Author Archives: Howard Hotson

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘All Change! All Change!’


‘Old Maude’, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s mallet locomotive. Postcard, c.1900–06.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Most of her friends would probably agree: Lizzy Williamson does not look like a locomotive. Yet in reviewing the year and a half in which CofK’s Digital Project Manager pulled this weighty, complicated, and sometimes troublesome project forward with steadily increasing velocity through sheer force of will, this is the image which comes irresistibly to mind. Or at least it would be irresistible if locomotives were capable also of moving trains on multiple tracks simultaneously, of re-engineering their rolling stock while continuing to build up speed, and of decoupling themselves and racing round a few countries at the pace of a TGV before returning to their main task before it had lost an ounce of momentum.

lizzyFor those readers who can scarcely imagine Cultures of Knowledge without Lizzy in the driver’s seat, it is my sorrowful duty to confirm the implication of this opening paragraph: yes, our friend and colleague, Lizzy Williamson, has headed west for a life in the New World. Oxford to Baltimore is a difficult commute and so, armed with her green card, Lizzy has taken the decision to move continents and to settle with her husband in Maryland.

At moments such as these, CofK’s Director should pause and take stock of where the Project is now and how it could possibly have got here without the assistance of such gifted and devoted collaborators. Lizzy joined us just five months into our second phase of funding when Cultures of Knowledge was coming to grips with major technical challenges. EMLO was emerging from the Project’s first phase with its in-depth focus on six pilot correspondences; we needed to re-engineer our self-contained union catalogue to enable it to incorporate metadata from a wide range of partners, from independent scholars to scholarly projects, from publishers of digital and hard-copy editions alike to compilers of repository catalogues. Lizzy came on board at this pivotal moment and in the twenty months during which we have been fortunate to have her working with us, EMLO has been substantially re-engineered, relaunched with a new-look user interface, begun a phase of rapid and sustained growth, and found itself at the centre of exciting discussions about ambitious future developments in a COST network involving over thirty countries.

This remarkable transition has been made possible in no small measure by Lizzy’s extraordinary combination of passion for the project and coolness in the face of adversity, and of a chameleonic capacity to reinvent herself as constantly evolving demands require, together with constancy of underlying purpose. Lizzy’s contribution to setting the stage for the project’s third and most expansive phase has been immense, and our gratitude for her foundational contribution has only been increased by the assistance she has continued to give in recent weeks as we transition into a new era in the history of the project.

Thankfully, the sorrow felt among Project staff as Lizzy departs has also been countered by our excitement at the arrival of her successor as Digital Project Manager, Arno Bosse. arnoOnce again, CofK seems to have attracted just the person it needs to confront a new set of challenges. For six years before his recent period as Digital Humanities Research Associate in the Research and Development Department of Göttingen State and University Library, Arno was Director of Technology in the Humanities Division at the University of Chicago. Only a few weeks into his new post and it is already crystal clear that the wealth of experience obtained in these roles equips him admirably for confronting the unprecedented technical challenges of growing EMLO into a collaboratively designed, built, and populated resource.

Of course there can be no delay on our CofK train, coupled as it is with the rapidly evolving COST Action and, as we pass through this particular station, we have a few further changes to announce. Our trusty Project Administrator, Emma Curran, has alighted in order to focus on a single part-time job while she brings her PhD to completion, and our admirably efficient inaugural COST administrator, Briony Truscott — although thankfully not leaving the History Faculty — is handing over to a new colleague, Dobrochna Futro, dobwho joins us to combine the dual roles of CofK and COST Administrators. With significant experience in event management and administration, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate that Dobrochna has settled into her crucial seat to enable this invaluable link between the two projects to be created. It may be ‘All Change’ at present the length of the train, but our long term destination remains steadfast ahead, and we would like once again to thank all past and present staff for travelling with us down this particular track.

Robin Buning Joins Cultures of Knowledge as Hartlib Research Fellow

We are delighted to report that, from 1 December 2013, Robin Buning will be joining Cultures of Knowledge as a Research Fellow, working on the detailed reconstruction of the epistolary community of Samuel Hartlib (c.1600-1662). Robin’s work on this celebrated network will continue a long-standing collective effort, advanced most recently by Dr Leigh Penman during his fellowship within Cultures of Knowledge between 2009 and 2011.

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James Brown Bids Farewell to Cultures of Knowledge

It is with mixed feelings that I announce the most significant alteration in the five-year history of the Cultures of Knowledge project office. As of last week, our incomparable Digital Project Manager and long-time friend and colleague, Dr James Brown, has been reclaimed by his first love: the world of alehouses, taverns, and drink.

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Lizzy Williamson Joins Cultures of Knowledge as Digital Project Manager

We are delighted to announce that, from 1 October 2013, Dr Elizabeth Williamson will be joining Cultures of Knowledge as our brand new Digital Project Manager, overseeing all aspects of our activities on a day-to-day basis, with particular reference to the ongoing development and population of Early Modern Letters Online. She succeeds Dr James Brown, who after four years with us will be taking up a research post at the University of Sheffield on the new AHRC/ESRC project Intoxicants and Early Modernity: England, 1570-1740.

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