Monthly Archives: August 2018

‘Monumenta Kircheri’: a collaborative transcription and research project on Athanasius Kircher

by Lorenzo Mancini and Martín M. Morales (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome)

Umberto Eco defined Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) as ‘the most contemporary among our ancestors, and the most outdated among our contemporaries’.1 Over the past hundred years, scholars from many fields have studied Kircher and his works in depth, making the Jesuit polymath one of the most fascinating case studies in the early modern period. The aim of Monumenta Kircheri — a project that has been announced recently at the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University and which forms part of its new collaborative web platform Gregorian Archives Texts Editing [GATE]  is to bring together this body and tradition of research and use it to assemble a full edition of Kircher’s correspondence as well as an in-depth study of his printed works. Before describing details of the ambitious work underway in Rome, however, it is worth considering the term Monumenta and its significance in the title of this project.

From Monumenta …
Some forty years ago Jacques Le Goff (1924–2014) set out the substantial overlap between document and monument in an article published in the Einaudi Enciclopedia.2 After reconstructing the history and evolution of both terms, the French historian concluded:

The document is a monument. That is the outcome of the effort made by historical societies — whether purposefully or not — to impose the future that given image of themselves. As a final result, there is no document-truth. Each document is a lie. It is up to the historian not to be so naive. The medievalists, who worked so hard in order to build a critique — always useful, of course — of the falsehood must overcome this issue, since any document is at the same time true — including, and perhaps especially, the false ones — and false, because a monument is primarily a disguise, a deceptive appearance, a montage. First of all, it is necessary to dismantle and demolish that montage, deconstruct that construction, thus analyzing the conditions in which those documents-monuments have been produced.

In 1894, at the time of the publication of the first volume of the Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu,3 it was not possible to make such an observation, which is the result of reflection generated by historical conceptions — for example, the changing view of the document, inaugurated by the Annales school — that matured in the twentieth century. In the wake of positivist historiography, it was a foregone conclusion for the Jesuits commissioned to write institutional history to entitle a collection of sources ‘Monumenta’ with implied (but not always obvious) reference to the first collection of that type, published from 1826, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

The Monumenta arose from a conviction that the truth lies inside the sources. One consequence of this premise has been to gather the greatest quantity of documents so that the ‘truth’ could be as complete as possible. However, within this historiographical paradigm, the exponential growth of information became an obstacle when it came to building a historical narration, concatenating effects with causes and trying to explain the succession of events in an unequivocal way. The Monumenta was to replace writing, which got bogged down in relentless and growing complexity, with documentary series, so that others could relate the story. To that effect, this vast publishing operation announced the slow and progressive phase-out of the writing of the institutional history in an attempt to look for other ways to build the Jesuit identity. The Monumenta was intended to provide support for the writing of history and, in the specific vision of the Jesuit fathers, for the writing of the history of the Society of Jesus. Paradoxically, however, the more the sources made available in Monumenta increased, the more their primary goal seemed to recede.

The enterprise of the Monumenta began to reveal its own limitations to some of the Jesuits involved in its organization. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the first volume, Dionisio Fernández Zapico (1877–1948) and Pedro de Leturia (1891–1955) noted the issues with the original project.4 The hope of the Superior General Luis Martín (1846–1906), promoter of the initiative, was that the monumentalisti would simply be ‘editors, not commentators of the documents’. According to Martín, document reproduction, characterized by ‘rigorous exactitude and meticulous correction’, was a guarantee of truth and could illuminate the history of the Society. Zapico and Leturia highlighted the technical difficulties of the critical edition of the documents, where it was usually not possible to maintain the impartiality envisaged by Martín. In addition, these two Jesuits recognized the intention to duplicate what was present in the archives as a result of the desire to make the history of the Order known universally, rather than bringing light into the darkness that characterizes intrinsically archival documentation. Thus the idea of equivalence between truth and document became a more complex issue. The continuous increase of information, as already perceived by the editors of the Historia Societatis of the old Society, was even more evident in the context of the restored Society and enhanced the difficulties in achieving the necessary selection that any historiographical operation implies.

… to Monumenta Kircheri
Nowadays, proposing the term Monumenta to identify the publication of a new series of documents might appear anachronistic. Yet the global context of the historiographical system of these Monumenta is different. The use of a technological milieu, such as that adopted in GATE, leads to a different conception of the document compared to the ‘old’ Monumenta. For instance, the possibility for the reader to consult online the digital reproduction of documents de facto tends to raise the issue of the critical edition in a different light. The methods of ecdotics, which presupposes the absence of the document, needs to be rethought. Also distinctive is the conception of creating knowledge to underpin GATE, which stems from the belief that fields of knowledge have an interlinked development and assume a collaborative and discursive environment where they can flourish, whereas such a possibility was not available in, for example, the workshops of the first monumentalisti. Repurposing the tradition of the Monumenta does not mean sharing the same vision of history and of the document proposed by the monumentalisti. Rather, the primary objective of GATE is to conduct a critical analysis of the documents/monuments, as intended by Le Goff, and, therefore, of the social system that produced them.

System of subterranean fires from Athanasius Kircher, ‘Mundus Subterraneus’ (1678 edition), vol. 1, p. 194. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons and Athanasius Kircher at Stanford image gallery)

Kircher on GATE: a practical introduction to GATE and Monumenta Kircheri
GATE is a web platform based on Mediawiki, the software developed by the Wikimedia Foundation and used in all its projects, such as Wikipedia, Wikisource, and Wikiversity. Mediawiki is open source and maintained by a very active community of volunteer developers. The team at GATE chose Mediawiki for several reasons, including ease of installation; the ability to customize; its collaborative environment; traceability; and the possibility of reversing any contribution. It should be noted that a number of esteemed early modern projects have worked effectively with Mediawiki as a platform for collaborative work, including the successful Transcribe Bentham project.

GATE has two main sections: Monumenta and Collections. The first hosts Monumenta Kircheri and Monumenta Bellarmini, both of which are intended ultimately to form complete editions and enable a deeper study of the correspondence and works of Athanasius Kircher and Roberto Bellarmino. Collections consists of a group of sources related to other authors (including at present: Angelo Secchi, Balthasar Loyola Mandes, and Pasquale D’Elia) that are being made available to users. Collections contains only documents preserved by the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University; Monumenta collects, in addition, documents from from other institutions.

Through GATE, users are able to browse the digitalization of the documents; read transcriptions as these become available; consult the pages created as annotations within the texts; query the documents metadata and annotations and make full-text searches; and access the bibliography of each project. Crucially, registered users may in addition contribute to the transcription, edition, and annotation of documents; create pages about the content of the texts; add new records to bibliographies; and initiate and contribute to discussions.

Monumenta Kircheri is the section of GATE dedicated to the study of Athanasius Kircher’s works and correspondence. Kircher is being used as a case study to explore the complexities and paradoxes of a ‘long’ modernity, extending from the seventeenth century to the present day. In fact, the fundamental aim is to articulate more clearly what is often hidden in historical research, and what matters to this project lies not in the past, but rather in the present. From a methodological point of view, it is hoped the project will not be simply inter-disciplinary, but trans-disciplinary. Beginning with Kircher’s crucial role in the early modern Republic of Letters, the project will insert Kircher’s case within a larger context involving the question of the nature of knowledge as both a kind of savoir faire and a kind of savoir vivre. From this perspective, the intention is to reconsider Kircher’s vast bibliographical production and the methods of its dissemination, highlighting how Kircher grappled with, and contributed to, such concepts as novitas or curiositas. The project is concerned also with the material aspect of culture, most specifically with the early modern changes in the modes and methods of communicating and disseminating knowledge. The way in which Kircher managed, reproduced, and created knowledge is a lens through which several fundamental aspects of both the early modern and the modern world may be understood and which have been the object of a recent surge of scholarly interest, for example the exponential growth of information and consequently the development of new and more effective techniques to digest, store, and select this new body of knowledge. The starting point for Monumenta Kircheri is the Bibliographia Kircheriana, an extensive bibliography which aims to record all the publications about Kircher published since his death. At present the Bibliographia lists 641 entries and it is being updated on an on-going basis with new records provided by authors or found in other publications.

Through the transcription of correspondence and works, the intention is to create a comprehensive database of Kircher’s production which will permit investigation with a number of research questions it has not been possible to pose until now. It is hoped this database will become a valuable source not only for specialist Kircher scholars, but also for early modern historians. Transcriptions are made using GATE’s  collaborative environment, where proofreading and validation of transcriptions may be easily managed. Users transcribe the text working from the image of the original manuscript or printed page. All the correspondence is being digitized again, with the aim of updating the digital images produced by Stanford in late 1990s. An edition will be assembled using a selection of TEI tags and footnotes, and with annotations as names, places, works, and objects mentioned within the texts are identified. Each annotation will connect to a specific page about that entity. Transcription, edition, and annotation are three different processes that can be contributed by different users, and while the project believes that GATE provides an excellent work environment, it welcomes also suggestions and comments regarding improvement, and it is hoped very much that members of EMLO’s community will become involved.

Call for collaboration
Being a collaborative project, GATE seeks new volunteers. Several collaborations are underway with Italian high schools, involving at the time of writing more than 150 students, who have helped to set up the Bibliographia Kircheriana and have transcribed about fifty letters from Kircher’s correspondence as well as some of his printed works. The advice and involvement of more experienced users, for example master students, doctoral candidates, and established scholars, will be appreciated in particular. Training in how to use GATE, as well as on-hand assistance during the transcription, edition, and annotation processes, will be provided. Every contribution to the project will be valued enormously, and those interested in Kircher and his work are urged to be in touch.

  1. Umberto Eco, Il Museo del mondo (Roma, 2001), p. 14.
  2. Einaudi Enciclopedia, vol. 5, pp. 38–48.
  3.  Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu (Madrid, 1894).
  4. Dionisio Fernández Zapico and Pedro Leturia, ‘Cincuentenario de Monumenta Historica S.I. (1894-1944)’, in Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 13 (1944), pp. 1–61).

Joachim Jungius and his ordering of knowledge

The fresh face on the EMLO home page with a correspondence catalogue published this week is that of the mathematician Joachim Jungius. Born in Lübeck in 1587, Jungius considered mathematics and logic to be the foundation of all areas of scientific study, and — as you might expect — his own work took him into a number of different spheres, including those of astronomy and medicine. For nearly thirty years until his death in 1657, this mathematician occupied the chair of natural sciences at the Akademisches Gymnasium in Hamburg.

Six years ago, when I began to research the history of one of EMLO’s foundation collections, that of the Bodleian card catalogue, and put together a piece on the three individuals who turned out to be involved with it, I read a fascinating article by Noel Malcolm, ‘Thomas Harrison and his “Ark of Studies”: An Episode in the History of the Organization of Knowledge’, and a publication by Markus Krajewski entitled Paper Machines: About Cards and Catalogs, 1548–1929.1 It was here that I encountered Joachim Jungius for the first time. Krajewski describes Jungius as the ‘first practitioner of nonhierachical indexing’ on account of his accumulation of approximately 150,000 pieces of paper, all of which contained fragments of knowledge, that were bound and sorted ‘according to the most minute details’ but ‘without registers or indexes, let alone reference systems’.2 Krajewski summarizes the mathematician’s method as a way of gathering ‘treasures without being recombined and published as new books. Jungius, keen on including new resources, delays his own publications time and again, leaving them unfinished or simply as raw paper slip potential in storage, on call.’3

Jungius and his work was well known to Samuel Hartlib, Jan Amos Comenius, and members of their circles, and users of EMLO will find him discussed in a number of letters written in the mid-seventeenth century. Hartlib himself writes of Jungius to Robert Boyle: ‘The author of Isagoge Phytoscopica is Dr. Jungius of Hamburgh, one of the best logicians in all Germany. For he conceives if that art were truly understood and applied, not only botanical, but all other real studies whatsoever, would flourish more than they have done since the fall of Adam. Leges Collegii Protonoetici came from the same forementioned author: but they will scarcely be understood, without the general draught of his philosophical undertakings, which I shall impart unto you hereafter, God willing.’4 Jungius died in Hamburg in the year in which Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz celebrated his eleventh birthday. In the decades following his death, Jungius’s pupils pursued discussions on how best to order knowledge, including notes and excerpts of text, and their considerations culminated in the publication (note the publisher) of Vincent Placcius’s De Arte Excerpendi. Vom gelahrten Buchhalten, a work that offered a historical overview of indexing, a summary of contemporary filing sytems, and guidance in the art of ‘excerpting’ and storing knowledge.5

Noel Malcolm’s research on Thomas Harrison, the Oxford-educated Northamptonshire rector who languished for a considerable period of his life in prison, enriches the picture considerably, offering substantial detail of Harrison’s indexing invention — the ‘Arca studiorum‘ — and surveying the ‘general tendency of the age, towards what might be called the physical technologizing of knowledge’.6 In what he terms a ‘surprising postscript’ to the article, we are able to follow the link back, via Placcius, from Leibniz to Harrison’s ‘Ark of Studies’.7 Jungius, his note-taking, his filing system, and his pupil and editor Martin Fogel play a part in this tale and Malcolm traces the description of Harrison’s invention printed by Placcius that was based on a manuscript in the possession of Johann Adolf Tassius (1585–1654). Tassius was Jungius’s deputy at the Akademisches Gymnasium in Hamburg.

Leibniz is known to have carried paper with him at all times and to have made and filed notes, his ‘Zettel’. In his private library, Krajewski relates, Leibniz ‘was in the habit of writing his excerpts on special sheets or slips of paper, and it is likely that he adopted this method from Martino Fogelio (who edited the Jungiana) [. . .] Yet his method stems from Joach. Jungius. Thus, he also maintained his library according to topical order, without regard for different formats. Leibniz imitated this . . . and applied it to his own private library. He had small labels stuck to repositories that indicated what was contained on every shelf.’8 However, Leibniz had been collecting and storing his papers systematically from the late 1660s. Certainly he had a strong interest in Jungius’s work. But he was not able to see any of Jungius’s or of Fogel’s original papers for a further decade until he visited Hamburg in 1678. Fogel had died three years previously leaving a library that numbered approximately 3,600 volumes, and Leibniz had persuaded his employer, Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Luenburg, that he should purchase this library from Fogel’s widow. Leibniz spent over six weeks in the city, where he met Placcius, Vagetius, and Sivers. While on site, he inspected the papers of both Jungius and Fogel and attempted to purchase a selection. Although his request was turned down, he was permitted to borrow eighty-six manuscript bundles on the clear understanding that these would be returned. Despite repeated requests from the family of Fogel regarding the loan, these manuscripts remain today in the care of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek.9

Such a glimpse offered through the towering figure of Leibniz into the filing habits of Jungius is mesmerizing, and I hope users will enjoy exploring the latter’s correspondence catalogue in EMLO. The metadata for 506 letters in total have been drawn from the edition prepared by Professor Martin Rothkegel and based on the work of Bernd Elsner (published in 2005 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen), and each letter record in EMLO links to the text of the edition that has been made available by Professor Rothkegel on Academia.10

In this hot summer month, happy reading to all of both letters and research on early modern schemes for the organization of knowledge!

The ‘Ark of Studies’, plate IV from Vincentius Placcius, ‘De arte excerpendi’ (Stockholm and Hamburg, 1689). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Noel Malcolm, ‘Thomas Harrison and his “Ark of Studies”: An Episode in the History of the Organization of Knowledge’, The Seventeenth Century, 19:2 (2004), pp. 196–232, and Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About Cards and Catalogs, 1548–1929, tr. Peter Krapp (Cambridge, MA, 2011).
  2. Krajewski, op. cit., p. 17.
  3. Krajewski, op. cit., p. 17, and Christoph Meinel, ‘Enzyklopädie der Welt und Verzettelung des Wissens: Aporien der Empirie bei Joachim Jungius’, in Enzyklopädien der Frühen Neuzeit. Beiträge zu ihrer Erforschung, ed. Franz M. Eybl, Wolfgang Harms, Hans-Henrik Krummacher, and Werner Welzig (Vienna, Tübingen, and Mainz, 1995), p. 177.
  4. Letter from Samuel Hartlib to Robert Boyle, 8 May 1654, see Michael Hunter, Antonio Clercuzio, and Lawrence Principe, eds, The Correspondence of Robert Boyle, 6 vols. (London, 2001), i, pp. 169–79, and Robert Boyle, The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle. ed. Thomas Birch, 5 vols (London, 1744), v, pp. 261–4.
  5. Vincent Placcius, De Arte Excerpendi. Vom gelahrten Buchhalten (Stockholm, Hamburg: Bei Gottfried Liebezeit, 1689.)
  6. Malcolm, op. cit., p. 217.
  7. Malcolm, op. cit., pp. 220–1.
  8. See Christoph Gottlieb von Murr, ‘Von Leibnitzens Exzerpirschrank’, in Journal zur Kunstgeschichte und allgemeinen Litteratur, 7, pp. 210ff, and Krajewski, op. cit., pp. 19–20.
  9. Immeasurable thanks are due to Dr Philip Beeley, who has an article in preparation on Leibniz and Jungius, for these fulsome details concerning the visit of Leibniz to Hamburg.
  10.  Der Briefwechsel des Joachim Jungius, ed. Martin Rothkegel, based on the work of Bernd Elsner (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005).