The American Historical Review (April 2017)

Posted in journal articles by Editor on May 17, 2017

The “AHR Forum: Mapping the Republic of Letters” in the current issue of The American Historical Review will likely be of interest to anyone engaged with questions of art history and big data, the Grand Tour, and mapping projects. Historiographical questions are central and addressed in fascinating ways. CH

The American Historical Review 122.2 (April 2017)

“AHR Forum: Mapping the Republic of Letters”

Dan Edelstein, Paula Findlen, Giovanna Ceserani, Caroline Winterer, and Nicole Coleman, “Historical Research in a Digital Age: Reflections from the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project,” pp. 400–24.

What can a big data approach bring to the study of the early modern Republic of Letters? This is the question we asked ourselves in our collaborative project Mapping the Republic of Letters. For the past nine years, we have been exploring the limits and possibilities of computation and visualization for studying early modern correspondences, whose massive and dispersed character have long challenged their students. Beyond cliometrics, what new ways of discovery and analysis do today’s big data offer? What can we learn by visualizing the archives and databases that are increasingly accessible and viewable online? In a variety of case studies focusing on metadata (in the letters of John Locke, Athanasius Kircher, Benjamin Franklin, and Voltaire, and in the travels of those engaging in the Grand Tour), we experimented with visualizations to produce maps of the known and unknown quantities in our datasets, and to represent intellectual, cultural, and geographical boundaries. In the process, we experienced collaborative authorship, and worked with designers and programmers to create an open access suite of visualization tools specifically for humanities scholars, Palladio. What might the next research steps be, as linked data rapidly develops further possibilities?

Giovanna Ceserani, Giorgio Caviglia, Nicole Coleman, Thea De Armond, Sarah Murray, and Molly Taylor-Poleskey, “British Travelers in Eighteenth-Century Italy: The Grand Tour and the Profession of Architecture,” pp. 425–50.

Drawing on a dynamic digital database of eighteenth-century British travelers in Italy, in this article we offer a case study focused on British architects to demonstrate the potential of digital resources for historical research. Based on the entries in John Ingammels’s Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701–1800 (1997)—which covers the itineraries and lives of more than five thousand travelers—our project adds a new richness and granularity to the understanding of the Grand Tour. We see what these tours were like and what they did for British architects in Italy and beyond. We show the patterns of places visited, of funding, of social and professional gains and interactions, and we thus catch sight of a history of architecture that goes beyond the influence of Italian architectural models on British thought and design. This approach to the Grand Tour reveals the transformation of “architecture” from a gentlemanly passion and artisanal craft into a modern profession and discipline. By indicating some of the ways in which the Grand Tour served this transformation, this case study also suggests the broader promise of our digital approach for scholars of various interests.

Jason M. Kelly, “Reading the Grand Tour at a Distance: Archives and Datasets in Digital History,” pp. 451–63.

This essay uses Giovanna Ceserani, Giorgio Caviglia, Nicole Coleman, Thea De Armond, Sarah Murray, and Molly Taylor-Poleskey’s essay “British Travelers in Eighteenth-Century Italy: The Grand Tour and the Profession of Architecture” as a point of departure from which to examine the limits and potentials of digital history, especially as it relates to the construction of archives and digital datasets. Through a critical reading of the sources used to create the Grand Tour Project—part of the Mapping the Republic of Letters project at Stanford University—it shows the ways in which datasets can both hide and embody hierarchies of power. Comparing the Grand Tour Project to other digital projects currently in production, such as Itinera and Legacies of British Slave-Ownership, this piece offers suggestions for alternative readings of the Grand Tour narrative. It ends by summarizing a series of challenges faced by historians as they contemplate best practices for creating and maintaining digital datasets in the twenty-first century.

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