That’s what I call Digital Intellectuals!
The Berlin Academy of Sciences just launched a digital edition of the minutes of the work sessions that were held there between 1746 and 1786. You can consult it here: it is awesome. Not just because it looks awesome (great design, intuitive orientation, no information overload), but also because it is an actually well conceived resource – and a totally helpful one for my further work too.
The originals are in French (French became the official language at the Academy under Frederick 2nd and remained it until 1810), but you can find a selection of German translations. You can search either through the minutes (“Protokolle”, chronologically ordered) or through the papers presented at the Academy (“Akademie-Schriften”) or by looking for occurrences of a person (“Personen”). I was thrilled to see that my guy Beausobre (see this post on Beausobre) appears 912 times and am looking forward to cross-reference the occurrences with the periods for which I have letters waiting to be read. I so like it when you find out that the official version of an information is presented in a radically different way in private writings.
The only thing that I think could significantly improve the edition would be a more precise work on the biographies. At the time being, they are pretty scarce. Hopefully those good people writing minutes and attending sessions at the Academy will at some point be integrated in the database of the Personendatenrepositorium. This is also a project of the Academy of Sciences and it aims at bringing together the biographical data emanating from the different Academy projects. One could argue that the PDR has a focus on 19th century and already a lot to do with just one century. But 1760 is really almost the 19th century, if you consider the major turn Berlin took with Frederick 2nd as the beginning of an intellectual era in Berlin (like I do).
It somehow confirms a kind of aporia I have been discussing with Claudia Sedlarz of the Berliner Klassik last Monday: even if your aim is to seize network effects or connections, it all comes up in the end to the way in which you will be able to connect biographies. You always need a few “lighthouse” persons in your research horizon, like orientation marks, in order to be able to shed any light at all. And with that, you are either stuck in the canon or constituting your own canon. Either way, as soon as you are moving in the field of biographies, a block of normativity falls on your shoulders. But you can’t properly operate without it. Sound like Sisyphus to me…