Cultures of Knowledge: An Intellectual Geography of the Seventeenth-Century Republic Letters

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. James Brown

    Oxford University

  2. 2. Howard Hotson

    Oxford University

  3. 3. Neil Jefferies

    Oxford University

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Cultures of Knowledge: An
Intellectual Geography of
the Seventeenth-Century
Republic Letters
Brown, James
University of Oxford, UK
Hotson, Howard
University of Oxford, UK
Jefferies, Neil
University of Oxford, UK
This combined poster and software
demonstration will introduce ‘Cultures of
Knowledge: An Intellectual Geography of
the Seventeenth-Century Republic Letters’,
launched in January 2009, and based in
the Humanities Division of the University of
Oxford with funding from the Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation. Comprising a diverse group
of academics and technical experts from the
Faculties of History, English, Theology, and
Bodleian Libraries, as well as from partner
institutions in Britain and east-central Europe,
the Project is seeking to reconstruct the
correspondence networks that were central to
the revolutionary intellectual developments of
the seventeenth century. One group is working
to catalogue, edit, and preserve the rich archives
of scientific correspondence deposited in the
Bodleian Library. Another is working with
colleagues in Sheffield, Prague, Cracow, and
Budapest to enhance and link letter collections
elsewhere. Finally, a third group, based in
the Systems and e-Research Service (SERS)
of Bodleian Libraries, is developing a digital
system capable of organising metadata on these
materials into an online union catalogue of
intellectual correspondence. It is this central
feature of our collaboration that we wish to share
at DH2010.
While meticulously edited and annotated
hard copy editions of finite corpora
remain indispensable, the intellectual and
methodological imperatives for looking
beyond traditional modes of publication are
overwhelming in the context of the Republic of
Letters. No correspondence is an island unto
itself. On the contrary, every single letter links
at least two different correspondence networks:
that of its sender, and that of its recipient. Many
seventeenth-century letters passed through
multiple hands, either because they were written
by or addressed to more than one person,
because they passed through intermediaries,
or because they were (re)circulated through
broader circles of friends and associates after
receipt. Moreover, the provision of increasingly
frequent, fast, and inexpensive postal services
– what has been described as the early modern
European ‘media revolution’ – meant that these
systems of connections extended over enormous
distances. Traditional editions of letters to and
from single eminent individuals fail to capture
the multilateral, spatially-dispersed character of
early modern epistolary cultures, and additional
tools are needed in mapping the broader
networks which surrounded these canonical
figures (networks which are becoming central
to research in the history of science and related
To this end, capitalizing on the unprecedented
opportunities created by ‘digital revolution’ of
recent decades, we are proposing to create
the nucleus of a web-mounted union catalogue
of seventeenth-century correspondence which,
for the first time, will provide scholars with
a means of navigating the vast, uncharted
sea of correspondence that surrounded
the comparatively well-surveyed islands of
seventeenth-century intellectuals. In its first
phase, it will combine three large datasets
generated by the Project or already hosted by the
Bodleian Library, namely: a digitized version of
the existing Bodleian catalogue of seventeenth-
century manuscript correspondence (c.26,000
letters); digital calendars of six discrete
correspondences generated by our individual
research projects (cataloguing the letters
of John Aubrey, Jan Amos Comenius,
Samuel Hartlib, Edward Lhwyd, Martin
Lister, and John Wallis [c.10,000 letters]);
and metadata from the seventeenth-century
correspondence already included in the
Electronic Enlightenment (c.7,000 letters).
This will result in an integrated database of
over 40,000 letters which will provide both a
platform for our own future efforts in the field
and, it is hoped, a critical mass of material

necessary to attract further contributions from
The poster will outline the technological
as well as the conceptual underpinnings of
this enterprise. We will describe the system
architecture of the union catalogue, the
Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), an
innovative platform developed to support digital
library projects within the University of Oxford.
The DAMS, based on Fedora software, provides
a robust and flexible mechanism for the storage
of digital objects within an RDF/semantic
web framework. Predicated upon adaptability,
scalability, interoperability, and long-term
preservation, the system is particularly suitable
for our purposes. It allows content to be
openly accessible to, and available for reuse by,
a geographically dispersed scholarly network;
will enable us to share data with electronic
repositories elsewhere (and vice versa); and will
ensure that the union catalogue will remain
accessible to international research long beyond
the lifecycle of our original grant. We will
also describe the metadata standards by which
individual correspondences will be styled as
Fedora objects within the system, the RDF
ontologies by which they will be related, and the
software for web-based record editing, as well
as data collection and import, which has been
developed especially for the Project. During
the poster session itself we will provide a live
demonstration of a pilot implementation of
the union catalogue. This will showcase its
key features (full-text faceted search engine;
predefined browsable views; links to select
transcriptions and digital images; look-and-
feel), as well as the interface for online editing
that will allow individual records to be amended,
and new records added, by a widely distributed
community of academic contributors.
Key Contacts
Professor Howard Hotson (Project Director):
Neil Jefferies (R&D Manager, SERS):
Ben O’Steen (DAMS Architect, SERS):
Sue Burgess (Project Systems Developer, SERS):
Dr James Brown (Project Coordinator):
Further Information
More bibliography at
Awre, Chris, Swan, Alma
. 'Linking
Repositories: Scoping the Development of
Cross-Institutional User-Oriented Services'.
OCLC Systems & Services: International
Digital Library Perspectives.
23 (2007)
: 372–
Berkvens-Stevelinck, Christiane, Bots,
Hans, Haeseler, Jens (eds.)
Les grands intermédiaires culturels de la
République des Lettres: Etudes de réseaux de
correspondances du XVIe au XVIIIe siècles.
Muchembled, David, Bethencourt,
Francisco, Egmond, Florike (eds.)
'Cultural Exchanges in Early Modern Europe'.
Correspondence and Cultural Exchange in
Europe, 1400–1700.
Cambridge. 3 vols.
Bots, Hans, Waquet, Françoise (eds.)
Commercium litterarium, 1600–1750.
La communication dans la République des
lettres/Forms of Communication in the
Republic of Letters.
Davies, John, Fensel, Dieter, van
Harmelen, Frank
Towards the
Semantic Web: Ontology-Driven Knowledge
Hoboken, NJ.
Grafton, Anthony
Worlds Made by
Words: Scholarship and Community in the
Modern West.
Cambridge, MA.
Jaumann, Herbert (ed.)
europäische Gelehrtenrepublik im Zeitalter des
Nichols, Stepphen
. 'Time to Change our
Thinking: Dismantling the Silo Model of Digital

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None