Digital methods and tools for the advancement of research in history have
already been mentioned in several contributions appeared on this OpenMethods platform: from corpus linguistics-oriented perspectives
to data analysis and visualization
not to forget linked data (https://openmethods.dariah.eu/2019/08/21/approaching-linked-data/).
In this post, we reach back in time to showcase an older project and highlight its impact on data visualization in Digital Humanities as well as its good practices to make different layers of scholarship available for increased transparency and reusability.
Developed at Stanford with other research partners (‘Cultures of Knowledge’ at Oxford, the Groupe d’Alembert at CNRS, the KKCC-Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-century Dutch Republic, the DensityDesign ResearchLab), the ‘Mapping of the Republic of Letters Project’ aimed at digitizing and visualizing the intellectual community throughout the XVI and XVIII centuries known as ‘Republic of Letters’ (an overview of the concept can be found in Bots and Waquet, 1997), to get a better sense of the shape, size and associated intellectual network, its inherent complexities and boundaries.
Currently, the Project entails several initiatives, represented by ‘British
Architects on the Grand Tour’, the ‘Voltaire’s Correspondence Network’,
the ‘Athanasius Kircher’s Correspondence Visualized’, the ‘Beniamjn Franklin Papers’, the ‘John Locke likes this’: an ego-network analysis of Locke’s letters, and ‘The Society Theater Project’.
Among the methods and techniques illustrated by Edelstein et al. (2017,
400-424), there are graphs and visualization programs, among which Gephi and Tableau, as well as abstract maps and LOD.
Below in the ‘References’ section, we highlight the different, interrelated
layers of making project outputs available and reusable on the long term (way before FAIR data became a widespread policy imperative!): methodological reflections, interactive visualizations, the associated data and its data model schema. All of these layers are published in a trusted repository and are interlinked with each other via their Persistent Identifier, forming a small research graph.
Apart from these multi-layered data publications, a key outcome of the project was that it gave rise the Palladio visualization tool (see its highlight on OpenMethods here: https://openmethods.dariah.eu/2019/02/28/from-hermeneutics-to-data-to-networks-data-extraction-and-network-visualization-of-historical-sources/).
Apart from people dealing with history and its ancillary disciplines, as
well as with philosophy and literature, the Project may attract the interest of scholars in geography since, as the same Edelstein et al. (2017, 420-421) point out, investigating on interactions between people and places leads to
a reflection about the concept of ‘space’ and its cultural implications.
What can a big data approach bring to the study of the early modern Republic of Letters? This is the question we asked ourselves in our collaborative project Mapping the Republic of Letters. For the past nine years, we have been exploring the limits and possibilities of computation and visualization for studying early modern correspondences, whose massive and dispersed character have long challenged their students. Beyond cliometrics, what new ways of discovery and analysis do today’s big data offer? What can we learn by visualizing the archives and databases that are increasingly accessible and viewable online? In a variety of case studies focusing on metadata (in the letters of John Locke, Athanasius Kircher, Benjamin Franklin, and Voltaire, and in the travels of those engaging in the Grand Tour), we experimented with visualizations to produce maps of the known and unknown quantities in our datasets, and to represent intellectual, cultural, and geographical boundaries. In the process, we experienced collaborative authorship, and worked with designers and programmers to create an open access suite of visualization tools specifically for humanities scholars, Palladio. What might the next research steps be, as linked data rapidly develops further possibilities.
The Mapping of the Republic of Letters Project
Dan Edelstein, Paula Findlen, Giovanna Ceserani, Caroline Winterer, Nicole Coleman,
Historical Research in a Digital Age: Reflections from the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project,
The American Historical Review, Volume 122, Issue 2, April 2017,
Pages 400–424, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/122.2.400
Giovanna Ceserani and Thea De Armond (2015). British Architects on the Grand Tour in Eighteenth-Century Italy: Travels, People, Places. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: http://purl.stanford.edu/ct765rs0222
Giovanna Ceserani. (2015). Schema for British Architects on the Grand Tour in Eighteenth-Century Italy: Travels, People, Places. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: http://purl.stanford.edu/zk774hr3012
Françoise Waquet, Hans Bots. La République des lettres. Paris : Belin, Bruxelles : De Boeck, 1997.