Leading lady: Anna Maria van Schurman

It is a sad truth that only very small number of early modern women received an education. Fewer still benefitted from the education that was on offer to men. Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678) was an inspirational exception, however. Considered today to be the first female university student in Europe, this scholar, poet, linguist, painter, and engraver became one of the most learned women of her age, and EMLO is truly thrilled to be publishing this week a catalogue of her correspondence in partnership with the innovative Utrecht-based project Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks (SKILLNET): the Republic of Letters as a pan-European Knowledge Society.

Born in Cologne, Van Schurman lived as a child in Utrecht (the city to which her parents had moved in a bid to escape religious persecution) and in Franeker; she was educated as an equal alongside her brothers. Following the death of her father in 1623, and after re-settling three years later for a second time in Utrecht where she moved into a house near the Domkerk, her reputation as a scholar began to spread, particularly with respect to theology and philosophy, and her knowledge of — and skill in — at least fourteen languages became widely renowned. To celebrate the foundation of the university of Utrecht in 1636, Van Schurman was invited to write a poem in Latin and she used this opportunity to lament the exclusion of women from formal education. This prompted — as the scholar Dr Pieta van Beek has shown in her fascinating publication The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636) — an invitation to attend lectures and disputations at the university.1 It is known also that she was tutored in Greek, in Hebrew, and in theology by Gijsbertus Voetius. No other woman was permitted to attend the university in this manner and, thanks to René Descartes, we know Van Schurman had to sit apart in a partitioned cubicle, away from the male students and professors.2

Anna Maria van Schurman, ‘The Learned Maid, or Whether a Maid may be a Scholar. A Logick Exercise’ (London: John Redmayne, 1659.) (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

As Van Beek recounts, Van Schurman was referred to by Friedrich Spanheim, the professor of theology at Leiden, as ‘a doctor clothed in women’s robes’.3 Her erudition is no less marked in the correspondence she conducted, and Van Beek notes that in Van Schurman’s exchanges with André Rivet we encounter the origins of her published work on the right of women to education, the Amica Dissertatio4 and the Dissertatio,5 which was translated in to French in 1646, and into English in 1659 under the title The Learned Maid, or Whether a Maid may be a Scholar.6 (And what a rallying crying of a title this is!).

Van Schurman’s correspondents were learned and were located across the European continent. Constantijn Huygens wished to marry her; Pierre Gassendi admired her commitment both to scholarship and to celibacy; she resided at the centre of a large network of learned women, including Dorothy Moore, and she corresponded both with Christina of Sweden and the Polish Queen Ludwika Maria [Maria Louise de Gonzaga]. The letters of many of the women in this circle are being worked on at present by members of today’s scholarly network, Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO]. Although Van Schurman’s letters may have existed once in their thousands, she seems to have destroyed a large number of manuscripts and papers after she moved from Utrecht in 1669 to join the community that had coalesced around the radical Protestant Jean de Labadie.

Publication in EMLO of this inventory of Anna Maria van Schurman’s surviving correspondence is a first in many respects: the metadata for the letters have been collated by Samantha Sint Nicolaas as part of her internship at the SKILLNET project, where she worked under the supervision of Professor Dirk van Miert with the blessing and support of the Van Schurman scholar, Dr Pieta van Beek. And Van Schurman’s is the first catalogue to be contributed to EMLO by SKILLNET, the first of a large number that will come together as a very significant corpus. SKILLNET has embarked upon a five-year mission to mine the content of early modern epistolaries and investigate how participants in the ‘Respublica Literaria’ transcended political, confessional, and language boundaries to evolve successfully and seamlessly into a pan-European ‘knowledge commons’. Funded by the ERC, SKILLNET has emerged from the cocoon of the European project COST Action Reassembling the Republic of Letters (headed by the Cultures of Knowledge project director, Professor Howard Hotson) and is working closely with EMLO. It is wonderfully fitting that such a remarkable and pioneering female scholar should be the trailblazer for this partnership between SKILLNET and Cultures of Knowledge. Anna Maria van Schurman, Samantha Sint Nicolaas, Pieta van Beek, Dirk van Miert, and the SKILLNET team alike, we salute your invaluable work on the Republic of Letters!

An account by Samantha Sint Nicolaas of the journey she undertook as she visited an array of archives to collate this inventory — ‘Retracing the ‘Grand Tour’ of Anna Maria van Schurman’s Letters‘ — may be found on the SKILLNET blog.

  1. Pieta van Beek, The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636) (Utrecht: Igitur, 2010), in particular pp. 58– 61.
  2. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Oeuvres des Descartes (Paris: Vrin, 1899), pp. 230–1.
  3. See Anna Maria van Schurman, Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica. Prosaica et Metrica. Lugdunum Batavorum: ex officina Elseviriorum (Lugdunum Batavorum: ex officina Elseviriorum, 1648), preface.
  4. Amica Dissertatio inter Annam Mariam Schurmanniam et Andr. Rivetum de capacitate ingenii muliebris ad scientias (Paris: s.n., 1638).
  5. Dissertatio De Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam et meliores Litteras aptitudine. Accedunt Quaedam Epistolae eiusdem Argumenti (Lugdunum Batavorum: Elzeviriana, 1641).
  6. The Learned Maid, or Whether a Maid may be a Scholar. A Logick Exercise (London: John Redmayne, 1659).

In celebration of a minor fact, or two, concerning ‘the pious and profoundly-learned’ Mr Mede

Christ’s College, Cambridge, from David Loggan, ‘Cantabrigia Illustrata’ (1690). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

For weeks now I’ve been meaning to write to draw attention to the catalogue of the correspondence of Joseph Mede (or Mead, as he signs himself frequently in letters to his friend Sir Martin Stuteville) which has been increasing steadily in EMLO over recent months. What began as twenty-five letter records within the Samuel Hartlib catalogue published during the initial phase of the Cultures of Knowledge project (worked on sequentially by Leigh Penman and Robin Buning) has been augmented with the addition of metadata for Mede’s letters selected and published by John Worthington.1 With assistance from EMLO Digital Fellow Laura Lawrence, Mede’s catalogue has been extended still further to encompass the collection of letters contained in the British Library (MS Harleian 389 and MS Harleian 390) that were written on a weekly basis to Stuteville.2 At present, the inventory in EMLO for Mede’s correspondence includes records for 436 letters.

Mede is a rare gem. A modest man, portrayed by his pupil (and ultimately his editor) Worthington as ‘studiously regardless of Academical Degrees, as being unwilling to make any great noise and report in the world’,3 he described himself in a typically self-effacing manner as in possession of ‘brains … so narrow, that I can tend and mind but one thing at once’.4 His letters are a revelation (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist this pun) and not only on the prophetic and apocalyptic fronts: should you be interested in the political situation that makes up the backdrop to Mede’s life in the 1620s, you will enjoy his letters to Stuteville, packed as they are with news, gossip, and detailed reports of current local, national, and international events. Here at EMLO we’ve been transfixed and glued to our monitors as we’ve worked with this inventory.

Portrait of Elizabeth I in her accession robes, by an unknown artist. Oil on panel, c. 1600. (Source of image: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 5175)

If proof were needed (which, of course, as you’re reading this blog you’ll know it is not) that it is worth poring over letters to tease out tiny and what might appear at first glance to be inconsequential details, it was a delight to note the comments that accompanied the dates Mede marked on his missives to Stuteville. What seems to be no more than an insignificant factoid often turns out to be a nugget that enables a small piece of a larger picture to be set in place. Whilst we knew Mede was born in October 1586, thanks to his letter of 13 October 1627, we have been able to squirrel away one minor but important fact about him, for he marked this letter ‘Christs Colledg. October 13. My birth day’.5 Of course this small scrap has gone straight into Mede’s person record in EMLO. It turns out that the precise day of his birth is not recorded in the ODNB,6  nor is it in Venn,7 but now — to the delight of those who make up the fan club of Mr Mede —  it exists in our union catalogue. And there are further tidbits to be uncovered in these letters to Stuteville. By way of example, we find another letter dated ’17 November. When our belles in every Church are ringing here in memory of happie Queene Elizabeth.’8 This is 1627, and the man born two years before the Armada is noting how bells peal in Cambridge to mark Elizabeth’s accession nearly a quarter of a century after her death.

Mede wrote each week to Stuteville, who lived in Dalham, Suffolk (Stuteville’s memorial, which sees him flanked by his first and his second wives, together with their kneeling children, is still in place at St Mary’s, Dalham).9 Mede, the modest man for whom we have no surviving likeness, was writing from Christ’s College, Cambridge (when he was not in college, the weekly letters cease temporarily and often it transpires he has made the journey of approximately twenty miles to visit his friend). Alongside his own brief commentary on news ‘of the day’, Mede transcribed passages from news pamphlets and gazettes sent to him in Cambridge from London, including those from John Pory and Dr James Meddus. Meddus is an interesting individual. He turns out to be James Meddowes, and it is not a surprise to learn he was Mede’s most reliable source of foreign news for, although he was born in Cheshire, he studied at Heidelberg and received his doctorate from Basel University. On 6 July 1610, Meddowes/Meddus was incorporated at Oxford University.10 From 1612 he was member of Gray’s Inn. He served as chaplain to James I, and was rector of St George, Eastcheap, from 1597; of St Gabriel, Fenchurch Street, from 1603, and from 1614 of Snodland in Kent. (And here’s a random fact for the day: two other figures residing at the heart of the EMLO union catalogue were later incumbents at St Gabriel, Fenchurch Street: mathematician and cryptographer John Wallis, who was granted the sequestrated living in 1643,11 and — a full century later — the compiler of the works of Robert Boyle, Thomas Birch.) Goodness, what we will be able to do with people and buildings in the new people and place databases in development at present. But that’s a treat to look forward to; for the present, we are fortunate with these letters to be able to spend time in the company of Joseph Mede. As you read and observe further nuggets, please email us or tweet to alert Mede’s burgeoning fan-club …

And as a final note, for the many who are interested in the connections between Isaac Newton and Joseph Mede12 (and who possess the patience to have arrived at the end of this post), the recent exciting discovery in the Huntington Library by Stephen D. Snobelen of Newton’s own dog-eared copy of Worthington’s 1672 edition of Mede makes fascinating reading.13 I’ll leave you to click through to the Huntington, while I go back to work.


  1. The works of the pious and profoundly-learned Joseph Mede, B.D. sometime fellow of Christ’s Colledge in Cambridge, ed. John Worthington (London, 1664; 1672, second edn; 1677, third edn), and The works of the reverend, iudicious and learned divine, Mr. Iospeh Mede (London, 1648).
  2. See David Cockburn, ‘A Critical Edition of the Letters of the Reverend Mead (1626–1627), contained in British Library Harleian MS 390’, DPhil. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1994, and Daphne Westbury, ‘An Edition of the Letters (1621–1625) of the Reverend Joseph Mead to Sir Martin Stuteville of Suffolk in BL MS Harleian 389’, PhD thesis, University of Leicester, 1991.
  3.  The works of the pious and profoundly-learned Joseph Mede, B.D. sometime fellow of Christ’s Colledge in Cambridge, ed. John Worthington (London, 1677, third edn), p. XV.
  4.  Ibid, Book V, Epistle XIV.
  5.  Letter of 13 October 1627, British Library, MS Harleian 390, fols 303r–303v, with transcription in David Cockburn, op. cit., above, pp. 892–5.
  6.  Bryan W. Ball, ‘Mede (Mead), Joseph (1586–1638)‘, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004; online: 23 September 2004, rev. 28 May 2015).
  7.  J. Venn and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, 2 pts in 10 vols (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8), vol. 1, pt 3, p. 170.
  8. Letter 17 November 1627, British Library, MS Harleian 390, fols 319r–320r, with transcription in David Cockburn, op cit., above, pp. 919–27.
  9. I wish I could post an image here, but, copyright being what is it, this is not possible; if you’re interested in Stuteville’s appearance, a quick search online will throw up a couple of photographs.
  10. Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1500–1714 (Oxford, 1891) on British History Online, accessed 30 April 2018.
  11. With thanks to Dr Philip Beeley for this contribution.
  12. See Rob Iliffe, Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), in particular pp. 235–6, and Rob Iliffe, ‘Newton, God, and the mathematics of the Two Books’, in Lawrence Snezana and Mark McCartney, eds, Mathematicians and their Gods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 121–44.
  13. Stephen D. Snobelen, ‘Newton’s Lost Copy of Mede, Revealed‘, on VERSO, The Blog of the Huntington Library, accessed 30 April 2018.

The EMLO Hundredth: Jean Le Clerc

When EMLO launched its ‘new look’ back in January 2015, a re-design that included for the first time catalogue introductory pages, little did anyone foresee that just over three years later the total number of early modern correspondence catalogues within the union catalogue would have burgeoned from an initial sixteen to hit the hundred mark. And we could not be more delighted to be announcing this week that the hundredth catalogue to be published in EMLO is none other than that of the philosopher and theologian Jean Le Clerc.

Le Clerc (1657–1736) stands today a towering figure at the heart of the golden age of the république des lettres. As a scholar, he published widely, in particular a number of key critical works, yet perhaps of more significance still he was renowned far and wide during his lifetime for his rigorous and insightful activity as a journalist. Le Clerc’s correspondence has been collected, studied, edited, and published by the scholars Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone-Sina, and their four exemplary volumes were brought out to great acclaim between 1987 and 1997 by the distinguished Italian publishing house Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki. The metadata for the 842 letters contained in EMLO’s listing of Le Clerc’s correspondence are taken from this edition, and the EMLO team could not be more pleased to have been working in partnership at various stage of the necessary preparatory work with colleagues at Olschki as well as with the scholarly editors Mario Sina and Maria Grazia Zaccone Sina, who have been so generous to this enterprise in terms of both their blessing and their support. As a result, users of the union catalogue are able now to benefit from their scholarship through the links that have been inserted from each letter record in EMLO out to the text in the relevant volume of the edition available on Gallica, the digital platform of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

As EMLO ticks towards its second century of metadata catalogues, we expect to observe a thickening and a tightening of thematic correspondence clusters as the warp and weft of the early modern networks draw ever tighter. Over the course of this year, Le Clerc will be joined by many more Huguenots, by many more philosophers, and by many more theologians, and the groupings of corresponding individuals, including astronomers, cartographers, collectors, diplomats, intelligencers, mathematicians, natural philosophers, physicians, and scholars — men and women alike — will swell. The catalogue of Jean Le Clerc marks a significant milestone in the history of EMLO. And as users explore its riches, we are at work behind the scenes on the second hundred.

Thomas Pennant and the ‘Curious Travellers’ in Bristol

Over the past three years, EMLO has been working with the inspirational AHRC-funded Curious Travellers project. Headed by Dr Mary-Ann Constantine at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies [CAWCS], University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Professor Nigel Leask, Regius Chair of English Language and Literature at the School of Critical Studies, Glasgow University, this research team is focussed on the writings and correspondence of the Welsh naturalist, travel writer, and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726–1798).

Dr Sarah Ward’s call for ‘Curious Traveller’ volunteer students.

Pennant was born and based throughout his life at his family’s estate, Downing Hall, Flintshire, in north-east Wales.1 With the publication of his Tours through Wales and Scotland,2 he was responsible for capturing public imagination and engendering widespread enthusiasm for travel and early ‘tourism’ in both countries. Educated initially in Wrexham, and then at the Fulham school of Dr (or Mr) Thomas Croft — the scene of the tragic accident that took place just six years prior to his arrival, while the son of Elizabeth Compton attended the school, which resulted in the death of Dr Croft’s sister, Ann —3 the young naturalist continued his studies at Queen’s College, and then Oriel College, Oxford. Pennant’s interest in natural history had been sparked (according to his own account)4 at the age of about twelve when his relative John Salisbury gave him a copy of Francis Willughby’s Ornithology.5 Although the brief of the Curious Travellers project is to concentrate primarily on Pennant’s letters of most relevance to his Tours, the team is compiling also an inventory of his complete correspondence. Thus far, metadata for the letters that reside in the care of the Bodleian Libraries, The Linnean Society of London, and the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale, have been drawn together and published in EMLO.

It was in the spirit of Pennant that EMLO set off ‘on the road’ once again last week to help host a workshop at the University of the West of England in Bristol, courtesy of an erstwhile EMLO Digital Fellow and current UWE member of staff, Dr Sarah Ward. A call had been circulated early in March and, within hours, twelve of Dr Ward’s undergraduate students had signed up, together with Laura Lawrence, a current EMLO Digital Fellow, to spend an afternoon working with photographic images to generate rough transcriptions of Pennant’s letters from the collections of the Bodleian Libraries, including MS. Ashmole 1822 (Pennant’s letters to the museum curator William Huddesford) and MS. Gough Gen. Top. 43 (Pennant’s letters to the antiquarian Richard Gough). Although Pennant’s handwriting and punctuation were felt to be a little eccentric at times (but thankfully Dr Constantine was on hand to help), these letters turned out to be brimful with tantalizing details of natural history specimens, including striped antelopes, various horns and fossils, five-toed lizards, and bats.

The transcriptions created by these remarkably talented students, all whom are to be credited for their contributions, will be checked and edited by the Curious Travellers team, and additional work on Pennant’s letters to Gough will be conducted in Oxford later this year when Dr Constantine takes up residence at the Bodleian as a visiting scholar (upon which occasion we hope very much that a follow-up workshop involving these wonderful students will be arranged — and, in the meantime, should anyone with an interest in Pennant wish to sign up as a volunteer transcriber, please be in touch . . . ).

Students at the Curious Travellers/EMLO/UWE workshop, Bristol, 20 March 2018.

  1. By his own account, Pennant was born in what was known as Downing’s ‘yellow room’: ‘I was born on June 14th, 1726, old style, in the room now called the Yellow Room; that the celebrated Mrs. Cayn, of Srowsbury, ushered me into the world, and delivered me to Miss Jy Perry, of Merton, in this parish; who to her dying day never failed telling me, Ah, you rogue! I remember you when you had not a shirt to your back.’ See Thomas Pennant, The history of the parishes of Whiteford, and Holywell (London, 1796), p. 2. The family house, Downing Hall, was damaged partially by fire in the early twentieth century, and was demolished in 1953.
  2. For full bibliographic details, see the helpful list on the Curious Travellers project website.
  3. For details of this sad incident and the subsequent trial, see my blog from last year, ‘Elizabeth Compton, her son, and a Huguenot’.
  4. Thomas Pennant, The Literary Life of the Late Thomas Pennant by himself (London, 1793, p. 1; for an explanation of this curious anachronism, do consult Charles W. J. Withers’s entry on Pennant in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online at < https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/21860 > , accessed 31 March 2018 (this requires access from a subscribing institution); in Withers’s words, this title: ‘hints at Pennant’s sense of humour. It is signed only by dotted lines to indicate the death of the author: it is for that reason that his History of the Parishes is signed ‘RESURGAM’, with its implication of literary resurrection.’
  5.  Willughby (or Willoughby), an early member of the Royal Society, was the lifelong friend and collaborator of John Ray. His Ornithology was published posthumously in 1678. Many references to his life, work, death in 1672, and subsequent posthumous publications may be found in the letters of Martin Lister; see Anna Marie Roos, The Correspondence of Dr. Martin Lister (1639–1712). Volume One: 1662–1677 (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

The Huguenot Jean Claude and book-burning by the ‘publique Hang-man’

Having been here, there, and everywhere in recent weeks (I’ll put out more posts shortly on the ‘there’ and the ‘everywhere’), I’m dreadfully behind at present with announcements of EMLO’s latest catalogues, for which apologies to all concerned. In the first instance, I’m acutely aware that publication of the inventory of the Huguenot refugee Jean Claude’s correspondence a full two-and-a-half weeks ago is still to be celebrated.

Despite experiencing intensifying persecution, Jean Claude (1619–1687) persisted in his attempts to explain and defend the Calvinist religion through the delivery of sermons, participation in disputations, and via the publication and circulation of learned treatises. Ever a defendant of Calvinist theology, Claude was reluctant to leave his native France, even to the extent of declining the offer of the chair in theology at the University of Groningen and preferring to remain at his church. The Frenchman fled finally to Dutch Republic only when, following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes on 22 October 1685, he was given just twenty-four hours to leave the country. Having worked ceaselessly for the Calvinist cause in Nîmes, Montauban, and — from 1666 — at the Huguenot temple at Charenton, the pastor headed north with his wife, Elisabeth, for a reunion in The Hague with their son Isaac, who had moved and settled in the city three years previously.

The inventory of Claude’s letters forms part of a converging cluster of Huguenot correspondence in EMLO that will increase significantly later this year. The correspondence has been calendared by Dr David van der Linden, a scholar based at the University of Groningen. Dr van der Linden has published extensively on Huguenots in the Dutch Republic (see Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700)1 and he is involved in a number of related research projects, including Divided by Memory: Coping with Religious Diversity ​in Post-Civil War France, 1598–1685 and the pioneering initiative Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered. The research team focussed on the latter is hard at work investigating, cataloguing, and describing the material features of the extraordinary and fascinating postal archive known as the Brienne Collection, which is now in the care of the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague.

Title-page of Jean Claude’s 1686 publication. (Source of image: Internet Archive)

Claude survived only for a year after his flight, despite the receipt of a pension from William of Orange and the States of Holland and his appointment to the position of historiographer. In these final months of his life, however, he was able to write and publish an account of the persecuted Huguenots, Les Plaintes des protestans cruellement opprimez dans le royaume de France (1686).2 Translated from French into English, both language versions were subjected soon after publication to an ordeal in London where, according to the diarist John Evelyn, at the order of James II:

‘This day [5 May 1686] was burnt, in the old Exchange, by the publique Hang-man, a booke (supposed to be written by the famous Monsieur Claude) relating the horrid massacres & barbarous proceedings of the Fr: King against his Protestant subjects, without any refutation, that might convince it of any thing false: so mighty a power & ascendent here, had the French Ambassador: doubtlesse in greate Indignation at the pious & truly generous Charity of all the Nation, for the reliefe of those miserable sufferers, who came over for shelter: About this time also, The Duke of Savoy, instigated by the Fr: King to exterpate the Protestants of Piemont, slew many thousands of those innocent people, so as there seemed to be a universal designe to destroy all that would not Masse it, thro out Europ, as they had power, quod avertat D.O.M.’3

I’ve included a link to Claude’s final work; it’s well worth the read.

  1. David van der Linden, Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700 (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2015).
  2.  Les Plaintes des protestans cruellement opprimez dans le royaume de France (Cologne: Pierre Marteau, 1686); available on open access on The Internet Archive.
  3. John Evelyn, The diary of John Evelyn, volume 4: 1673–1689, ed. E. S. de Beer (Oxford: OUP, 1955), pp. 501–11; available on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO), but requires access from a subscribing institution.

On ‘LIAS’, editions, and Elizabeth Elstob

On a day when I should have been in Manchester presenting a paper on Bodleian Student Editions at a workshop organized by the The Lives and Afterlives of Letters Network (but, due to widespread travel disruptions in England as winter extends its tentacles into spring, I am not), it seems a perfect moment to pause and reflect upon the serendipity and coincidence that have been at play within EMLO and at the Cultures of Knowledge project over the past week.

Detail from an initial with Elizabeth Elstob’s portrait, by Simon Gribelin taken from Elizabeth Elstob, ‘English-Saxon homily on the birth-day of St Gregory’ (London, 1709), p. 1. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

EMLO began by publishing just a week ago enhanced metadata for a small catalogue of the correspondence of Elizabeth Elstob. The manuscripts of this Anglo-Saxon scholar’s correspondence with the antiquarian George Ballard have been in the care of the Bodleian Libraries from the year following Ballard’s death in 1755, and the metadata for these letters have been tucked inside EMLO, courtesy of the Bodleian card catalogue, since 2010. However, Elstob’s letters to Ballard have been worked on more recently by the scholar Dr Dawn Hollis, who has generated transcriptions for the correspondence between the two friends, edited these texts, and published a ‘small’ edition in the Dutch journal LIAS.1

Lias: the Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources is a peer-reviewed publication which takes its name from the Dutch work for ‘file’; it is committed to publishing primary sources that relate to the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe. The journal was established to provide a platform for sources that are relatively short in length. And it is in the pages of this journal that Hollis’s edition of the Elstob-Ballard correspondence may be consulted, either by subscription or through the purchase of a single hard-copy issue; and should users be within a subscribing institution, links to the downloadable text are provided from each relevant letter record in EMLO. The journal’s editor-in-chief, Dirk van Miert, is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht, where he specializes in the history of knowledge. And it is the second time in as many weeks that I have been posting his name, for here lies one of this week’s many coincidences: eagle-eyes may have spotted that Professor van Miert has been in Oxford to present a paper at the Early Modern Intellectual History seminar organized by Dr Dmitri Levitin and Sir Noel Malcolm. Professor van Miert’s talk bore the riveting title ‘The “Hairy War” (1640–50) and the historicization of the Bible: the role of philology in a public debate on men wearing long hair in the Dutch Republic’, and post delivery (before he had been given so much as the opportunity to catch his breath, let alone check his own hair!), Professor van Miert was requisitioned for an ‘EMLO Gathering’ in the History Faculty in the form of a pop-up Q&A session (see my previous post) concerning his work as co-editor on The Correspondence of  Joseph Justus Scaliger, which was published by Librairie Droz, Geneva, in 2012.

Bodleian Student Editions students and EMLO Digital Fellows at the Q&A pop-up session with Dirk van Miert.

Here we encounter another coincidence: this pop-up Q&A session offered the opportunity to learn more about scholarly editing both to students who have signed up to the Bodleian Student Editions workshops and to EMLO’s loyal, hard-working Digital Fellows who help prepare epistolary metadata for upload into the union catalogue. Bodleian Student Editions, which began in 2016, built on the initiative EMLO had started the previous year with Oxford second-year undergraduates who were taking the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’ taught by Professor Giora Sternberg. These Further Subject undergraduates worked with a small sub-set of EMLO’s existing metadata contained within the Bodleian card catalogue: they checked and enhanced dates, authors, recipients, origins, destinations, and shelfmarks of letters (for, as we know all too well, this sizeable catalogue is not always as reliable as might be wished) and, as they studied the manuscripts in the Bodleian’s special collections, they created a number of transcriptions. Long-standing followers of this blog may recall some of the announcements of the resulting student-generated catalogues: one for Elizabeth Compton, for example, another for Sarah Chapone (who was, in turn, a good friend to Elizabeth Elstob). Now, this week, students have been in action again with Bodleian Student Editions and Thursday witnessed the concluding workshop for this Hilary term and the transcription of a third batch of Penelope Maitland’s letters to her friend Charlotte [née Perry] West. (Charlotte turned out to be the daughter of Sampson Perry, proprietor of the radical journal The Argus.) Once again, student editors continued throughout the day to capture metadata, transcribe text, and footnote the letters’ contents. This was just one of the aspects of the Bodleian Student Editions scheme I was due to speak about at the Manchester workshop, which had been conceived to explore various approaches to the editing of texts. Thankfully the workshop will not become a snow casualty and it is likely to be rescheduled for a date in May.

Thus a single week has produced a myriad of unexpected twists and, instead of travelling home from Manchester tonight, I am contemplating a remarkable plait of intertwined catalogues (each built upon the foundations of metadata taken from the Bodleian’s collections, and each contributing to the Early Modern Women’s Letters Online [WEMLO] cluster, something to be celebrated as we move towards 8 March and International Women’s Day). And of course, thanks to Professor van Miert, I am left pondering in addition the subject of hair!

Scholarly editing and digital analysis: Q&A breakfast

For students interested in early modern correspondence editions and/or the possibilities of digital analysis

Informal Q&A breakfast with Dirk van Miert (Utrecht University)1

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Gerry Martin Seminar Room, Faculty of History, George Street, University of Oxford

Coffee and croissants will be provided courtesy of Cultures of Knowledge


All welcome, but r.s.v.p. to Miranda Lewis, Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]: miranda.lewis@history.ox.ac.uk


  1. Dirk is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht where he specializes in the history of knowledge. He is co-editor of The Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger, 8 vols (Geneva: Droz, 2012) and director of the major new ERC-funded project ‘Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks – The Republic of Letters as a Pan-European Knowledge Society’ (SKILLNET). He tweets as @ERC_SKILLNET, and his lecture on digitizing letter catalogues in the Netherlands may be viewed here.

Thomas Hobbes: ‘my letter will haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse’

According to John Aubrey, Thomas Hobbes‘s mother went into labour in Malmesbury on Good Friday 1588 ‘upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards’ and thereupon gave birth to twins: the philosopher and fear.1 Despite this alleged inauspicious start, Hobbes, whose correspondence catalogue is the latest to be released in EMLO, lived for more than nine decades. His surviving letters, edited by Noel Malcolm and published in 1994 by Oxford University Press as volumes VI and VII within the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes,2 do not — as Malcolm points out — make up as large a corpus of correspondence as might be expected when compared to the numbers of letters left to historians by many of his contemporaries: the 211 letters brought together in these volumes have been supplemented by just a handful in the last two decades,3 and of this number approximately a third are by Hobbes himself.4 Yet gems aplenty are to be found within the correspondence, and users are encouraged either to take advantage of the subscriptions held by their institutional libraries to follow the links from each record in EMLO to the texts that are mounted in OSEO, or to locate the hard-copy volumes. The metadata for this correspondence were supplied to EMLO by Oxford Scholarly Editions Online [OSEO], and EMLO is delighted to be working increasingly in this phase of funding with OSEO to showcase the correspondences of such key figures as Philip Sidney (from Roger Kuin’s edition), Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (from Nadine Akkerman’s edition), and Elias Ashmole (with metadata teased by EMLO from C. H. Josten’s edition of Ashmole’s own Autobiographical and Historical Notes).

Much of Hobbes’s life is known from the compilation of biographical material provided by his friend Aubrey. The two men had a teacher in common:  the clergyman Richard Latimer (who, as vicar of Westport in Wiltshire, provided Hobbes with a grounding in Latin and Greek, and subsequently, some three decades later as rector of Leigh Delamere, played a key role in the early education of Aubrey). Malcolm points out in his entry on Hobbes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that this connection was one reason for the younger man’s interest in and friendship with the author of Leviathan.5 Hobbes’s surviving correspondence contributes significantly to what Aubrey was able to garner and, in addition to charting the epistolary conversations in which Hobbes was involved — including exchanges with Descartes courtesy of the agency of Mersenne — the letters offer invaluable insights into the philosopher’s personality.

In a letter to Gervase Clifton of 30 January 1635 Hobbes writes that his words will ‘haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse, wch shewes you not onely a towre afarre of in grosse, but also the battlements and windowes and other principall partes distinctly …’.6 Users will find they do indeed offer a lens onto the life and work of a man who, again to quote Malcolm, is acknowledged increasingly as ‘a philosopher whose importance extends far beyond the realm of political theory — someone whose work in theology, metaphysics, science, history, and psychology entitles him to be described as one of the true founders of modernity in Western culture.’7

  1.  John Aubrey, Brief lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, 2 vols (1898), p. 327. This reactionary birth seems a little early, even allowing for the difference in calendar date. Good Friday fell on 5/15 April that year; the Spanish fleet did not leave the port of Lisbon for another month.
  2.  The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm, 2 vols, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), vol. 1, 1622–1659, and vol. 2, 1660–1679.
  3. For which see Noel Malcolm and Mikko Tolonen, ‘The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes: Some New Items’, in The Historical Journal, 51, 2, (2008), pp. 481–95.
  4. For a discussion on and explain of this, including the possibility that Hobbes burnt many papers in his own hand, see Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. 1, ‘General Introduction’, esp. pp. xxi–xxvi.
  5. N. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-09-23).
  6. Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. i, letter 13, p. 25.
  7. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher’, ODNB.

Archbishop Ussher and a journey to Malta

At first glance, Valletta might not be where you would expect to stumble across one of Trinity College Dublin‘s greatest scholars. Yet this week, at the University of Malta’s Valletta campus, we are privileged indeed to encounter James Ussher, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh between 1625 and his death in 1656, together with records for the 681 letters that make up his surviving correspondence. The listing for his correspondence is the latest to be released into the EMLO union catalogue, and the reason the archbishop is in Malta could not be more apposite as this publication coincides with the convergence of large numbers of early modern scholars at the third and concluding conference arranged by the COST Reassembling the Republic of Letters Action.

Dr Boran preparing to launch her catalogue of James Ussher’s correspondence in EMLO at the University of Malta, Valletta, 31 January 2018. (Image courtesy of Arno Bosse)

James Ussher was a towering figure across Ireland, England, and Europe throughout the first half of the seventeenth century. His correspondence has been edited and published (Irish Manuscripts Commission [IMC], 2015) in an exemplary three volume edition by Dr Elizabethanne Boran — herself of TCD — who is Librarian of the Edward Worth Library and the scholar behind The Ussher Project. To quote Dr Boran, ‘Ussher’s correspondence reflects his political and ecclesiastical role as the head of the church in Ireland at a crucial time of forging its identity as a separate enclave from the Church of England while his scholarly network reveals his pivotal role in Irish, British and European intellectual life.’

Ussher’s correspondents are to be found the length and breadth of the continent, and he exchanged letters with a large number of the leading scholars of his age. It is entirely fitting that Ussher’s catalogue in EMLO should be launched at this conference with a wide range of European early modern scholars and digital technology specialists in attendance. Dr Boran chairs a working group within the Action entitled Documents and Collections which investigates how best to describe a shared data model that captures both common definitions of the genres of the letter and its physical features. The discussions and presentations at the conference focus on preparing the publication of a ‘blueprint’ for a radical open-access, open-source, transnational digital infrastructure which will be capable of enabling and supporting the multilateral collaboration required to reassemble the scattered documentation of the early modern communities that made up the ‘respublica literaria’.

Detail of a page from ‘Annales veteris testamenti’ (1650). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ussher, who contributed to the scholarly conversation of his age in no small measure with his 1650 publication Annales veteris testamenti, in which he published his calculation of the date of God’s creation of the universe (he placed it at 23 October 4004 B.C.), was a figure who transcended successfully significant religious divide: despite his English royalist allegiance, the archbishop was given a state funeral by Oliver Cromwell in London’s Westminster Abbey. To quote Dr Boran, Ussher  ‘might be appropriated by both royalist and parliamentarian, puritan and anglican. In the world of scholarship his identity was clearer: he was, in the words of John Selden, “learned to a miracle”.’ Enjoy his correspondence!


Intellectual communities and the global transfer of knowledge: applications invited for a summer school in Marbach

As institutions and academics projects announce details of this year’s educational schemes and courses, users of EMLO and followers of the research being conducted at Cultures of Knowledge may be interested to learn of a summer school that will focus upon republics ― note plural ― of letters both past and present as (to reuse an extract from the title of Anthony Grafton’s 2009 publication) ‘worlds made by words’.1 This summer school, A (New) Republic of Letters: Intellectual Communities, Global Knowledge Transfer, will be hosted by the German Literature Archive Marbach and will run between 29 July and 9 August.

Twenty international scholarships are available and doctoral students will be invited to explore and discuss the ‘phenomenon of the Republic of Letters, its historical and theoretical manifestations, and the terminological challenges it poses’. They will be encouraged to consider such questions as the aesthetic, political, and social conditions upon which networks for knowledge exchange are built; to ask what rules and customs those communicating with each other observe; as well as to explore the transformations these communities undergo, and determine terminology and methods that might be employed to describe today’s ‘literary and intellectual landscape on a transnational scale’ ― a landscape itself now termed a ‘New Republic of Letters’ .2 ‘The investigation into the structures of communication between intellectuals lies at the focus of the Summer School. Their exchange regarding scientific, political and social issues will be explored as it developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through letter exchanges, academic journals, periodicals, and the intellectual life in salons. The changes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by new inventions in technology and in the media will be an object of investigation, just as the introduction of the World Wide Web and its effect on academic collaboration and communication. The discussions thus address challenges research faces today by linking them back to our handling of digital storage of large volumes of data in academia.’3  Interested? This call will remain open until 28 February and further information, including details of how to apply, may be found here.

And whilst considering communities, knowledge, its transfer, and the symmetry of today’s scholars of intellectual history who with their own networks mirror those of their forebears, it is worth noting that members of the COST-funded action Reassembling the Republic of Letters are gathering next week at a conference ― Publishing the Digital Republic of Letters: Systems, standards, scholarship in the context of an enhanced publication ― in Valletta, Malta, to discuss how best to align current research, digital tools, and infrastructure. Should you be interested and not able to attend, it would be worth keeping an eye on the Action’s website and the updates that emerge as the scholars and technical experts within this community continue to explore the works and connections of their early modern counterparts. The Action’s publication, currently in preparation and the subject of focussed discussion in Valletta, will appear later in the year. Details (I’ve no doubt many) to follow …