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Conference report

Conference “Rethinking of Republic of Letters” (12th-14th June, Warsaw)

The conference Rethinking the Republic of Letters took place in Warsaw, 12th-14th June 2016. It was organized by the Faculty of Liberal Arts of the University of Warsaw and devoted to the topic: digital functionality from the perspective of current scholarly activities. COST Action IS 1310 works towards assembling the blueprint of the trans-national digital infrastructure to support collaborative work on early modern intellectual history. The participants have been working for three years to create the methods of building and visualizing the model of the relations between intellectuals in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. More information about this program can be found here. The full program of this conference can be found here.

The spatial and temporal, personal and material features of letters combine to form the agenda of six Working Groups:
WG1 - Space and time
WG2 - People and networks
WG3 - Texts and topics
WG4 - Documents and collections
WG5 - Data exchange and strategic planning
WG6 - Visualisation and communication.

Each of the six Working Groups had its own time to present the activities of its members. First was Working Group 5 – Data Exchange and Strategic Planning. Its members: Howard Hotson and Arno Bosse talked about the new project EULO, its technical guidelines and the possibility to receive financing for this project from Horizon 2020. The aim of this project is to bring together, and integrate on European scale, the information about postal communication: persons, places, dates etc. EULO will consist in assembling data from different projects and the preparation of standards. As a result, common access to these data will be enabled. The new database will be characterised by different modes of sharing data, different kinds of data shared, decentralized data creation and storage, as well as centralized interrogation and curation.

The second session encompassed the talks of Working Group 4 – Documents and Collections. Lara Bergers, Emma Mojet and Riccardo Bellingacci discussed building and visualising a database to collect the correspondence of L. Estermann. Lara Bergers, with the help of the Zotero software, collected the data concerning the letters of L. Estermann, and Emma Mojet completed the project. Riccardo Bellingacci, used the bibliographic information in the Zotero database, to visualise them by means of the Palladio program.

The last session of the first conference day was dedicated to the presentation of various projects conducted by members of the fourth COST Action’s group. Elizabethanne Boran in her paper talked about bibliographical sources for researching letters of Irish intellectuals, and proposed a classification according to senders and topics. Bibliographic sources and projects containing editions of intellectuals’ letters were the subject of the following speakers: Kristi Viiding talked about an Estonian printed edition of correspondence collections, Alexandra Sfoini enlarged on genres of the modern Greek letter-writing, and Pippin Aspaas discussed early modern letters from Scandinavia. Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzing talked about guises of the epistolary form. She the following division: scholarship, religion, institutional correspondence, professions, personal letters, literary, and miscellaneous letters. She characterised each of the discerned types.

During the second day, the first session was organized by Working Group 1, and devoted to the relations between the Huguenot intellectuals, who escaped from the threat of terror in their own lands. Analyses of the letters written by the Huguenots allow for sketching a geographical, social, scientific, and intellectual map of their connections. These analyses showed the features and nature of the community in question. It was unlimited in the geographic, religious and political sense, but egalitarian, scientific, and unbiased. Its members traveled around Europe, were interested in classical culture, and studied at European universities. The researchers tried to answer the following questions: who wrote the letters, when were they written, where were they written from, and what were they about. The authors of the presented papers sought to determine the relations between the place and the subjects of the letters, between their numbers and the times of writing. The language of the letters was analysed too: what words were used to describe other people, places, books, or problems. The researchers created a model of the Huguenot world. It was concentrated in Latin-speaking Europe, stretched beyond time, religion, and showed little interest towards politics. Such a world gave them a sense of stability, and created the institutional framework of their community. It was a perfect republic of minds.

The next part of the conference presented the works of members of Working Group 2, and discussed the prosopografical database EMLO. Because no man lived in isolation, every act of human life occurred in time, space, and among other people. So, everybody always is an acting person in time, amongst events, and plays a particular role. Every person plays different roles both in the events and institutions, which he is connected with: a unary role, a binary role, or a role an event. The data shows the relations between all these elements. The researcher aimed to build a model on the basis of the chosen group of people. He determined the relations connecting them, which were not clearly seen at the start of the work. He seeks to show a man’s life as a sequence of the interlinked events from the date of his birth to the date of his death.

Eero Hyvönen from Finland presented the database LOD (Linked Open Data – War Sampo) as a prosopographical research tool. The LOD includes the data related to the events of the Second World War that took place on the Finnish territory of Karelia. The database includes maps, names of soldiers (biographies, photographs, bibliographies), military detachments (maps of battles; where the information about archival materials can be found), names of fallen soldiers with obituaries, authentic photographs showing people and places. The database helps to understand Finnish history and propagates the idea of peace. It is part of the great Database Sampo that encompasses the topics of the Culture, Book, and Travel.

The next prosopographical database was the EMLO database that embraced data related to the academic world of the Middle Ages. It is an ideal model, thanks to the great amount of historical sources and because the categories used to describe this realm are uniform, simple, clear and objective. The scholars travelled to the same universities to study, and their travels made the natural network of the travels destinations. They spoke the same language (Latin), they professed similar ideas, and the universities had the same structure and conferred the same degrees. So the language needed to build the database was very simple to create.

The last prosopographical database was the database of members of religious orders living in Czech lands in the early modern times. It was constructed at the Czech Academy of Sciences. The Jesuits did the scientific research, wrote about science, and taught the scholars. The database allows to make a map of the Jesuit activity in science and learning. The letters written by Jurij Drogosic, a Franciscan intellectual from the 15th century (The Network of Jurij Drogosic), was used as an example. The problems with analysis of that material were the same as in previous databases.

The third day of the conference was mainly dedicated to the methods of the visualization of the Republic of Letters and there were presented works of Working Group 3 and 6. Thomas Wallning from Austria presented the results of a three years’ work by team of researchers, who studied early modern correspondence. They analysed the vocabulary of letters, neologisms, regionalisms, the length of sentences, and the grammatical rules. They attempted to find answers to the following questions: how did the Latin language inform the writers about scholar-monks, and how the European languages were Latinized.

Lucie Storchová, Vladimír Urbánek and Mihal Descalu, from the Czech Republic, presented methods of analysis of letters of Jan Amos Komensky. The researchers made a map of the intellectual circle of his correspondents, and showed the structures of sentences, the metaphors, and the emotional code of the writings. Statistics of the frequency of words, the number of words in sentence and in the paragraph, were presented too.

Karen Hollewand delivered a very interesting presentation entitled “Keywords, text and Beverland”. The researcher demonstrated the role of keywords in the process of selecting data, and in the analysis of correspondence. Keywords help to show the specific vocabulary of the author and the limited sphere, in which they are used. They help us to understand and identify the specific language and style of the author.

Anna Skolimowska, from Poland, presented the results of her work on the Dantiscus Project. Together with other researchers, she worked on the correspondence of Dantiscus, and prepared two databases: Corpus Epistolarum and Corpus JD – texts and correspondence. The source material was published too.

The numerous methods of visualization of the data was the next subject of the second day of the conference. The discussion focused on cooperation between the researcher and the designer of visualization. The questions: how to design the role of designer in the humanities, how to turn ideas into the hypothesis, and how to visualize them using the graph were posed. Finally, we saw an attempt to make two databases, the letters of Dantiscus and Erasmus, compatible. The key to the perfect visualization was the interoperability of the data. The conference ended on a humorous note. It was stated that a perfect visualization should be elegant, complex, unreadable, and ought to look sophisticated.

The conference was an important step in the process of developing research on the linguistic structure of historical sources, of modelling the relation between the elements of the historical, intellectual, and scientific realm, and of creating the new form of visualization of these structures. The researchers asked new questions creating visual models of the networks of relations between four elements: person, time, place, and event with the use of all the potential offered by the new technology.

Agnieszka Fabiańska, Anna Wirkus, Ewa Piskurewicz, University of Warsaw Library - Manuscripts Department July 2016

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 collaboration/projects/republic_of_letters.txt · Last modified: 2016/07/06 10:25 by lefferts



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