Rethinking the Republic of Letters – Annual Conference in Warsaw

The Annual Conference of the COST Action IS 1310 “Reassembling the Republic of Letters” took place at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, Poland from 11 to 15 June 2016.

Having previously explored scholarly work from the perspective of shared technical standards, the Warsaw conference pursued the opposite path: digital functionality was discussed from the perspective of current scholarly strands about the Republic of Letters.READ MORE

Working Group 4 meeting: Cataloguing standards for manuscript letters.

On Friday 4 March 2016 a meeting of WG4’s sub-group on metadata of manuscript correspondence was held in Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin.


manuscript letters cataloguing standards

The meeting was followed by a tour of the Edward Worth Library, given by Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.


Convened by Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin, and Leader of Work Group 4, the workshop included presentations by Dr Gerhard Müller (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) on the Kalliope Union Catalogue; Dr. Ad Leerintveld (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) on CEN (Catalogus Epistularum Neerlandicarum); and Ms Miranda Lewis on EMLO (Early Modern Letters Online).


The function of the workshop was to agree metadata standards for the description of manuscript correspondence. International Cataloguing standards were circulated in advance of the meeting and agreement was reached on the vast majority of elements. It was agreed that further research needed to be undertaken on a small number of problematic elements and that these would be discussed at subsequent meetings of WG4. It was decided that WG4’s session at the Warsaw conference in 2016 would address the issue of how we define letters.

Emma Mojet: A Database of Early Modern Epistolaries by Arenhold, Estermann and Molhuysen

Combined with the URL to a Scan of the Work

Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Cultures of Knowledge and EMLO on a Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM). The STSM was for Working Group 4 of COST Action IS1310 “Reassembling the Republic of Letters.” More specifically, my task in this mission was to compile a database of early modern epistolaries combined with the URL to a scan of the work. This scan should then preferably be machine readable (OCR’d), but it was interesting to see how many scans were available and of which titles. Important in finding these scans was to certify that they were publically accessible. Scans which were only available after registering or signing-up via an institution, were avoided. I did this so that any link in the database can be accessed at any time or place. Furthermore, I made sure to keep track of where I was finding the scans. This statistic is of explicit interest to the Cultures of Knowledge group, since it gives insight into what works are available where.


I worked with the database which had been compiled by Lara Berger, my STSM colleague who visited Oxford in February. She had entered all epistolaries recorded by Arenhold, Estermann and Molhuysen in our shared Zotero folder. My work consisted of searching for these titles and finding openly accessible scans to attach to the data which had been entered by Lara. To do this, I started by plugging the title into Google. Usually this would give a couple of hits or a direction in which I needed to search further. Because I used Google a lot, many of the hits came from GoogleBooks. Google has digitalised many works over the years and has compiled scans from different archives and universities and made these accessible. Furthermore, most of the scans on GoogleBooks are machine readable, which makes GoogleBooks a very valuable source for research with early modern letters. After searching through Google, I always checked Internet Archive and Europeana, which often linked to the German digital libraries or the French national library. I did this so as to find as many scans as possible, hence ensuring the best possible scans. At times I would find .txt, .xml or .pdf files which I also attached to the database. Having completed the titles from Arenhold, my statistics are as follows:


Bavarica 1
BDAlentjeo 1
BSB 252
Delpher 1
Det Kongelige Bibliothek (DK) 1
Ebookdb 1
EEBO (free) 3
e-rara 14
Europeana 3
Fondo (ES) 1
Gallica 34
GDZ (Göttingen) 7
GoogleBooks 531
GWLB (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek) 2
HAB 13
HathiTrust 74
Internet Archive 95
Internet Culturale 21
ONB (Österreichse National Bibliothek) 22
SBB (Staats Bibliothek Berlin) 5
SLUB (Dresden) 14
Uni Halle (ULB) 1
Uni Hamburg 1
Uni Paderborn 2
University of Waterloo 1
Uppsala Uni 1
Not found 94
Total with many counted twice or thrice 1225
Total entries Arenhold 816

Here I have highlighted in yellow my top five sources for the scans. Of the 816 entries from Arenhold, I was unable to find 94, 11.5%. This is an extremely good statistic and I am very happy with this percentage. I had not expected to be able to find this many early modern works online, publicly accessible. It shows that projects such as this and Cultures of Knowledge are really worthwhile attempts to collect and connect all this data. Furthermore, the fact that I have 1.5 as many URLs as entries from Arenhold (1225 scans with 816 entries) means that the material is available in various places and formats, probably also with varying quality. I find this surprising but especially very promising for further research!


My week at Cultures of Knowledge was instructive and inspiring: I really enjoyed the talks which we had concerning my findings and progress, and I learnt a lot from them. In addition to working in the middle of the Cultures of Knowledge group, I was able to attend a workshop organised by EMLO on correcting the dates of letters in the database. This Correct-a-date-athon (not a dating workshop) was not only interesting, but it was also a lot of fun. During the week, I met many interesting people and had some great conversations. I am really thankful for the warm welcome and friendly environment which I met while working at Cultures of Knowledge and my stay has been very enjoyable. I would especially like to thank Miranda and Arno for this. It has been a great introduction to the University of Oxford, to Cultures of Knowledge, and to EMLO, and I really hope to be back.


Note: As of 1 April, the Zotero database EROL counts 1874 titles. Of these, 1666 are linked to online editions in the open domain. References: S,H, Arenhold, Conspectus Bibliothecae Universalis Historico-Literario-Criticae Epistolarum: Typis Expressarum Et M[anu]S[crip]tarum, Illustrium Omnis Aevi Et Eruditissimorum Auctorum, Hanover 1746; M. Estermann Verzeichnis der gedruckten Briefe deutscher Autoren des 17. Jahrhunderts. Tl. 1: Drucke zwischen 1600 und 1750, 4 vols, Wiesbaden, 1992-1993; P.C. Molhuysen, Lijst van geëxcerpeerde boeken voor hs. Ltk. 1643 (apparaat Molhuysen) Leiden University, shelfmark DOUSA 80 1604.

Plamena Popova: Developing of Open policy for metadata’ sharing within digital platforms [WG5]

My Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) proved to be a very useful first step towards developing an understanding of the legal challenges faced by digital platforms such as Reassembling the Republic of Letters. It was planned as a stay that would allow me to finalize some work on the legal issues related to Reassembling Republic of Letters project. Instead, it has provided a thorough basis for further research in the field.

Oxford houses the core team of the project. I had warm, welcoming, and thorough guidance through the essence and ideas behind the project. It was invaluable experience that helped me build my full understanding of the project’s idea.

The results of my short mission relating to the legal framework of the project leave enough room for further comprehensive exploration, and I can look back on mission to view it as a great starting point. It has tabled questions and made a start in finding the best solutions that will serve the project in the very near future.

Vittoria Feola: The Bartolomeo Gamba Project

During my stay as an STSM grantee in Padua and Bassano between 17 November 2014 and 17 February 2015 I collaborated with colleagues at the History Department and the Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Padua, and carried out archival research in the Bassano City Library. My aims were, first, to establish how many letters really make up the whole of the Bartolomeo Gamba collection; and, secondly, to investigate the nature of the Bassano collection. Firm data and amazing discoveries leading up to spin-off projects are the outcomes of my STSM.


I have ascertained that the number of letters kept in Vienna is 930 in total, while those in Bassano are 2741. This proportion makes the Bartolomeo Gamba Collection a weighty treasure trove of correspondence of eminent Italian scholars in the early modern period, as letters span the sixteenth through the first half of the nineteenth centuries.


Thanks to research which my Paduan colleagues have crucially facilitated, I have been able to realise the potential hidden in the Gamba letters. Most of their authors or recipients were alumni of the University of Padua, and their correspondence kept in Bassano complements the Padua University Archive as far as Padua professors’ personal papers are concerned. I have benefited from collaboration with the Centre for the History of the University of Padua. As a result, I am writing up an article about the significance of the Bartolomeo Gamba collection in Bassano for the Quaderni per la Storia dell’Universita’ di Padova.


Moreover, the Bartolomeo Gamba Collection contains a huge amount of the eighteenth-century Newtonian polymath Francesco Algarotti (1712-64), whose correspondence has only been partly edited so far. Thus my STSM has helped me realise that the Bartolomeo Gamba Collection is possibly the single largest repository of Algarotti’s correspondence. Similarly, the Bartolomeo Gamba Collection contains a number of letters from the correspondence of Enlightenment philosopher Pietro Giannone of which historians, such as Giuseppe Ricuperati – Giannone’s foremost intellectual biographer – were not aware so far. The Algarotti and the Giannone letters in the Bartolomeo Gamba Collection are generating spin-off projects and useful interactions with other scholars involved in the study of the Republic of Letters.

Mackenzie Cooley: Mapping ‘Relaciones geograficas’ in Philip II New Spain

“Reassembling the Republic of Letters” brings together people with disparate educations, backgrounds, and languages for a common purpose: using digital tools to understand early modern correspondence, its role in the past, and how its networks have shaped our world today. As part of this project, I traveled to Spain this February to work with Professor Antonio Dávila (Universidad de Cádiz) and Professor Nieves Baranda (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) to investigate how the Relaciones Geográficas del Siglo XVI, an early economic census and natural historical survey of the New World, fit into the Republic of Letters. In a project spanning the late 1570s and 1580s, King Philip II of Spain’s government sent fifty questions to administrators in New Spain—modern Mexico and Central America—who responded with letters; these have since been compiled and published. The letters varied greatly, from long-winded humanist treatises masquerading as letters and letters that included loving natural descriptions that shared rich local knowledge of New World plants, animals, and minerals, to letters that included reflections on both religious and scientific texts, to partial, staccato responses dealing with pragmatic colonial matters. In an early modern world run on letters, administrative correspondence walked a line between being a part of the Republic of Letters and being far outside of it; the line runs through the Relaciones. The complex series of responses that constitute the Relaciones present a challenge in that they are both voluminous and yet cannot simply be coded as raw data. Precisely because respondents used their letters to participate in a geographically extensive intellectual exchange, often ignoring the spirit of systematic data gathering that had underlay the original Relaciones project, the letters need to be studied as a part of the Republic of Letters’ periphery and not as early modern big data.

In Cádiz, Professor Dávila used his extensive work on the Benito Arias Montano correspondence to explain some of the key issues involved in editing letters. He outlined what kind of capabilities a digital platform would need to have in order to move philological work from the print to digital age without sacrificing the exacting scholarship achieved in printed editions. We discussed the key categories with which to analyze correspondence data and how essential it would be to track citations, lapses in epistolary exchange, and the appearance of personal and political events in the letters themselves. Metadata alone would not suffice to capture the stakes of Montano’s correspondence. Reciprocally, I shared some of the visualization techniques I had learned working at Stanford University with the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project and the data organization developed by the Galileo Correspondence Project.

In Madrid, Professor Baranda and the rest of the BIESES (Bibliografía de Escritoras Españolas) team launched me into the world of TEI. I first wondered what this encoding technique might be able to teach me about the Relaciones, which I had already sifted into a database. I had known that the digital humanities offered a broad set of approaches to early modern history, but I had not understood the extent to which TEI offered truly exciting possibilities both for editing texts and for analyzing them en masse. Without obscuring the underlying text itself or sacrificing the structure imposed by the original writer, an editor using TEI can annotate and categorize the text. Like private annotations in the margins of an old book, by marking our sources in this way we can enter into a conversation with them. One does not read a text with marginal scribbles the same way as one reads a text which is naked, untouched; marginal manicules lure our eyes along the paths decided by the past reader, with whom we enter into conversation through the reading process. We can indicate what we want to learn more about and summon it from networks lost to the tides of history, categorizing that information according to our questions; as Professor Baranda put it, “You create your data.” By creating TEI legible text, we help others to contextualize our sources, drawing readers into conversation both with the past document and with the ideas put forward by the modern editor. A PhD student from California studying Mexican documents could not have learned more from her collaboration with the scholars of “Reassembling the Republic of Letters” team.

McKenzie CooleySTSMBlog









Caption: This map from Zempoala in the present-day state of Hidalgo, Mexico, is from the Relaciones Geográficas collection in the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin. (Wikimedia Commons)

Visualisation Meeting. Como, Italy, 4th – 8th April 2016

Case Study-Based Explorations into Visualising Data Drawn from the Republic of Letters


During this meeting, which will take place between 4th and 8th April 2016, both scholars and designers will perform a one-week collaboration on a number of thematics related to digital humanities. (For further details please see Meetings page)


The goal of this Training School is to bring together humanists and designers and to see them working on a common task: a case study-based exploration into visualising structured or unstructured data drawn from the Republic of Letters. The Training School will help to unravel many technical doubts and outline good practices and strategies that are useful for designing better tools for digital humanities.


The meeting is being coordinated by Paolo Ciuccarelli (WG6 leader) and Charles van den Heuvel (WG3 leader), with the support of DensityDesign Research Lab.


Subscription Procedure and Deadline

If you’re interested in taking part in this Training School, please fill in the subscription form following this link. Deadline for subscription is 26th February 2016.



Download Training School Letter of Invitation

Mikkel Munthe Jensen: A Critical Study of Prosopographical Data Models

Challenges and Possibilities of a Pan-European Prosopographical Platform


In the period 4th – 22nd January 2016, I stayed at Oxford University as a STSM grantee. During my stay, I was so fortunate to be able to work and collaborate with the Culture of Knowledge Team ( and its friendly, cooperative and very competent team members. Together with them and my STSM colleague, Jetze Touber, we entered a productive symbiosis of shared thoughts, ideas and experience, which not only supported my work there but also made my stay a very pleasant one.


The purpose of my stay was to critically study and to evaluate the EMLO’s prosopographical data model on the basis of my own experience with prosopographies. It was an exciting and in many ways also a challenging task, since it is the data model that constitutes the very fundamental structures underlying the entire prosopographical platform. During my time in Oxford, I worked therefore especially with the categories and the structure of categories, i.e. the data model, and together with the Culture of Knowledge Team I worked towards a clear and manageable system, that could encompass every prosopographical event from the protestant North to the catholic South, from a detailed level to generalisation, all through 300 years.


By evaluating the EMLO’s data model, I also re-evaluated my own prosopographical work, my own system and reason of choice. The STSM was therefore also very beneficial for my own research.


Finally, after my three weeks STSM my understanding of the entire ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters’ project stands even clearer. It is a visionary project with a huge potential for current and future historians, working in all corners of intellectual history and history of science. Not only will it provide various researchers with a large range of tools to analyse their prosopographical data (network analyses, visualisations, mapping of mass data, statistics etc.), but it will also serve as pan-European collective container of prosopographical data and knowledge for all to share, use and populate.

Marco Gurrieri: Database on life and correspondence from/to French musicians actives in the courts of North of Italy

The main goal of this STSM was to find letters from/to French musicians active in Verona during the Renaissance period and archival documents concerning their professional life, in order to gather information and data for an existing prosopographical database about musicians’ careers – Prosopographie des chantres de la Renaissance directed by David Fiala and Philippe Vendrix at the CESR in Tours. The town of Verona has been evidently chosen because of its historical and geographical importance during the Renaissance.


As a result of my new in situ research, two other institutions have been added to the initially previewed list of institutions of where to search for archival documents and letters (the Archivio di Stato, the Archivio Storico della Curia and the Biblioteca Capitolare) : the Accademia Filarmonica and the Biblioteca civica (hosting a section of the municipal archives). Here I have also found several useful bibliographical contributions by local scholars.


The final outcomes of my research can be shortly recapitulated as follows:

  • a list of more than 300 items of musicians active in Verona between 1480 and 1600, all including detailed and documented information (with archival references) about their professional life;
  • a structured Excel database of almost 50 letters of musicians, providing diplomatic transcriptions, material analysis (dimensions, seals, watermarks, countermarks, etc.), and bibliographical references (if any).


Concerning the prosopographical part of this STSM, the newly collected data about musicians’ careers have permitted me to correct or to complete some aspects of the existing musicological literature. Among the transcribed letters, some stand out for their importance. Of particular interest is the group of 10 letters by the Franco-Flemish composer Jan Nasco (of which only 7 have been partially published, as excerpts in essays by local scholars), or 2 letters containing the name of the French composer Lambert Courtois. Several until now unknown letters were found, in particular 2 letters dealing with the Italian composer Orazio Vecchi, and some unpublished letters by members of the Accademia Filarmonica housed in the Archivio di Stato.


Robin Buning: Reassembling the Correspondence of Isaac Vossius: A European Network of Knowledge

My STSM to Oxford was part of a larger project aiming at an inventory of the complete correspondence of the Dutch philologist, manuscript collector, and polymath Isaac Vossius (1618-1689) and making it publicly available in Oxford’s union catalogue of learned correspondence Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO). Vossius was one of the main European intellectuals of the third quarter of the seventeenth century, who spent large parts of his life in Sweden as court librarian and in England, where he devoted his time to science. Having an inventory of his correspondence would be of great help for anyone involved in research into the history of the book in general. It would also enhance the study of the intellectual history of the Dutch Republic, Sweden and England, and more broadly of the Republic of Letters.


Vossius’s correspondence has been dispersed over Europe, but most letters are kept in the university libraries of Amsterdam and Leiden, and in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The collection in the Bodleian is the third largest with 629 letters. Since the Amsterdam, Leiden and Oxford collections have autograph letters and manuscript copies, there was bound to be overlap, but no one had ever compared the collections. During my STSM of a month I entered the metadata of the letters kept in the Bodleian (sender, recipient, their locations, date, shelf mark, etc.) in EMLO’s newly designed webform for inputting letter metadata. This webform, however, was not well suited for searching for duplicate letters. Being the first to use it on this large scale, my feedback and recommendations helped improving the webform. I also made use of the extensive collection of printed catalogues available in the Bodleian to track down letters in other libraries, archives and museums.


597 of the letters in the Bodleian proved to be copies of autographs kept in Amsterdam University Library. This made the total number of individual letters smaller than I initially estimated. Through printed catalogues I tracked down another circa 50 previously unknown letters. The resulting catalogue of Vossius’s complete correspondence consisting of 1,702 letters has now been published in EMLO and can be consulted at: It includes an introduction to Vossius’s life and work with a detailed calendar of his life and a visualization of his correspondence network.
This visualization was created in collaboration with the software development company for research in the humanities Lab1100 in their platform Nodegoat.Buning_Visualization correspondence network Vossius