Monthly Archives: October 2018

Announcing ‘Networking Archives: Assembling and analysing a meta-archive of correspondence, 1509–1714’

We are pleased to announce the award of a three-year, AHRC-funded research grant for a project entitled ‘Networking Archives: Assembling and analysing a meta-archive of correspondence, 1509–1714’ (, led by Professor Howard Hotson (PI, University of Oxford), Dr Ruth Ahnert (Co-I, Queen Mary University of London), and Dr Sebastian Ahnert (Co-I, University of Cambridge).

Networking Archives‘ will create a meta-archive of nearly 450,000 letter records — which will form this country’s largest curated dataset of its kind for the period — and pioneer a combination of traditional scholarship and quantitative network analysis to reveal previously unexamined patterns of political and scholarly information-gathering. This meta-archive will be created by uniting three roughly commensurate datasets: the data already published on ‘Early Modern Letters Online’ [EMLO], supplemented by records of the c. 130,000 letters in the Tudor State Papers 1509–1603 (domestic and foreign), curated but not yet published by the AHRC-funded project ‘Tudor Networks of Power’, and a still larger quantity of letter records, freshly curated by the project team, from the Stuart State Papers, 1603–1714 (domestic and foreign). The project will combine quantitative network analysis with traditional research approaches to discover what the ‘meta-archive’ reveals about the ways in which ‘intelligence’ was gathered and transmitted in the early modern period in the service both of consolidating of state authority and of open intellectual exchange within the international ‘republic of letters’.

This collaborative work will be structured around a series of interdisciplinary ‘laboratories’ in which experiments will be conducted on the newly curated and merged data. Alongside an easy-to-use, exploratory web-interface developed to lower the barrier for researchers employing common quantitative network-analysis methods, a series of algorithms and scripts will be developed to examine more advanced research questions involving overlapping networks and their change over time. Parallel to the laboratories, the project team will develop a curriculum to support the teaching of data curation and network-analysis methods to early career researchers, which will be trialled through a set of training schools and a colloquium, and then shared for reuse as standalone course packages.

The research outputs from these activities will be presented in a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional settings, including large-scale datasets, technical papers, informal blogposts, peer-reviewed scholarly articles, a popular history on espionage and surveillance in the early modern world, a collaboratively researched case study of intelligencing at the centre of the meta-archive, and an edited collection of essays emerging from the training schools and colloquia. At the conclusion of the project, all components of the project’s infrastructure (data, software, documentation, and methods) will be consolidated and shared under open access/open source to simplify its deployment and reuse at other institutions.

For more news and information (including forthcoming job postings funded by the project), please follow ‘Networking Archives’ on Twitter (@networkarchives) or visit the website (

Thomas Pennant, Travel, and the Making of Enlightenment Knowledge: a conference

For those with an interest in the history of travel writing and in the work and preoccupations of Fellows of the Royal Society in the second half of the eighteenth century, registration is open at present for the conference ‘Thomas Pennant, Travel, and the Making of Enlightenment Knowledge’. The day’s event is to be held at the Linnean Society, London, on Friday, 16 November, and it is being organized to mark the conclusion of the Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760–1820 research project (which has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council).

The conference coincides with the exhibition ‘Curious Travellers’: Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour that runs until mid January 2019 at Dr Johnson’s House, Gough Square, London (for further details, please see the previous post on this blog). On the evening preceding the conference (Thursday, 15 November), a separate ticked event will be held at Dr Johnson’s House, during which Professor Murray Pittock and Professor Nigel Leask will deliver talks on the Scottish Tours of Dr Johnson and of Thomas Pennant. Should you be interested in attending either event, further information is to be found in the conference poster (which may be downloaded here) or on the Curious Travellers’ website.

‘O brave new world’: the Johns Winthrop

As the Cultures of Knowledge project and EMLO embark on the next leg of their investigative early modern correspondence journey (details of which will follow in a forthcoming blog post), it is a tremendous pleasure to announce publication this week of a catalogue set to establish itself as one of the foundation pillars of early modern transatlantic communication: that of John Winthrop the elder and his son, John Winthrop the younger.

For the final two decades of his life, John Winthrop the elder (1588–1649) served as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Having crossed the Atlantic to New England in 1630 aboard the Arbella, John the elder proceeded to play a central role in establishing and refining the civil and religious governance of the Colony. At the time of his father’s departure for New England, John Winthrop the younger (1606–1676) remained in England for an additional year to care for his step-mother Margaret Tyndal, his younger siblings, and his own new wife Martha Fones, in addition to the family’s interests, before setting sail himself in August 1631. John the elder’s sister, Lucy (thus an aunt of the younger John), was mother of the future diplomat and financial reformer, George Downing (c. 1624/25–1684); in 1638, at the invitation of her brother, Lucy and the Downing family emigrated also to Massachusetts.

Page from an eight-page diary kept by John Winthrop the younger of a trip from Boston to Saybrook, Connecticut, and his return, November-December 1645. (The Winthrop Family Papers, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

John the younger (who had been educated at Trinity College Dublin and had travelled extensively in Europe, progressing to the east as far as Constantinople) flourished in New England and developed there his interest in practical natural philosophy. He was an industrious and reliable correspondent — one who may be tipped to continue to ‘grow’ within the underlying networks under investigation in EMLO. From the far side of the Atlantic, he maintained a broad circle of friends and key contacts in the country of his birth. He undertook the return journey to England and stayed for a year between 1634–5, upon which occasion he was engaged by a group of puritans sympathizers — amongst whom numbered Robert Greville, second Baron Brooke; William Fiennes, first Viscount Saye and Sele; and Sir Arthur Heselrige — to establish a colony at the mouth of the Connecticut River. In honour of Winthrop’s sponsors, the name of the resulting settlement was an analgam: ‘Saybrook’.

With a strong interest in alchemy, John the younger was both friend and correspondent of the German alchemist Abraham Kuffler (1598–1657), a son-in-law of Cornelius Drebbel (1572–1633). He built up a noteworthy collection of chymical books, and conducted a correspondence with many significant European natural philosophers, including Robert Boyle (1627–1691) and Henry Oldenburg (1619–1677). In 1641, he made the long journey back once again to Europe and visited London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, on this occasion to seek support for a venture to encourage alchemical research at a New England plantation to be called ‘New London’. The intention was that the settlement would serve as a branch of the universal college proposed by Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670) and by those within the circle of Samuel Hartlib (c. 1600–1662); the collective aspiration was that the natural philosophers clustered in New London should work towards the perfection of their skills in such pursuits as medicine, husbandry, and metallurgy in preparation for the anticipated millennium. Upon the encouragement of Robert Child (1613–1654), the younger Winthrop seems to have sent back seeds and plant samples to John Tradescant the younger (1608–1662) for his ‘Ark’ in South Lambeth. Child requests him to send ‘some Simples, or such like to begin a firme society with John Tredislin.1

The calendars of correspondence for the Winthrops published in EMLO have been based on the impressive editions produced by the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. Coupled with the letters that are converging at present in EMLO, a focus on the Winthrops and their work in New England heralds a welcome extension to the analysis of the circles surrounding Samuel Hartlib and a number of early members of the Royal Society. It is anticipated that the metadata collated for these networks in the forthcoming phase of the Cultures of Knowledge project’s work will swell and tighten. Do look out for the blog in which we will explain these plans and, in the meantime, courtesy of the links to the texts of many of the Winthrops’ letters available at the Winthrop Papers Digital Edition, please explore the archive. It is hoped that the correspondences of these two early New England settlers will establish a firm foundation upon which later transatlantic epistolary exchanges may be layered.