Project update! New letters, new people, new approaches

It’s been a hugely busy and very productive year thus far in the C of K office, and as I sit indoors with the early June sun rising outside it seems high time to offer the world a brief project update on our work to date.

New datasets

Get_Involved_DarkerBeneath the calm exterior of our EMLO Beta, we’re beavering away at creating some fantastic new datasets and we’ll be publishing the correspondences of many early modern ‘thinkers and doers’ later in the year. Some of these will be enhanced with transcriptions, translations and images; some will link to these kinds of external resources; and some focus purely on the metadata and our core remit as catalogue.

Our partners and data contributors are of central importance at Cultures of Knowledge: we are a resource as much for them as for those who search our catalogues. We see EMLO not as a possessive entity but rather as an open platform that scholars, research projects, archives, and libraries can use to collate, store, and publish (and eventually analyse and visualise) their epistolary data. So, before we start moving new correspondences through to the public, as part of front-end development work scheduled over the summer, we are putting in place detailed catalogue pages that provide context and full accreditation to the contributors. If you use EMLO and have suggestions regarding the design or functionality of our user interface, we’re always eager to hear from you. In the meantime, a cast of philosophers, scholars, scientists, and writers wait in the wings and we hope you’ll be as excited as we are when they move centre stage!


For those who aren’t so familiar with C of K, some background will help explain who we are, what we’re doing, and why. In our ‘Phase I’ (2009–2012) we began as a more traditional editorial project, focused on the correspondences of four prominent early Fellows of the Royal Society — John Aubrey, Edward Lhwyd, Martin Lister, and John Wallis – together with the correspondences of the German-born but England-based intelligencer Samuel Hartlib and the Moravian pedagogue and pansophist Jan Amos Comenius, whose life was effected so dramatically by the European political events of the period. Appended to this strand was a digital experiment: the combination of the calendars of these six intensively researched correspondences with the digitisation of the Bodleian’s ‘Index of Literary Correspondence’ card catalogue to create the nucleus of a union catalogue of seventeenth-century learned correspondence.

EMLO_Logo_MediumFor ‘Phase II’ (2013-14) not only has this union catalogue become the core of our work, but our aspirations for it have evolved from discrete finding-aid to collaboratively populated resource and collaboratively developed tool. The ultimate goal for our project now is to create a platform for radically multilateral scholarly collaboration — a ‘scholarly social machine’ — that will furnish an entire community of scholars and repositories with the means of piecing back together the millions of scholarly letters scattered across and beyond the continent of Europe.[1] Once developed for such a purpose, this technology can be applied to earlier and later periods, to other themes, and to other forms of documentation.

We are of course at the beginning of our journey and currently we’re marrying big ideas and exciting possibilities with the hard graft of day-to-day editorial and technical work. The epistolary target for Phase II is to create what amounts to a more representative collection of early modern scholarly correspondence — we’ll be about 30,000 letters closer to that goal when we publish the datasets that we’ve worked up so far and, of course, we’re so pleased to be able to tell you that there are thousands more underway.


One of our data entry tools, EMLO-Collect, with every field a letter could ever need!

If you have a corpus of early modern learned correspondence and would like to discuss getting involved, we would love to hear from you. We’re working with libraries, projects, and scholars worldwide to provide a central outlet for their material, with links to their own resources and full accreditation in place. The material may come to us in any number of forms, ranging from private scholarly database or working spreadsheet to fully archived collections. We hope you’ll be excited to see our first releases and, in the meantime, will bear in mind that EMLO as you see it now is in Beta and will be updated in both content and design later this year.



Sneak peak at a new addition to our editorial set: interactive data entry tool with live typeahead.

All this careful editorial work has been made possible by our expanding core team at C of K. Hilary term was an especially busy one for the project: Dr Mark Thakkar joined us in February as part-time digital editorial assistant, working with our editor Miranda Lewis and a growing team of Digital Fellows, to ingest new datasets into EMLO. This work was assisted by our very first intern, Charlotte Marique, who has combined work at EMLO with her own research. She returned last week to her alma mater, the Université de Liège, where she is an associate of the EpistolART project and is about to begin her doctoral work on the sixteenth-century Italian sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. Charlotte will be sorely missed and we thank her for all her hard work! We were joined also by a visiting scholar, Valentin Wendebourg, and by Dr Robin Buning, our wonderful Hartlib fellow, who is based at Huygens ING at The Hague but spent a happy month with us earlier this spring.


PeopleAnother key aspect of Cultures of Knowledge Phase II is our prosopography pilot project. We had our first prosopography team workshop in February: our Comenius fellow Dr Iva Lelkova and our Hartlib fellow Dr Robin Buning travelled over to spend an intensive day battling out the intricacies of the prosopographical data model. Editor, technologist, and prosopographer chewed over the issues together, creating the groundwork for our detailed PROV-Ontology data model. This is to be followed with a second workshop in August to finalise EMLO’s prosopographical tools and front-end display, and the data-model itself will in turn be made available to scholars (and discussed later in more detail here).

We are currently in discussion with our partners and are scoping our options regarding the visualisation side to this work. Speaking on prosopography and visualisation at the excellent Mapping the British Book Trades workshop a couple of weeks ago, I opined that the most important things regarding visualisation are to make sure the data is ready for it, to ensure that it is well informed by scholarly questions, and is done for a specific reason and with an aim. Regarding our visualisation agenda for the epistolary side of things, our data is growing, and we hope to update you with our plans soon. Regarding the prosopographical visualisation agenda, we are busy preparing the ground, working towards highly specific visualisation goals and are particularly excited about our longer-term visualisation options for this pioneering work!

That’s all for now, except to say that we have (even more!) exciting things in the pipeline which, in the interests of blogging concision, we’ll share in proper detail next time…

[1] The quotation is taken from an excellent talk by one of our Steering Committee members, Professor David de Roure.