Re-assembling the dis-assembled

After spending some time preparing this maximum carbon imprint week (sigh), I am have now come into the delight of actually experiencing – and enjoying – it. The first stage of this trip is in Oxford, the second one will be in Cologne and the last one in Toulouse.

The sun was shining gloriously when I got off the shuttle in Oxford yesterday, a Sunday morning in which I expected empty, grey streets, but was instead greeted by brunchers, sunbeams and pink blooming trees.Today, I was given a documented tour of the city center by a highly knowledgeable guide and spent a couple of hours in absolute awe of where I was putting my feet and raising my eyes. I even entered the Weston Library a couple of days only after its grand re-opening. The hordes of tourists somewhat reduced the charm of the experience, but it was, nonetheless, a memorable one, and not only due to the touristic part of it. The science too is awesome.

This conference kicks off the agenda of the working groups within the COST Action “Re-assembling the Republic of Letters” (see the website, which was launched this afternoon). The general idea is to bring together digital resources that will allow to reconstruct virtually the (public and less public) scholarly communication in Europe in the early modern period. The two conference days that just ended were dedicated to defining the scope, tasks and methodologies of the six working groups (see the tweets under #COSTletters). The final day (tomorrow) is not a conference day any more: it consists in Working Group sessions in which work force should be attributed to the work packages. After 2 days of hearing about inspiring methods, great tools and potential results, it is time to bring good will together in order to address the challenges piece by piece, systematically. I am considering getting more actively involved in either Working Group 3 or 5 and will decide upon that tomorrow.

My research being focused on the time around 1800, I belong neither completely to the 18th century nor completely to the 19th century research. I can observe differences in the scholarly communities. These are due in part to phenomena of identification – or maybe of elective affinities – with the corpora, the authors, the questions researchers deal with. Scholars of the early modern period are inhabited by a dream of connecting knowledge, the idea that the sum will be more and better than just a part, but each part has to be solid. Authority is dispersed, as opposed to the 19th century, in which the singular author is of much greater importance. One is a network-based community, the other an authority-based community.

These few days spent within an international community of researchers and librarians who each feel that they are a brick in something greater to be built gave me the kind of hope and confidence that one needs to get back to work with clear short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.The exchanges, the input, even the crazy format of squeezing 7 to 10 flash presentations in 2-hours slots and having 4 such sessions a day, felt like, all of a sudden, it all came together and made sense. I saw and experienced two days of fruitful collaborations between developers and humanists. At no point was there any kind of fear of technique. At no point did anyone want to impress. It struck me as being something new to me in that it is not a problem-oriented, but a solution-oriented approach. I will not say that it is all perfect, that everyone gets home with the same results and perspectives, that we will for sure reach all the aims drawn in the big picture. But the perspective, at least, is motivating, and I would like to bring in my little brick, because that will, if nothing else, help me re-assemble myself.

Also in order to re-assemble myself (or at least my scholarly self), I have begun making my yet unpublished papers available for quotation and reuse on the platform halshs: Qu’est-ce qui fait l’intellectuel (November 2011), Wissen, Lieben und – Schreiben (May 2013), Formeys Pygmalions (September 2013), Schreibt Wikipedia Biographien (tog. w. Christof Schöch, September 2013), La modélisation des données (November 2013), Digitale Philologie (November 2014), Visualisation des réseaux (March 2015), Reconstruire ce qui manque (March 2015). The title’s language is also the article’s language. That’s what research is there for: share your data, share your data, share your data.


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