Tag Archives: References

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.


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 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.


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.


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.