Tag Archives: 20th century

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.

A not-so-regular update: 19th century Dutch-German memory crossings

Friday N°2 plus one (Saturday), October 13th, 2018

First lesson learned

Regularly scheduled updates may become difficult once family matters have to be reckoned with. As I was on the road with the kids yesterday as promised centuries ago, I subsequently deliver my update today. And promise to be punctual from now on. But now let’s move on to the interesting things.

What’s new?

As I am following my trails into the 19th century – treading on unfamiliar terrain here, so moving on cautiously – I have recently stumbled upon two interesting Dutch figures and an even more interesting memory crossings. But let me start from the beginning: Last Wednesday I proposed that references are the building blocks for structural remembrance –  or forgetting. But references do not just pop up and float around; they are made by specific people with a specific purpose each time. Which means that, to put it shortly, structural forgetting comes into being through mass omission: by references not being made, connections not being drawn, names not being dropped. And to be able to discern this, I have to make use of those – fewer – references that are still being made, and to use them like little spotlights in the dark: To draw clues about where to look next.

Now I had discovered long ago already a curious case of referencing and non-referencing of two of my protagonists: Adrien Reland (1676-1718) and Johannes Braun (Braunius, 1628-1708). While Reland had an entry in the ADB, the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Braun had none. Not very interesting, where it not for the fact that there was no reason to include Reland into the ADB while Braun might well have been. For the aim of the General German Biography was to collect the biographies of the most important persons from the German-speaking areas of Europe from the early Middle Ages up until the 19th century when it was written. Now Braun was born in Kaiserslautern in 1628 and lived there until the burning of the city during the Thirty Years’ War, after which the rest of the family moved to the Netherlands. Being of German extraction, he would have made good ADB material. Reland in turn was born in 1676 in De Rijp, north of Leeuwarden in Western Frisia, and had no German family background. So, why include one but not the other? For such selections are the stuff structural forgetting is made of. One referenced, one not; one remembered, one not. Unfortunately that question cannot be answered directly, as the ADB archive is missing since decades and we frankly do not know how those who were portrayed were selected. We do know from a number of examples, however, that the editors could be quite generous in determining the ‘German-speaking area’ from which the biographies were to be drawn. What to do now? Well, when questions cannot be tackled directly, do it in a roundabout way.

Enter the first Dutch scholar

Jacob Cornelis van Slee

I already knew from other inquiries that there was one author who had portrayed some early  modern Dutch scholars for the ADB. Perhaps this would give something like a clue? And indeed it does, and this is where the first of the two 19th century Dutch scholars I announced above enters the stage. Jakob Cornelis van Slee (1841-1929), predikant in Deventer and part-time historian specialising in church history and history of knowledge with a local focus, wrote 205 entries. Most of them are about Dutchmen, and all situated within the history of church and theology – befitting a preacher, one might say. Now Slee accurately saw to it that he did not portray anyone born after 1648, the date of formal Dutch independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Which would provide good reason why he did not include Reland himself; that entry was written by Richard Hoche (1834-1906). But why did Slee not reference Braun, who was born before 1648, spent most of his life in the Netherlands, and was professor for theology at Groningen university? A question that becomes even more interesting as Braun was suspected of unorthodox views, accused of being a Spinozist, and Slee obviously had something of an interest for such people, having written a history of Socinianism in the Netherlands in 1914. And how came Slee’s connection to the ADB about? Well, as material about him is quite sparse, I am going to the sources next week and have a look at what’s left of his materials in the Stadsarchief and the Athenaeumbibliotheek Deventer. The hunt is on!

Exit Slee, enter a German scholar

Now to Richard Gottfried Hoche who wrote the ADB entry on Reland. Biographical information concerning him is even harder to come by, but he was director of a Hamburg gymnasium, then became head of the Hamburg education authority, and published some works about classical philology and Roman mathematics. He wrote 183 entries for the ADB, for the most part about philologists, teachers, and scholars from somewhere between the 16th to the 19th century. He most likely picked Reland because he also was a philologist, and Hoche had no problems in including Dutch philologists, no matter if born after 1648 (see for instance his entry on Jakob Perizonius (1651-1715), a close contact of Reland). Now Braunius was neither a teacher nor a philologist in the strict sense of the word, but he was a scholar with strong philological interests pertaining to biblical Hebrew. So Hoche could have included him in principle, but he did not. I did not yet find out if any materials from Hoche have survived, but this is on the list. And will not be forgotten.

Exit Hoche, enter the second Dutch scholar

Willem Boele Sophius Boeles

If Braun was not mentioned by both Slee and Hoche, perhaps this just to be taken as a sign that he was, already at the time, quite definitely forgotten? Perhaps this is the case. But at least one 19th century Dutch author did lose a few words about him, and that is the second Dutch scholar I promised. It is Willem Boele Sophius Boeles (1832-1902) who was president of the Leeuwarden Court of Law and part-time historian, specialising in church history and history of knowledge with a local focus (sounds familiar? Yes, he and Slee might make for a good comparison couple). He wrote zero articles for the ADB, but among his many publications there is a biographical compendium of the professors of Groningen university – where Boeles himself had studied law – from 1864 which, of course (this time), features Braun as the Groningen professor he was. Boeles later wrote about the history of Franeker university also, and about some individual scholars whose memory he wanted to keep alive. Slee had done the same for the Deventer Athenaeum, and for those individual scholars whose memory he wanted to be upheld. So Boeles will be worth a closer look too, to find out more about why 19th century Dutch scholars as these referred back to their predecessors in the way they did, and why and how Johannes Braun and Adrien Reland became tangled up in this. Work to do!