Jan Amos Comenius


Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670) was a Moravian pedagogue and pansophist who provided the inspiration for much of the activity of Hartlib and his circle. A pioneering educational theorist, a visionary utopian reformer, the last bishop of the Czech Unity of Brethren, and a witness to the devastating impact of the Bohemian revolt of 1618–20 on the Protestant communities of his homeland, Comenius is also a man whose itinerant career as a refugee intellectual took him through most of the Protestant world: from his native Moravia, through Bohemia, Silesia, Germany, Poland, Prussia, Hungary, Transylvania, Sweden, England, and the Dutch Republic.

Like Hartlib, Comenius spent his adult life wandering across the face of Europe and twice saw his personal papers destroyed. These same wanderings established contacts and dispersed correspondence everywhere: letters to or from Comenius have been located in some thirty-six libraries and archives across thirty-two European cities. He was also one of Hartlib’s most important voluminous correspondents: almost one third of his individual (as opposed to collective) correspondents are also shared with Hartlib. The Comenius catalogue, which currently consists of 567 records, 416 with images, is one of the richest in EMLO. Dr Vladimir Urbanek, a key partner on Comenius through both phases of the project, has also compiled a thorough bibliography of printed editions on this dispersed collection, located on the Phase I archived site.

The rationale for focusing on the Hartlib circle is that its very size and complexity confront scholars and systems developers with most of the problems which are likely to be encountered by other researchers in this field. The corresponding problem of this dataset is precisely that it is too huge and complex to be able to deal with all of these problems comprehensively. We need, therefore, to match work on Hartlib’s correspondence with complementary work on an overlapping dataset with similar prosopogaphical, geographical, and chronological range and complexity, but on a much smaller scale. The Comenius correspondence fits this criteria nicely. Moreover, the Czech group working on this corpus can also provide invaluable assistance in refining the prosopographies of Hartlib’s 30+correspondents from east-central Europe (specifically from Moravia, Bohemia, Silesia, and Poland). Parallel work on these two overlapping prosopographies will therefore prove mutually beneficial.