Tag Archives: Philosophical Transactions

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).  

Work in progress

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019, for Friday no. 21

I am very sorry, but I will have to postpone what I originally intended to post here yesterday for one week. The idea I had in mind does work, but it takes a lot more time to set up the calculations in detail than I had thought, and it will keep me busy for a few days still. In one of my former posts I preliminarily explored a data set still uncompleted at that time, consisting of all references to my four protagonists in the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions, and the Maandelyke Uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde Waerelt during the 18th century. As this set is completed now*, it will be interesting to see what might be learned from it.

One preliminary finding – which at the same time is a hypothesis to be tested during the next days – is that in terms of being posthumously referenced it seems to pay for a scholar to diversify his research interests, or at least to offer works which may feed into many different research interests over time. For it seems that the most prominent work written by my four protagonists over the course of the 18th century turned out to be Adrien Relands 1714 two-volume “Palaestina ex monumentis veteris illustrata”. And from the contexts of the references targeting it this seems most likely to be due to its ability to be utilized for the purposes of History, Theology, Geography, and Philology alike. The downside of this is that it seems very difficult, if not outright impossible, to determine which kind of work might be suited to such purposes when writing it.

But more about this next Friday!

*At least for the moment. Next addition will be Acta Eruditorum/Nova Acta Eruditorum. To be continued!

A Palmyra-shaped Dutch blind spot?

A short network animation of all references to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adrien Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot between 1750 and 1765 in from the Journal des Savants, the Philosophical Transactions and the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt, as moving four-year averages. Mind that Reland provides the only link connecting the Boekzaal references to the JdS-PT references.

Saturday, February 9th, 2019, for Friday Nr. 18

I have been busy adding another journal to the dataset I briefly discussed here two weeks ago; this time, it’s the Maandelyke uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt taken from Hathi Trust again for a Dutch perspective to complement the British and the French already in there. In doing so, I noticed an absence that makes me wonder about its possible causes.

I already wrote here about how the rediscovery of Palmyra and the decipherment of the Palmyrene inscriptions played into my research question as it illuminates how references to structurally forgotten scholars can be used to improve one’s own standing in the Republic of Letters. Both Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716-1795) and John Swinton (1703-1777) had been building on research carried out, among others, the Dutch philologist Jacob Rhenferd (1654-1712) and two of my persons of interest, Eusèbe Renaudot (1646-1720) and Adrien Reland (1676-1718). Which meant that after a period of comparative absence those names, for a while, became current again as part of the discussion over the decipherment of Palmyrene. As I had already came across this discussion in both the Journal des Savants and the Philosophical Transactions, I would not have been surprised to find a similar increase in references to these names in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt also.

There was a significant increase in references to Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal in the 1750s and 1760s; but none to the other proponents of the debate. To make up for this, Johannes Braun (1628-1708), who had been almost completely absent from the former dataset, was mentioned much more frequently than I would have thought during this period.

Upon closer inspection, the respective entries reveal that – as it seems – the Palmyran debate just did not place in the Boekzaal. I cross-checked for references to Swinton and Barthélemy without connections to my protagonists but did not find anything related, either. Given the interest displayed by Dutch oriental scholars and philologists in Palmyrene following the first re-discovery of Palmyra for Europe’s Republic of Letters in the 1690s, that there should be no reaction at all to the second re-discovery in 1753 is a bit puzzling.

So I look around a bit and went through Delpher, the Dutch National Library catalogues, and the STCN, and found nothing much in connection. The only directly Palmyra-related Dutch publication in this time seems to have been a (pirated?) print of Joseph Jouve’s (1701-1758) 1758 novel “Histoire de Zénobie, impératrice de Palmyre” which went off Nicolas van Daalen’s press in Den Haag.  And that was not even in Dutch. Intra-textual references seem to have been as scarce, as far as Delpher is concerned (query results are here). My query only returned four publications during that time: one a geographical work set us as a fake travelogue – the first volume of Joseph de la Porte SJ’s (1714-1779) “Voyageur français”,[1] translated into Dutch as “De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt”, and the other three parts of a work of similar kind, the “Tafereel van Natuur en Konst” which appeared in 21 volumes between 1769 and 1784 in Amsterdam, a translation from an English model (volumes 1, 10, and the index volume 21).

The most curious of these is “De nieuwe reisiger”, as Jean-Jacques Barthélemy is indeed referenced in it as part of the description of Palmyra, but in a weird way.  After describing the ruins, the fictive letter-writer tells his fictive addressee “that it would be desirable that one or other scholar would try to discover the beginnings of this language, which is completely forgotten.*”[2] Added to this was a footnote indicated by the asterisk running “The abbé Barthélemy has not yet made this renowned discovery public, which justly had won him the respect of all the learned in Europe […]”.[3] Now de la Porte’s French original – which has the same passage –[4] was printed in Paris in 1765, while the fictive letter just quoted from is dated to 1736. And Barthélemy’s lecture at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was printed in Paris in 1754.[5] So while the fictive letter-writer in de la Porte’s text could not have known about Barthélemy’s discovery in 1736, both the French author and his Dutch translator could – and perhaps should – have known that this discovery was very public already in 1765.

Coupled with the absence references to the debate in contemporary Dutch-language literature (as far as I was able to make out so far) this points to that the issue, while being a scholarly polemic in France and Great Britain and well-covered in German learned journals,[6] seems not to have been of much interest to the Dutch public. The next reference to it in a publication in Dutch was made – again – in a travelogue, only this time a real one. When the Swedish Arabist and Oriental scholar Jacob Jonas Björnståhl (1731-1779) went on a rather prolonged Grand Tour through Western Europe and via the Mediterranean to the Near East, Istanbul, and Greece in 1767, he wrote letters to the Swedish publisher and librarian Carl Christoffer Gjörwell (1731-1811) who collected them. They went to print in a German edition in 1772, followed by a Dutch translation in 1779; the Swedish edition only was printed from 1780 on.

Now Björnståhl described (in the Dutch translation) in his “J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten“, volume one, in a letter from Marseille, 18 November 1770, how he met Jean-Jacques Barthélemy in Paris. He rated Barthélemy’s kindness towards other scholars “higher even than the new and grand discovery by which Mr. Barthélemy has made himself known to Europa, that one can recon from him, who was the first to teach Europe so, the time since when it is possible to read Phoenician and Palmyran inscriptions”.[7] As a curious by-note to this I may add that Björnståhl five years later, in a letter dated Oxford, 10 October 1775, reported that he had also met John Swinton: “I shall conclude my letter with Mr. Swinton. This man is, as is well known, famous for his writings concerning old, and foremost Phoenician inscriptions and coins, which can be found in the English Transactions.”[8] Björnståhl said nothing about Swinton’s role in the Palmyran inscriptions’ controversy.

Adding to these findings that the debate was framed by some of its actors as a struggle for national honour in claiming the first discovery, most of all by John Swinton himself who complained about being subject to attacks by French writers, and recognized as such by others, for instance the German learned journals, it might have fallen out of the Dutch learned discourse of the time because of this national framing which did not include Dutch elements – or, as was the case with Rhenferdt and Reland, not in prestigious roles.

Yet this did not cause a lack in references to especially Adrien Reland in the Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt during this time. Not only where such references there, they also pointed frequently to the same publication, his last major work “Palaestina ex monumentis veteris illustrata”, a two-volume description of the Holy Land as taken from classical sources; they only related to it in connection with other issues. So maybe the supra-national character of the Republic of Letters really was under stress from nationally framed discoursed below the surface already, and the Palmyran discussion might be a point to illustrate this.


[1] Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765.

[2] Joseph de la Porte: De nieuwe reisiger; of Beschryving van de oude en nieuwe waerelt, Uit het Fransch van den Abt de la Porte, Eerste Deel. Behelzende in sich Cyprus, Aleppo, Damascus, de berg Libanon, Palmyra, Egypten, de Barbarysche Staaten, Griekenland, en een gedeelte van Turkyen. Dordrecht: Abraham Blusse, 1766, pp. 58-59: “Het zol dan te wenschen zyn dat de een of andere geleerde trachte om de beginzelen van deze taal te ontdekken, die tans geheel vergeten zyn.*”

[3] Ibid: “*De Abt Barthelemy heeft deze beruchte entdekking nog niet gemeen gemaakt, die hem te recht de achting van alle geleerde in Europa verworven heeft; hy verdiende dezelve reets door zyne doorgronde geleertheit in de oudheden.”

[4] Cf. Joseph de la Porte: Le voyageur françois, ou La connoissance de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, T. 1, Paris : Vincent ; Moutard ; Cellot 1765, p. 80 : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k102012t/f87.image.

[5] Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: Reflexions sur l’alphabet et sur la langue dont on se servait autrefois à Palmyre, Paris : Guerin et Delatour 1754.

[6] See for instance: Nova Acta Eruditorum, October 1757, pp. 625-630, and November 1757, pp. 671-678; Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen 1754, August 24th; September 5th, pp. 927-928; October 17th, pp. 1066-1068; 1755, May 29th, pp. 588-589; 1756, June 10th, pp. 586-590; Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen 1755, Nr. 24, pp. 209-210; Nr. 27, pp. 233-234.

[7] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Eerste deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1779, pp. 201-202: “Zulk eene vind ik al zo groot, en zelfs grooter, dan de nieuwe en groote ontdekkingen, wardoor de heer Barthelemy zig in the waereld zo bekend gemaakt heeft, dat men van hem, die het Europa Europa de eerste geleerd heeft, den tijd kan rékenen, waarin men in staat is, om Phénicische en Palmyreensche opschriften te kunnen lézen, waartoe men te voren niet eens het alphabet kende.”

[8] J.J. Björnstähls Reize door Europa en het Oosten. Deerde deel, Utrecht: G. van den Brink / Amsterdam: Wed. van Esveld en Holtrop, 1782, p. 268: “Ik zal mijnen brief met den heer Swinton eindigen. Deze man is, gelijk men weet, beroemd wégens zijne geschriften, de oude, inzonderheid de Phenicische, munten en opschriften betreffende, en die in de Engelsche Transactions te vinden zijn.“

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? 

Who is John Swinton?

Adrien Reland, Inscriptiones duae Palmyrenae, in: Palaestina Illustrata, Vol. 2, 1714, p. 526.

Friday No. 9, Devember 7th, 2018

And what does Swinton do around here? Well, to tell this story let me begin anew, this time from another starting point.

My basic assumption was that structural forgetting can be observed by looking atreference patterns. When they fall into an intermitting cycle of referencing and non-referencing, that’s where forgetting comes in.  To be able to detect this means browsing through a lot of potential reference sources to unearth patterns of actual references. To provide a not completely random selection, I took my tour through the major learned journals of the 18th century first of all. And that is where today’s story really starts, for in the course of doing so I finally also came to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 

A pattern of nothing?

Now the problem with the reference pattern in the 18th Philosophical Transactions was that there simply was none, or so it seemed. In the firstcouple of volumes neither Adrien Reland nor Johannes Braun nor Eusèbe Renaudot nor, to my surprise, even Thomas Gale (the English scholar in the sample) where referenced once. This continued during the 1710s, 1720s, 1730s, and 1740s, until I began to wonder whether it was not simply the case that the Philosophical Transactions just had ignored them, as the journal had only infrequently published humanities research at all.

I was already considering to skip going through all issues and sample only one every five years from the Transactions as this was obviously a useless pursuit, when all of a sudden John Swinton popped up and made my day. In volume 48, 1753/54. Doing dull work has its advantages.

Hooray for Swinton!

Enter John Swinton (1703–1777), philologist, numismatist, and antiquarian searching for obscure inscriptions.[1] His hour came when in 1753 Robert Wood (1716/17–1771) published “The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor in the Desart”,[2] his account of the journey undertaken by James Dawkins (1722–1757) and himself into Ottoman territory in the Syrian desert to re-re-discover the ancient Graeco-Roman city of Palmyra, (which has recently been devastated by the so-called “Islamic State” much more efficiently than seventeen centuries of desert climate had been able to do before). Swinton was most of all interested in the inscriptions transcribed and added as illustrated plates to Wood’s Ruins of Palmyra because they enlarged the corpus of known bilingual Greek-Palmyrene inscriptions sufficiently to decipher the Palmyrene alphabet and language, an extinct Semitic tongue. And that was exactly what Swinton claimed to have accomplished in his first contribution to Philosophical Transactions, the “Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d. In five letters from the Reverend Mr. John Swinton, M. A. of Christ-Church,Oxford, and F. R. S. to the Reverend Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.”[3] Although Swinton had been admitted into the Royal Society already in 1729, thiswas his first printed contribution to the Transactions.

Who’s first?

It must, of course, be noted that Swinton’s discovery was not unparalleled, as PeterDaniels has shown in 1988 already, and that it is much more likely thatJean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795) of the Academie des Inscriptions in Pariswas actually faster than Swinton in deciphering and translating Palmyrene.[4] Swinton and Barthélemy moreover were not working in isolation but were in correspondence already.[5] Swinton’s previous work on had on Roman and Etruscan inscriptions,[6] and only from the 1750s onwards taken to Phoenician and Samaritan inscriptions also,[7] which provided the basis for his Palmyrene research. In his Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d Swinton nevertheless took care to style things it in a way as to indicate that not only he had the claim to primacy in the discovery but also that Barthélemy had not really comeas far as he had.[8] I suppose Swinton did so for good reason. This does not necessarily mean that thestory he told about his discovery was not true; it is reasonable to suppose that he was capable to do as he claimed to have done. It just was not the whole story. The reason why it was good for Swinton to tell it in a, so to say, condensed way was that this was his chance to get back into the scientific discussion of his day, and he took it when he saw it.

Swinton’s way back in

Swinton’s track record had been quite good until 1737; he had studied in Oxford, graduated MA in 1726 and priest in 1727, had been admitted as a probationer fellow to Wadham College (and into the Royal Society) in 1729, and from 1730 to1734 had been appointed chaplain to the English factory in Leghorn (Livorno), which gave him the opportunity to travel through Portugal, upper Italy, and through Vienna and Hungary on the way back to England. It might be that in 1733, while he was in Florence, he laid the grounds for his later acceptance into the learned societies of the Accademia degli Apatisti of Florence and the Accademia Etrusca Delle Antichità ed Iscrizioni of Cortona.[9] Back in Oxford, he took the post of humanities lecturer, until in 1737 he was involved into a scandal about homosexual relations at the college which sparked at least three publications[10] and two lawsuits until 1740 and at the end of which Swinton was de facto found guilty of “sodomy”, as male homosexual intercourse was legally framed at thetime. He resigned his fellowship and left the college for a church post. In 1745 he joined Christ Church College, Oxford, this time as a student of theology, and in 1750 published the first edition of his largest publication ever, the “Inscriptiones citiae”. This was the situation he was in when in 1754 his first Transactions piece got published. In the following twenty years he submitted another 37 pieces to the Transactions, almost two per year, besides also publishing several of his smaller pieces for the print market and putting out a second revised edition of his Inscriptiones citiae in 1755.  That he was elected keeper of the Oxford University Archives in 1767 might well have been facilitated by this steady stream of publications since 1753/54.

An old acquaintance

Now the interesting thing for me was that I had already stumbled over Swinton before when I cameacross his only major book publication, the Inscriptiones citiae of 1750, during my Eighteenth Century Collections Online search for references to Adrien Reland; and a closer look revealed that Swinton had citedReland as early as 1738 already in his De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacular dissertatio.[11]He therefore obviously was already familiar with Reland’s oeuvre, which tied into the Palmyrene case as in his description of ancient Palestine Reland had also given an illustration of a Palmyrene inscription – unfortunately one which, as Swinton claimed, neither he nor Barthélemy had been able to put togood use because of its bad likeness until Barthélemy somehow acquired a better copy.[12]

John Swinton, Reland’s Inscriptiones duae, quoted in PT 48, 1754, p. 691.

A pattern of re-use and recurrence

 The pattern which becomes visible here is one that connects several developments which lead to an – albeit not completely flattering – modest resurgence of the writings of Adrien Relands in the hands of John Swinton. On a structural level Swinton is exemplary for the enhanced standing of Antiquarianism as a discipline since the middle of the 18th century, and he was directly connected to the Oxford group of Orientalist scholars. He moreover profited from the growing influence of European powers in the Levant region, which facilitated expeditions into the ancient sites there, and the risen interest for all matters oriental connected to this, exemplified by the enormous success of Woods Ruins of Palmyra. On a dynamic level it was exactly this unforeseeable event provided the chance for Swinton to position himself with his Antiquarian interests in the centre of the current academic discourses of his time and place, and with this to en passant reintegrate his literature back into that discussion.

John Swinton’s position (red) in the overall epistemic network of the project

The smaller the fish that feed off you…

That this would happen was outside the horizon of calculation of those he cited, and that they would be referred to in this context not to be expected. A good point of illustration is that the Abbé Renaudot was not in the bundle of those Swinton referred to – because he as secretary of the Academie des Inscriptions had declared the Palmyrene inscriptions to be no field of research for the academy as there was no sufficient source corpus to reliably do so.[13] That he disqualified himself from being re-used as literature in an academic discussion starting 30 years after his death was something he could not know; and neither did Reland know that quoting the Palmyrene inscriptions he knew, albeit in an unsatisfactorily manner (to Swinton at least). Structural forgetting emerges once again as a phenomenon ruled much more by chance than by scientific results. And I would like to use Swinton to formulate a new measure criterion for being structurally forgotten: The smaller the fish that feed of you, the smaller you have become.


[1] See E. I Carlyle, Rictor Norton: Swinton, John (1703–1777), in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

[2] Robert Wood (ed.): The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart, London: n.p. 1753.

[3] John Swinton: “Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d. In five letters from the Reverend Mr. John Swinton, M. A. of Christ-Church, Oxford, and F. R. S. to the Reverend Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.”, in: Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 48, 1753/54, pp. 690–756.

[4] See Peter T. Daniels: “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”: The First Decipherment, in: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1988), pp. 419-436.

[5] Daniels, “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”, p. 435.

[6] John Swinton: “De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacula dissertatio. Authore Joanne Swinton A. M. Soc. Coll. Wadh. Oxon. & R. S. S.”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1738; —: “De primigenio Etruscorum alphabeto dissertation”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1746; —: “De priscis Romanorum literis dissertation”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1746.

[7] John Swinton: “Inscriptiones citie : Sive in binas inscriptiones Phoenicias, inter rudera citii nuperrepertas, conjectur. Accedit de nummis quibusdam samaritanis & phoeniciis, vel in solitam per se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis, dissertatio. Autore Joanne Swinton, A.M. ex de christi, Oxon. & R.S.S”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1750; —: “De nummis quibusdam Samaritanis et Phoeniciis: vel insolitam prae se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis, dissertatio”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1750; —: “De nummis quibusdam Samaritanis et Phoeniciis : vel insolitam prae se literaturam ferentibus, vel in lucem hactenus non editis dissertatio secunda”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1753;—: “Inscriptiones Citieae, sive, In binas alias inscriptiones Phoenicias interrudera Citii nuper repertas conjecturae”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1753; —: “Inscriptiones citieæ: sive in binas alias inscriptiones Phoenicias, inter rudera citii nuper repertas, conjecturæ”, Oxford: Sheldon Theater 1755.

[8] Swinton, Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d, p.743: “Not long after I had finished my conjectures upton the Palmyreneinscription published by Gruter and M. Spon, I received a most obliging letter from M. l’Abbé Barthelemey […] wherein he informed me, that he had taken great pains to explain that inscription, and another drawn in the same character, published likewise by Mr. Spon. As he seemed to think, that he had not intirely [sic] deciphered those inscriptions, he recommended it to me to take them both into my consideration, and to what I could make of them.”

[9] Although this might also have beena later development as he flagged these memberships only from 1763 (Cortona) and 1764 (Florence) on in his publications.

[10] Anon.: “College-Wit sharpen’d: or, The Head of a house, with, a Sting in the Tail: being a New English Amour, of the Epicene Gender, done into Burlesque metre, from the Italian. Address’d to the Two Famous Universities of S-d-m and G-m-rr-h. London: printed for J. Wadham, near the Meeting-House in Little-Wild-Street, where the Supplement, which will shortly be published, may be had; and Sold at the Pamphlet-Shops of London and Westminster, M.DCC.XXXIX”, London: n. p. 1739; Anon.: “A faithful narrative of the life and character of the Reverend Mr.Whitefield, B. D. From his Birth to the present Time. Containing An Account of his Doctrine and Morals; his Motives for going to Georgia, and his Travels through several Parts of England”, London: Watson 1739; Anon.: “A faithful narrative of the proceedings in a late affair between the Rev. Mr. John Swinton, and Mr. George Baker, both of Wadham College, Oxford: wherein the reasons, that induced Mr. Baker to accuse Mr. Swinton of sodomitical practices, and the Terms, upon which he signed the Recantation, industriously publish’d in the Daily Advertiser, London Evening Post, &c. are circumstantially set down, and submitted to the Publick: To which is prefix’d, a Particular Account of the Proceedings against Robert Thistlethwayte, Late Doctor of Divinity, and Warden of Wadham College, For a Sodomitical Attempt upon Mr. W. French, Commoner of the same College”, London: n. p. 1739.

[11] Swinton, De lingua Etruriæ regalis vernacula dissertatio, p. 7.

[12] Swinton, Explication of all inscriptions in the Palmyrene language and character hither to publish’d, p.744.

[13] Daniels, “Shewing of Hard Sentences and Dissolving of Doubts”, p. 427.