Monthly Archives: January 2017

Epistolary connections: Matthias Bernegger

When the nineteen-year-old Austrian-born Matthias Bernegger embarked upon his studies in Strasbourg, he developed a particular interest in astronomy and mathematics. Shortly thereafter, he entered into correspondence with two of the leading astronomers of the age: Johannes Kepler and Wilhelm Schickard. Both relationships were to prove enduring and they were developed and maintained for the rest of the older astronomers’ lives and may be charted from the calendar published this week in EMLO, which is based upon Bernegger’s letters that have been published in epistolaries.

Against a backdrop of war and ubiquitous plague, Bernegger played a significant role in the lives of a number of members of Kepler’s family. On 12 March 1630, Kepler’s daughter Susanna married Jacob Bartsch, a young mathematical scholar who worked for her father as an assistant. Kepler had decided that the wedding should take place in Strasbourg but was unable to make the journey from Żagań [Sagan] himself, partly because of the distance (according to Google maps, this is 717km. mapwalking pretty much as the crow flies) and his age (he was approaching sixty), and in part because his second wife, Susanna Reuttinger, was heavily pregnant (their youngest child, Anna Maria was born just one month later). Kepler wrote to ask Bernegger, who had helped introduce the couple, to deputize on his behalf, and Bernegger replied with accounts of the wedding. At this point, Kepler had only a few months left to live. Bernegger continued as professor and rector at Strasbourg for the final decade of his life, before dying there on 5 February 1640. Bartsch, the bridegroom at the Strasbourg wedding, edited and published his father-in-law’s Somnium, but is thought only to have lived for a further three years before succumbing to plague.

Of course, the more connections that are made in EMLO, the more overlaps occur with the same letter appearing in more than one catalogue. I had a wonderful couple of weeks just before Christmas working with an extremely talented developer, Journi Tuominen, from Aalto University, to scope out and pilot a powerful tool that will search across a range of metadata fields in EMLO to suggest matches that, if confirmed, will allow links to be set in place to identify and tag contributions by multiple scholars as different interpretations of the same letter. Jouni will be back in Oxford next month, at work once again on this tool, so watch this space; the various levels on which connections in EMLO may be made are increasing apace.

New year, new letters, new collaborations

EMLO_front_2017.1.20Of course eagle-eyed users will have spotted already significant new-year additions to existing catalogues in EMLO: as of this week, the calendar of Henry Oldenburg’s correspondence extends to the end of July 1675 (with only two more of the Halls’ volumes to go, and just over two-years’ worth of letters to take the calendar to completion, we’re looking forward to celebrating Oldenburg and his correspondence later this year); Pierre Bayle’s correspondence in EMLO has been augmented with volumes eight and nine of the Voltaire Foundation’s truly magnificent Correspondance de Pierre Bayle, compiled and edited under the direction of †Elisabeth Labrousse and Professor Antony McKenna; and, thanks to the wonderful collaboration between Professor Adam Mosley and Dr Francesco Barrecca, Johannes Kepler’s catalogue now includes metadata from the letters in volume XVI of Max Caspar’s Gesammelte Werk.

And then followers of Twitter may have realised we’ve been equally busy shaping collaborations for the years ahead. Last week we hosted here at Oxford’s Faculty of History a workshop for a group of eleven volunteers from Huygens ING which, under the direction of project leader and researcher Dr Ineke Huysman, is embarking upon the collation of a calendar for Dutch Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt’s extremely large correspondence. Whilst primarily diplomatic and administrative in their subject matter, these letters include also De Witt’s exchanges with a number of scholars as well as his personal correspondence. With political and economic complications intensifying these days at every turn, we are immensely proud and fortunate to be involved in so many early modern pan-European collaborations. Surely the intelligencers Oldenburg and Bayle would have been supportive of what we’re working so hard to achieve with EMLO, and both our own Andrew W. Mellon-funded Culture of Knowledge project and the pioneering COST Action Reassembling the Republic of Letters, also headed by our CofK project director Professor Howard Hotson, have a more crucial role to play in today’s world of change than we could possibly have envisaged a couple of years ago.