The particular case of Jan Baptist Van Helmont, enhancing existing EMLO metadata, and ‘starter catalogues’ …

As we pass from the old year into the new, EMLO’s users may find of interest the recently highlighted catalogue created for Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1579–1644). This catalogue is small yet significant: tantalizingly few letters — at present just fifteen — have survived to be recorded in the correspondence of the Flemish medic and ‘chymist’. This seems to be due, in part, to the actions of the ‘Count of Gilinius’ who, according to Van Helmont’s son Franciscus Mercurius [Francis Mercury] (1614–1699), plundered [‘spoliasset’] the letters, papers, and books that had belonged to his father and which were preserved in the family estates at Vilvorde, near Brussels.1 The loss of this precious material was noted also on the far side of the English Channel in London, where Samuel Hartlib wrote in his ‘Ephemerides’:

By some bodies instigation Gleen was made to fall upon some of Helmonts houses which he plundered and set on fire, wherein many excellent writings of his perished. Amongst others a great Volume of letters written by himself and by others to him about many arcana.’2

Detail from Hartlib’s ‘Ephemerides’. (Hartlib Papers, University of Sheffield, 28/2/24B)

Although Van Helmont’s letters seem to have been lost and only this minute number from what was perhaps an extensive body of work appears to survive in the correspondence archives of others, this does not prevent scholars today from enriching further the records of what is logged already in EMLO. We are delighted that Dr Georgiana Hedesan has offered to provide abstracts for Van Helmont’s known letters and to tag the people mentioned and the topics discussed therein, as well as to consider the influence and afterlife of the influential Paracelsian through the lens of the correspondences of others in the period.

In addition to enriching existing metadata (as in this example of Van Helmont), scholars are encouraged to identify and help complete significant correspondence listings for which no more than partial inventories exist in the EMLO union catalogue at present. A number of what might best be termed ‘starter catalogues’ are in the process of being identified, and students and established academics alike are invited to be in touch concerning work that might be done to help bring these to completion. A preliminary selection of the ‘starter catalogues’ will be highlighted on EMLO early in the new year and should any of these prove to be of interest and should you wish to contribute in any way, please let us know …

In the meantime, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish all users of Early Modern Letters Online a happy new year. We look forward greatly to hearing from and, we hope, working with many of you in 2019.

  1. See Francis Mercury van Helmont, ‘Vita authoris’, in J. B. van Helmont, Ortus medicinae, sig. (E4)v; and Sietske Fransen, ‘Jan Baptista van Helmont and his Editors and Translators in the Seventeenth Century’, PhD dissertation, Warburg Institute, University of London, 2014, p. 108.
  2. Samuel Hartlib, ‘Ephemerides’, 1651; see Hartlib Papers, University of Sheffield, 28/2/24B. The ‘Ephemerides’ was Hartlib’s diary and record of his many and various undertakings. Gleen, or Gilenius, was to Count Godfried (Godard) Huyn van Amstenrade (1590-1657).

The correspondence of Livonia’s most influential humanist: David Hilchen

Back in the spring of this year the COST-funded Reassembling the Republic of Letters action organized its third and final training school, EMLO ‘on the road’. At the suggestion and invitation of Dr Kristi Viiding, who is working on the Livornian humanist and lawyer David Hilchen [Heliconius] (1561–1610), this two-and-a-half-day event was hosted by the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tallinn, and was dedicated to the preparation of epistolary metadata for inclusion in a union catalogue of early modern correspondence.

EMLO is truly delighted at the close of the year to be publishing the first installment of metadata for the inventory of David Hilchen’s correspondence. Under the direction of Dr Viiding, who serves currently as General Secretary of the International Association of Neo-Latin studies, The Hilchen Project is compiling an inventory of the humanist’s entire correspondence, and — in addition to publication of this listing in EMLO — the work of the project will form the basis for a future critical edition. About eight-hundred letters written over a range of more than three decades survive from Hilchen’s private correspondence. The vast majority of these are in Latin, and many letters include short passages or phrases in Greek

This inventory is being published in EMLO in two installments. The first consists of the basic metadata for ninety-eight surviving letters sent by and to Hilchen prior to his departure from Livonia at the end of January 1603. The second installment will contain the letters written during the humanist’s exile in Poland between March 1603 and May 1610 (the month preceding his death), and these will be added to EMLO in the autumn of 2019. For the present, we trust EMLO’s users enjoy exploring the catalogue, and we look forward greatly to continuing our work with Dr Vidiing and her team in the course of the forthcoming year.

Antonio Agustín and the Spanish Republic of Letters

Amidst the bustle of this autumn’s activities, it is a tremendous pleasure to be announcing the publication in Early Modern Letters Online of a new correspondence catalogue — that of Antonio Agustín (1517–1586) — in celebration of the partnership between Cultures of Knowledge and the Spanish Republic of Letters [SRL] project, an inspiring initiative that is gathering momentum on the far side of the Atlantic.

SRL is in the process of collecting data to examine the networks of Spanish humanists and, by charting the intellectual correspondence exchanged ‘in the different centers of learning of the Iberian Peninsula (cities, universities, the court) and the rest of Europe’, is set to challenge the misconception that Renaissance Spain played a marginal role in the intellectual exchanges of the period. Headed by Dr Guy Lazure and hosted at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, SRL has created a database to house the metadata of both the correspondence and private library collections of major Spanish humanists.

Based on metadata supplied by SRL, the inventory of letters of Antonio Agustín marks the third in a series of catalogues in EMLO of sixteenth-century humanist correspondence from the Iberian peninsula — following those of Juan Luis Vives (1493–1540) and Hernán Núñez de Toledo y Guzmán (1475–1553) [El Pinciano]. Agustín was a canon law historian, a numismatist, a collector of archaeological artifacts, and a bibliophile, and in the course of his life he amassed an impressive library, a partial inventory of which was published following his death in Tarragona on 31 May 1586. Thanks to an exchange of data between the two projects, metadata for the letters from Agustín’s correspondence are available now for consultation within the EMLO union catalogue and users will find links have been provided within each letter record to the SRL database. Data dispatched from EMLO to Dr Lazure for the correspondence of Vives is to be followed by additional inventories that are in the process of being collated in Oxford. For the present, we hope users of EMLO will benefit from this partnership by following the links provided in the Agustín catalogue to explore more broadly the range and scope of the Spanish Republic of Letters database.



At the heart of a distinguished intellectual circle: Lady Anne Conway

This week in EMLO the catalogue of correspondence metadata for a remarkable early modern individual is published: that of Lady Anne Conway (1631–1679). Prevented, as a woman, from attending university, Anne Conway (née Finch) took advantage of her youngest half-brother’s matriculation at Christ’s College, Cambridge, to receive instruction herself via an exchange of letters with his tutor. This tutor was none other than the philosopher, poet, and theologian Henry More (1614–1687). The subsequent correspondence between tutor and pupil matured into a deep and lasting friendship and, through More, Anne Conway came into contact with a number of the Cambridge Platonists, including Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote, and John Worthington. A detailed account of the epistolary exchanges within this circle may be found in a number of the publications by Professor Sarah Hutton, who is herself due in Oxford this week to deliver the Annual lecture of the British Society for the History of Philosophy.1

Having married Edward, third Viscount Conway and Killultagh (c. 1623–1683), who encouraged her wholeheartedly in her intellectual pursuits, Lady Anne had access to the family’s collection of books that formed one of the largest private early modern libraries in the country. A victim of severe ill health, she was forced to live in semi-retirement at the Conway family seat, Ragley Hall in Warwickshire but her illness introduced her, as a patient, to some of the renowned physicians of her age, including William Harvey, Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, and Thomas Willis, as well as to the ‘Irish stroker’, Valentine Greatrakes.

In the final years of Lady Anne’s life, Francis Mercury Van Helmont (1614–1699), the son of the Flemish natural philosopher Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580–1644), joined her household at Ragley. As well as encouraging her to study the Jewish Kabbalah, Van Helmont introduced Lady Anne to Quakerism and she received visits from the Quaker leaders George Fox, Robert Barclay, George Keith, and William Penn whilst using her influential contacts to help their imprisoned followers. Shortly before her death, Anne Conway converted to Quakerism, despite opposition both from her family and from Henry More. And those who relish an unorthodox twist to their fairy tales might be intrigued to know that when she died on 23 February 1679, Van Helmont preserved her body in a glass coffin.

To discover more about this fascinating early modern woman, please do explore the correspondence catalogue, procure copies of Sarah Hutton’s publications, and — should you be in town — head to the Maison Française in Oxford for 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 November!

  1. See, for example, Sarah Hutton, Anne Conway, a Woman Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), and The Conway Letters: The Correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More, and their Friends 1642–1684. Revised edition, ed. Marjorie Hope Nicolson and Sarah Hutton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992; and available on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online).

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.

Gottfried Alois Kinner von Löwenthurn’s letters to Athanasius Kircher: transcriptions and translations

Athanasius Kircher, by Cornelis Bloemaert. 1665. Copper engraving, 33.2 by 21.9cm. (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

In an addendum to the August post on the Monumenta Kircheri project at the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University, we are delighted to announce this week the release in EMLO of the transcriptions and translations into English of twenty-eight letters sent from Gottfried Alois Kinner von Löwenthurn (born c. 1610) to Athanasius Kircher (1601–1680). These texts have been created and prepared for publication by Thomas E. Conlon (contributor to EMLO of the Caspar Schott (1608–1666) catalogue) and Philip Neal. Thomas Conlon and Philip Neal, together with Professor Dr Hans-Joachim Vollrath of the Institut für Mathematik at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, have also kindly shared their invaluable transcriptions with the Kircher project in Rome.

EMLO too is delighted to be collaborating with Monumenta Kircheri by supplying the metadata for Kircher’s letters currently on display in the union catalogue. Kircher’s correspondence has been pieced together over the years by a number of key scholars and projects, and users of EMLO may find interesting the account on the catalogue’s introductory page of the manner in which this inventory has come into being and how it has continued to evolve.

Gottfried Aloys Kinner von Löwenthurn was born in about 1610 in Reichenbach, Silesia (now Dzierżoniów, in south-west Poland). A doctor of theology, philosophy, and law, he was invited by the Holy Roman Emperor to oversee the education of the young Archduke Karl Joseph (1649–1664) and, in a letter of 11 October 1664, the tutor is found pouring out his grief to Kircher following the death of his young charge. Kinner’s surviving letters to Kircher, which span the years from 1652 until 1669, chart Kinner’s side of the friendship. Over nearly two decades, comets, experiments, geometry, alchemy, and England’s Royal Society are discussed. So too is sickness and old age — including the sad condition of Marcus Marci (Jan Marek Marci, 1595–1667) who, Kinner informs Kircher, ‘despite being forgetful of almost everything, still however remembers your name’. Kinner includes an account of the solar eclipse of 12 August 1654. The effect of Kircher’s work on the Republic of Letters is considered, and a hideous operation performed by an unnamed Englishman on the eye of a goose is described in graphic detail. Kinner is an engaging correspondent. His letters are rich in detail and (bar the incident with the goose) a joy to read.


Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour: an exhibition

On Friday, 5 October, a new exhibition, ‘Curious Travellers’: Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour’ , opens at Dr Johnson’s House in London. Organized as part of the four-year AHRC-funded research project Curious Travellers, this display explores the journeys and writings of — and investigates the complex links between — two of the most renowned eighteenth-century travel writers: the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726–98) and the English author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709–84). With the aid of contemporary maps and travel books, the fascinating exhibition examines and charts these authors’ accounts of Scotland and Wales, and considers the responses from their contemporary readers to the published Tours.

In addition to this exhibition on the two men’s journeys and travel writing, Curious Travellers, which is nearing the conclusion of its work, will be hosting a final conference, Thomas Pennant, Travel and the Making of Enlightenment Knowledge, on 15 November at the Linnean Society, London. Further information about the event will be provided on this blog in a forthcoming post. Meanwhile, in another strand of their work, and in partnership with EMLO, Curious Travellers is in the process of preparing and uploading into the union catalogue an inventory of the correspondence of Thomas Pennant, and progress of this catalogue may be followed on the introductory page.

With so much on the Pennant front to look forward to this autumn, we encourage EMLO’s users to stave off the ennui of which Dr Johnson warned, to tire neither of London nor of life, and to pay a visit to 17 Gough Square while Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour is on display.1

Dr Johnson’s House, at 17 Gough Square, may be found tucked within the historic cluster of streets and alleyways to the north of Fleet Street and the east of Fetter Lane. Built at the end of the seventeenth century by the merchant and member of Parliament for Bramber, Sussex, Richard Gough (1655–1728), it is the sole house from this period to survive in the square. Johnson lived as a tenant on the premises with his wife Elizabeth (and presumably ‘a very fine cat’ or two). It was here in the attic rooms that he worked on and saw through to publication his renowned A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Following the death of his wife in 1752, Johnson’s household expanded to include the infamous ‘strange cast of derelicts and waifs’.2 He moved from Gough Square in 1759.


  1. ‘Curious Travellers’: Dr Johnson and Thomas Pennant on Tour’ runs at Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE, between 5 October 2018 and 12 January 2019. Details of the exhibition’s opening times may be found on the Museum’s website.
  2. For the ‘strange cast of derelicts and waifs’, see Pat Rogers, ‘Johnson, Samuel‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition (Oxford University Press, 21 May 2009),

‘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).