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), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/14918.

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

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

Umberto Eco defined Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) as ‘the most contemporary among our ancestors, and the most outdated among our contemporaries’.1 Over the past hundred years, scholars from many fields have studied Kircher and his works in depth, making the Jesuit polymath one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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joachim Jungius and his ordering of knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications invited for doctoral studentship at the Sorbonne and Oxford

As part of an innovative collaboration between Oxford and the Sorbonne, here at EMLO we’re delighted to announce that applications for a three-year fully funded fellowship are being accepted currently from students wishing to pursue doctoral studies in the history of science, in mathematical sciences, in digital humanities, or in computer science. Details of the fellowship have been provided in both English and in French, and for further details please contact Alexandre Guilbaud at the Sorbonne (his email address may be found below). Should you choose to apply, good luck!

Call for applications:

The successful candidate’s PhD thesis will involve the scholarly study of correspondence networks from the perspective of both the history of sciences and the digital humanities. In particular, the student should consider how to structure a corpus made up of networks of interconnected correspondence data; the new research questions for the history of science that arise from such a corpus; the methodologies that can be put in place to answer these questions; and the extent to which the development of suitable digital analysis and research tools might contribute to the exploration of this type of corpus.

The doctoral fellowship is part of a scientific collaboration between the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Sorbonne University and the Faculty of History of the University of Oxford. The candidate will work in the Digital Humanities team at the Institut des sciences du calcul et des données (ISCD) of Sorbonne University (Paris, France) and will carry out a period of research at the University of Oxford (UK) within the framework of the Cultures of Knowledge research project/Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]. An association either with Oxford’s Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology or with the Mathematical Institute is possible during the stay.

The doctoral fellow will benefit from a three-year funding by the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Sorbonne University. The candidate must have a strong background in digital humanities, history of sciences, mathematics, or computer sciences. Competences in at least two of these fields will be particularly appreciated.

To apply, please send your c.v. and a description of your research project to: alexandre.guilbaud@sorbonne-universite.fr. You may also e-mail Alexandre at this address for further information regarding the fellowship.

La thèse proposée porte sur l’étude intellectuelle des réseaux de correspondances du double point de vue de l’histoire des sciences et des humanités numériques. Il s’agira en particulier de se demander comment structurer un corpus constitué de réseaux de données de correspondances interconnectées, quelles questions nouvelles un tel corpus permet de se poser en histoire des sciences, quelles méthodologies mettre en place pour y répondre, et dans quelle mesure le développement d’outils numériques d’analyse et de recherche adaptés peut permettre de contribuer à l’exploration de ce type de corpus.

Cette thèse fait l’objet d’une collaboration scientifique entre la Faculté des sciences et ingénierie de Sorbonne Université et l’équipe EMLO de l’Université d’Oxford. Le candidat travaillera dans l’équipe « Humanités numériques » de l’Institut des sciences du calcul et des données (ISCD) de Sorbonne Université (Paris, France) et effectuera un séjour de recherche à l’Université d’Oxford (UK) dans le cadre du projet de recherche Cultures of Knowledge/Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]. Une collaboration avec le Center for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology ou avec le Mathematical Institute d’Oxford sera possible durant ce séjour.

La thèse est financée pour trois ans par la Faculté des sciences et ingénierie de Sorbonne Université. Le candidat devra disposer d’une solide formation en humanités numériques, en histoire des sciences, en mathématiques ou en informatique. Une double compétence sera particulièrement appréciée.

Pour candidater, envoyez votre cv et le descriptif de votre projet de recherche à l’adresse alexandre.guilbaud@sorbonne-universite.fr. Vous pouvez également écrire à cette adresse pour tout complément d’information sur la thèse.

The Dutch Church in London

For those who have been waiting for the follow-up to last month’s post regarding work in EMLO on the correspondence from the archive of the Dutch Church in London, I’m delighted to announce that the update has been completed successfully.

A total of 1,511 letters from volume 3, part 1, of the meritorious edition published by John Henry Hessels is now in place in the union catalogue and metadata for this archive may be consulted.1 Former EMLO Digital Fellow Catherine Wright began work with this third volume, although the lion’s share of the work was carried out by her successor Karen Hollewand, an Oxford student who worked with EMLO whilst bringing her doctoral thesis on Hadriaan Beverland to a successful completion. As Karen has moved subsequently to the Netherlands to embark upon her post-doctoral career, we are looking for a student with a good working knowledge of Dutch to pick up where she left off and to begin work on volume three, part two (which contains letters from 23 June/3 July 1631 onwards). Should you be interested, please drop me a line.


Bird’s-eye view of Austin Friars, c. 1550, from the Copperplate Map of London. (source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

  1. J. H. Hessels, ed., Epistulae et Tractatus cum Reformationis tum Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Historiam Illustrantes: Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Tertii, pars prima, 1523–1631 (Cambridge, 1897).

John Collins, Paris, and a meeting of mathematicians

The English mathematician John Collins (1625–1683) did not travel to France during his lifetime. However, his correspondence catalogue in EMLO was one of a cluster showcased at a Summer School entitled Histoire des sciences mathématiques et approches numériques : matérialité des textes, réseaux, classifications that took place last week in Paris at the Jussieu campus of the Sorbonne Université. Organized by Catherine Goldstein (CNRS, IMJ-PRG), Jean-Gabriel Ganascia (UPMC, LIP6), Alexandre Guilbaud (UPMC, IMJ-PRG), Irène Passeron (CNRS, IMJ-PRG), and Richard Walter (CNRS, ITEM), the Summer School brought together from around the world mathematical historians and students to discuss and explore the opportunities offered today by a variety of digital approaches and tools. In the course of five intense days, the impact of these approaches on research methodologies and practices was assessed and considered, and questions were raised about both their advantages and their limitations.

With a plenary to deliver and a series of workshops to run in the course of the week, Philip Beeley, Charlotte Marique, and I ‘packed’ a variety of sample letters from the correspondences of early modern practitioners of mathematics, all of whom either have catalogues in EMLO or for whom we are in the process of preparing an epistolary inventory. Along with letters by John Collins, we took (in alphabetical order to avoid any excuse for dispute!) examples from the correspondences of René DescartesLeonhard Euler, Pierre Fermat (or Pierre de Fermat — the form of his name itself became a topic of discussion during the week), Joachim Jungius, Pietro Mengoli, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and John Wallis. Fractious, querulous travelling companions these early modern individuals would no doubt have been, and it proved a sustaining game to imagine who might be saying what as we made our way across the channel and back, through delays, rail strikes, football mania, and sweltering temperatures.

At the Summer School, we were treated to wide-ranging talks and workshop sessions on key aspects of mathematical history, digital approaches, and future possibilities. In addition to the detailed courses and discussions led by the organizers on materiality, networks, and classification, we attended a variety of inspirational lectures, including Milad Doueihi on ‘Computation and the Humanities: Past and Present’, and Charles van den Heuvel on ‘Paper Bulwarks and Digital Fortresses. Mixed Methods for analyzing the Duytsche Mathematique’. Workshops provided the students with an introduction to XML/TEI; to transcription tools; to the truly wonderful database, Manuscrits, Usages des Supports d’Ecriture [MUSE], conceived and constructed by Claire Bussaret and Serges Linkès to allow detailed material description (for example, of paper types, watermarks, and seals) to be recorded; and of course to our own EMLO and its array of metadata collation tools.

It was a privilege to receive an invitation to address the participants at this Summer School and to have been offered the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of future collaboration with esteemed colleagues in the history of mathematics. We will write here in due course of a number of the ideas and schemes considered. For the present, however, as we unpack teaching materials that include copies of the letters of our early modern travelling companions, we continue to play our own travelling game of ‘Fantasy Early Modern Comments’ (a fine alternative to Fantasy Football, I might add!) by imagining how EMLO’s mathematicians would have responded to this French excursion — travelling attire, wigs, heat, and all. While we have no doubt that Mr Collins would be pleased to see the inventory of his correspondence swell last week to 264 letter records as an installment of the correspondence in the care of the Library at the University of St Andrews was added, we suspect other members of our Oxford-London travelling party might not be so well disposed or compliant. If you feel to join our summer game, complaints (ascribed to early modern mathematician) by email, please.

Missing Dutch?

This is the briefest of posts to inform users of Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO] that the inventory of correspondence collated from the archive of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars (based on the three volumes published between 1887 and 1897 by John Henry Hessels, himself the subject of an earlier post) is offline temporarily while work is undertaken to prepare the addition of further data. We hope the catalogue will not be needed by any of EMLO’s users over the next two weeks but, should this be the case, please be in touch and we will arrange to provide metadata for the relevant letter records. Assuming all goes to plan (which — as anyone who works with databases will confirm — is never a given), the correspondence of the members of the Dutch church in London will appear back online for consultation in the union catalogue during the second half of July.

Edward VI granting John a Lasco permission to set up a congregation, attributed to Johann Valentin Haidt. Eighteenth century. (United Reformed Church History Society, Westminster College, Cambridge; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

A mathematical friendship: Leonhard Euler and Christian Goldbach

Leonhard Euler, by Jakob Emanuel Handmann. c. 1756. (Deutsches Museum, Munich; source of image, Wikimedia Commons).

It is a pleasure and privilege to announce publication in EMLO of the first instalment of the correspondence of Leonhard Euler (1707–1783). Working in partnership with scholars at the Bernoulli-Euler-Zentrum [BEZ] in Basel, EMLO has prepared and uploaded metadata for Euler’s correspondence with Christian Goldbach (1690–1764), an exchange that extends across almost four decades and reveals the depth of the long-standing friendship which developed between the two men. When Euler arrived at the Russian Academy of Sciences at the age of just twenty, the Academy’s president Goldbach offered advice and support, and in the fullness of time stood as godfather to the younger mathematician’s eldest son, Johann Albrecht Euler (1734–1800).

The volume from which this inventory is drawn, was published in 2015 by Springer as part of the series of Euler’s Opera Omnia.1 Edited by Franz Lemmermeyer and Martin Mattmüller, these letters — 198 in total, including two from young Johann Albrecht to his godfather — provide a fascinating overview of eighteenth-century number theory, its sources, and its repercussions, and they offer today’s historians a fascinating insight into scholarly circles in St Petersburg and Berlin in the middle of the eighteenth century.

As Martin Mattmüller explains in his introduction to EMLO’s catalogue, at the instigation of Ferdinand Rudio, then professor of mathematics at the Zürich Polytechnic, the Schweizerische Naturforschende Gesellschaft (now the Swiss Academy of Science [SCNAT]) set up a committee in 1907 — the Euler-Kommission — to plan, to fund, and to realize the ambitious undertaking of creating an edition of Euler’s collected works. In 1967, the spotlight widened from a focus on the mathematician’s published works to encompass Euler’s correspondence, the largest part of which is held today in the care of the Soviet Academy of Science, and a partnership was forged between the Swiss and Soviet Academies. Since 1980, six volumes of correspondence have appeared. In the course of this editorial work, new letters have been added and many corrections made to the initial inventory. The volume containing the exchange between Euler and Goldbach is the most recent in the series.

The records of the Euler-Goldbach letters in EMLO provide links to texts that have just been released the new virtual research environment platform (currently in beta) under development in Basel: Bernoulli-Euler Online [BEOL]. At present the the Euler-Kommission is working towards making available all of the printed and manuscript material in this web-based virtual research environment with the aim of ensuring that the task which the mathematical community undertook at the beginning of the twentieth century is brought to a conclusion for — in Martin Mattmüller’s words — the ‘benefit of twenty-first century mathematicians and historians of science as a monument to the lasting glory of Leonhard Euler’. Theirs is a laudable enterprise that holds right at its heart the aspirations of the international scholarly community. Metadata for further volumes will be uploaded into EMLO over the course of this year and, in the meantime, we invite you to follow these invaluable links and explore all that, even at this early stage, the Bernoulli-Euler Online platform has to offer.

  1. Commercium cum Christiano Goldbach / Correspondence with Christian Goldbach (2 parts), ed. Franz Lemmermeyer and Martin Mattmüller (Springer, 2015).

Pietro Mengoli, and clustering mathematical correspondence on quadratures

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

This week EMLO has published an inventory of the surviving letters of Pietro Mengoli (1625–1686), the Italian mathematician who — through his use of algebraic methods to develop further the indivisible method pioneered by his teacher Bonaventura Cavalieri (1598-1647) — made significant contributions to contemporary work on quadratures in the second half of the seventeenth century. Mengoli’s correspondence was published in an immaculate volume (edited by G. Baroncini and M. Cavazza, 1986) by the esteemed publishing house Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki, and the inventory  was compiled from this edition by a former EMLO intern, Dr Francesca Giuliano, who was in Oxford while working on her doctoral dissertation on Thomas Hobbes.

In the coming weeks and months, keep an eye on EMLO’s cluster of mathematicians as some fascinating correspondences are due to enter the union catalogue and intriguing conversations taking place within these letters will rise to the fore.

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).