Tag Archives: References

Speaking of bygone scholars

Friday n° 31, May 5th, 2019

Today, ladies and gentleman, I will be speaking about speaking about scholarly predecessors in public speeches. Well, at least semi-public speeches, as I will be dealing with the inaugural lectures of three 18th century professors. Although they all were delivered originally to a limited academic audience only, they were published in print afterwards and thus at least in principle publicly available. (And of course I’m also writing and not speaking, but although it sounds it like fun, I shall not spend any more time reflecting on the inadequacies of metaphors for scientific discourse here).

Three orators, three inaugural lectures

Let me introduce today’s three orators now:  Please welcome Albert Schultens (1686–1750) with On the springs from which all knowledge of the Hebrew language flows and their shortcomings and defects,[1] Jan Jacob Schultens (1716–1778) with Of the fruits of returning to theology from a deeper understanding of the Oriental languages,[2] and last but not least Henrik Albert Schultens (1749-1793) with On the labour of the Dutch in fostering the Arabic studies.[3] As you either know already or may have guessed by now, the similarity in names really points to a close relationship between these three scholars. They represent three generations of the same family, father, son, and grandson. They also represent three generations of scholars working within broadly the same discipline, which their contemporaries termed “Oriental Languages”, which was almost always blended with theology – as the title of Jan Jacob Schulten’s inaugural lecture directly captured.

How does that relate to forgetting?

So what is the connection of these three lectures/speeches to my project? Well, first of all they constitute a source type which I have not dealt with in my project yet. Of course I have drawn on funeral orations, but these are hardly the same kind of public speech act (and printed publication later on). So the first question is how this medium may be related to what I am generally interested in, the patterns of posthumous references to scholars and their fading. And the second question obviously is which relation existed between the Schultens family and my four protagonists whose patterns of fading I am especially interested in.

To do it the easier way I’ll start with the second question: Albert Schultens, the first of the family to attain a professorial post, had been a pupil of Johannes Braun in Groningen, in 1706 defending a graduation thesis under Braun On the utility of Arabic in the interpretation of Holy Scripture,[4] as I already had pointed out in an earlier post. From Groningen he first moved to Leiden, then on to Utrecht where he became a pupil of Adriaan Reland, earning a doctorate in theology in 1709 with a thesis on a passage from the gospel according to Mark.[5]  In 1713 he was appointed to the post of professor of theology at Franeker University. Albert Schultens thus was quite directly connected to two of my protagonists.

The lectures: 1714 – 1779

But is there any trace of that in his inaugural lecture? If so, only a very small trace. Schultens recurred once to Reland, when he listed “Hottinger (=Johann Heinrich Hottinger, 1620–1667), Golius (=Jacob Golius, 1569–1667), Pocockius (=Edward Pococke, 1604–1691), Relandus and other principal Arabists.”[6] He much more prominently referred to Samuel Bochart (1599–1667). What is remarkable in the passage on Reland, though, is that he was the only living person referred to. Which was quite uncommon; usually only dead people were explicitly mentioned in public academic orations. So while one could tentatively assume that Reland was done a special honour here, it is quite telling that Johannes Braun, who had presided over the graduation thesis in which Schultens had already defended the argument that Arabic could be used to illuminate Scripture, is not mentioned even once. Although he had been dead for six years already.

When Albert Schultens proposed the use of other Semitic languages to get a better grip on Hebrew in 1714 this still was a new approach. When his son, Jan Jacob Schultens, defended essentially the same argument – that “Oriental Languages” where a profitable tool for the study of theology – in his inaugurational lecture for the post of professor of theology in Leiden in 1749, it was no longer revolutionary anymore, which might perhaps explain why Jan Jacob could make it short; his oration was only a bit more than half as long as that of his father. But it had the additional value of being solidly established by his father by now, who had not only presided over his son’s doctoral thesis in 1742[7] but who also seems to have attained the inaugural lecture of Jan Jacob. At least his son addressed him in direct speech at the end in a paragraph especially designed to underscore their familial and scientific relationship.[8] And while Jan Jacob Schultens did not refer to any of the scholars his father had mentioned as his predecessors, he also continued his line of not referring to Johannes Braun. The punchline of this is that he did refer to Johannes Coccejus,[9] whose direct pupil Braun had been.  

In 1779, when Henrik Albert Schultens, the son of Jan Jacob, held his inaugural lecture for the post of professor of Oriental Languages and Ancient Hebrew, he no longer had the problem of having to deal with any living predecessors. Not only where the scholars his grandfather had referred to dead for almost one century, both his father and grandfather were dead for quite a while, too. He capitalized on this for taking another turn on the topic of his father’s and grandfather’s lectures, in turning their approach to a discipline and referring the history of this discipline in Dutch universities. This was a clever move in two respects, as it possible for him to refer to his family history as the history of an academic field, and to use the memory of his ancestors to his advantage. He first of all referred to a set of 16th and 17th century scholars which included those mentioned in his grandfather’s lecture, adding some more international figures to compare the achievements of Dutch scholars against (and thus to capitalize on the growing discursive entanglements of national ideas and science). In doing so, he referred to Reland and, on the French side, also to Renaudot.[10] Building on that, he then turned to describing his grandfather as the founder of the new kind of Oriental languages studies he himself professed.[11] To protect himself from being reproached as exploiting his family history to his own advantage, to the end he used a curious rhetorical strategy and began to describe – quite elaborately – how much of a burden the legacy of Albert and Jan Jacob Schultens placed on him, and that he would do his utmost to match their achievements.[12]

Family’s the thing!

Although from the example of Henrik Albert Schultens it seems that relying solely on family tradition as a qualification for scholarship had become problematic in the later 18th century, it still was preferable to ‘pure’ discipleship, the more so if both could be mixed, as in Jan Jacob Schulten’s case, who could style himself not as only the genealogical but also the intellectual heir of his father. This meant that scholars who were mentioned by the founding father of the line in question had good chances to be carried along and be referred to, as Reland was, more than half a century after their death; but for those who were excluded at the start, such as Johannes Braun, this meant that they were most likely to stay excluded. Structural forgetting in this case presents itself a process only challengeable with difficulty, if at all.  


[1] Albert Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de fontibus ex quibus omnis linguae hebraeae notitia manavit horumque vitiis et defectibus, Franeker: Halma 1714.

[2] Jan Jacob Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de Fructibus in theologiam redundantibus ex penitiore linguarum orientalium cognitione, Leiden: Luchtmans 1749.

[3] Henrik Albert Schultens: Oratio de studio Belgarum in literis Arabicis excolendis, Leiden: le Mair 1779.

[4] Albert Schultens: De utilitate linguae Arabicae in interpretanda Sacra Scriptura [1706], posthumously published in: Albert Schultens: Opera Minora, Leiden: Le Mair 1769 .

[5] Albert Schultens: Disputatio theologica inauguralis in locum Marci XIII:XXXII, Groningen: Barlinckhoff 1709.

[6] Albert Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de fontibus ex quibus omnis linguae hebraeae notitia manavit horumque vitiis et defectibus, Franeker: Halma 1714, p. 15: „Hottinger, Golius, Pocockius, Relandus aliique Arabizantium principes“.

[7] Jan Jacob Schultens: Dissertations Academicae de utilitate dialectorum orientalium ad tuendam integritatem codicis hebraei, Leiden: Luzac 1742.

[8] Jan Jacob Schultens: Oratio inauguralis de Fructibus in theologiam redundantibus ex penitiore linguarum orientalium cognitione, Leiden: Luchtmans 1749, p. 26: „Speciatim Tibi, Parens Indulgentissime, qui inde a teneris unguiculis in sinu Tuo me fovisti, atque incredibili diligentia, prudentia, patientia, rudes pueritiae meae mores finxisti et emollivisti, quin asperiorem quoque adolescentiae indolem expugnatrice Tua bonitate fregisti, desideratissimum tenerrimae educationis et curae fructum inpense gratulor.“

[9] Ibid, p. 19.

[10] Henrik Albert Schultens: Oratio de studio Belgarum in literis Arabicis excolendis, Leiden: le Mair 1779, p. 5, p. 20.

[11] Ibid, p. 40: „Unum tamen, Praestantissimi Commilitones, qui in Arabicis literis, sive ad juvanda studia vestra Theologia, seu ad majorem ingenii culturam, operam collocatis; unum igitur non possum quin vobis de Alberto Schultensio commemorem, & maxime [41] ad imitandum proponam.“

[12] Ibid., p. 43–45.

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.

A disputed legacy? The shadow of Renaudot vs. Baile

Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV., tome premier (1785, p. 136).

Friday n° 28, April 19th, 2019

 “Voltaire blaims him for having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France. This is very natural in Voltaire and Voltaire’s followers; but it is a more serious objection to Renaudot, that, while his love of learning made him glad to correspond with learned Protestants, his cowardly bigotry prevented him from avowing the connection.”[1]

Chalmers’s general biographical Dictionary, vol. 26, 1816

Bad press, good press

As it is Good Friday, I wanted to get this week’s post out early as an advance Easter surprise. Fittingly, this piece will cover an issue with a confessional nature. And as I until now managed to avoid big names in my study of forgetting quite well, I thought I’d deal with a rather well-known episode this time, because it was connected – at least by Alexander Chalmers’s (1759–1834) dictionary, as you just have read – to a quite big name also. In fact, to two of them: Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778). Until now, both have only appeared in the margins of my project – Bayle because he died before three of my protagonists, and Voltaire because there were no direct connections between him and my four scholars, although he was something of a contemporary to all of them. He was eight years old when Thomas Gale died, and 26 at the death of Eusèbe Renaudot.

And it is precisely Renaudot who is in the center of today’s issue, as the polemic between him and Pierre Bayle concerning the Dictionnaire historique et critique might have had an impact on his posthumous reputation. At least in Chalmer’s dictionary it left a mark in the entry concerning him. The question now is: What does that mean in the context of forgetting? Isn’t bad press always good press? Should the connection to a work as prominent as Bayle’s Dictionnaire not be sufficient to hold a name in circulation, let alone if supplicated by Voltaire? Well, let’s have a bit of a look at that.

What happened …

In 1697, Eusèbe Renaudot submitted a memoire concerning Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire on behalf of the court, because some Paris printers had applied for a royal printing privilege for a second edition of the book. Renaudot was called upon to examine whether there was anything suspicious in it; and he found enough things not to his liking that he advised against such an edition. Pierre Bayle, who already had been provided with a copy of the draft memoire by Pierre Jurieu, replied to Renaudot’s points, while Jurieu got the memoire printed.[2] In the meantime, Renaudot’s advise had been followed, and there had been no second French edition of the Dictionnaire historique et critique.

… and what was reported …

The entry on Renaudot in Chalmer’s The general biographical Dictionary I started from is closely modelled on French sources, however, most notably the entries on Renaudot in Jean-Pierre Niceron’s (1658–1738) Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres[3] and in the later edition of Le grand dictionnaire historique originally edited by Louis Moreri (1643–1680),[4] as he duly acknowledged. Now Le grand dictionnaire historique – ‘the Moreri’, how it was commonly called – itself had Chalmers relied on a third source also, but I’m going into this only a bit later. First, let’s check the dictionaries he made use of.

Niceron’s 43 volume series on illustrious scholars featured a rather large entry on Renaudot, which also covered the issue of the memoire. Niceron stressed that Renaudot had drawn it up at the explicit request of the minister, had found things against religion in it, and had advised against a reprint. The memoire had fallen into the hands of Jurieu, Bayle had been furious, but after a fierce polemic both contrahents – as was quite usual in the late 17th century Republic of Letters – were reconciled again, and Bayle did not comment on the whole thing in the second edition of the Dictionnaire printed outside of France.[5] So far, the story closely matches Chalmers’s depiction of the events, only that he skipped the happy ending. Moreri’s dictionary, which had been especially designed to champion Catholicism, skipped the whole episode however; the entry on Renaudot makes no mention of it.

… and how it evolved …

This already predicted a pattern to be followed throughout the paper trail Renaudot left in the dictionaries. Some of these dictionaries would mention it, others would not; and most of them – as was quite customary at the time – would not indicate their sources. Even Chalmers did not fully disclose his sources for his entry, for it is more than likely that he copied at least the Voltaire part from the predecessor dictionary to his work, the New and general biographical dictionary : containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period, which appeared in London in eleven volumes from 1761 to 1762. The anonymous author of the Renaudot entry could, this time, draw upon a source which had not been yet available as Niceron and Moreri’s editors had compiled their entries: Voltaire’s Le siècle de Louis XIV., which had first been printed in 1751, and which the New and general biographical dictionary now cited: “Mr. Voltaire says that ‘he may be reproached with having prevented Bayle’s dictionary from being printed in France.’ [Siecle [sic] de Louis XIV. tom. II.] »[6] Much more than that Voltaire really had not said about the whole affair (see snippet above).[7]

This might explain while other dictionary entries up to 1800 did not say much more about it, if they said anything about the episode at all. Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (1744–1810) kept silent about in his Siècles littéraires de la France,[8] although it would likely have been the best place to put it. In John Watkins’ An universal biographical and historical dictionary, nothing about it was said in the Renaudot entry,[9] but only in the entry on Bayle Watkins wrote:

“The same year he formed the plan of his celebrated dictionary, the first volume of which appeared in 1695, and was uncommonly well received, though some parts of it were attacked by M. Jurieu, and the abbé Renaudot. […] He [Baile] was undoubtedly a man of brilliant parts, and of an acute intellect; but his religious principles appear to have leaned towards infidelity.”[10]

John Watkins: An universal biographical and historical dictionary, London 1800

… and why it was told that way

Precisely this – that Bayle was in orthodox circles, Catholic as well as Protestant, still suspected of the most dreadful crime imaginable, atheism – might have been the case not to refer on Renaudot stopping a reprint of the Dictionnaire historique et critique which would have proliferated Bayle’s ungodly sentiments, or if, to refer to it in a rather neutral way. As Voltaire sometimes was suspected to be guilty of the same sin as Bayle, it might have seemed prudent not to refer to him as an authority in the matter also.

But shortly after 1800 this changed, at least for a while, and now one could read other entries in other dictionaries, as that on Renaudot of Thomas Morgan (n.d.) in the General biography, the 8th volume of which was printed in 1813, three years before Chalmer’s 26th volume went off the press in 1816, and which said: “It’s a circumstance which reflects no honour on his memory, that the unfavourable representations which he gave to the ministry, of Bayle’s “Dictionary”, were the means of preventing that work from being printed in France.”[11]

A shadow thrown on memory…

By now, suppressing Bayle had obviously become a stain on Renaudot’s memory. Morgan only did not elaborate upon how he came to that conclusion. But Chalmers did, and now it pays to have a look at the third of his sources, and that is Leonard Twell’s (+1742) The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock of the same year 1816 as the entry on Renaudot. To have a look at it means to read a – I am sorry to admit – really very long quote from this biography of the Oxford orientalist Edward Pococke (1604-1691), where Twell gave an account of the correspondence between Renaudot and Pococke in the preparation of Renaudot’s Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio[12]:

“In this epistle the writer professes a very high esteem for our author, desires the liberty of consulting him in all the doubts, that should occur in preparing the works above-mentioned, and promises, in return for this favour, to make a public acknowledgement of it, and to preserve a perpetual memory of the obligation. It is highly probable, that death prevented Dr. Pocock from giving any assistance to Renaudot in these designs; but I am sorry to say, that the treatment that learned person has given to the memory of our author has not been consistent with the expressions of respect for him, with which this letter abounds. For when he came to publish his Collection of Eastern Liturgies, forgetting his own professions, and the duty of a gentleman, a scholar, and, above all, of a Christian, he goes out of his way, in the end of his preface, to reproach him with a mistake, which, perhaps, was the only one which could be fastened upon his writings, though Renaudot, as above-mentioned, had, without good grounds, charged him with another; but the Abbot’s zeal against the Protestants got the better of his candour, and though he could treat the learned amongst them with civility in a private way, it was not, as it should seem, adviseable to observe such measures with them in the eye of the world.”[13]

Leonard Twell: The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, 1816, pp. 339-340.

…or not?

The problem with Renaudot now became that he seemed to have been a model fanatic Catholic, dismissing protestant authors out of sheer bigotry regardless of their results, and that this was now used by Chalmers to explain why Renaudot had voted against Bayle: not for any scholarly reason but for blind (and most probably misguided) faith only. Fittingly, Chalmers had been the editor of Twell’s Life of Pocock. But the religious issue obviously only became pressing when it was used to throw a shadow on the memory of an English scholar – Pococke – and only then turned into something that could be used against Renaudot’s memory in return. At least theoretically. For obviously at least in the world of dictionaries this episode – although it was connected to famous persons, writings, and contained a juicy religious element – only spread in English-language ones, and only for a while, until the middle of the 19th century as I have been able to establish so far. In French-language dictionaries on the other hand, if the affair was reported, it was reported closely matching Niceron, and thus neutralized. But most of the time it was just left out altogether. So in this case bad press was not good press in the end, but no press after all; it failed to significantly boost Renaudot’s frequency of reference in any way. This might have been due to the complex entanglement of religion, language, and national sentiments at play here; but this is something I have to have a closer look at still.

Happy Easter!


[1] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the present time (32 vols.), vol. 26, London: J. Nichols 1812-1816, pp. 140-141.

[2] [Pierre Jurieu (ed.)], [Eusèbe Renaudot]: Jugement du public et particulierement de M. l’abbé Renaudot, sur le Dictionnaire critique du sr Bayle, Rotterdam : Acher 1697.  

[3] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41, and vol. 20, Paris: Briasson 1733, pp. 35.

[4] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebe), in: Moreri, Louis (Founder): Le grand dictionnaire historique ou Le mélange curieux de l’histoire sacrée et profane. Nouvelle et derniere édition revûe, corrigée et augmentée (6 vols.), vol. 5, Paris : Vincent 1732, pp. 481–482.

[5] Anon: Eusebe Renaudot, in : Niceron, Jean-Pierre (ed.): Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres (43 vols.), vol. 12, Paris : 1733, pp. 25-41 ; here p. 39-41.

[6] Anon: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: A New and general biographical dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation, particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts of time to the present period : wherein their remarkable actions or sufferings, their virtues, parts, and learning are accurately displayed : with a catalogue of their literary productions (11 vols.), London: Owen/Johnston 1761-1762, vol. 10, pp. 136-137; here p. 137.

[7] Jean-Jacques Tourneisen (ed.), Voltaire: Le siècle de Louis XIV. Tome premier (=Oeuvres completes de Voltaire. Tome vingtieme), Basel : Tourneisen 1785, p. 136.

[8] Anon: Renaudot, Eusebe, in: Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts (ed.): Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. Siècle (6 vols.), Paris: Des Essarts 1800-1803, vol. 5, pp. 372-374.  

[9] John Watkins: Renaudot (Eusebius), in: —: An universal biographical and historical dictionary. Containing a faithful account of the lives, actions, and characters, of the most eminent persons of all ages and all countries; also the revolutions of states, and the successions of sovereign princes, ancient and modern. Collected from the best Authorities, By John Watkins, A.M. L.L.D., London: Philipps 1800, p. [760].

[10] John Watkins: Bayle (Peter), in: Ibid., p. [136].

[11] Thomas Morgan: Renaudot, Eusebius, in: John Aikin, Thomas Morgan, William Johnston: General biography; or lives, critical and historical, of the most eminent persons of all ages, countries, conditions, and professions, arranged according to alphabetical order (10 vols.), London: Robinson 1799-1815, vol. 8, pp. 506-507; here p. 507.

[12] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed.): Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio : Adjunctae sunt Rubricae rituales ex variis codicibus Mss. collectae, & suis locis appositae (2 vols.), Paris: Coignard 1716.

[13] Leonard Twells: . The Live of the rev. and most learned Dr. Edward Pocock, in: Alexander Chalmers (ed.): The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock, the celebrated orientalist, by Dr. Twells; of Dr. Zachary Pearce, bishop of Rochester, and of Dr. Thomas Newton, biship of Bristol, by themselves; and of the Rev. Philip Skelton, by Mr. Burdy, vol. 1, London: Rivington / Gilbert, 2 vols., 1816, pp. 1-356; here pp. 340-341.

For Knowledge and Country III: Johannes Braun’s long slow goodbye

References to Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale, Adriaan Reland, and Eusèbe Renaudot in 19th century biographical-historical dictionaries

Saturday, April 13th, 2019, for Friday n° 27

I must revise my own statistics a bit, I am sorry. But that’s what work in progress is like… Upon closer inspection, the figures I gave in For Knowledge and Country I and II don’t really correspond to the dictionaries of the time. Obviously 19th century dictionary authors were a bit generous in citing other dictionaries, sometimes giving the date of the volume they referred to, sometimes of the series, sometimes none at all. In the last case, all editions would have to be checked, which is a tiresome thing to do as some of these went into ten, twelve, sixteen editions one after the other.

Dictionaries & data

So I chose another approach for the gathering of today’s data, which was to look at the first edition and then only for those which were marked as “improved”, “enlarged”, “augmented”, “corrected”, “entirely new” or with other such advertisements. Then, after checking all those dictionaries being referred to in one of my entries, I went on to check the principal dictionaries of the time or those which seemed likely to contain entries to at least one of my protagonists.

This netted me 60 biographical dictionaries for the 102 surveyed years from 1800 to 1900, a slightly enlarged 19th century, 54 of which actually contained entries for at least one of my protagonists. They spread over the respective languages as follows:

  • English: 24 with entries, 5 without
  • French: 16 with entries, 1 without
  • Dutch: 10 with entries, 0 without
  • German: 3 with entries, 0 without
  • Latin: 1 with entries, 0 without
  • Spanish: 0 with entries, 1 without

And this still is no complete list; but I am quite sure that I now do get the basic patterns right, although the individual figures for single years may of course still be subject to change. To prevent this from being an issue for the presentation today, I summed up the references for five-year-brackets, as displayed above.

The 19th century obviously was the encyclopaedic century: tons and tons of encyclopaedias and dictionaries for each possible subject, of which I now only perused the biographical/historical dictionaries, and even of these only a part (adding more is on the to-do-list). Some of these were reprinted year after year, then being reworked in greater or lesser part, and printed and reprinted all over again. Printing encyclopaedias and dictionaries seems to have been a well-working business, or else there would not have been so many of them. They came in all sizes, from series of over 40 volumes issued over twenty years to the one-volume variant advertised as the cheap alternative for everyone. The late 18th century had developed the techniques and technologies needed for setting up reference works, and the 19th century capitalized these.

Dictionaries & developments

But what was the effect of this flood of dictionaries on the circulation of references to my protagonists? Two developments are easy to spot: On the whole, within this special frame of reference circulation was kept up over almost the entire century. And there seem to have been conjunctures: a first cycle from between 1800 and 1840, with its peak in the early 1830s; and a second cycle from the 1840s to the 1890s, with its peak in the 1870s.

Another development which I already have written about at length in the last two posts on this subject is less visible from the mere figures, and that is an increasing national bias within the medium. To be a bit more precise, there are actually two tendencies visible in the sources. There are more titles with a non-partisan approach, be it “An universal biographical and historical dictionary[1], “Nouvelle biographie générale[2], or “El Pantéon universal[3], than more specialized ones. There might well be an economic reason behind that: Non-specialized dictionaries might cater to a larger audience and allowed for the inclusion of more material, thus producing larger series which then might produce proportionally larger returns. This was the more the case as for general dictionaries much of the contents were already available as established blocks of facts, even as established text blocks, which only were carried over from one edition to another, while producing a more specialized dictionary might well incur much greater preparation costs, as lesser-known or forgotten persons had to be researched into to be able to include them. In languages with a potentially global appeal, such as French or English, this tendency was even more pronounced. This might be seen as corroborated by the ten Dutch titles in my sample, which are all specialized for a Dutch audience, bearing titles like “Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis[4] (Pocket dictionary of national history) or “Neêrlands beroemde personen[5] (Celebrities of the Netherlands). But, and that is the second tendency, even the titles advertising as universal in approach in fact catered to quite distinctive audiences, and most often plainly told so in their prefaces, as for instance “Cassell’s Biographic Dictionary“:

“”We have endeavoured in our selection to take care that the representative men of every age and country, in art and science, in thought and action, who have contributed to human knowledge and human progress, who have influenced humanity for good or for bad, shall find a place; and so, descending from the highest standard, we have sought to deal with those below it according to their importance, preferring always those of more modern times, of more civilised people, of more important states, of more contiguous countries, and those most connected with ourselves in blood, in polity, in social or commercial relations – in a word, to make the work especially interesting and instructive to Englishmen and all who speak the English tongue.”[6]

Cassell’s Biographic Dictionary, London/New York c.1867, Preface

Braun says goodbye…

That these two tendencies impacted the reference careers of my protagonists (at least within the universe of dictionaries) can be illustrated by the case of Johannes Braun, who was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in 1628 and died in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1702. He was the first of my protagonists to be dropped from many of the more universal dictionaries, which might be for reasons of only including persons “most connected with ourselves in blood, in polity, in social or commercial relations”, as Cassell’s dictionary had put it. Adriaan Reland, who had among other things been a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, was frequently referred to in English-language dictionaries in exactly this capacity (if the entry provided for enough space), something which was almost never alluded to in French, Dutch, or German works. But a part of the answer why Johannes Braun was dropped might also be his unclear national status, which was a problem for his inclusion in many of the more special dictionary. Both Mathieu Delvenne’s “Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne”[7] as Jacob Willem Regt’s “Neêrlands beroemde personen” excluded him from their pages because he was not born in the Netherlands, whereas the “Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie[8] chose not include him for reasons unknown, but perhaps partly because he left “Germany” at the age of seven and the Holy Roman Empire a few years later, to settle in the Netherlands. Not all specialized Dutch dictionaries excluded him for such formal reasons, though, and that there were quite a few of them between the 1840s and 1860s explains the figures he scored for dictionary references in these years. But once such works were no longer frequently published since the late 1860s, references to Braun became less and less common, with scattered peaks every few decades and silence in between; he was the first of my four to become structurally forgotten within the dictionary framework, even though it took quite a while for him to say goodbye.


[1] John Watkins: An universal biographical and historical dictionary. Containing a faithful account of the lives, actions, and characters, of the most eminent persons of all ages and all countries; also the revolutions of states, and the successions of sovereign princes, ancient and modern. Collected from the best Authorities, By John Watkins, A.M. L.L.D., London: Philipps 1800.

[2] Hoefer, Jean Chrétien Ferdinand (Hg.): Nouvelle biographie générale : depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’á nos jours, avec les renseignements bibliographiques et l’indication des sources à consulter, 46 volumes, Paris : Didot frères 1852-1866.

[3] Yguals de Izco, Wenceslao,   Sebastián Castellanos, Basilio (Hg.): El Panteón Universal : diccionario histórico de vidas interesantes, aventuras amorosas, sucesos trágicos, escenas románticas, lances jocosos, progresos científicos y literarios, acciones heróicas, virtudes populares, crímenes célebres y empresas gloriosas de cuantos hombres y mujeres de todos los paises, desde el principio del mundo hasta nuestros dias, han bajado al sepulcro dejando un nombre immortal, 4 volumes, Madrid : Ayguals de Izco hermanos 1853-1854.

[4] Verwoert, Herman: Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis, 2 Volumes, Nijmegen: Haspels 1851.

[5] Regt, Jacobus Wilhelmus, Neêrlands beroemde personen, naar hunne geboorteplaatsen in aardrijkskundige orde gerangschikt en beknopt toegelicht, Schoonhoven 1869.

[6] Cassell’s biographical dictionary; containing original memoirs of the most eminent men & women of all ages & countries, London/New York: Cassel, ca. 1867, preface, p. [1]. 

[7] Delvenne, Mathieu: Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne, ou Histoire abrégée, par ordre alphabétique, de la vie publique et privée des Belges et des Hollandais qui se sont fait remarquer par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talens, leurs vertus, ou leurs crimes, extraite d’un grand nombre d’auteurs anciens et modernes, et augmentée de beaucoup d’articles qui ne se trouvent rapportés dans aucune biographie, 2 volumes, Liege: Desoer 1828-1829.  

[8] Historische Commission bei der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed.): Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, 56 volumes, München/Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot 1875-1912.

What about the Women?

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

Friday n° 26, April 5th, 2019

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

How to find women?

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

How to deal with those women found?

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

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

From 1.838 to 74

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

From 74 to 30

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

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

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

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

From 30 to 3

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

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

From 3 to 2

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

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

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

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

A familiar pattern…

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

…and an all-too familiar conclusion

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


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

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

[3] Jacob de Wilde, 1645-1725.

[4] Caspar Waser, 1565-1625.

[5] Johann Baptist Ott, 1661-1744.

For Knowledge and Country II

Richard A. Davenport: A dictionary of biography : comprising the most eminent characters of all ages, nations, and professions, London: Tegg 1831, title page.

Sunday, March 31st, 2019, for Friday n° 25

Two weeks ago I announced here that I would devote a bit more attention to the interplay between the national provenance of biographical dictionaries and their content matter in the 19th century. I do have to start this post with an excuse because I could do only half this task. I only did the early 19th century for starters (52 years to be exact, 1800-1851), and this already got me behind schedule again.

But at least some things have become visible in paying closer attention to biographical dictionaries from this half-century. The first, and hardly surprising, observation to be made is that the content matter, the biographical information as presented within these works, is fairly stable. At least concerning my protagonists these entries are not the fruit of original research but are copied, sometimes verbatim, from 18th century dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Given that these works were aimed at a wider public, this was a completely rational and economic way to proceed. In most cases this means that the size of a particular dictionary was not so much determined by the length of the individual entries but by their number. Only in very condensed works, those which only featured one or two volumes, a biography would be heavily pruned. Much more often it was the selection of biographies, and not the selection of passages within biographies, which made the difference between a four- and a twenty-volume dictionary. That in turn means that any conscious framing of the complete edition would again rest on the selection of the biographies to be included rather than on rewriting the biographical materials themselves.

There are exceptions from this general rule, of course. In Alexander Chalmers’ “The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish”, published in London between 1812 and 1817, Chalmers not only selected a larger share of English and Irish biographies as common in general biographical dictionaries to keep his promise from the title but also added to them in length. At least this might be concluded from the sample of my protagonists he featured: While the dictionary included Thomas Gale, Adriaan Reland, and Eusèbe Renaudot, it devoted four pages to Gale and two pages each to Reland and Renaudot.[1] On average their respective entries do all have roughly the same length within the same dictionary. But Chalmer’s work ran to 32 volumes in the end, so there was no need to be economic in terms of print space.  

The next thing that struck me was that so many of these dictionaries were of British origin. Of the 21 dictionaries surveyed for this post, 12 were written in English, compared to four in French, three in Dutch, one in German and one in Latin. This might well just be a bias in the sample that was caused by me following the references in those dictionaries and publications I had already collected for the last post, but it may also just point to the fact that in the early 19th century Great Britain presumably would have had more people willing and able to buy such a book, or series of books, than continental Europe which first had to cope with the impact of the Napoleonic Wars and then with its lagging behind in industrializing. But although the selections of biographies presented by dictionaries of the sample so far looked at here do not seem to have been much impacted by this provenance. At least Thomas Gale does not pop up with a frequency which seems over-exaggerated in proportion to half the dictionaries being English ones.

My protagonists as referred to in biographical dictionaries and encyclopaedic works, 1800-1851

So what does this tell me? First of all that there seem to have been long-time cycles on the book market, and what is captured by this graphic would be the cycle between roughly 1790 and 1840, with a peak in the 1830ies. The second half of the century would bring the national biographical dictionaries undertaken as state projects, and show a somewhat similar pattern reaching its apogee around the 1880ies. In the 18th century there are quite similar patterns, at least judging from my current state of research.

And, second, that national framings became more closely entangled with the framings – and selections thus prompted – of the content matter these dictionaries presented to their readers. The year I started with, 1800 (yes, that is the last year of the 18th century in proper reckoning), quite symbolically contributed two titles to the list: Francis Godolphin Waldron’s “The biographical mirrour, comprising a series of ancient and modern English portraits” on the British and Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts’s “Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. siècle” on the French side of the channel, both clearly framed to accommodate a ‘national’ selection of biographies. Fittingly, Waldron of my protagonists featured only Thomas Gale,[2] while Des Essarts in turn showcased only Eusèbe Renaudot.[3] This tendency in turn directly influenced the chances of certain types of scholars to be referred to, and thus being structurally remembered, through works of this kind.

A case in point is Johannes Braun, who only belatedly begins to make an appearance in these dictionaries at all, compared to the other three. This might well be at last partly due to problems in filing him adequately within a national reference system: Born in Kaiserslautern in 1628, he fled from the city with his mother in 1635 during the Thirty Years War, became preacher of the French Reformed Church in Nijmegen for quite a while, and finally got the post of professor of Theology and Hebrew at Groningen University in 1680; he wrote in French and Latin. Was he now to be considered German, French, or Dutch? A bit of everything, or nothing at all? In Mathieu Delvenne’s 1829 “Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne”, Braun was not included (while Reland was[4]).

This was due to the fact that Delvenne, although he nowhere stated it explicitly, only acknowledged persons in his dictionary who had been born on soil which now was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And this in turn was due to his explicit intention, as stated in his preface, to instill a love for this their fatherland into Belgians, particularly young students, by presenting them examples from their glorious past.[5] Delvenne’s attempt at nation-building obviously came a bit too late, as in 1830 the Kingdom of the Netherlands broke apart into nowadays Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg, but it captures quite well the overall spirit of these collections. Even those which called themselves “General” or “Universal” still privileged a certain nationally framed point of view, with the sometimes implicit, but more often quite explicit, aim to create patriotic sentiments and promote national honour and glory.


[1] See Chalmers, Alexander: The general biographical Dictionary containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons, particularly the English and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the present time, vol. 15, London: J. Nichols 1814, pp. 221-224 (Thomas Gale); vol. 26, London: J. Nichols 1816, pp. 131-133 (Adriaan Reland) and pp. 140-141 (Eusèbe Renaudot).   

[2] Francis Godolphin Waldron: The biographical mirrour, comprising a series of ancient and modern English portraits, of eminent and distinguished persons, from original pictures and drawings, Vol. 3, London: Harding 1800, pp. 18-20.

[3] Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne Des Essarts: Les Siècles littéraires de la France, ou nouveau dictionnaire, historique, critique, et bibliographique, de tous les Ecrivains français, morts et vivans, jusqu’à a la fin du XVIIIe. siècle, Paris: Des Essarts 1801, Vol. 5, pp. 372-374.

[4] Mathieu Delvenne: Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, ancienne et moderne, ou Histoire abrégée, par ordre alphabétique, de la vie publique et privée des Belges et des Hollandais qui se sont fait remarquer par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talens, leurs vertus, ou leurs crimes, extraite d’un grand nombe d’auteurs anciens et modernes, et augmentée de beaucoup d’articles qui ne se trouvent rapportés dans aucune biographie, Vol. 2, Liege: Desoer 1829, pp. 290-291.

[5] Delvenne, Biographie du royaume des Pays-Bas, Vol. 1, Liege: Desoer 1829, p. [ii] : “Il [le rédacteur, i.e. Delvennes] se trouvera assez récompensé dans ses longs efforts, si son livre contribue à inspirer aux Belges, et surtout à la jeunesse studieuse qui peuple nos écoles, l’amour d’un pays qui a tant de droits à notre reconnaissance. Il a cru qu’il ne pouvait mieux employer ses loisirs qu’à la composition d’un ouvrage vraiment national.”

For Knowledge and Country

Title plate of Jean-Pierre Niceron’s “Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres” (1729-1742)

Saturday, March 16th, 2019, for Friday no. 23

Late again

This time the delay in posting this text is only partially my fault. I can blame some of it on the Biographisch portaal van Nederland, from which I wanted to draw some information but which just was not available for the last days. So I decided to do without these data for a first go, which I think will also do. I do have got enough material to present some first conclusions.

When knowledge went national

Or, as the headline for this paragraph should perhaps better have been, when did knowledge go national? Because it seems to have been fragmented and compartmentalized into ‘national’ units which, to be frank, only make sense on a technical, not on a content level. Framing knowledge in national terms may serve to portion a bit of it to make it manageable, to get it between the covers of a book – or several books of a series, as was much more frequently the case – more easily. But when did such a framing start to impact how knowledge was ordered? As this is of course a question too huge to be answered in a few paragraphs, I’ll focus on a special branch of knowledge and of knowledge stores today, and that is what in the 18th century was called Historia Litteraria. This was the study of the history of knowledge, most often with an arts and humanities focus, but not restricted to it. It was laid down in dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and it was usually biographical in nature, because heavily person-centred. Over time, this genre thinned out and became more and more specialized, while many of its more general contents were merged into the national biographical dictionaries which became popular in the 19th century. During these processes, somewhen between the 18th and the 19th century national categories became the dominant frames for laying out knowledge stores in this field, for both the specialized and the generalized forms of it. And this, at least this is my hypothesis for these materials, impacted if and how dead scholars where referenced, and so the references to my protagonists also.

How it began

But to return to the question from the preceeding paragraph: When did this happen? The obvious answer ‘it is complicated’ seems not to be very helpful here, so it may be best to first of all look at examples which may show when it did not have happened yet to be able to posit a terminus post quem. For those of these works written in German, the first half of the 18th century still was free from being dominated by the national gaze. The omnivorous Universal-Lexicon initally edited by Johann Heinrich Zedler (1706-1763) referred to all my four protagonists between the years 1733 and 1742,[1] and the more specialist dictionary of scholars by Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (1694-1758), the Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, did likewise in 1750/51.[2] Both applied national classifications, but neither consistently nor very prominent; the focus was on the scholarly achievements of those portrayed as learned rather than on their share of the learning their nation was supposed to have achieved.

This is interesting in so far as it was no longer completely usual. The large series of Jean-Pierre Niceron (1685-1738), the Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, contemporary with the Universal-Lexicon and a bit earlier than Jöcher, mentioned only Reland and Renaudot, skipping Gale and Braun.[3] A cautionary approach is warranted here: One of the criteria for being included in such a dictionary of course always was scholarly excellence and/or fame, and they might have just been dropped for being of too little interest. For Niceron did reference non-French scholars, as for instance Reland. But – in keeping with the special attention Niceron programmatically devoted to illustrious scholars of the French nation – it may also be seen as telling that, in contrast to the Universal-Lexicon and Jöcher were both were quite on a par, in Niceron’s volumes Renaudot’s entries total 18 pages while Reland’s total 10. Such weightings and omissions – or selections – one might also meet with elsewhere, and according to different criteria. In David van Hoogstraten’s (1658-1724) and Matthaeus Brouërius van Nidek’s (1677-1743) Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek Braun and Reland received about the same share of attention, half a page each, whereas Gale was mentioned only in seven lines, and Renaudot was dropped altogether.[4] In this case, the selection might have been facilitated by the fact that the only Catholic was left out, and the Anglican Gale received less attention than the Calvinists Braun and Reland. Be that as it may, the main editor of the Groot algemeen […] woordenboek, Brouërius van Nidek – Hoogstraten had died in 1724 already, and the first volume went to print in 1725 – had edited another encyclopaedic work with a very clear national focus before, the Tooneel der Vereenigde Nederlanden (Theatre of the United Netherlands), the author of which, François Halma (1653-1722), also had died before seeing his work in print. And to make the full round, when Thomas Gale was referred to in an encyclopaedic work for the next time (since the Groot algemeen […] woordenboek), it was in volume three of Andrew Kippis’ (1725-1795) Biographia Britannica: Or The Lives Of The Most eminent Persons Who have flourished in Great Britain And Ireland, so that it was out of the question to refer to any other of my protagonists within this work.[5]

How it went on

References to my protagonists in encyclopaedias and dictionaries, 18th to 21st centuries

So although these were just a few spotlights on the situation in the first half of the 18th century, it seems that a national paradigm in constructing the history of learning was one way to do it but not the predominant. The question then must be, when did this change, and to which effect?

In respect to my protagonists, I am currently drawing up a list of such encyclopaedic references to them, and although it is not complete yet, the overall statistics you see to the left provide an indication when and how knowledge – at least of these people – became nationally framed.

Afirst phase of interest in my protagonists which lasted until the 1750s – which was, as also indicated by other materials, the phase after which when they entered a state of being structurally forgotten.  Then the references become sparse, until a renewed phase of interest begins which covers the 1830s to 1880s, and which is different for each of them. And this is, I would like to argue, due to the national framework having now become the predominant pattern of reference to scholars. Thomas Gale marks the first one to be referenced again in this way, in publications such as George Godfrey Cunningham’s (no dates, sorry) Lives of eminent and illustrious Englishmen (Glasgow, 1834-1842) and John Francis Waller’s The imperial dictionary of universal biography (London, 1857-1863) – although the last, to be fair, at least advertised itself as “a series of original memoirs of distinguished men, of all ages and all nations”. Yet the British focus was clear. Next come Johannes Braun and Adriaan Reland, in works like, Hendrick Collot d’Ésuery van Heinenoord’s (1773-1845) Holland’s Roem in Kunsten en Wetenschappen (Holland’s Glory in Arts and Sciences, Den Haag/Amsterdam 1825-1844) and Herman Verwoert’s (1801-1865) Handwoordenboek der vaderlandsche geschiedenis  (Nijmegen 1851), and of course the huge dictionary of national biography, the Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden (Amsterdam 1858-1874). References to Reland are still being made in the 1880s, which is due to him also being referenced in the German dictionary of national biography, the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Berlin, 1875-1912), as I already pointed out in an earlier blogpost.

And, last but not least, Eusèbe Renaudot is being re-referenced from the 1860s onwards, but – and that makes his case perhaps the most interesting in here, but this is a topic I cannot say very much about right now (scheduled for in two weeks!) – he is referred to mostly in works without a direct French national connotation, such as Louis-Gabriel Michaud’s (1773-1858) Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne which appeared, in different editions, through almost all of the 19th century. What does this say about the connections made between scholarship and nation in 19th century France (if it does say anything about it)?


[1] Anon.: Braun (Joann.), in: Johann Heinrich Zedlers Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 4, Halle & Leipzig 1733, col. 1130-1131; Anon: Gale (Thomas), in: Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 10, Halle & Leipzig 1735, col. 98; Anon.: Reland (Hadrian), in: Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon, Vol. 31, Halle & Leipzig 1742, col. 420-422; Renaudot (Eusebius), ein Gottesgelehrter, in: Ibid., col. 581-584.

[2] Braun (Johannes), in: Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 1, Leipzig 1750, col. 1344-1345; Gale (Thomas) in:  Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 2, Leipzig 1750, col. 830-831; Reland (Adrian), in: Christian Gottlieb Jöcher (ed.): Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, Vol. 3, Leipzig 1751, col.2002-2004; Renaudot (Eusebius), in: Ibid., col. 2012-2013.

[3] Niceron, Jean-Pierre: Reland, Adrien, in: —: Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, Vol. 1, Paris 1729, pp. 335-342, and vol. 10, Paris 1730, pp. 62-63 ; Niceron, Jean-Pierre: Renaudot, Eusèbe, in : —: Memoires pour servir a l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la Republique des lettres, vol. 11, Paris 1732, pp. 25-41, and vol. 20, Paris 1732, pp. 35.

[4] Anon: Braun (Johannes), in: David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 2, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1725, pp. 378-379 ; Anon : Gale (Thomas), in : David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 5, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1729, p. 11 ; Anon : Reland (Adriaan), in : David van Hoogstraten/ Mathaeus Brouërius van Nidek (eds.): Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch en oordeelkundig woordenboek, Vol. 9, Den Haag/Asterdam/Utrecht 1732, p. 54.

[5] Kippis, Andrew: Biographia Britannica, Vol. 3, London 1750, p. 2075-2077.

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!

Non-transitive reference patterns

Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, Paris: Coignard 1718; title page.

Friday no. 20, February 22nd, 2019

In one of the earlier posts on this blog I said something about Louis-Charles Solvet (1795-1869) and his successful strategies of reference to Adrien Reland. One, and I would say the central, hypothesis that I built from the case of Solvet and his translation of the Dissertatio de jure militari Mohammedanorum contra Christianos bellum gerentium was that such strategies of a re-use of a dead scholar’s products and achievements against the grain of that scholar’s original intentions signal actual structural oblivion of the scholar in question, if they succeed. This dovetails quite nicely with the career and publications of Louis-Charles Solvet, I would say. But the risk incurred with this is of course that this may be a case of circular reasoning. Perhaps the Solvet case fits the hypothesis so nicely because the hypothesis was drawn up by it, and I just found what I wanted to find all along. So how might this be put to the test?

Test conditions and pre-test assumptions

As history does not repeat itself, I cannot just re-run Solvet’s career to see if other patterns would probably account for the same effects in the end as well. But I might look for similar cases, if possible by people from a shared background and trajectory, and look for discursive and structural interconnections – references to the same scholars and the same patterns of reference applied to similar scholars. The argument that I would like to make is that both are necessary to establish a convincing test case for the hypothesis framed around Solvet. If I do find that in a similar case, in similar circumstances, the patterns are transitive, i.e. if one matches, the other does match, too, this would indicate that structural oblivion is not the right term to put to the phenomenon. Because this would – generalized – have to be taken to mean that every scholar with similar background in similar circumstances would take recourse to the dead scholar in question in the same way. This in turn would mean that there was a shared knowledge about this scholar beforehand, and if this were the case, he or she would be structurally remembered rather than forgotten. If on the other hand I should find, that the patterns are not transitive, that is, if one matches, the other does not, structural oblivion becomes a lot more probable. But – and this is an important caveat to make – only in the case where there is structural but not discursive transitivity. If the reference pattern applied in a similar situation by a similar scholar is the same but targets another person and his or her achievements and/or publications, the divergence in dead scholars utilized might well point to the fact that they are, more or less, randomly selected from the reservoir of structurally forgotten elements of knowledge.

A test case: Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (1795-1867)

Joseph-Touissant Reinaud was born in Lambesc, between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, on December 4th, 1795, and destined for a clerical career. When in 1814 he was sent to Paris to broaden his education, he took to oriental languages with such fervour that he staid to study them under Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) instead of becoming a priest. As Solvet, who in 1814 quitted service with the Imperial Guards, Reinaud had dropped out of the career originally envisioned for him. Both now served for a while with private employers alongside their studies, Reinaud from 1818 to 1819 as secretary to the Comte de Portalis on a mission to the Holy See. After returning and completing his studies, his former employer helped him to gain a post at the Bibliothèque royale in 1824, three years earlier than Solvet, who entered the French provincial administration in 1827. Reinaud managed to continue on his librarian post despite all revolutionary upheavals in 19th century France and to continually rise within the system. In 1832, he was elected into the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and in March 1838 after de Sacy’s death followed him as professor of Arabic at the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes. From 1847 on he was president of the Société Asiatique, and in April 1864 elected as head of the Ecole des langues orientales vivantes; Solvet had been promoted to the post of Supreme Judge at the court of Algiers in 1862. Reinaud had, perhaps because of a career without the interruptions that Solvet had been subject to, managed to enter the more prestigious posts; he had already in 1836 been admitted into the Legion of Honour, 14 years before Solvet had been in 1850. In 1858 he was raised in rank to “Officier de la legion d’honneur”, the rank that Solvet had been denied in 1865. These honorary differences besides, both men seem to be quite comparable in respect to what I am interested in here. Both were trained in Arabic, excelled at their studies, were zealous in pursuit of their duties, turned to philological pursuits in their scholarly endeavours, and translated.

Now the interesting question is whether both men are comparable also in respect to their treatment of my forgotten scholars. Louis-Charles Solvet had translated Adrien Reland, but had never referred to Eusèbe Renaudot (as far as I know). So what about Joseph-Touissant Reinaud?

In 1845, Reinaud published a corrected, augmented and annotated re-edition of an 1811 translation of an early medieval Arabic manuscript, the “Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine“.[1] The 1811 edition itself was already a re-edition, as the manuscript in question had first been edited in 1718 as “Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans” by Eusèbe Renaudot.[2] Reinaud clearly acknowledged that in his preface where he detailed the history of the edited text, where he stated the edition no longer conformed to “les progrès que la critique orientale a faits dans ces derniers temps” and had to be redone for the sake of science, correcting both translation and annotations to purge them of Renaudot’s leniencies.[3] The prime reason he brought forward for the importance of his re-edition was that he was convinced that the manuscript provided an early source for the story which over time had evolved into the story of Sindbad as incorporated in the Arabian Nights.[4] In doing so he situated his publication in the scholarly branch of the Orientalist discourse of the mid-19th century as firmly as Solvet had situated his Reland translation in its political branch. This catered to their respective career stations at the point of publication, with Solvet part of the French colonial administration in Algiers and Reinaud in the center of French Orientalist learning in Paris.

Passing the test?

In both cases publications were picked which were about 130 years old but could be adapted to contemporary issues quite easily, even if they became decontextualized from the oeuvre of the original author in the process, and both Reinaud and Solvet presented the original authors in the way which suited their aims best – Solvet praising Reland for use as an authority, and Reinaud downsizing Renaudot to claim scientific progress. The underlying pattern seems to be the same to me.

Now what about the cross-connections? These, and that is the interesting part of the story, really seem to be absent. Reinaud seems not to have mentioned Reland anywhere in his publications, even when he was working about topics where one might have expected it, as the religious history of Islam or the geography of the Near East. But while he refrained from referring to Reland, he owned his works. At least if the auction catalogue of his personal library can be trusted, among his possessions were Reland’s De religione mohammedica (2nd edition of 1717) and his Antiquitates sacrae veterum Hebraeorum (4th edition of 1741). That was one work more than he owned of Renaudot, of whom he only seems to have had the 1718 edition from which he started his translation.[5] So also this has been a rather quick walkthrough through the test I proposed, I would like to preliminary assume on this basis that my original hypothesis is sound, and both publications really testify to the original author’s being structurally forgotten at their time of publication. To be explored further!


[1] Joseph-Touissant Reinaud (ed., transl.) : Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l’Inde et à la Chine dans le IXe siècle de l’ère chrétienne. Texte arabe imprimé en 1811 par les soins de feu Langlès publié aves des corrections et additions et accompagné d’une traduction fran5aise et d’éclaircissements par M. Reinaud, Paris: Imprimerie royale 1845.

[2] Eusèbe Renaudot (ed., transl.): Anciennes relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs mahometans, qui y allerent dans le neuviéme siecle ; traduites d’arabe : avec des remarques sur les principaux endroits de ces relations, Paris: Coignard 1718.

[3] Reinaud (ed.), Relation des voyages 1845, p. v. ; p. xiii–xiv.

[4] Ibid., p. clxxx.

[5] Anon. : Catalogue des livres des manuscrits orientaux et des ouvrages en nombre composant la bibliothèque de feu M. J.-T. Reinaud. Membre de l’institut, officier de la légion d’honneur, conservateur des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque impériale, président de l’école des ll. oo. vv. de la sociéte asiatique, membre des académies de Vienne, de Berlin, de Saint-Pétersburg et de plusieurs autres sociétes savantes. Précéde d’une notice sur sa vie par M. J. Mohl, membre de l’Institut, Paris 1867, cf. pp. 13, 103, 131.

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? 

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!

Something like a parable

Friday No. 6, November 9th, 2018

Fairy tale time! Today I will tell you a strange story of a man who survived all revolutions, of how he did so, what this has to do with my topic of structural forgetting, and whether there is a moral at the end of this story (or not). Only that this time, the story is real.

Revolution No. 1

The protagonist of this tale was a Frenchman – that’s one of the reasons that took me to Paris these days – and went by the name of Louis-Charles Solvet, born in Paris on the 6th Brumaire of the Year IV, or on October 28th, 1795, as you would rather have it. He was the son of Pierre-Louis Solvet (1772–1847), bookseller, and Anne Marie Charlotte Lemoine.[1] In 1812 the young Louis-Charles joined Bonaparte’s imperial army, and until 1813 advanced into a regiment of the imperial guards. In 1814 he quitted service, apparently just in time to survive his first revolution (the guards may not surrender, but quitting seems to have been alright). He began to work as a private secretary, until in 1827 he was able to get a job in the royal French administration. Solvet entered the service of the king as a lawyer at the royal court, and in 1829 had advanced to the post of secretary general of the departement of Oise.

Revolution No. 2

The revolution of 1830 may have cost him his job, but fortunately nothing else besides, as it seems. In any case he felt the need to explain about this first demission from state service in the reports in his personnel record file. Some reports signed by Solvet state as reasons for him resigning “The revolution of 1830 and [that I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely.”[2] In other versions, the explicit reference to the revolution of 1830 is dropped, and he only stated “[That I was] my duty’s lover, what has happened not so rarely amidst great changes.”[3] Having however survived his second revolution, he just applied again for a post in the state administration, and obviously got one, for in 1832 he was deputy crown prosecutor in Vassy, and in 1834 in Soissons. So his ‘love of duty’ might well have been a move to explain why he had changed coats so quickly. But there must have been more than a grain of truth in it also; he never married, and his superior’s assessments stated things like “zeal: tireless.”[4]

Assessments from Solvet’s personal file, 1861

Did I mention forgetting?

So far, so good, and a not unremarkable career that Louis-Charles Solvet had already made at that point, being 39 years old by now. But there has not much been about forgotten scholars in the story so far, and I promised there would be. And in indeed there was a connection between the learning which had been produced by the likes of Reland, Braun, Gale, and Renaudot, and the life and times of Solvet. During the 1820s, when he was still a private secretary, Solvet had studied in Paris, graduating in 1827. He had turned his attention not only to law but also to a subject somewhat fashionable at the time, namely Arabic. Obviously he was quite talented, for having studied under Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758–1838) he had not only passed his exams with distinctions but a bit later, in 1829, also published a collected translation of Arabic sources which won some critical acclaim. With this work, entitled “Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre avec les infidèles”, ‘Institutions of Muslim law for the war against the unbelievers”, Louis-Charles Solvet had not only joined his two fields of interest. He also had commended himself for higher posts, as one French observer put it.[5] He really had, and his publication directly pinpoints for which kind of posts. When the French holdings secured on the North African coast in the wake of the first French intervention in Algier in 1830 were administratively restructured in 1834, Solvet successfully applied to be posted there. He was appointed judge for the French North African possessions.

Colonial aspirations

In Algier he settled into French colonial society, only that Algeria at this time still was no French colony. France only commanded some outposts. But some of the French in Algeria, as, for instance, a certain Louis-Charles Solvet, saw it as their mission to change this. In 1838 Solvet was listed on the title page of one of his publications as vice-president of the “Scociéte coloniale” of Algiers,[6] a position in which he campaigned for a more thorough French grip on the land. In the same year of 1838, he finally published a second translation, this time from Latin to French: An edition of Adrien Relands “De jure militari mohammedanorum contra christianos bellum gerendum”, which had been published among Relands collected dissertations in 1708.[7] Solvet’s version went as “Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte” from the government’s press in Algiers, something official permission by the minister of war was necessary for. Solvet had applied for this successfully in 1837,[8] as his translation was intended to be something like a manual for French soldiers, to mentally arm them for the coming colonial war that French expansionists envisioned. They should know what to expect from a Muslim enemy.[9] Whether Reland’s very scholarly and sober philological commentary on Muslim legal provisions for the jihad might have actually been of any help in this case I would consider as highly doubtful. 

Revolution No. 3

But Solvet not only claimed that in a situation such as his – and the French in general – in a foreign country faced with potentially enemy Muslims Reland’s commentary quite naturally resurged from his memory.[10] It really might have been yet one more stepping stone for his administrative career afterwards. For when in 1840 the war that Solvet longed for finally started, he in the wake rose to the post of counsellor at the royal court (in 1842). A position in which he, perhaps not too surprisingly given his former luck in such circumstances, survived his third revolution, that of 1848. Though no longer a royal counsellor he still had his judicial post, and in 1850 was accepted as chevalier de la Legion d’honneur. It is not entirely clear why, because his file has not survived in the records of the Legion, but from his personnel file it seems that his long-time services in the colonial administration were the reason.[11] The family actually had a stroke of luck there, for his almost twenty-two years younger brother Jean-Alphonse Solvet (1817–1896) also was dubbed chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1880 for his services to the Paris magistrate as long-time secretaire général of the 7th arrondissement.[12]

Revolution No. 4 1/2 

But back to Louis-Charles Solvet: The coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon in 1852 – which was not really a revolution – he survived, too, only to become president of the chamber of the imperial court of Algiers in 1862. He died in Algiers in 1868, which but deprived him of his chance to finally also survive the fall of the Second Empire.

Did I mention my theses?

This is a story which seems to be a good proof for my general thesis that there is nothing like an innocent reference. If one refers to one’s predecessors, one does that for one’s own benefit, otherwise one would not do so. In the case of Solvet it is clearly visible how he applied his talents and crafts to make those references which fitted the social and political climate of the France of his times, allowing him to rise through all mutations of the French state to the rather high post he held in the end, and gratifying him with seeing his colonial visions fulfilled during his lifetime. It is highly probable that he had picked up his knowledge about Reland during his Arabic studies in 1820s Paris, most probably from his readings of George Sale’s (c.1696–1736) translation of the Coran, as he himself claimed later.[13] A couple of years later in North Africa, he took the opportunity to establish those connections between him and these scholars and their publications which would benefit him, and successfully so.

Solvet’s signature from his 1865 request to continue on his post.

The morale of it all (if there is one)

Now the point of the whole story is that notwithstanding all acclaims which his publications got during his lifetime, today Louis-Charles Solvet has plunged even deeper into oblivion than Reland whom he used to advance his career. Perhaps this became already visible in 1865, when his secretary Pierry filed two requests to the Keeper of Seals, the French minister of the interior, to elevate Solvet from his 3rd grade rank of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur to the 2nd grade rank of Officier. Pierry explicitly mentioned Solvet’s scientific activities on a par with his contributions to the colonial administration. The superimposed note on the second request only reads: “Spoken with Mr. Lent. Respond negatively.”[14] And although I do have some ideas of why that would be so, I am not sure yet – and neither if there is a morale to the story or not. So feel free to decide that for yourself, and please keep me posted! I will.


[1] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 5.

[2] Archives Nationales, Paris BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, 1859, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: revolution de 1830 et officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit.“

[3] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1863, Etat des Services: „Cause de la cessation du service: Officii amator mei, ut non raro accidit magna rerum commutatione”, signed Ch. Solvet, Algiers, July 15th, 1863.

[4] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Ministère de la justice: Notice individuelle 1861, Renseignements confidentiels: “Zèle: infatigable.”

[5] G. T.: 10. Instituts du droit mahométan sur la guerre sainte avec les infidèles, ou Extraits du livre d’Abou-l-hoçain-Ahmed-elKodouri, et de celui de Séid-Ali-el-Hamadani, traduits de l’arabe en français; par Ch. SoLvet. In-8° de 4o p. Paris, 1829; Dondey-Dupré. in: Bulletin general et universel des annonces et des nouvelles scientifiques, publie sous la direction du baron de Ferussac, 13, 09/1829, pp. 11-12; p. 12.

[6] Solvet, Louis-Charles: Voyage à “la Rassauta” [en Algérie], lettre à M. A… député, Marseille 1838, title: “vice-président de la société coloniale d’Alger”.

[7] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838; Reland, Adrien: Hadriani Relandi Dissertationum miscellanearum pars tertia, et ultima, Utrecht: Broedelet 1708.

[8] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Secretariat du Government des possessions francaises dans le nord de l’Afrique to the Minister of War, August 12th, 1837.

[9] Reland, Adrien; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p iii: “enfin qu’elle contribuerait à faire mieux comprendre les préjugés et le genie des peuples que nous avons a combattre.”

[10] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p ii.

[11] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Extrait de la partie individuelle de Mr. Solvet, Conseiller à la cour d’appel de Alger, June 1850.

[12] Archives Nationales, Paris, LH/2533/33, Dossier du Jean-Alphonse Solvet, p. 7.

[13] Reland, Adrian; Solvet, Louis-Charles (transl.):  Institutions du droit mahométan relatives à la guerre sainte. Dissertation de Hadrien Reland, traduite du latin en francais par Ch. Solvet, Algier: Imprimerie du Gouvernement 1838, p. ii.

[14] Archives Nationales, Paris, BB/6 (II)/396, Pierry to Mr. Garde du Sceaux, Algiers, December 12th, 1865.

One Week with Publications

Friday No. 5, November 2nd, 2018

Last friday I decided that my data model needed a bit more testing than possible by 31 out of 68 JSTOR entries retrieved by searching for “Relandus”. This week therefore was devoted to entering data – and having done that, I can definitely say at least one thing: I need a break. I hope I’ll make to the archive again next week. But before I’m off, are there any other results?

From 31 to 82

I projected to complete my first package of 68 JSTOR hits retrieved by “Relandus”, four which actually pertained to something else, so that made 64. And to see if this is representative data set I set up a search with the same parameters for “Braunius” to get articles related to Johannes Braun, which returned 67 hits. Looks like a good match, so I had a go at it. Deducing anything unrelated to entering data I spent roughly 35 hours this week on processing these results, which took me through all 33 remaining Reland hits and through the first 25 Braun hits (seven of which were related to something else, so 18 remained). Adding the 18 hours I did last week on 31 items from the Reland set, this makes 82 retrieved JSTOR items processed in 53 hours. On average this means that entering one JSTOR items took me about 40 minutes. This should be a bit disappointing as I only needed 30 minutes each for the first 31 and had expected the average time needed to sink rather than to rise. But to put this into the right perspective, the first 31 items netted me 93 references in total, or three per item. From the 51 items I processed this week however I made 343 references altogether – or 6.7 per item, more than twice as much as in the first part of the set. So I am not entirely unhappy with spending 30% more time per item to get more than 200% more results. In principle, at least…

Numbers, numbers, numbers

But first of all let’s take the counting one step further and see how working through this set has played out in numbers of database objects. In the course of working through these 82 JSTOR entries I added to the database:

Persons: 229; Publications: 169; Publishing Houses: 89; Institutions: 45; Web Sources: 13; and Families: 7.

In total: 552 new objects, or about 6.7 per item (yes, again…). And to put these numbers in perspective also, this meant a rise in each category by:

  • Persons: 28%
  • Publications: 30%
  • Publishing Houses: 39%
  • Institutions: 31%
  • Web Sources: 19%
  • Families: 17,5%.

Or, to put it simply, my database has just grown by more than a quarter in eight days. Sounds nice. But do these data tell me anything new?

(Dis)Connected references…

Not that much, I must confess, because I haven’t yet analysed them very thoroughly. But what is directly visible is, first of all, that from the point of the references the Braun set and the Reland set are quite distinct and share only a few interconnections, which is interesting.

Set “Relandus/Braunius” visualized by publications (green) connected to persons (red) by references

And while the Reland set contains more direct references to Reland himself (he’s the big red dot in the middle of the larger wheel), the Braun set contains those publications with more references at all (the two big green dots within the smaller wheel). Of course the comparison is a bit unfair because the Braun set is much smaller and not yet completely processed. But it points in the direction of disciplinary foci as the main cause for such divergences.

… and intermittent references…

And, if I may come back to my concept of a pattern of intermittent referencing as a visible marker for being structurally forgotten, so far both sets dovetail with this quite nicely.

Set “Relandus/Braunius” visualized chronologically

Although an aggregated chronological visualization makes the impression of a continuous referencing pattern with ups and downs, in a more detailed view the three main clusters (1878-1908; 1918-1948; 1968-2008) break down into singular spikes and large plateaus.

Set “Relandus/Braunius” visualized chronologically, close-up

… and the catch

Of course there is a catch. If this would be all there is to it, were would the challenge be? Well, the catch is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. If I perform the same search for “Reland” instead of “Relandus”, JSTOR returns 596 results instead of 68.

JSTOR hits for “Reland NOT Ireland”

And querying just for “Braun” is plain nonsense. Even with “Johannes Braun” it’s still tricky to sort out mishits. The same goes for “Thomas Gale”; “Eusebè Renaudot” works better, but returns a corresponding number of hits. Taken together these searches amount to about 700 or 800 real hits, roundabout ten times as much as I have now processed in eight days. And even if I chose to spent 80 days only working through those JSTOR results, this is only one platform of many to be queried. Which means am back from where I started. It will not work out like this. I have to find another way to deal with this. When I’m back from the archives.

Three Days of Publications

Friday N°4, October 25th, 2018

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

What’s to be tested?

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

 

The “publication” category in my NodeGoat database

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

A publication with its references

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

Named Entity Recognition, 100% handcrafted

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

Starting from the other end of time

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

And what about references?

One of the publications with richer reference profiles

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

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


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

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