Tag Archives: Letters

A Ghost Network

Snippet from Adriaan Reland’s correspondence circles

Sunday, May 5th, for Friday n° 30

In search for the web of correspondences in which my protagonists where situated I am constantly challenged by the intricacies imposed on such a reconstruction through source loss. Which is nothing very surprising, though. Once people are dead for 300 years, it is rather more likely to find nothing than to find anything at all, so every surviving piece of evidence is good first of all. And from what is there normally a lot more may be reconstructed with greater or lesser probability – which of course brings along other problems.

If I may elaborate on last week’s example of Adriaan Reland’s correspondence network, this provides a case in point. Most of Reland’s surviving letters are part of the correspondences of Gijsbert Cuper (1644–1716), the learned mayor of Deventer, who not only was a prolific letter-writer and networker but who also kept his letters; they have come down to us pretty complete. Apart from that, there are only some scattered letters in several European libraries, plus some in printed correspondences of other persons or as part of contemporary publications.

A – The directly known network, or 15 edges

To begin with the easy part: These are Reland’s direct correspondents as I know them from shortly below 200 letters. Those connections are directly established as people who exchanged at least one surviving letter with him. The list encompasses one correspondent in France (Jean-Paul Bignon), one in the Holy Roman Empire (Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze in Berlin), one in Switzerland (Johann Baptist Ott), three in England (John Wasse, John Hudson, and Richard Bentley), and ten – the rest – in the Netherlands. It also contains different social fields: While eleven of these were scholars, two were printers (Halma and Leers), and one a former student applying for a post as preacher (Johannes Plevier). But fifteen contacts are almost nothing for a busy member of the Republic of Letters – as 177 letters are also almost nothing.

B – The indirectly known network, or 18 ghost edges

Now these letters sometimes reference other letters as received, written, or forwarded to someone else which I have not yet found in archival evidence but which are clearly indicated as having existed, so that I may take the sources as containing indirect proof of the connections established by these letters. This provides me with a ghost network of another 18 correspondents, which is interesting in so far as it contains almost the same differentiations on a regional level as the directly known network but is socially much more homogenous. One ghost correspondent is from France (Pierre Daniel Huet), two are from within the Holy Roman Empire (Johann Hermann Schmincke from Hesse, Johann Burchard Mencke from Saxony,) one was abroad outside Europe (Johannes Heymann in Damascus, Syria), five in England (Heinrich Siecke al. Henry Sike, Gilbert Burnet, John Chamberlayne, Joshua Barnes, and Cornelius Crownfield), one in Italy (Giusto Fontanini), and the remaining nine in the Netherlands. But this time only one correspondent, namely the publishing house Fritsch & Böhm in Rotterdam, was not a scholar. Some persons were ‘only’ part-time scholars as the preachers Godefroy de Clermont and Paul Collignon or Gilbert Burnet, the British politician and bishop of Salisbury, or Reland’s younger brother Pieter who was a lawyer, but from the context it becomes clear that they all are referred to in their respective capacities as scholars. Before I dig deeper into the problems connected to this, first let me introduce you to the even more shadowy parts of this network.

C – The conjecturally known network, or, 16 ghosts of ghost edges

From letters, publications, and other sources also third set of connections can be postulated. These connections are not as clearly indicated by the sources as the ghost edges just presented but may be inferred on the basis of well-grounded speculation. As these connections are therefore by their very nature elusive, let me tell you a bit of the reasons for me supposing them interspersed in the same breakdown as I have given for the other two sets of connections. Regionally divided, this third circle of connections contains 16 correspondents:

  • Three correspondents in France: Antoine Galland, Bernard de Montfaucon, and Ludolph Küster. Galland is mentioned by name and with forwarded letters in some of Reland’s letters, as Montfaucon, but both are not explicitly mentioned as in direct contact, and the same goes for Ludolph Küster, Royal Librarian in Paris.
  • Two correspondents in Denmark, Otto Sperling and Matthias Anchersen. Anchersen was professor of Arabic at Copenhagen university and a former pupil of Reland. In a letter to Gijsbert Cuper from 1 November 1709 Reland quoted a longer poem dedicated to Cuper and him by Anchersen, which may indicate a familiarity likely to be kept up by communication.[1] Sperling is mentioned several times in letters between Reland and Cuper and seems to have been a correspondent of Cuper also; if this constitutes a parallel case to that of de la Croze, Sperling might also have been in contact with Reland directly.
  • Four correspondents in the Holy Roman Empire: Christop Cellarius, August Pfeiffer, Otto Mencke, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Reland had asked Cuper at one point to bring him into contact with Schmincke and Leibniz,[2] and with Schmincke at least this seems to have worked (see B). For Cellarius and Pfeiffer the situation is similar: Reland had once asked Theodor Jansson van Almeloveen for bringing him into contact with Cellarius and mentioned at the same time that he was editing some of Pfeiffer’s work.[3] Both might indicate direct epistolary contact but only on a conjectural basis. With Otto Mencke it is a bit more difficult; as I have indirect proof of Mencke’s son Johann Burchard Mencke being a correspondent of Reland, and as it seems to be the case that Mencke junior inherited most of his contacts, especially the Dutch ones, from his father, this would make it seem likely that Reland also was in contact with him already.
  • And another seven Dutch correspondents, for which I will now not go into detail for each one. But, interestingly, this subset contains the only non-scholar contact I suppose to have taken place at this stage. This is the contact to Johan Adriaan Thierens, a former pupil of Reland’s whom he tried – successfully – to install as preacher in Deventer by using his contacts to Gijsbert Cuper, the mayor of Deventer. There are three letters extant in which Reland proposes Thierens for the post, Cuper answers that he will be appointed, and Reland thanks Cuper for doing so.[4]

But, having assembled these increasingly shadowy layers of correspondents, what does this tell me?

Conclusions

First of all, out of 49 contacts only 15 are directly established; 34 are indirectly or only conjecturally postulated. Around 200 letters have survived from the 15 direct contacts, so that it may safely be assumed that the full network might also have contained about thrice that number at least. As the direct letters also are quite few to have survived for a communicative member of the Republic of Letters for the number of contacts, the final figure is likely to have been even higher. And as the 15 letters from directs contacts yielded 18 indirect proofs of connection, it may be assumed that these 18 correspondences would have contained an equal amount of such references. This would ideally serve to establish the remaining 16 contacts on a secure basis but might also point even further, for there are many more people with whom Reland might have been in contact. This can be inferred from connections such as those to Johannes Plevier and Johan Adriaan Thierens, both of which were pupils of Reland on whose behalf he intervened with authorities to provide them with posts. These are only two of his many students, so it may well be the case that following this lead I would indeed discover many more possible contacts. And that there is only one person related to Reland in the whole sample, his brother Pieter, is making me suspicious also; it seems that this part of the correspondence is likely to be missing on a much larger scale than the scholarly part.

This is something which would hardly be surprising but which nevertheless needs to be pointed out here. Source loss is no random process. It rather favours certain kinds of materials and is prone to discard others much more readily. In Reland’s case, it is known from the auction catalogue that his library was auctioned off after his death on November 4th – 5th, 1718;[5] his manuscripts, which had been passed to his son, were auctioned off after the son’s death in May 1756.[6] That meant that those letters which Reland had kept as parts of his papers were on the market then at the latest, and those containing only family matters would likely have been discarded as of no worth to colleagues or collectors – and so could not end up in archives in the 19th century to be preserved until today. The same holds, by and large, for almost all of his other correspondents, rare exceptions such as Cuper nonwithstanding; and the letters to and from his publishers would suffer the same fate. Thus only a fraction of a part of the correspondence survived, that with fellow scholars, and that only selectively, too. Now the question is: Is this causing him to become structurally forgotten, or is it an effect of an early structural forgotten-ness? But this has to wait until next week. And before I forget: Here’s the complete circles all in one, just for sake of completness.


[1] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht, 1 November 1709: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1704-1709).

[2] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 13 January 1710: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1710-1716).

[3] Reland to Almeloveen, Amsterdam 19 August 1703: UB Utrecht RJ 008 (1703).

[4] Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 20 October 1714; Cuper to Reland, Deventer 12 January 1715; Reland to Cuper, Utrecht 15 January 1715: KB Den Haag 72 H 11 CL 105 (1710-1716).

[5] Anon.: Pars Magna Bibliothecae Clarissimi & Celeberrimi Viri Hadriani Relandi, Professoris, dum viveret, Linguarum Orientalium, & Antiquitatum Hebraicorum, & Antiquitatum Hebraicarum in Academ. Ultraj. Continens diversi Generis & Var. Linguarum Libros Exquisitissimos Theologos, Philologicos, Patres

Ecclesiaticos, Philosophicos, Auctores Graecos & Latinos, Antiquarios, Historicos, Lexicographos, aliosque Miscellaneos, inter quos excellunt Atlas Blavianus, Item Thesaurus Rom. & Graecus Graevii & Gronovii, 24 vol. Quorum auctio fijiet publica in aedibus defuncti ad diem 7 Novembri 1718. Patebit Bibliotheca duabus ante auctionem diebus, nempe 4 & 5 Novemb. Trajecti Ad Rhenum, Apud Guilielmum Broedelet. 1718. Ubi

Catalogi distribuentur, Utrecht: Broedelet 1718.

[6] Anon: Catalogus bibliothecæ Joannis Relandi, ofte Register van eene uytmuntende verzameling […] boeken, prent- en kaartwerken […]. Als mede een munt-cabinet […]. Nagelaten door den heer mr. Jan Reeland […]. ‘t Welk verkocht zal worden te Haerlem […] op den 3 mey 1756 en volgende dagen, Haarlem: Enschede 1756.

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.

For Family, Knowledge, and Country

Philip Sydenham to Thomas Hearne, Brympton St Every, 23 May [1725?] (Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 15, f. 473-474)

Friday N° 24, March 22nd, 2019

I have been writing about the entanglements between lexicographical biographic memoralization and national ideas in my last post and had originally announced going further in this direction only in next week’s post. As I was in Oxford for archival research at the Bodleian library to consult correspondences I had not awaited to find anything in there fitting this thread of investigation of my sources. But sometimes one’s in for a bit of a surprise, and so I might try to connect some of my findings in these letters to the theme of national framings of knowledge.

Last week I already observed that British dictionaries and encyclopaedias where going for the national label early in the 19th century. This of course provokes the question whether this was a new development, coming out of the blue, or something which might be connected to longer-running developments. 

The introductory clipping from Philip Sydenham’s (c.1676-1739) letter to Thomas Hearne (1678-1735) points in the latter direction. In his letter, Sydenham complements Hearne to his edition of the itinerary of John Leland (c.1506-552);[1] the full passage runs:

“I hope y[ou]r publick Services for ye Honor & good of this Nation will receive publick approbation. this will be one m[anu]s[cript] to preserve & recover our old Noble Constitution many very valuable M[anu]s[cript]s deserv ye publick reading & encouragment & I hope y[ou] will proceed. ye more ancient ye more brave & Noble.”[2]

Sydenham thus entangled the antiquarian pursuits of Hearne’s, who was an avid editor of medieval manuscripts besides being librarian to the Bodleian library, with the national “Honor” in two ways, on the one hand by the scholarly value of his results and their potential of contributing to a better “publick” understanding of the nation’s past, and on the other hand by linking this more directly to the conditions for being a nation, to “our old Noble Constitution” to be retrieved this way. While this way of searching the origin and the primordial good laws of a community in the past was entirely in keeping with early modern conceptions of how time and historical research operated, the appeal to “publick approbation […] reading & encouragment” is somewhat more unusual and already seems to point to later developments in constructing national identities on a larger scale.

But Sydenham had more to offer still. In the next paragraph, he directly linked Hearne’s other professional activities, that as a librarian, both to the advancement of learning in general – as was a fairly common topos – and – a less common inflection –, to national honour also:

“I am glad [that] y[ou]r Library (=the Bodleian) is daily improving. it is so much for ye Honor of ye Nation, & interest of Learning.[3]

The three intersecting topoi of interest here, from the perspective of my project, are 1) ‘Fighting Oblivion’, 2) ‘Advancement of Learning’, and 3) ‘National Glory’. To see how this affects my protagonists, of whom there has been no mention yet in this post, I’ll have to take you to another of Hearne’s editions, the development of which was indeed coupled to the Leland volumes Sydenham already praised.

In 1716, Roger Gale (1672-1744), eldest son of Thomas Gale, approached Thomas Hearne in the same way as Sydenham would do nine years later, by complementing him on his just published Leland edition. The real aim of the letter was something else, though. Gale wanted to secure Hearne’s editorship for a manuscript in his possession, the Scotichronicon of John of Fordun (or Ffordun, c.1320-c.1386), which already had been partly edited by his father.[4] Hearne willingly accepted Gale’s offer of providing him with the manuscript and every assistance necessary for the edition and publication of the chronicle.[5] Both entered a long-drawn out process of working on the edition in which Roger Gale was constantly checking on Hearne to ensure the progress of the work, to provide him with colligations from other manuscripts, and helping him to gain enough subscribers for publication, he himself taking 20 copies.[6] When in 1722 the Fordun edition finally went to the press,[7] the Gale family was highly pleased with the result.

First, it represented a success in the endeavours of both Roger and his younger brother Samuel Gale, who both had been founding members of the Society of Antiquaries in 1718, in fighting oblivion. To do so represented a recurrent thread in their discussions of all fields of research they were actively engaged in, and print seemed a convenient way of doing it. When on February 25th, 1723, Samuel Gale held a speech before the Society of Lincoln, he spoke about the benefits of engraving:

“Give me Leave, Gentlemen, to Congratulate ye latter age on this Noble Invention, this Beneficial Discovery, and which alone seems to surpass all the great Things the Ancients ever did. Since eben the mouldring Fragments of theire proudest Structures, ye Temples of ye Gods, ye Statues of ye Heroes, ye Hippodromes ye Amphitheatres the Triumphal Arches, Aquaeducts, Military Ways, Baths, Colums, Medals, and Inscriptions, which yet, feebly beare up against ye power of corroding Time: even these Remaines I say of Athens, Corinth, and of Rome can be, and are now, only by this diffusive Art, triumphantly rescu’d from that total Havock, ye everlasting oblivion: Which a few more revolving years must inevitably bring on, and that of the Poet, then be too sadly verified: etiam periere Ruinae.”[8]

In 1726, Roger Gale took recourse to almost the same words in a letter to John Clerk to explain the purpose of the Society of Antiquaries, only with less rhetorical flourish:

“Besides the ½ guinea payd upon admission, one shilling is deposited every month by each member, and this money has been hitherto expended in buying a few books, but more in drawing and engraving, whereby a great many old seals, ruins, and other monuments of antiquity have been preserved from oblivion, and the danger of being intirely lost in a little time.”[9]

 Second, it was connected to the advancement of learning, which Samuel Gale not only connected to printing, but also to the scholars who had been paragons of learning. At the end of his speech, he made the connection quite explicit and directed it not only to the memory of the past, but also to the future.

“These [engravers] are They who by an uncommon Genius have almost outdone Nature, and have given Life & Spirit to Good Men after Death, Who is there yet Beholds ye Aspects of the Great & Learned, and Burns not with secret Æmulation to imitate their High Example.”[10]

And this connection might have been the driving force behind Roger Gale playing the driving force behind putting the manuscript inherited and already partly edited by his father to the press through Thomas Hearne although it costed him time, labour, and money. Samuel Gale put this into words in his letter congratulating Hearne on finishing the Fordun edition, thanking him because:

“Ye Hon[o]r You have done my Father, in mentioning him so often in It, is a great Satisfaction to Me in particular […].”[11]

And thus the history of knowledge, scholarly biographies, and – following Philip Sydenham – national honour which could be derived from both seem to have become entangled in Britain already in the early 18th century. The question is only to what end?


[1] Thomas Hearne (ed.): Joannis Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis collectanea ; Ex autographis descripsit ediditque Tho. Hearnius, 6 vol., Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1715.

[2] Philipp Sydenham to Thomas Hearne, Brympton St Every 23 May [1725?], Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 15, f. 473. Orthography as in the original, ligatures in [].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Roger Gale to Thomas Hearne, London 24 July 1716, Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 14a, f. 311–312.

[5] Thomas Hearne to Roger Gale, [Oxford 1716 – Concept, no dates], Bodleian Library, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 15a, f. 313–314.

[6] Roger Gale to Thomas Hearne, London, 20 February 1722, MS Rawls letters 6, N° 35a, f. 355–357.

[7] Thomas Hearne (ed.): Johannis de Fordun Scotichronicon genuinum, una cum ejusdem supplemento ac continuatione. E codicibus Mss. eruit ediditque Tho. Hearnius, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1722.

[8] Samuel Gale, Oratio Habita coram Societate Lincolniensi vicesimo quarto Die Februarii Anno C. 1723, Bodleian Library, MS Eng Misc E 147, f. 61, r.

[9] Roger Gale to John Clerk, [no place] 26 April 1726, Bodleian Library, MS Top Gen d 74, pp. 178–186; p. 184.  

[10] Ibid, f. 65, v.

[11] Samuel Gale to Thomas Hearne, London, 26 May 1722, Bodleian Library MS Rawls letters 6, f. 376–377.

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!