Digitizing Enlightenment III

The Voltaire Foundation, in collaboration with the Cultures of Knowledge project, the Maison Française d’Oxford, the Oxford Centre for European History and the Centre for Early Modern Studies, was pleased to host the third instalment of the Digitizing Enlightenment conference series on the 19th and 20th of July. This was the first academic event organised under the auspices of the Voltaire Lab, and was made possible by further support from the John Fell Fund.

Digitizing Enlightenment (DE) is a conference series that is establishing its domain as a major area of innovation in the Digital Humanities. The first convening of DE was in Sydney in 2016, hosted by Simon Burrows at Western Sydney University. This first meeting launched a set of discussions around a common set of problems and identified topics for collaboration in pursuit of interoperability among six distinguished, and in some cases, long-standing DH projects in the field of Enlightenment Studies:

  1. The ARTFL Project (Chicago);
  2. Mapping the Republic of Letters (Stanford);
  3. The Comédie Française Registres Project (MIT/Paris-Sorbonne/Nanterre);
  4. The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe (Western Sydney);
  5. Electronic Enlightenment (Oxford); and
  6. MEDIATE (Radboud).

The second gathering in Nijmegen in June of 2017, hosted by Alicia Montoya at Radboud University, continued these discussions and opened up more lines of communication and possible collaborative research across Europe and expanded our working notion of ‘Enlightenment’ as an historical period. These meetings thus established an international network of major digital humanities projects working on 17th- and 18th-century European intellectual and literary history. As a group, these projects have sought to identify and work collaboratively on shared research problems, solutions, and resources generated by their respective research programs in order to facilitate more comprehensive approaches to some of the major problems in the field today.

Greg Brown and conference attendees, Maison française d’Oxford.

Digitizing Enlightenment III was, by design, more focused than the prior meetings: it was aimed more narrowly at the hot topic of historical prosopography and network analysis, an area in which we felt the DE network can potentially provide leadership, and which could provide technical solutions that might allow for the integration of a whole range of ambitious projects in this field. The first two conferences were modest in size and quite international: 15-20 papers over two days, with 30-40 people in attendance. With our narrower focus, the third meeting was somewhat smaller but even more international, with participants from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, the US, and the UK. Accordingly, its format was more concentrated, in the form of six thematic round-tables, each dedicated to proposal and discussion of functional solutions to real-world problems already encountered in network analysis and prosopography of this period.

These roundtables were organized around a set of basic questions that allowed participants to engage with the overall thematic of the conference, without necessarily being experts in the domain. Participants spoke briefly on each proposed question, which allowed for ample discussion and question time afterwards. These questions included:

  • Why prosopography? Why networks?
  • What are historical or intellectual networks?
  • What is social network analysis?
  • How to re-construct a social network?
  • Who or what is excluded from networks?
  • What lies beyond networks, beyond prosopography?
  • How to link, sustain, and maintain networks?

A final roundtable was dedicated to discussion of next and future steps in this collaborative work, and where it was decided that we should aim to hold another event either during or around next year’s ISECS International Congress on the Enlightenment in Edinburgh.

Greg Brown (standing) and Howard Hotson.

Participants were also treated to a reception and dinner at Balliol College, generously sponsored by the Bodleian Libraries.

Between roundtables, we invited participants to present some of the current projects that are underway in the broad field of digital Enlightenment studies. These short presentations included already established projects, such as Early Modern Letters Online, the Quill Project, and Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, as well as new projects, such as the sequel to Simon Burrow’s FBTEE project, Mapping Print, Charting Enlightenment, and projects not yet fully developed on an early modern digital gazetteer, a new prosopographical model for natural law academics, and a project underway at Stanford on 18th-century salons as ‘networks’.

Our hope is that the Digitizing Enlightenment brand will continue on into the future, both in the form of future meetings – at ISECS in 2019 and perhaps Chicago in 2020 – and in a volume currently being edited for the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, which draws its content from the first two meetings. Should you have any questions about these projects, or our vision for future Digitizing Enlightenment events, please feel free to contact us at: de3@digitizingenlightenment.com

– Gregory Brown and Glenn Roe

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Edinburgh – cradle of the Scottish Enlightenment – hosts ISECS 2019… don’t miss out!

Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle.

Last summer’s ISECS Executive Committee meeting and conference left its mark on me. It took place in Edinburgh – also the location of the next ISECS Congress in 2019 – and I was both overwhelmed and impressed by the vibrancy of the city and the thoroughness of the preparations for the 2019 Congress. So admittedly, this blog is my direct appeal to all eighteenth-century scholars to mark the 2019 Congress, which takes place from 14th to 19th July 2019, as a ‘must attend’ in their conference diary. Held every four years and bringing together over 1,000 researchers from all disciplines related to eighteenth-century studies, ISECS congresses are ideal opportunities for scholars to present their latest work, establish new collaborative networks, and, of course, discover great places.

The Voltaire Foundation’s links to ISECS (and indeed Scotland) run deep. Both the VF and ISECS were the brainchild of Theodore Besterman, and the second ISECS Congress was held in St Andrews, just up the road from Edinburgh. Indeed, it was at that very meeting that the idea for the Complete Works of Voltaire (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire) was hatched, and where Besterman established its first editorial committee, headed by William Barber (University of Oxford). Now, over 50 years on, we look forward to celebrating the completion of the project – over 200 volumes in total – at the 2019 Congress.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Organised by BSECS (British Society for eighteenth-century studies) and hosted by the University of Edinburgh, putting on such a large-scale meeting is no mean feat! Preparations for Edinburgh 2019 were a key topic of discussion at this year’s Executive Committee meeting. From facilities planning (where to run umpteen parallel sessions, making sure that locations are accessible and near each other for possible session-hopping? … what about refreshments?…), establishing the academic programme, organising the early career scholar bursary scheme, to planning an enticing variety of cultural events, I can honestly say that Brycchan Carey and his team have everything covered.

For ‘newbies’ to Edinburgh, consider the city as a place of two halves. To the north of Princes Street, the main thoroughfare, lies New Town, which was built in the late eighteenth century and still boasts fine Georgian houses. To the south is the Old Town, location of the University of Edinburgh and the Congress itself. Edinburgh is compact, and the main tourist sights such as the Castle, the Royal Mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse are all within easy walking distance.

Edinburgh New Town.

Edinburgh New Town.

So, if you only read one section of this blog, this is why I think ISECS 2019 is a ‘must-attend’ … where else will you be inspired by such a diverse range of papers addressing the central – and pertinent– theme of ‘Enlightenment identities’? What better opportunity to make new connections with early career and established scholars from around the world? What better time to meet publishers face-to-face, discuss your future projects and browse the wealth of books and resources available?

…And some practical tips!

  • bring good sturdy shoes: Edinburgh is ‘undulating’, and your feet are your best means of transport.
  • consider staying in one of the quieter areas of South Side or St Leonard’s (still only a 10-15 minute walk from the University).
  • plan to dress like an onion, i.e. in layers… there’s a reason why the parks are green….
  • don’t limit yourself to the Old Town… walk over to New Town at dusk and admire the sumptuous neo-classical architecture whilst the sun sets over the Firth of Forth in the distance.
  • for refuelling, the Mosque Kitchen is a local gem, tasty, cheap, eat-in or take-out food and right next to the University.

– Lyn Roberts