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Cultures of Knowledge Receives Further Grant

We are delighted to report that Cultures of Knowledge has been awarded a further grant of $758,000 from the Scholarly Communications and Information Technology program of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for the period from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2014.

While our existing formula of scholarly projects, events, and digital infrastructure will be retained, the centrepiece of our work will now become the further development of our union catalogue of learned correspondence, Early Modern Letters Online:

  • One task will be to collaborate with a large number of individuals, projects, and repositories beyond Oxford to add significant quantities of new epistolary metadata to EMLO, thereby developing it into an increasingly representative catalogue of the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters.
  • A second focus of activity, pursued in partnership with colleagues in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, will be the addition of exciting new features to both the editorial toolset and the discovery interface, designed to transform the catalogue from a finding aid into a genuine tool of research and analysis.
  • A focused programme of onboard scholarly projects and events will serve to inform this further phase of systems development, so that it produces editorial and analytical tools closely tailored to the needs of the community of scholars and repositories most engaged in the preservation and study of the epistolary remains of the early modern period.

As we transition to this new phase of activities over the coming months, we will publish these plans in more detail here on the Project website. To receive news of upcoming events and fresh opportunities for collaboration in the meantime, please join the mailing list.

We are extremely grateful to the Trustees of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their ongoing support of our activities, and particularly to the Scholarly Communications team for their expert oversight of our Project and its follow-on application.

Communities of Knowledge: Booking Now Open!

Online booking is now open for Communities of Knowledge: Epistolary Cultures in the Early Modern World, the third and final Project conference, which will take place in the English Faculty, Oxford, on 20-22 September 2012. Organised by Rhodri Lewis and Noel Malcolm, the event brings together seventeen leading authorities to explore and celebrate the ways in which intellectual interests and activities of all kinds were pursued and propagated through correspondence during the long seventeenth century. For provisional programme information, a steadily growing lists of speaker profiles and abstracts, and to book online, please visit the conference website. The deadline for registrations is Friday, 7 September 2012.

Article: Metadata, Data, and Linked Data

Following on from our participation in a Wikimedia-sponsored data workshop back in April, our technical director Neil Jefferies has published an excellent opinion piece on Representing Knowledge: Metadata, Data, and Linked Data in the latest issue of The Signpost, the community-edited newspaper covering Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. Neil draws on his extensive experience of knowledge management in both the commercial and academic library sectors to make a convincing case for flexible and non-prescriptive data models. Go read it!

Wikimedia Workshop: Visualizing Data Resources

While Anna Marie was weaving animal magic at the Royal Society, our Technical Director Neil Jefferies and I were headed to the Forzhungszentrum Gotha of the University of Erfurt for an invited workshop on ‘Visualizing Data Resources: The Potential of  a Wikimedia Platform for the Digital Humanities’ (27–28 April 2012). Expertly organised by Martin Mulsow, Olaf Simons, and Kristina Petri, and generously funded by Wikimedia Deutschland – the largest and most active of the national chapters – the workshop provided an inspiring forum for a wide range of international participants and projects to share approaches and converge on the question of Wikipedia, the digital humanities, visualizations, and many points in between (see the full description [pdf]).

One set of presentations showcased the Wikimedia community’s own plans for data capture and computational seeing, many of which have great potential for the digital humanities; not always a straightforward relationship, as Olaf discussed in his opening address. These include Wikidata (a collaboratively curated, centralised database of entities designed to support the 280+ language editions of Wikipedia, as well as third-party initiatives, currently under development), and Semantic Mediawiki, an open source extension to Wikipedia capable of (re)organizing the site’s existing content into highly configurable, collectively editable semantic databases. The accumulation and management of structured, actionable (wiki)data within these streamlined platforms will facilitate the creation and deployment of information visualizations across the site’s many interfaces, and by its millions of users in the context of exports and mash-ups.


Scott Weingart (Indiana/CKCC), Neil (CofK/Oxford), James (CofK/Oxford), and Nicole Coleman (MRofL/Stanford).


Andreas Wolter (ImpulsBauhaus), Jens Weber (ImpulsBauhaus), and Judith Pfeiffer (IMPAcT/Oxford).

A second cluster of talks focused on the data capture, curation, and visualization techniques and applications being pursued and developed by humanistic projects based in archives, libraries, and universities worldwide. As well as presentations from ourselves and good friends Mapping the Republic of Letters, The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, CKCC, IMPAcT, and Scott Weingart, we heard about (inter alia) linked data and gamification at the University of Colorado; an adaptive, interactive, dynamic historical atlas (AIDA) being created at the University of Erfurt; and the wonderful ImpulsBauhaus initiative based at the the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Designed to collect information on and represent the global social networks of the Bauhaus, and led by the designer-developer team Jens Weber and Andreas Wolter in 2009, the project harvested extensive biographical and prospopgraphical data on the movement’s participants and affiliates within a specially designed platform which served as the basis for dynamic network infographics and an interactive three-dimensional table, presented most memorably within an illuminated cube. A video of this extraordinary project opens the post.

Gender and the Digital Silo: CofK at Situating Early Modern Science Networks Workshop

I’ve recently returned from the Situating Early Modern Science Networks workshop at the University of Saskatchewan in a chilly but sunny Saskatoon. Hosted by Dr Lisa Smith (who we met when she gave an excellent paper on Hans Sloane’s correspondence in our 2011 seminar series), the two-day event (12-13 April) saw scholars from the UK, Canada and the US – generously funded by the conference – speak about early modern networks from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, including English, History, and the History of Science.


Introducing the catalogue.


Post-presentation discussion.

My paper ‘Digitizing Gender: Women’s Correspondence and Knowledge Networks in the Early Modern Era’ focused on the ideological and technical challenges of digitizing gender, including the so-called ‘digital gender ghetto’ wherein data on early modern women is only collected and made accessible within gender-specific online silos. Such resources, while valuable, raise methodological and conceptual difficulties; not only does the information they contain often get bypassed by large portions of the scholarly community, but the long-standing trope that early modern women occupied a hermetically sealed separate sphere is implicitly reinforced, sustaining unhelpful assumptions that they were not fully engaged in intellectual or public life. To overcome this predicament, I suggested that we need to develop digital systems which can link or speak to each other so that data on men and women can be interrogated simultaneously. By doing this, the role played in early modern knowledge communities by individuals such as Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, or Dorothy Moore Dury, for example, can be properly assessed and appreciated within a wider network of both male and female individuals and correspondents.


The ‘Digital Coffee House’.


EMLO on the big screen.

The potential for online resources to facilitate and manifest these kinds of connections became clear during the hands-on ‘Digital Coffeehouse’ portion of the workshop, during which participants were introduced to the following array of early modern digital resources: The Digital Ark, The Newton Project, The Sloane Printed Books Project, The Grub Street Project, The Textual Communities Project, Digital MappaeMundi, and our own Early Modern Letters Online. Future digital collaborations may well result! The conference was rounded out with a thought-provoking talk by Professor Robert Iliffe on the implications for scholarly work arising from the increasing digitization of the academic infrastructure. His presentation sparked a lively debate during the roundtable discussion on the future of online scholarship which covered how the UK’s REF (Research Excellence Framework) assessments handle digital humanities outputs; the ownership of digital materials; concerns about scholars losing old skills and values in favour of new ones; and a consideration of the perils and benefits of crowdsourcing.

Intellectual Geography Conference Videos Now Available


Videos of twenty-one papers and keynotes from our 2011 conference Intellectual Geography: Comparative Studies, 1550-1700 (Oxford, 5-7 September 2011) are now available on the conference website or via our Vimeo channel (with more hopefully to come). Organised by Howard Hotson, the event introduced and tested the novel concept of ‘intellectual geography’ as a means of appreciating and understanding the organisation of intellectual activity and the dissemination of ideas within space and across time, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. A taster – Miles Ogborn‘s keynote exploration of ‘What is Intellectual Geography?’ – is provided below. Happy viewing!