. So here are the Degree scores for publications divided by individuals:

Adrien Reland, by Degree

Eusèbe Renaudot, by Degree

Johannes Braun, by Degree

Thomas Gale, by Degree

A cautionary note: It does not pay to put too much trust in Degree scores, because they tend to push publications situated within certain reference patterns. Consider the example of Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze’s Lexicon aegyptiaco-latinum, the Coptic dictionary edited and published by Karl Gottfried Woide in 1775 which has already featured in one of my posts.

With a Degree of 33 it scores shortly below a top 10 place in Degree which, following the reasoning laid out above, should indicate its importance for its particular domain(s) of knowledge – it attracted a lot of attention, because it has a lot of quotes. But all of these quotes are in fact derived from one singe journal issue, the June 1774 issue, part one, of the Journal des Savants, as becomes visible from the cross-references section of its database entry.  

And there it assembles all of these quotes because it features in many different respects in the announcement written by Woide himself to highlight his upcoming publication, which makes the reference section of this piece look a bit monothematic:

Snippet from the references contained in Woide’s publication announcement

So while Degree may be taken as an indicator of importance within a given field by capturing public attention, this is easily manipulated, and has to be cross-checked against another metric for validation.

Fourth: Pagerank

Nodegoat allows for calculating Pagerank scores, following the original Google algorithm. As Pagerank was originally invented to determine the relative importance of information sources (in this case, websites) in a network through which a user might randomly move, this model might also be applied to domains of knowledge in a web of publications, treating quotations as paper-borne hyperlinks. Random movement through the graph is facilitated by its undirectedness, so please keep in mind that modelling it as undirected may be a questionable decision, and don’t trust these metric too much. The good thing about Pagerank is that allows for determining both the relative importance of quoted publications and of quoting journals in this particular configuration, so I would like to use it to counterbalance the shortcomings of Degree pointed out above. In running Pagerank, Woide/la Croze’s dictionary disappears from the leading places all of a sudden, so this seems to work. The top publications according to Pagerank thus are:

Top 10 by Pagerank  

Surprise, surprise: The main hubs for distributing quotes – and thus sorting domains of knowledge – are journals! Makes me almost wonder why I chose to go by them in the first place… But more interesting in here is that there one publication from the 287 quoted works in the sample which managed to get a place in the top 10, and that is – surprise again! – Reland’s Palaestina Illustrata. This in turn is due by it being quoted by a number of journal issues (from all three journal series) which are themselves important quotation hubs, as becomes evident when looking at the cross-references to Palaestina Illustrata, that is, the publications in the sample linking to it.

This looks as if Pagerank indeed might be a good tool to determine the importance of a publication at its respective structural position, at best in combination with Degree (and Palaestina Illustrata scores high on both). So what about the top scores for the rest of the field?

Adrien Reland, by Pagerank

Eusèbe Renaudot, by Pagerank

Johannes Braun, by Pagerank

Thomas Gale, by Pagerank

Combining metrics

Well, that was a lot of tables, numbers, and scores. Well done! Only a few more to go. Now the last thing to do is to find a way to purposefully combine the different metrics results assembled so far to draw something relating to my larger research question from it. To do so, I ventured for a first try to identify the top 5 publications of each of my protagonists by comparison of the results I presented above. This yielded the following table[4]:

Top 5 by: Betweenness Closeness Pagerank Degree
Reland Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata
Reland De nummis veteris Hebraeorum De nummis veteris Hebraeorum Antiquitates sacrae vet. Hebr. (4th ed.) De nummis veteris Hebraeorum
Reland De religione mohammedica De religione mohammedica Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum De religione mohammedica
Reland Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum Verhandeling van de godsdienst Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum
Reland Encheiridion studiosi Dissertationum Miscellanearum Oratio de galli cantu Hierosolymae Decas exercitationum […] nomine Jehovae
Braun Commentarius in epistolam ad Hebraeos Commentarius in epistolam ad Hebraeos Leere der verbonden (4th ed.) Doctrina foederum
Braun Leere der verbonden (4th ed.) Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum Avertissement necessaire aux eglises Leere der verbonden (4th ed.)
Braun Avertissement necessaire aux eglises Doctrina foederum Commentarius in epistolam ad Hebraeos Commentarius in epistolam ad Hebraeos
Braun Doctrina foederum Avertissement necessaire aux eglises Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum Avertissement necessaire aux eglises
Braun Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum Leere der verbonden (4th ed.) Doctrina foederum Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum
Renaudot Historia patriarcharum Alexandrinorum Historia patriarcharum Alexandrinorum Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio
Renaudot La perpetuité de la foy, 4 Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio La perpetuité de la foy, 4 Defense de l'”histoire des patriaches”
Renaudot Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio La perpetuité de la foy, 4 Anciennes relationes des Indes Anciennes relationes des Indes
Renaudot La perpetuité de la foy, 5 La perpetuité de la foy, 5 La perpetuité de la foy, 5 La perpetuité de la foy, 4
Renaudot Anciennes relationes des Indes Anciennes relationes des Indes Historia patriarcharum Alexandrinorum Genadii patriarchi homiliae
Gale Antonini iter Britanniarum commentarius Antonini iter Britanniarum commentarius Antonini iter Britanniarum commentarius Antonini iter Britanniarum commentarius
Gale Jamblichii de mysteriis liber Jamblichii de mysteriis liber Historiae poeticae scriptores antiqui Historiae Anglicanae scriptores V.2
Gale Historiae Anglicanae scriptores V.2 Historiae poeticae scriptores antiqui Historiae Anglicanae scriptores V.2 Historiae poeticae scriptores antiqui
Gale Historiae poeticae scriptores antiqui Historiae Anglicanae scriptores V.2 Jamblichii de mysteriis liber Jamblichii de mysteriis liber

Creating a Shortest Path Matrix

To fuse this into something more informative I thought I might utilize a special function of Nodegoat’s, and that is its ability to calculate shortest paths between given selections of nodes. In this case, this meant that I first settled on a matrix of four times four publications: The top 4 publications after comparing the scores of all metrics for each of my four protagonists. I chose to use the top four because only four of Gale’s publications made it into the sample, and this provides better comparability then. Now I used the Shortest Path function to calculate the length of the shortest path through this network from each of these publications to each other, and set the results down in form of a matrix.[5] It looks like this.

Conclusions

What does this tell me now? Well, first of all it highlights the isolated position of some of these publications, which obviously do not share domains of knowledge with others; this is true for the five marked with grey lines which have no connections to the rest of the matrix. It moreover points to the broader diversity of Reland’s publications compared to the rest of the network: His four publications all have connections within the matrix, while for Renaudot one publication does not and for Braun and Gale two publications each. Reland’s and Renaudot’s oeuvres and positions are similar in that both are internally coherent – the smallest paths to those of their own publications connected to the rest of the matrix are two each – and well-connected: their publications are not only connected to more of the rest of the matrix, they are also connected by shorter paths, making their works appear to be more central. Braun and Gale on the other hand are similar in having less many publications connected to the rest of the matrix, and in those publications being situated in strongly differing fields, as indicated by their larger internal distance from each other compared to Reland and Renaudot. And both of them are on the outskirts of the network rather than in the centre as indicated by the long shortest paths to other publications in the matrix.

This buttresses the claims I have brought forward based on other impressions already: That Reland and Renaudot form a comparable pair of actors, as Gale and Braun do; and that Reland seems to be the most versatile of all four, which might be the reason why he was the last of the four to get forgotten. And, as I already suspected last week, that his Palaestina Illustrata might be more relevant for this process than his other works, even if they are better known today (as his 1705 De religione mohammedica for instance).

But this has been a fairly static picture of a phenomenon spanning one century, so the next task will be to dynamize it. Work to do!


[1] So in looking at the closeness scores in the following, always keep in mind that the maximum path length taken into consideration is 502.

[2] With duplicated edges taken into account and weighted according to distance, that is, duplicates add edge length.

[3] And Nodegoat does not automatically normalize Degree centrality. But this is an easy operation: If you want to do so, just divide any absolute Degree score by the total number of edges in the network, in this case, 2577.

[4] Publications marked in red only appear once in the table and are therefore discounted from further  comparison.

[5] Please keep in mind that shortest paths are elongated in my setting because two quoted publications A and B are (almost) always connected via a journal in between, so the usual shortest path possible between A and B is two links (A –link one– Journal  –link two– B).  

Proof of Concept

Monday, January 28th, 2019, for Friday No. 17, January 25th, 2019

Apologies first: This post took me a little longer than usual, I’m two and a half days late now. This is due to what I wanted to present here: The first two completed data sets for the tracking of processes of forgetting in the humanities from my project. And finishing the second one took me about 18 hours longer than I had planned. You never know what’s in the sources beforehand…

Data Sets

But now these two sets are done and ready to be presented – at least, a rough oversight of the yields of these collections. What I have done here is going through two journals, the Philosophical Transactions and the Journal des Savants, from 1700 until 1800 (well, in the case of the Journal des Savants until 1792). I went through two digitized Hathi Trust collections to be able to use fulltext search, so for everyone who’d like to check on my results, here you go: Journal des Savants and Philosophical Transactions. The few missing issues were added using other similar Hathi Trust collections. I entered all issues bearing references to my four protagonists into my NodeGoat database, identified all persons co-cited with my protagonists in these instances as good as possible, and also all publications cited therein which gave me lists like these here.

December issue of the Journal des Savants, 1782, Reference to Eusèbe Renaudot and co-citations

To fully explore these datasets will take me some time still, but I do already have some preliminary findings to share.

First: Comparability

There is an obvious imbalance between the two journals regarding coverage of my protagonists. The Journal des Savants returned 117 issues with matches, while the Philosophical Transactions returned 8. Yet this is obviously caused by their asymmetric schedules: While the Journal des Savants appeared weekly from the start and monthly later on, the Philosophical Transactions appeared once a year, or once every two years. So to make for a better comparison, the Philosophical Transactions issues cover 12 years between 1744 and 1771, while the Journal des Savants issues cover 54 years between 1702 und 1789. And while the Journal des Savants data set includes about 4,5 times as much issue material over time, these individual issues are richer in both references and co-citations than the Philosophical Transactions issues are, although the exact factor still has to be determined. Overall, the Journal des Savants was definitely much more interested in the results of my protagonists over time than the Philosophical Transactions ever were. Not that much of a surprise, one might say, given that both journals were active in different areas of knowledge production and that the Philosophical Transactions were much more interested in natural philosophy than in what we would today call humanities’ research (as I already discussed some time ago). So please keep this in mind for the following visualisations.

Second: Visualisations!

The combined datasets in full extensions: The complete network of references from 1702 until 1789. Directly visible: Three of my protagonists, Thomas Gale (bottom left quadrant), Adrien Reland (bottom right quadrant), and Eusèbe Renaudot (middle of top half) do have their quite separate circles of references with a shared overlap in the middle.
The full extension of the Journal des Savants dataset: The complete reference network from 1702 until 1789. Directly visible is a much weaker position of Thomas Gale (top right quadrant), and an enhanced position of Eusèbe Renaudot (bottom left quadrant).
Full extension of the Philosophical Transactions dataset. Directly visible is that it is much smaller, contains less references to authors (therefore smaller red circles), and that there is no connection between a shared reference network of Thomas Gale and Adrien Reland on the left and a much smaller Eusèbe Renaudot network on the right hand.

Moving pictures!

A diachronic visualisation of the combined datasets in (something like) moving ten-year-averages for the time in which they overlap, 1740 until 1779.
The Journal des Savants dataset in simple ten-year-averages from 1702 until 1789. The most interesting thing is that this dataset allows you to directly see the falling apart of a once shared reference network from the 1760s onwards. As this is precisely what I want to track and show in this project, I take this result for a preliminary proof of concept: It actually seems to work, if only within a certain framework as I already had supposed (cf. the combined dataset video where this does not become apparent).
And, last but not least, the ten-year-average visualisation of the Philosophical Transactions dataset also, which directly allows to see the huge differences between both journals regarding my protagonists.

To preliminary conclude

This rather fast overview over my first two completed data sets conveys two messages, I think: First of all that a rather more thorough exploration in terms of statistics and metrics is necessary to put my preliminary findings on a firmer basis, and second, that – and these are my preliminary findings for today – my system and framework actually does seem to work. While this is great, it poses a lot of new questions as to the framing: Can both data sets be acutally merged together as I did in the combined visualisations? Or are they so different that such combinations are of no use? And if they are, where do these differences come from? Different perspectives on science? National and/or confessional framings, as might be indicated by the very different weights of the English and Anglican Cleric Thomas Gale and of the French and Catholic Cleric Eusèbe Renaudot in both sets? Or something in between, or something third? 

Questions unsolved

Time tracking sample: Auction catalogue, entered 26/09/2018
Time tracking sample, 26 November 2018

Saturday, January 12th, 2019 (for Friday No. 15)

I am bit late this week with my state of research entry not because of one of the many good reasons to be brought forward at such an occasion – delays caused by family matters, urgent appointments, events which cannot be rescheduled, etc. – but because of something which happens to me only very rarely. I just did not know what to write. And to be honest, I am not entirely sure if I do now as I am writing this. The problem is that with the first three months of my project year now done, I should now know what to do and what to expect in the remaining nine months’ time, so that if any changes need to be made to the general design, I should recognize this now and implement them. But I am not so sure if that is really the case. So let’s have a quick overview over the project so far and then see what’s to be done.

The state of the project

At first view the project as such is looking quite healthy and running good. First of all I have collected a lot of data for my database (main categories, project start/now):

  • Persons: 530/1.511 (+981)
  • Letters: 720/737 (+17)
  • Publications: 230/1.215 (+985)
  • Institutions: 120/196 (+76)
  • Publishing houses: 224/644 (+420)

Which means that around 2500 entities have been added to the database, ranging from simple person entries only containing name, gender, date and place of birth and death, data source(s), external identifier(s) and confession (if available) to complex publications citing scores of other publications and people. While this may look impressive, the problem is that it is time-consuming, because I could not yet retrieve anything automatically. It all has to be entered manually. On average it now takes me around five minutes to identify a new entity and to add it to the database. Which means it took me around 210 hours of time only to enter my data (that’s five weeks of work). The work necessary to gain the data – finding possibly interesting archival collections, going to archives, reading through sources, taking notes; finding the necessary literature, getting that literature, reading through books and papers, taking notes – is not yet included in this figure. On a very rough estimate, it took me about as much time, perhaps a little less. So that’s another 200 hours, or another five weeks of work. The rest was spent thinking, writing, and talking it through with other people; and suddenly, three months are gone.  

As to the writing, always the other side of things, it does not look that bad, either. 100 pages are written, all chapters at least begun, so that around a third of the work is done there. The project has already spawned two chapters in edited volumes, one finished, the other still in the process of being written, and I am sure there are some other interesting shorter pieces hidden within the material.

So why am I complaining?

There is a downside to all of this: I am not nearly finished. As the timespan it takes me to identify a new entity and to add it to the database has been fairly stable throughout the last two months (I checked every now and then), I do not suppose I’ll ever become faster than these five minutes per entity. And as the project time is limited, this naturally limits the number of entities I will be able to still add to the database. There are a lot more things to do than just entering data, so that my calculations allow for about 3.000 to 4.000 entities to be added to what I have now; and that needs to be it. If the distribution of data over time would be as I had thought when starting the project – hyperbolically converging towards a relatively low level as approaching the present – this should suffice. But I am no longer sure if that really is the case, because most of my data still stems from the time between 1700 and 1750. The density of references diminishes but slower than I thought; and the epistemic communities within which such references were made turned out to be much more diverse than I thought, which means that the number of entities multiplies as the number of shared persons and publications between individual epistemic communities is lower than originally assumed. So apart from a few samples, from a database point of view I am still stuck in the 18th century but do have the 19th and 20th ahead of me still.

Those episodes from the 19th and 20th centuries I have digested so far I discovered without the help of the database, and for the most part they are not yet entered into it – although already covered in writing – because I wanted to keep at least data collection roughly homogenous to rather have good data for a lesser than unevenly dispersed data for a larger timespan.

What’s the plan?

So I fear that if I go ahead as planned, I just will not be able to finish in time. Which calls for a change of plan. But what kind of change?

There are some possible solutions, but none of those I have thought of so far are satisfactorily. I am not sure that I will have found a good one until next Friday, so it’s going be some anecdotal evidence from the sources again next week. And in time again this time. I hope.

Where journals lead, I shall follow…?

Saturday, December 21st, for Friday No. 11, December 20th, 2018

This is the last one! No, not the end, it’s just the last one for this year, as I’m off for vacation from – what was it – ah, now. But only until January 2nd, so come next year, come new research posts.

This should be a good time to reflect upon the state of the project so far. And to take some time to see what might still be changed for the better. So what I want to present you today is no fully-fledged piece of research but rather some thoughts on the limits of the project as it stands now.

What it’s all about

To sum it all up in a few lines again, my aim was (and is!) to work out the patterns that emerge as remembrance fades and structural forgetting sets in. More precisely, I wanted to show these patterns for the societal subset of what I call the academic metier, and for humanities’ scholars whose memory faded. To do so, I follow four specific scholars – Thomas Gale of Cambridge, Johannes Braun of Groningen, Adrien Reland of Utrecht, and Eusèbe Renaudot of Paris – and track the frequency of references to them across the centuries after their deaths. For when such references dwindle and their pattern changes from one of being frequently referenced to one of only intermittently being referenced, structural forgetting can be actually made visible.

This was my basic assumption at least, and I still think that it is sound in principle. I am using a relational database and network visualization program, NodeGoat, to gather my data and visualize them diachronically, and by now patterns really do start to emerge. The question now is: Which patterns are these?

References and framing categories

I already hinted at the problem of measuring the frequency of references to a dead scholar. Of course citations and quotations can be counted – but within which kind of frame? For early modern scholarly communication, there are basically three categories of materials still available for me: letters; publications (both manuscript and print); and journals. Everything else is either no longer extant or not available in accessible format. Perhaps auction catalogues provide something like a three-point-fifth category – they survive as printed books, so basically they are publications – but that is about it.

Letters…

Now each of these categories is tricky. Letters only survive in some cases, and in those cases then most often too many survive to make it possible to scan them all for metadata such as “mentions person X”. There are projects like Early Modern Letters Online, ePistolarium, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Electronic Enlightenment and such, but they either do not fit my timeframe or do not provide the information I am looking for. So while it is crucial to keep an eye on letters wherever possible, I cannot do so in a systematic way. Which means that I will only with great care be able to extract intermittent reference patterns from this part of my data set.

Publications…

Publications do survive in massive numbers, and in massive numbers are electronically available and searchable by now. Countless digitization projects have made available masses of material. Yet the masses produced are always larger still. There is still so much out there which is not digitized, and which I therefore would have to search in a library and go through manually, that I will not be able to establish a suitable framework for my reference patterns this way, too. Even if I reduced my research to a certain discipline, area, or language, it would still be an insurmountable task. And most of it would be very frustrating, too, because the majority of these books – by far! – would not contain any references to my four protagonists (and presumably the more so as I advance in time towards today). So while I will use all means of automatically extracting information from publications that there are to find references to my protagonists where I don’t expect them, I cannot claim to establish something like a representative sample this way.

Journals…

Which leaves me with journals, as it seems. And journals certainly do have many advantages compared to my other two sources types. First of all, they do survive in sufficiently complete form as to make general inferences possible. We know with great certainty which journals there were, and most of them survive. Second, they have been subject of lots of research by now, so that their relative importance and their outreach can be determined at least fairly well, and their workings and peculiarities are known to a large extent. Third, they are – at least the larger and more important ones – available in good editions, either in print or digitally, and thus searchable (via index or query). So I can draw up a sample of important journals for the fields, times, and places I am looking at, go through these journals, and have a data set which allows me to really infer reference frequencies for the first time. Or, given the only very partially comparable character of these early modern and 19th century learned journals, several data sets most probably. Reference spikes in the journals then would point me to the relevant developments in the reception of my protagonists.

Journals?

This does work. I found John Swinton this way (Philosophical Transactions are already done up to 1800, which was easier as thought because they only contain very few references of interest to me, fewer even than I thought they might). And, to give a less obvious example, I found the dead predikanten of the 1730s this way who by their obituaries gave occasion to reference Johannes Braun.

Everything alright, then? I frankly don’t know. It somehow doesn’t feel alright. I can only do a certain number of important journals, and I am not completely comfortable in just going where they point me. It feels a bit like being told what to do. And I am not sure if I want my enquiries directed by anonymous journalists three centuries gone. Well, time to think about it.

Have a good time, and see you next year!

Second-hand Science

Mears, William, Auction Catalogue (title page snippet) (1723)

 

 

 

 

 

Friday No. 8, November 30th, 2018

The early modern academic book is a used book. Of course new books were printed and put onthe market always and everywhere. But long is art, and life is short, and books frequently outlive their owners. In the 18th century this created a market which lived off second-, third-, fourth, x-th hand books which were sold and resold every so often: when their owners died, or when they were in especially dire need for money; when libraries where confiscated or scattered in war, revolution, or as punishment. And on the whole this market was rather larger than that for new books. The early modern printed book was a commodity made to endure and as such had a very long commercial lifecycle.

This is hardly a new insight, and a lot has already been said about used-book markets and practices (see the Book History and Print Culture Network). Now, apart from a few collectors who bought books just for the sake of collecting, most of these changes of hand of early modern academic books took place for reasons of research and teaching.They were bought because they were needed. Even though they were sold second-or-more-hand, these volumes were still costly items, and the average scholar did not buy them without good reason. So I may assume that if a book changed hands there possibly also was an intellectual reason behind this economic transaction.  

The Second-hand thesis

This means that ideas, notions, names and theories can not only travel openly by citationand quotation but also in a more hidden way along with the books they are contained in. In theory this opens new avenues for my quest to research processes of forgetting within science and learning, for the circulation of an author’s books might provide at least an indicator of his after-death impact.

Four first-hand problems

Practically this poses a whole bunch of new challenges to the project:

  • Figuring out how such indirect clues relate to direct ones and how they can be measured against each other. For it seems intuitively plausible that citing or quoting a scholar directly is stronger evidence of this scholar being structurally remembered than having a scholar’s book somewhere deep down in one’s library.
  • Coming to terms with indirect clues which can be directly referred to an individual person as well as indirect clues which are generic by their very nature. The difference is that of, say, the auction catalogue of a late owner’s library, which allows to ascribe the featured books to this owning individual, and the auction catalogue of the annual grand sale of a bookshop or store which gives no indication of the provenance of the volumes listed.
  • Accounting for the difference between books I know from such sources as the above-mentioned auction catalogues to have been offered for sale and books which I happen to know of being actually sold, and factoring this into the measure of ‘indirectness’ of the clue this gives me about the work in question being in circulation. Now this point mightseem to raise an issue a bit hair-splittingly, but it really poses a serious problem. Normally all that is left of such transactions are the auction catalogues some of which have survived – only a tiny fraction of those thereonce were, but that’s the same as with other sources. The problem is that these catalogues do allow me only to establish that at the time the sale was announced these books had been in the possession of the deceased or were in the possession of the offering entrepreneur. They normally do not allow to make any inference whether the books actually were sold at this event. Sometimes the catalogues carry annotations of certain items being underlined, check marked, or added prices which may point to someone at least being interested in buying them, but these are only very rarely conclusive evidence. So the question is, what happened to the leftovers? Were they sold off at a discount, given away, scrapped, recycled, or kept? For it would it certainly make a difference in estimating the value of an author’s name if the books announced under this name all sold highly after being battled over at the auction, or if they were all taken to the paper mill afterwards. (Which is quite unlikely unless indicated very clearly, to be honest, but to illustrate the possible spread let’s just assume it for the sake of argument).

    Mears 1723, p. 25

  • And, last but surely not least, how can the data to be drawn from the catalogues be integrated into my co-citation approach to the framing of bygone epistemic communities? For normally these catalogues do not just list some thousand books one after the other but structure their content in a manner accessible to the potential buyers, and that is, by formal criteria on the one hand (format, features, and condition) and by contextual criteria on the other hand, so that a rubric would read “Libri Miscellanei & Juridici, Octavo”[1]or “Theologici in quarto” for instance. But should I then add all other books from that rubric as being co-cited with, say, Johannes Braun’s “Vestitus sacerdotum Hebraeorum” of 1680 which might be found in the latter category?[2] This might seem an obvious choice, but unfortunately it is utterly impracticable because of the sheer number of entries I would have to process then. Should I, then, restrict myself to only recording those works appearing on the same page as, for instance, Adrien Reland’s “De religione mahomedica”, 2nd edition 1717[3] (see picture) as I would do for citations/quotations in a text? This might give a compromised picture because such rubrics tend to have an inner order – some reproducing that of the library’s former owner (which would be a good thing), some ordering the volumes alphabetically to facilitate browsing, or ranked by estimated value or anything else. So a consistent method might give me inconsistent results if I cannot process an amount of data large enough to even out such imbalances statistically.

So what to do now?

Already a while ago I tracked references to my protagonists in those auction cataloguesonline available via Eighteenth Century Collections Online. This provided me with a quite special sample because it is very much Britain-centred, but as the United Kingdom imported vast quantities of second-hand academic books from the continent during the 18th century, this is really not so bad at all. Here are the graphs for the frequencies I was able to establish for Adrien Reland and Johannes Braun through 81 catalogues between 1723 and 1796.

Reland’s books in the ECCO sample

Braun’s books in the ECCO sample

 

This surely looks nice, and it interestingly tells a story completely different (from what I know so far) from that told by the pattern of references to my protagonists in scholarly journals. To put it shortly, as the journal references decline, the mentions in auction catalogues rise. But what does that mean? Does it point to their ideas being in circulation through their circulating books even after they went out of fashion in the rather short-lived business of academic journalism? Or does it rather tell that as the authors went out of fashion in the journals, so did their books, being put on the second-hand market in something like a grand sell-out with a little delay?

This depends much on the answers I find to my four problems posed above, so I guess it’s fair to say that until now, this is still an open question. One hint might be that of the 81 relevant catalogues from between 1723-1796 I found, 56 may be counted as commercial, and 25 as owner-based (and 5 of these really are no sales catalogues but presence library catalogues and should only with care be included in the calculations). So what I have here is a very indirect picture – one that still has to be unravelled.


[1] Mears, William (seller): A catalogue of books in Greek, Latin, English, Italian, and French. Being a collection of trade, […] to be sold on Wednesday the 15th of this instant May, 1723, at W. Mear’s shop, the Lamb without Temple Bar; at Nine of the Clock in the Morning, [London]: n.p., [1723], p. 25.

[2] Johannes Braun: Bigdê kohanîm id est, Vestitus sacerdotum Hebræorum, sive Commentarius amplissimus in Exodi cap. XXVIII, ac XXIX. & Levit. cap. XVI., 2 vols., Leiden: Elzevier, Doude 1680.

[3] Adrien Reland: De religione mohammedica libri duo, 2 vols., 2nd enlarged edition, Utrecht: Broedelet 1717.

Does this look like an epistemic community to you?

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[1],so that for each letter, each person and publication referenced are only recorded once.

References via citation and quotation to different protagonists in Maandelyke Uittreksels, 02/1736

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?

Persons connected by citations and quotes in letters and publications, 1701-1710

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…

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Adrien Reland

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Johannes Braun

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Eusèbe Renaudot

Epistemic community, 1701-1710: Position and connections of Thomas Gale

 


[1] 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.

Three Days of Publications

Friday N°4, October 25th, 2018

After having postponed my visit to Groningen because first of all I would have had to go to Leeuwarden anyway, and second because of the sheer wealth of the Boeles family archive (someone out there searching materials to write a niece solid biography with?). This prompted me to first get a better grip on Johannes Braun as to know what I really would want to look at among Boeles’ papers – and after a not that successful visit to the Utrechts archive on that behalf (well, at least I know now what Braun’s heterodoxy was, he was suspected to be a Unitarian[1] and an enemy of the social order[2]) – I decided that this week should be used to test my data model a bit more thoroughly.

What’s to be tested?

The basic idea behind the model is that is shall be able to diachronically capture reception processes. Therefore I was intrigued by NodeGoat from the start, because this is a core feature of the program, and have kept using it to my great satisfaction since (thanks a lot, Pim and Geerd!) To be able to capture these reception processes I first introduced the object category of “publications” for everything which was intended to be published.

 

The “publication” category in my NodeGoat database

For tracking references more specifically than just by a global descriptor “Refers to” I then introduced the sub-object category of “Reference” which allows me to capture who is referenced, which publications is quoted (if any), and whether a journal or other serial source is referred to (if any). To be able to run co-citation analysis later on, each reference is assigned the page number on which it occurs in the original publication.

A publication with its references

I decided to keep references as simple as possible. This means they are basically singular: Each reference is made to exactly one person, up to one publication, and up to one journal. They are not unique as there may be two references containing exactly the same data, which can happen if someone is quoted with the same work more than once on the same page. While being able to capture most of the relevant details very well, admittedly this model is a bit prone to proliferate references whenever things get complicated. If, for instance, a person such as Adrien Reland is referred to with two editions of his book “De religione Mohammedica” (that of 1705 and that of 1718) in one sentence, in the language of the model this translates into two references to Reland on the same page, one to the 1705 edition and one to the 1718 one. Especially in cases where there are many people and works referred to on the same page, it can get quite tiresome to enter all these data.

Named Entity Recognition, 100% handcrafted

And this is due to the fact that I formulated this concept while working with 18th century learned journals, knowing for sure that none of the data I needed for my analysis was available in standardized linked open data. So while working with databases all the time, which supply me with the digitized images and texts and sometimes even allow for full-text searches pointing me to the references to be picked, entering the data and identifying persons, places, and texts remains work to be done by hand. As this is really nothing else than plain Named Entity Recognition, in theory it might be done automatically. But I suspect that I would need a fairly advanced AI to be able to process data from these source matters, as they abound with non-standardized orthography, obsolete name variants, arbitrary abbreviations, misspellings and even outright mistakes such as mistaken identities or confusion of dates.

Starting from the other end of time

So what I did this week was trying to test the methodology and the model on a sample of a more recent variety of texts I also have to process, those that relate to my four main persons from today, or from not-so-long-ago (compared to the 18th century, at least). Starting from the other end of time I simply used JSTOR , with an advanced search set to “All content” and “Relandus” as search parameter. This returned 68 results, 53 of which I can with my JSTOR account access in full-text and 15 which I can’t. With what was left of the week after finishing all other tasks scheduled for these days I ended up with around 18 hours for a first go at these results. This took me through 31 of the 68, not quite 50% of the sample. The average time spent on each item was around 34 minutes, which I would consider as not too bad for the start. For the start because as in each new data set to be entered there were much more new identities to be identified than already known ones to be just related to the new items. These 31 items, most of which were journal articles from between 1883 and 2010, netted me a total of 88 new persons to be identified and added to the database along with another 11 new publications cited within the items. They also brought with them 23 new institutions such as the journals they were published in, and 25 new publishing houses. All in all, 31 items from the 68 search results netted me a total of 178 new database objects, or more than 5 per item (on average). Which means that it now takes me about 6 minutes to identify an unknown entity and add it to the database, at least in a form that I can work with.  As related items usually share at least some of their entities – which is why they are related, of course – over time the percentage of new objects to be added to the database declines against those already known, which should speed up the processing. Well, I’ll know better next week after having gone through the remaining 37 search results…

And what about references?

One of the publications with richer reference profiles

But if references are the key relational feature of the data model, how many references did I get out of these 31 search result items? That’s the really interesting number, isn’t it? And it is… 93. On average exactly three useful references, but in this case the average is deceptive. The majority of these texts made only one reference at all, and then there was a smaller group counting between 7 and 11 references each. Which is of course due to some publications centring on a special field of inquiry, in this case studies of early modern orientalism and/or early modern Dutch academia, and others focusing on more distantly related fields, such as – in this case – linguistics or biblical geography. This is not bad as such, and already produces useful visualizations. But it also means that, on average, 11 minutes of work are necessary to generate 1 meaningful reference. So this might be a point to ponder again if the method as it is now is really suited to the project. Will it work out like this? Seems like a bit more testing is needed. Looks like next week has just got a new objective…

Sample of items, linked by references to other objects in the database


[1] Utrechts Archief, 17.36, Uittreksel uit de resoluties van de Staaten van Groningen betreffende de theologische geschilpunten tussen de Groninger professoren Samuel Desmarets en Jacobus Alting, 1669, en Johannes à Marck en Johannes Braun, 1681–1690, p. [3]: March 1st, 1689.

[2] Utrechts Archief, 17.36, Uittreksel uit de resoluties van de Staaten van Groningen betreffende de theologische geschilpunten tussen de Groninger professoren Samuel Desmarets en Jacobus Alting, 1669, en Johannes à Marck en Johannes Braun, 1681–1690, p. [1]–[2]: May 14th, 1686.

Is there something like Structural Forgetting?

„So really the notion of forgetting on a societal scale is to suggest two things: first, that the collective representations held knowledge about the matter in general for all competent participants; and second, that the knowledge was progressively lost.“[1]

Is there something like ‚Structural Forgetting‘? And if there is: what’s it like? People forget; you all know the feeling. But do societies forget?

The question if a community can be affected by the same phenomenon as an individual is first of all one of language. The metaphor is engaging and easily applied; but is it apt? If it is taken to indicate, albeit implicitly, a biologist similarity between communities and individuals and to construct communities as meta-organisms, it would be misleading.[2]  The only way to make the association functional is to bring it to a functional level. Structural forgetting will only provide a useful analytical term if a functional analogy between individual human beings and communities in regard to storing information and providing for its disposability is proposed. Such a “prosthetic memory”[3] is long established and intuitively plausible. Communities do have mechanisms to store information that is not needed at the moment and to retrieve it again if needed. If such information becomes inaccessible, the process is analogous to individual forgetting.  

But this is not yet a very distinct concept. How to craft this into an analytically useful tool?

Information circulation: any piece of information X circulates by being referenced

As individuals, we know that we have forgotten something when we become aware that there once was something we knew which is not accessible to us at the moment, wherever it may be. I know I once learned my Latin vocabulary, but more often than not I have to look up the words now. And as I do, I remember again. If I however would be charged with using them frequently – having a large stack of Latin sources on my desk to go through – they would stick again after a while. From a functional point of view, the heart of the matter seems to be the frequency with which information is recalled, or circulated. For each piece of information X such a frequency could, in theory, be established – if I cared to count me looking up a Latin phrase, for example.

Continuous referencing to any piece of information X: X is remembered

And this is no different from the situation communities are presented with. Information that is often recalled, which means that it is in circulation through media by being referenced, is present, is easily accessible – or, is structurally ‘remembered’. Elena Esposito has proposed a similar reading of Niklas Luhmann when she argued that remembrance equals a recursiveness of operations which holds pieces of information present through repetition. Repetition produces redundancy, and redundant information is what is remembered by the system.[4] Without going into systems theory now, let’s move on to the practical problems.

If remembering is a function of information frequency, forgetting can be rephrased as a function of information frequency, too – one that indicates X to be so infrequently referenced that its status changes from ‘present’ to ‘absent’ information. “Forgetting” is more adequately phrased as a kind of threshold then: If the frequency with which X is referenced is lower than Z, X is forgotten.[5] Oliver Dimbath has advanced the concept of “information half-life” in this context: Once the frequency of X being referenced drops to half of peak level, it is forgotten.[6] For any historiographical inquiry, this will be impossible to establish if not framed very carefully to certain regions, time spans, media, and groups – and even then be fraught with the imponderabilities of source loss.

Information circulation is complex: how to frame it?

Intermittant referencing pattern: X is forgotten

I would thus like to propose another criterion for labelling X as forgotten: X is (structurally) forgotten if the pattern of references to X becomes intermittent. That is, if we see a pattern of alternating phases of no references to X and X being referenced (no matter how the frequency within such phases is), X is only occasionally recalled and not readily present.

While this solves the problem of quantifying frequencies, it admittedly does not do away with the framing problem. How any piece of information X is referred to is dependent on the context in which this happens, and circulation of information is only a meaningful term if we can establish a circuit in which this happens. Steven Shapin already brought this up more than twenty years ago:

“Society – including the specialist societies of scientists – might properly be regarded as a distribution of knowledge, just as the very idea of knowledge depended upon the social relations of knowers.”[7]

So framing needs to be the next step. After having discussed about structural forgetting, of course!


[1] Connerton, Paul (2013): How modernity forgets. 3rd printing. Cambridge (UK), New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 47.

[2] Cf. Assmann, Aleida (2004): Vergessene Texte: Zur Einführung. In: Aleida Assmann und Michael C. Frank (Hg.): Vergessene Texte. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag Konstanz (Texte zur Weltliteratur, 5), pp. 9 22; p. 15.

[3] Olick, Jeffrey K. (1999): Collective Memory: The Two Cultures. In: Sociological Theory 17 (3), pp. 333–348; p. 342.

[4] Esposito, Elena (2002): Soziales Vergessen. Formen und Medien des Gedächtnisses der Gesellschaft. Aus dem Italienischen von Alessandra Corti. Mit einem Nachwort von Jan Assmann. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, p. 24; similiar observations in Berger, Peter L.; Luckmann, Thomas (2010): Die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit. Eine Theorie der Wissenssoziologie. 23rd printing. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, p. 166.

[5] Cf. Werber, Niels (2004): Vergessen / Erinnern. Die andere Seite der Gedächtniskunst. In: Günter Butzer und Manuela Günter (ed.): Kulturelles Vergessen–Medien, Rituale, Orte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (Formen der Erinnerung, vol. 21), pp. 81–98; p. 84; and Groebner, Valentin (2014): Wissenschaftssprache digital. Die Zukunft von gestern. Paderborn: Konstanz University Press (Essay [KUP]), p. 103.

[6] Dimbath, Oliver (2014): Oblivionismus. Vergessen und Vergesslichkeit in der modernen Wissenschaft. Konstanz: UVK (Soziologie), p. 252.

[7] Shapin, Steven (1995): Here and Everywhere. Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. In: Annual Review of Sociology 21, pp. 289–321; p. 302.