My most longstanding strand of research concerns the intellectual history of central Europe and the international Reformed world c.1550-1660. At the heart of these interests is a subject missing almost entirely from standard histories: the gradually expanding reform movements of the post-Reformation period culminating in the pansophism of Comenius, the universal reform programme of Samuel Hartlib, and the audacious philosophical projects of Leibniz. This subject has drawn me into a number of related topics, including educational reform, ecclesiastical irenicism, political theory, millenarianism, and the search for a new philosophy.
Rooting these developments in the politically and confessionally fragmented context of the Holy Roman Empire has stimulated an interest in what I call intellectual geography. This approach, implicit in much of my earlier work, is more explicit in the monograph, The Reformation of Common Learning: Post-Ramist-Method and the Reception of the New Philosophy, 1618-c. 1670, forthcoming from the OUP in 2020.
The challenge of harvesting and analysing the large quantities of data needed to document shifting patterns of intellectual activity has drawn me into the challenge of applying digital technology to historical research. Since 2009 I have directed the project known as Cultures of Knowledge: Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750, which has experimented with creating the conditions in which scholars, projects, repositories, and publishers collaborate in populating a digital union catalogue of early modern correspondence, Early Modern Letters Online. In order to negotiate still more advanced ‘digital framework for multi-lateral collaboration on Europe’s intellectual history’, I chaired a COST network entitled Reassembling the Republic of Letters, 1500-1800, the results of which were published in an open-access book in 2019. I am currently Principal Investigator on a three-year project funded by the AHRC, entitled Networking Archives, which is experimenting with the application of quantitative network analysis to large quantities of correspondence data and metadata. I am also one of the architects of the Cabinet project in Oxford, which is developing digital infrastructure for teaching with objects and images.
A Circle in Search of a Centre: The Heidelberg Pre-History of Hartlib’s Network
The Practice of Scholarly Communication: Correspondence Networks Between Central and Western Europe, 1550-1700 (Universal Reform: Studies in Intellectual History, 1550-1700)
The Reformation of Common Learning Post-Ramist Method and the Reception of the New Philosophy, 1618 - 1670
The Reformation of Common Learning brings together all of these aspects of the tradition in a manner which roots them in deeper historical developments and relates a series of far-flung and poorly understood developments together in new ...
Cultures of knowledge in transition: Early Modern Letters Online as an experiment in collaboration, 2009-2018
Digitizing Enlightenment: Past, Present, and Future Directions in Eighteenth-Century Studies
With contributions from Miranda Lewis, James Brown, Elizabeth Williamson, Thomas Wallnig and Arno Bosse
Reassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age:
Between 1500 and 1800, the rapid evolution of postal communication allowed ordinary men and women to scatter letters across Europe like never before. This exchange helped knit together what contemporaries called the ‘respublica litteraria’, a knowledge-based civil society, crucial to that era’s intellectual breakthroughs, formative of many modern values and institutions, and a potential cornerstone of a transnational level of European identity. Ironically, the exchange of letters which created this community also dispersed the documentation required to study it, posing enormous difficulties for historians of the subject ever since. To reassemble that scattered material and chart the history of that imagined community, we need a revolution in digital communications. Between 2014 and 2018, an EU networking grant assembled an interdisciplinary community of over 200 experts from 33 different countries and many different fields for four years of structured discussion. The aim was to envisage transnational digital infrastructure for facilitating the radically multilateral collaboration needed to reassemble this scattered documentation and to support a new generation of scholarly work and public dissemination. The framework emerging from those discussions – potentially applicable also to other forms of intellectual, cultural and economic exchange in other periods and regions – is documented in this book.
Catchment Areas and Killing Fields: Towards an Intellectual Geography of the Thirty Years' War
Knowledge and Space
This paper examines the densest concentration of universities in early modern Europe at the most tumultuous moment in their history: namely, the universities of the Holy Roman Empire in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War (1618−1648). After situating the topic on a broad geographical and chronological canvass (in Part I), the body of the papers shows how the systematic study of fluctuating matriculation rates reveals how the war transformed the academic geography both of the Empire itself (in Part II) and of the huge catchment area which surrounded it (in Part III). After summarizing some basic historiographical and methodological results, the paper concludes (in Part IV) by outlining a few of the prospects for a richer and more detailed intellectual geography of Europe in this period.
Thirty Years’ War, intellectual geography, universities, digital humanities, matriculations, academic mobility, student travel, Holy Roman Empire, Scandinavia, central Europe, Dutch Republic