Monthly Archives: March 2016

A glimpse back to our beginnings: Johann Heinrich Bisterfeld

In the early stages of the Cultures of Knowledge project, those precursory days in which workshops, seminars, and conferences were scheduled, when hard-copy editions were still the primary concern, and when Early Modern Letters Online as we know it now was no more than a glimmer in a number of professorial eyes, a handful of scholars were quick to spot the potential of the journey upon which we were embarking. And, of these, Dr Noémi Viskolcz, the scholar behind EMLO’s latest catalogue to be published — that of the correspondence of Johann Heinrich Bisterfeld — was the first. As our project director, Professor Howard Hotson, recalls, ‘It was in the very first month, at the very first workshop, which was held in Prague in January 2009, that Noémi asked if we’d like to include her metadata for the correspondences of Permeier and Bisterfeld’.

Today we welcome the second of Dr Viskolcz’s catalogues into EMLO. Bisterfeld, described recently by Professor Hotson as ‘truly treasured by those who know him’, was based from the age of twenty-four in Alba Iulia [Gyulafehérvár], then the capital of the Principality of Transylvania and the city to which he had travelled from Herborn in 1629 at the invitation of Gábor Bethlen, prince of Transylvania. Having completed this arduous journey (some one-and-a-half thousand kilometres) in the company of both Philipp Ludwig Piscator and his own father-in-law and former teacher Johann Heinrich Alsted, Bisterfeld remained in Alba Iulia for the rest of his life. As a professor at the city’s new Academia, he continued to exchange letters, however, with a number of scholars and members of learned circles across Western Europe. His correspondence provides an invaluable addition to EMLO, where it will be joined later this year by catalogues for, amongst others, Alsted.

We are delighted to announce simultaneously that it is possible now to search for catalogues within EMLO by contributor, whether an individual scholar, a correspondence project, a publisher, or a library. We hope this index will provide a sense of the broad range and scholarly expertise of the growing body of contributors working now with EMLO, as well as a means of checking quickly the origin of each catalogue’s metadata. It seems fitting at this stage of our history to reflect upon the origins of EMLO’s burgeoning catalogues, and we would like to thank those who, from the earliest days of Cultures of Knowledge, have followed the example of Dr Viskolcz with contributions of metadata. Of course, with each calendar of correspondence published in the union catalogue, our twenty-first century hopes for the early modern networks that stretched across the face of Europe and beyond become increasingly less of an aspirational dream and more an achievable reality. Coincidentally, this week also sees publication of an article by Howard Hotson in the Intellectual History Review. Entitled ‘Highways of light to the invisible college: linking data on seventeenth-century intellectual diasporas’, the article contains a discussion of Culture of Knowledge, of EMLO, and of the Reassembling the Republic of Letters COST Action, as well as the possibilities that lie ahead, all seen through the lens of the audacious pansophic enterprises of Comenius and Hartlib, who have provided one focus of attention for the scholarly dimension of the project since those first days in Prague. Who would not be excited about a virtual platform that, as Howard explains, could see ‘transnational and interdisciplinary scholarly communities capable of comprehending the communication revolution of the early modern period in ways virtually unimaginable during the age of print’? Happy Easter reading!

Detail from ‘Portrait of Monsignor Agucchi’, by Annibale Carracci. 1603–04. Oil on canvas, overall dimensions 60.3 by 46.3cm. (York Art Gallery, accession number 787; reproduced by kind permission of York Museums Trust [York Art Gallery] and used as the logo for the Cultures of Knowledge project).

Sarah Chapone: ‘the ‘championess’ and a student’s work in EMLO

'Pamela teaching her children' (see volume four of Samuel Richardson's 'Pamela'), by Joseph Highmore. 1743–5. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Pamela teaching her children’ (see volume four of Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’), by Joseph Highmore. 1743–5. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Our most recent publication in EMLO is a pioneer of a catalogue. Numbering just thirty records, it is based on metadata that came into the union catalogue in 2010 with one of the inaugural collections and, in the course of the current academic term, this interesting sub-set has been ‘ring-fenced’ for the purposes of teaching and is being released now as a discrete and enriched student-curated catalogue — a first for EMLO.

The cataloguing work that has been carried out on these letters was overseen by Oxford’s Professor Giora Sternberg as part of the undergraduate Further Subject ‘Writing in the Early Modern Period, 1550–1750’. In place of a weekly essay, history student James Harrison selected and worked on this small correspondence that resided already within EMLO as part of the Bodleian card catalogue. The manuscript letters may be found in the Ballard Collection and make up the Bodleian’s portion of the surviving correspondence of Sarah Chapone (1699–1764). It is hoped that similar work in future with and through EMLO will enable students to benefit from invaluable first hand-experience of study with manuscript letters; to engage with and to explore the new research possibilities which emerge as a result; and to learn about the union catalogue of correspondence and related digital projects.

The early modern individual selected on this inaugural occasion, Sarah Chapone, is an interesting figure. A teacher herself, she and her husband, the Reverend John Chapone (d. 1759), ran a boarding school during the first years of their marriage before financial difficulties forced it to close. Sarah was quite the pioneer. Credited widely as author of The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives (published anonymously in May 1735), she provided an analysis of female subjection and she represents an intriguing link, via Elizabeth Elstob, between the work of the feminist writer Mary Astell (d. 1731) and younger writers of the the Bluestocking circle, in particular her own daughter-in-law, Hester Chapone (1727–1801). An able and diligent student, James spent his week at the archival coalface — sleeves rolled up in the Special Collections at the Bodleian‘s new Weston Library — checking and correcting the card catalogue’s original metadata, recording the paper size, adding and researching the individual people mentioned in the texts, and generating a number of transcriptions, all of which may be found now in Chapone’s catalogue. We hope very much that this will be the first of many such student-curated catalogues, and that metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue will be worked on and augmented in this way. At EMLO we are committed to working with and supporting students at all levels and, should you as a university lecturer or as a student, have suggestions regarding ways such enhancements to our metadata may be made, please be in touch — you will find us more than happy to engage and assist.