Tag Archives: Institutions

Transferring Structual Remembrances

John Nichols, Binding directions for Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica, vol. 3, 1790

Friday n° 40, July 19th, 2019

“The plan of this Number was suggested by a valuable collection of Letters that passed between Mr. R. Gale and some of the most eminent Antiquaries of his time, which had been presented by his grandson to Mr. George Allan of Darlington. This gentleman, with the indefatigable diligence which distinguishes all his pursuits, transcribed them all into three quarto volumes, and communicated them to Mr. Gough, with a wish that in some mode or other they might be made public.”[1]

John Nichols, in: Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica, No. 2, part 1, General preface (1781).

When in 1781 the learned printer and editor John Nichols printed the first of three parts of Reliquiae Galeanae as the second volume of his Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica, this marked a point which is seldom observed and communicated as detailed as in this case: the point where references to a certain body of information, in this case the learned members of the Gale family, are no longer a private phenomenon but are taken up by an institution.

Institutional connections

The quote given above does in itself not convey any sense of an institution at work here: All people referred to are mentioned as individual persons without any affiliations clearly visible. By having a closer look at the matter however it becomes clear that the Society of Antiquaries served as the common denominator uniting them all.

Roger Gale (1672–1744) had been, together with his brother Samuel Gale (1682–1754) among those who re-founded the Society in 1717/18 and had been acting as its first vice-president, while Samuel had been its first treasurer (for 21 years, until 1739/40) – and it was their letters that formed the “valuable collection” reprinted by Nichols. George Allan (1736 – 1800) , who had acquired these letters, had for long carried out his antiquarian interests privately in his native county of Durham when he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1774, so that he at the time No. 2, part 1 of the Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica went off the press had been a member of that illustrious body for seven years already. Richard Gough (1735–1809), to whom he had communicated the papers, had been elected into the SAS already in 1767 and since 1771 served as its director.

Now Gough also had been a follower of the work of William Stukeley (1687–1765) since his studies at Cambridge, who had been a close friend of both Roger and Samuel Gale, had also been one of the re-founders of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1739 had married their sister Elizabeth Gale as his second wife. Moreover, Gough was a close friend of John Nichols (1745–1826), the printer, to whose major journal, the Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, he contributed frequently, as well as developing editorial projects with him (such as, for instance, the Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica). This was nothing accidental also, as Nichols’s printing house had served the Society of Antiquaries as its official printer since 1736. Nichols himself was only admitted as a fellow into the Society in 1810, but throughout his career avidly pursued antiquarian interests and printed corresponding publications.

Leaving the family circles…

The only one falling out of this raster is Roger Gale’s grandson, Henry Gale (1744–1821), who, like his father Roger Henry Gale (1710–1768), does not seem to have shared the antiquarian interests of his ancestors. When – as I detailed here recently – Roger Henry Gale sold at least some of the books his grandfather and father left him in 1759, he obviously still kept the manuscript letters of his father and uncle, which his son Henry Gale could then, at some point after his father’s death, present to George Allan. In the fourth generation counted from Thomas Gale, the first and major learned member of the family, virtually all the materials needed for references to him and his sons had left the narrow circles of family ownership and had become dispersed among institutions, collectors, and other private owners. With the family displaying no interest in frequently referring to its learned predecessors, this would now likely be the point in time at which structural forgetting would set in. From the perspective of Thomas Gale, one of my protagonists, this unfortunate event took place a good sixty years after his own death in 1702.

…and passing into institutional channels

At this point, the letters came – via George Allen and Richard Gough – into one of the publications printed by John Nichols, changing the medium the information incorporated in this body of correspondence circulated in and, at least potentially, offering them to a wider public. The Society of Antiquaries itself cannot be credited with having initiated this development though, as Nichols’ publication was a commercial enterprise devised by Gough and him, and not commissioned by the corporate body as such. But it provided the necessary platform to connect the relevant actors responsible for putting Roger and Samuel Gale’s correspondence out in print, and it supplied them with a motive to do so. As Nichols in 1790 put it in the General Preface to the complete version of all three parts the 1781 issue had been the first of:

“Among the various Labours of Literary Men, there have always been certain Fragments whose Size could not secure them a general Exemption from the Wreck of Time, which their intrinsic Merit entitled them to survive; but having been gathered up by the Curious, or thrown into Miscellaneous Collections by Booksellers, they have been recalled into Existence, and by uniting together have defended themselves from Oblivion, Original Pieces have been called in to their Aid, and formed a Phalanx that might withstand every Attack from the Critic to the Cheesemonger, and contributed to the Ornament as well as Value of Libraries.”[2]

ohn Nichols, Antiquities in Lincolnshire, General Preface (1790).

Fighting Oblivion

This was exactly what Roger and Samuel Gale had aimed at in re-founding the Society of Antiquaries: fighting oblivion, and rescuing as many vestiges of bygone times as possible; in 1726 Roger Gale had written to John Clerk that in the meantime they had succeeded in that “a great many old seals, ruins, and other monuments of antiquity have been preserved from oblivion, and the danger of being intirely [sic] lost in a little time”[3], and Samuel Gale had in 1712 addressed Thomas Hearne (1678-1735) in a letter as that “[t]he Learned World is indebted to you for your sedulous Preservation of so many antient [sic] Monuments which otherwise in a little Time must have utterly perished.”[4] The remaining question is whether they achieved these goals, and if they did, for which period of time.

To which effect?

I would doubt that the institutional framework within which these references were now made and within which information about the Gale family circulated contributed little to rescuing them from becoming structurally forgotten. The communication circuit Nichols’ publication created via the audience it targeted was larger than the family or even the Society of Antiquaries as a whole, but it still remained a limited number of persons who took an interest in such matters. The predominant media products for the circulation of reference to the Gales – Thomas Gale first and foremost – since the middle of the 18th century were dictionaries, as I already hinted at; and even within their circuits there was no escape from becoming structurally forgotten. Even if scholars would were so lucky as to have an institution to care about their memory after their death, to really preserve that memory it needed a special kind of institution, which the Society of Antiquaries unfortunately was not.  

[1] Nichols, John (ed.): Bibliotheca topographica Britannica. No II. Part I. Containing Reliquiae Galeanae; or miscellaneous pieces by the late brothers Roger and Samuel Gale. In which will be included their Correspondence with their learned Contemporaries, Memoirs of their Family, and an Account of the Literary Society at Spalding. Printed by and for J. Nichols, Printer to the Society of Antiquaries: and Sold by All the Booksellers in Great-Britain and Ireland, London 1781, General Preface, p. [i].

[2] Nichols, John (ed.): Antiquities in Lincolnshire; being the third volume of the Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica. London: Printed by and for J. Nichols, 1790, General Preface, p. [i].

[3] Roger Gale to John Clerk, 26 April 1726, Bodleian Library MS Top Gen D 74, pp. 178–186; here p. 185.  

[4] Samuel Gale to Thomas Hearne, London 15 November 1712, Bodleian Library MS Rawl Letter 15/16 (Letters to Thomas Hearne Vol. 15–16, Letters G–T), p. 11.  

An institutional memory?

Saturday, January 18th, for Friday No. 16

Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Vol. 1, 1717, title page.

In one of my last posts I suggested that none of my four exemplary cases has been able to profit from a memorializing attempt by his institution. Today I would like to examine one case a bit closer, which is that of Eusèbe Renaudot and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres he was a member of from 1691until his death in 1720. The academy was an institution very actively publishing their member’s efforts. They not only regularly printed research contributions – dissertations – by their members to various subjects in their own journal, the Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, but also every couple of years published quite massive volumes recording the institutional processes and progresses made in form of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series, which began in 1717 and only terminated with volume 51 in 1843. And as if this were not enough, in 1740 the historian Claude Gros de Boze (1680–1753), together with the savant Claude-Pierre Goujet (1697–1767) and using materials by Paul Tallemant (1642-1712), compiled a history of the academy up until this time in three volumes, theHistoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, published in Paris.

Commemoration done

There would have been plenty of room, therefore, to commemorate the abbé Renaudot. Yet, if one takes a closer look at these materials, the form in which this commemoration took place turns out to be quite interesting. Starting with the most obvious point, there was no eloge on his behalf when he passed away in 1720, but only in 1729 with the 5th volume of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres. This is easily accounted for by the notorious delay of the Histoire volumes in wrapping up the events within the academy. The 1729 volume explicitly only dealt with the years 1718 – 1725;[1] so he was no exception in this. This span of nine years between the publication of the eloge and the actual death is however quite long. It becomes even more pronounced if one takes into account that the following five volumes did not mention Renaudot at all, and he only appeared again within the series in the 11th volume of 1740 – which in itself comes as no surprise because this was the index volume to the preceding ten. From then on, until volume 16 of 1751 there would be no notice of Renaudot in the Histoire series either.

Having a complementary look at the second series of proceedings the Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres produced, the Memoirs, is, unfortunately, a bit more complicated. They are digitally available in very good scan quality via Hathi Trust, yet not fulltext searchable – and it would take quite a while to read through over 70 volumes of around 500 pages each, so I have to restrict my findings to the tables of contents in this case for the time being. Nevertheless, these are quite instructive. Although the first volumes to move beyond Renaudot’s lifetime were seven to nine (covering 1718–1725), there are only four dissertations by him in all of the first nine volumes, two in both volumes two and three,[2] which basically means that he ceased publishing on behalf on the academy before 1710; and obviously there was no posthumous material published after 1720. [But as long as I haven’t done an analysis of reference to him at the intratextual level, this is not necessarily indicative of his overall presence in the epistemic community formed by the academy’s members.]

Commemmoration achieved?

Now one might argue that this was just what was to be expected as someone who was thirty years dead by then would in all likelihood not be able to play a large role in the current affairs of the academy. He perhaps should not turn up there at all. But it is a bit more complicated than that, as the 1751 volumes 16 and 17 of the Histoire series show upon inspection. Renaudot was mentioned thrice in them, once in no. 16 and twice in no. 17. The first instance was a reference to the correspondence between Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741) and Jacob Gronovius (1645–1716) which had once been triggered by a Renaudot letter.[3] The other two instances of reference to Renaudot quoted some of his work on the history of the Eastern churches within a dissertation about the Assassins.[4] And then there was silence – at least for another ten volumes.

But before I turn to the reappearance of Renaudot in volume 26 of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series, let me jump back to the year 1740 and have a look at the other history of the academy, de Boze’s Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement. As if to make up for the delay in publishing the eloge on the abbé, this second history also contained it,[5] as well as some references to Renaudot in its records of the academy’s workings.[6] 1740 thus serves as first peak year of institutional references of the Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres to its former member, the abbé Renaudot. But as already said, with that obligation fulfilled, there was nothing said about him anymore apart from the three rather peripheral references in 1751.

Collateral commemoration

This only changed with the 26th volume of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres series of the year 1759, in which Renaudot was referred to in a particular context,[7] which I, not incidentally, already wrote about on this blog from the perspective of the other party. It was the dispute between John Swinton (1703–1777) and Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795) about the honour of having been the first to be able to correctly interpret the Palmyrene inscriptions. There is nothing contemporary in the Memoirs series, which is due to the fact that this series over the years had built up even more delay in publication than the Histoire – the proceedings for the years 1749-1760 were only printed in 1771. The Barthélemy version of the decipherment of Palmyrene[8] does have certain advantages over the Swinton version, one of these being that Barthélemy unlike his English colleague and/or competitor referred back not only to Adrien Reland and Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) as Swinton had done but also to Eusèbe Renaudot and Gijsbert Cuper (1644–1716) who both were included in his account for good reason. Renaudot had studied the inscriptions himself and then decided it was not worth the effort given the situation at his time; and Cuper had been instrumental in providing the additional inscription brought forward first by Rhenferd and later Reland.

To assume that this was what brought Renaudot back into the reference flow once again would certainly be very far-fetched. I would rather like to argue that Barthélemy represents a general trend here, the trend towards antiquarian topics the likes of which Renaudot had been dealing with which brought him back into the focus of the academy’s members now. Unlike in the years between 1729 to 1740 and 1741 to 1758, Renaudot was referred within the Histoire series now on a regular basis, even if with rather low frequency. From the 1790s onwards the remarks become increasingly critical,[9] but they are still there.

So what can be seen from these patterns of references? Although the institution the abbé Renaudot belonged to had done him the customary honours of memorialization, it had done so a bit belatedly, and without lasting effects. The modest Renaudot comeback since the middle of the 1750s, more than 30 years after his death, had nothing to do with the commemorative efforts undertaken by the academy but was due to an external event outside the institution’s control.

[1] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 5, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1729, title page: “depuis l’année M. DCCXVIII. jusques & compris l’année M. DCCXXV.”.

[2] Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, Vol. 2, Paris : Pancoucke 1722 [reprint], pp. 318-342, 343-360;  Mémoires de litterature, tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, Vol. 3, Paris : Pancoucke 1722 [reprint], pp. 152-184; 236-245.

[3] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 16, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1751, p. 326.

[4] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 16, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1751, p. 146, 148.

[5] De Boze, Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, vol. 2, pp. 188 – 222.

[6] De Boze, Histoire de l’Academie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres depuis son etablissement, avec les eloges des academiciens morts depuis son renouvellement, vol. 1., p. 16, 45, 122, 128 ; vol. 3, p. 404, 451.

[7] Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 26, Paris : Imprimerie royale 1759, pp. 61, 581.

[8] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Réflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servoir [sic] autrefois a Palmyre (12 Février 1754), in: Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol. 26, Paris: Imprimerie royale 1759, pp. 577–597.

[9] Cf. Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Vol., 45, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale 1793, p. 178, and Vol. 49, Paris: Imprimerie Impériale 1808, p. 106.

Institutions vs. Forgetting

Friday No. 12, January 4th, 2019 (a real Friday post once again)


So far I have mostly tried to frame structural forgetting in terms of individual persons, of their acts or omissions. This corresponds with my deeply held conviction that individual persons are at the core of history, and tracing them therefore the first task set to any historical inquiry. But, unfortunately, individuals do not only act as individuals but have a tendency to coalesce into groups or collectives. Institutions might be thought of as structured collectives of individuals following that line of thought, as social (sub)systems might also. I always found Norbert Elias’s concept of figurations very helpful to come to terms with such supra-individual entities.[1]

…and Institutions

Now both institutions and social (sub)systems provide me with frames within which I conduct my research on structural forgetting, whether I like it or not – it is about forgetting scholars in the Humanities. Large parts of 18th to 20th century Western and Central European academia with all its peculiar institutions thus come into view and have to be accounted for, because they formed the environment the individuals I look at lived and acted in.

Social (sub)systems are characterized by specific memory practices.[2] One might even argue that they are constituted by memory practices, as they make stabilizing fleeting figurations of individuals into structured supra-individual entities possible over longer spaces of time. The same holds for institutions, on a smaller scale maybe. So both should be quite antithetical to forgetting as it might damage their very foundations. Which then prompts the question:

“If you are part of an institution, does this prevent you from being structurally forgotten?”

There are two possible ways to approach this question, the theoretical and the empirical. Let me give both a short try here (for the answers in both ways are much in the open still, at least for me).

1 – Theoretically…

The most basic observation regarding institutional memory practices is simply that they can never be exhaustive: No institution can structurally remember everything about itself. Memory practices therefore always include elements of forgetting by sorting out and discarding what is no longer relevant to the upkeep of the institution in question. An institution’s memory practices normally do not only entail information circulation but also storage and retrieval. What is deemed relevant is circulated; what is not (at the moment) deemed relevant is stored away where it can (probably) be retrieved again if need be, is no longer circulated, and, in consequence, is structurally forgotten. The larger and older an institution is, the more likely it is for any individual that took part in it to be sorted out and to be removed from circulation by being stored away. But the larger an institution is, the more capacities it may have to circulate those kinds of information it still sees as somehow relevant. The theoretical way to answer the question thus seems to be a definitive yes and no: Yes, you may be structurally forgotten even as a former part of an institution; and: No, if referring back to you is of importance to the institution, you might not be forgotten so easily. That said, structural forgetting and/or remembrance may even serve as an indicator of an individual’s importance to a given institution. But there is a hen-and-egg-problem coming along with this as well: Is an individual of importance because it was (and is) remembered, or was (and is) it remembered because it was important? And vice versa for forgetting. Seems like a typical example of scientific “Well, it’s not that easy to generalize…”

2 – Empirically…

Now do my four cases provide any illumination if sorted into this framework, as an empirical take on the question?

For Adrien Reland and Johannes Braun the answer seems to be deceptively simple. Both were professors at universities – Reland at Harderwijk and Utrecht, and Braun at Groningen. Harderwijk University does not exist anymore, which leaves Utrecht and Groningen to look at. At Utrecht there has some effort been made to keep Reland in the memory of the institution, but this is a development of the 19th century and subject to ups and downs (at the moment, it’s more on the upside). At Groningen Braun is mentioned but rates a poor second, not even a likeness of him survives. Both might be held to be, at least for most periods up until now, structurally forgotten by the institutions they once belonged to. This is nothing extraordinary, as most professors are. The typical university has had just way too many of them and remembers only some chosen few. The really intriguing questions now are: Why and how came these patterns observable today into being? What was the hen, and what the egg? 

So what about institutions with fewer members – which at least statistically raises the chances for any given individual to be remembered rather than forgotten – and individuals who once played key roles in these institutions?

This brings Eusèbe Renaudot and Thomas Gale into focus. Both served rather prestigious scientific institutions in important positions. Renaudot was a member of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, founded in 1663, and was instrumental in the restructuring of the Academie early in the 18th century. Gale in turn was one of the early members of the English Royal Society, founded in 1660, and served as its secretary from 1679 to 1681 and from 1685 to 1693.

Now both institutions still exist – although one might argue that the Academie des Inscriptions has undergone more transformations during its history than the Royal Society – and both acknowledge their former members, Renaudot and Gale, publicly, yet not very prominently.  From the point of view of both institutions I would label both Gale and Renaudot structurally forgotten: The information is there, but it is out of circulation, stored away, and not easily retrieved.

At the moment I can’t say when these patterns emerged, much less how and why – this needs further enquiry. But what I can say is that in all four cases the institutions did not shield my protagonists from being structurally forgotten in the end. What remains to be studied is whether they had serious impacts on the processes of becoming structurally forgotten at all, and if, how and why. Still a bit of work to do, but the year is young.


[1] Elias, Norbert (2009): Was ist Soziologie?, 11th ed., Weinheim/Munich 2009, pp. 10–11.

[2] Sebald, Gerd; Weyand, Jan (2011): Zur Formierung sozialer Gedächtnisse. On the Formation of Social Memory. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 40 (3), pp. 174–189; see pp. 179–181.