Another way of looking at it

In the paper I will be giving at the Academy of Sciences on March 15th (the program of the conference can be found here), I will present the three parts of our Boeckh project (as I had done on this blog in a previous post). We now have digital results to show for every part of the project. These are still not public though, and the whole interface will change soon, and with it the way we display the several features we implemented. But here are a few screenshots that should give you a rough idea.

1) Overview of August Boeckh’s papers (we have to settle on a name there – it should be either “Boeckh-Plattform”, which has the advantage of being internationally understandable, or “Boeckh- Nachlassprojekt”, which has the advantage of actually describing the content of the site, e.g. an overview of all manuscripts from Boeckh or to him):

NL_Screenshot1This first screenshot shows the home page. You first option is then to display the list of institutions that have manuscripts and in which repositories these are to be found. This is what it looks like for instance in the case of the documents that can be found at the University Archive of the Humboldt University:

NLScreenshot2Alternatively, you can start a search through those corpora, in which case it looks like that:

NL_Screenshot3As I said, the looks should be improved soon. The important part is: we have over 2000 entries there. 1200 were done by Julia Doborosky manually (looking at the documents, tagging and summarizing them directly in XML/TEI). 800 of them come from the Kalliope database and were exported in some magical way that made these EAD-datasets able to be merged with our XML/TEI datasets. Of course, there is a lot that needs to be improved and the workflow regarding the data exchange with Kalliope has to be refined. But we have a good basis to work with.

2) Boeckh’s library: the aim here is to transcribe Boeckh’s handwritten list of his own books, which he donated (together with almost all of the books themselves) to the University Library, and connect these titles with scans of the books. What I envision there is something that opens up on more than 2 columns. You would start by the catalog, then come from the transcribed catalog line to the enriched entry in the index of works, from there to the scan of the book, and from there to the text version of said scan. It is a long shot. For the time being, we have some kind of short cut of the first three steps, or at least part of these. Having crushed them together is not satisfactory, but it is only temporary. This is what it looks like:



3) Manuscript of Boeckh’s Encyklopaedia of Philological Sciences: I already wrote about the difficulty of displaying all text layers in an earlier post but never actually showed to what preliminary result we have come. This here is how we implemented our experiments with the different text layers, defined as hands to which dates are attributed:


Giving a talk exclusively on the Boeckh part of the project is on the one hand way too easy, on the other hand ungrateful. When you don’t have to demonstrate the value and interest of a big author you are working on, there is some kind of inherent logic to the way you apprehend him, as systematically as possible. This is what I will expose for most of my speech: how such systematicity can be conceived in such a way that the results are made available to research not in 10, but in 1 or 2 years, and then progressively enriched.

It is ungrateful, though, because it is a way of looking at our work that, to my eyes, reduces it to less than it is. I suppose it has to do with the fact that when you work on a single author, you naturally bring your categories and methods down to what fits that author, whereas a wider corpus forces you to ask yourself why some methods are valid in one case and not in another, trying to figure out, through your tagging categories for  instance, what it is you really are looking for. Or at.

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…

Berlin + around 1800 + ???

I was invited – together with a hundred other elected guests – to an inofficial birthday party at the Academy of Sciences yesterday. As chance would have it, the presentation of the project “Berliner Klassik” happened to take place on the 75th birthday of its director Conrad Wiedemann. The whole presentation was called “Wie die Klassik nach Berlin kam” (roughly translated “How classicism came to Berlin”, although I am not sure that this really renders the different meaning layers of the word “Klassik”). Two longer talks, lots of great music (vocal and flute), a project presentation by the people who have made the “Berliner Klassik” in the last 10 years and a small speech by Conrad Wiedemann filled the evening.

It striked me how little Berlin there was to all that. Of course, the presentation of the “Berliner Klassik” was Berlin-centered. It was in fact a splendid moment of science, articulating cultural and literary history on a basis of a sketch drawn by E.T.A. Hoffmann (“Der Kunz’sche Riss”) on which he represented the Gendarmenmarkt, its monuments, and the streets nearby, peopled with winehandlers, playwrights, and even characters from his books. But this concentration on Berlin’s most beautiful square was more the exception than the rule on that evening, which I cannot help but wonder about. What is it about Berlin that you cannot really grab it?

In his thesis, Conrad Wiedemann is certainly more radical than me. He thinks that Germans  have shown throughout their history a reluctance to admit that Berlin is special, that it is the center. I would not extend my analysis beyond the period of time I actually know, this hard-to-define “around 1800” which includes late Aufklärung, early romanticism, high romanticism, German idealism and whatnot (here I should list the institutions that contributed to it too, but I will let you read the page of the Berliner Klassik instead). Why add some “Klassik” on top of all these -isms? The “Klassik” is there to make the point that all these different tendencies converged, and they converged to Berlin.

My position is less radical than his since I only defend the idea that the situation in Berlin was a singular one at that time. I tend to avoid comparisons (like the one with Weimar, a place that is historically and literary connected to the idea of “Klassik”) by saying it is not really comparable with other constellations. That might be cowardice from me. Or ignorance of how it was elsewhere. I grant you that: I am far from being able to overlook all that. Plus, I am not a historian, which makes me feel like I will never, ever be able to theorize on this kind of scales.

But still. The fact that Conrad Wiedemann mentioned my project as one of those that are evolving as a development from the Berliner Klassik was a great recognition gesture to me (and helped me with that confidence issue I have had lately…). Interestingly, he underlined the fact that I operate with other concepts than he does, especially those of “networks” on the one hand and of “intellectuals” on the other hand – saying something like “it is ok, it is a new generation and they operate with their own, new categories”. I think that it is true that mentalities have changed in the past ten years. It is not just me, it is the whole scholarly context. In the field of research itself, the inhibitions to work on Berlin, on the time “around 1800” and the Napoleonian Wars while knowing perfectly that this is the birth of national spirit in Germany with all the further consequences it will have, have lowered greatly. Those inhibitions are still there, of course. But the fact that somebody like me gets to be generously funded to check if the two concepts “intellectual” and “network” allow to understand the phenomenon “Berlin around 1800” somwehat better, shows that the question is, at least, considered an interesting one, one that has to be asked.

So let’s ask it again: What is it about Berlin around 1800? – and hope that the network analysis will gain another dimension through our digital edition…



November, 30th 1763 from Comedy Central in Berlin

(this post is a follow-up to this one and that one.)

I spent the whole day on Letter 16 from von Buch to Beausobre. There were several long interruptions, but still. I am not done. And I should be working on it right now, instead of which I am trying to convince myself (by blogging) that the day was not worth nothing. That even if “people” are likely to criticize the edition in the end, I will have given the best I could to make it meet my standards – somehow.

The King of Poland just died and von Buch is disappointed because he just arrived in Dresden, where the King came from, and everyone there is depressed. No one is going out, no one is giving cool receptions. Plus, as much as he had hoped for Saxony to be a good place to purchase interesting things to read, it turns out this might be true for Leipzig, but not for Dresden, where there are only few decent booksellers, who sell almost nothing interesting – and if they do, then it is at an impossible price. Von Buch is terribly bored – so he is telling Beausobre about books he read, asking for more books on the fly. Which is just why these letters are interesting. And endless to encode.

First, the history section. “La continuation de l’histoire du bas-Empire par Le Beau” was the first candidate. The book, like almost all the other ones he quotes, just came out of press – that I concluded after painfully trying to figure out what that book was and deciding he must have meant vols 5 and 6 of this voluminous work. Took me forever to get anything on Le Beau, whom some people consider is called Claude and others Charles, while he himself signs his books with “Monsieur le Beau”, en toute simplicité. Then came “L’histoire de la maison de Tudor de Hume”. As I had no idea David Hume had written history books, I seriously considered his homonym David Hume, a historian who seems to have lived a century or so before him, to be the author. And at that point, I started to get worried about PND and homonyms. So the book was indeed by Mister Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – in a brand new French translation by “Madame B***” who turned out to be Octavie Bélot (a very interesting translator, hope to get to cross her road more in the future). Hume was also the author of the “histoire de la maison de Stuart” – but I could not find anything as to whether Octavie Bélot had translated that one too. Come on girls, put your names on your work!!

What comes next is an interesting mixture of gossip and actual knowledgeableness. Von Buch states that he is disappointed to have been able to acquire “que la traduction allemande des lettres de Lady Montagu”. I had no idea who Lady Montagu was and would definitely like to get more into this (just as into the Bélot thing – somehow it gets much more interesting when women are involved!). Of course, Lady Montagu’s Turkish Letters were probably a great homage to her knowledge of fare-away-countries and civilization, Persian Letters-style I suppose. But what seems to interest von Buch is her life (he tells about information he has from a Milady Stormont – still no idea who this one is btw – or what she might have been doing in Dresden in 1763) and the way it influenced the constitution of her authorship. She had an illegitimate child, was sent to Venice by the husband after the child’s birth, discovered inoculation, which she brought back to England when she got back – only after the husband’s death – and was then, according to Milady Stormont, not at all a sweet old lady, but a cranky one, not at all worldly and nice. And now it is getting Foucault-esque (inbetween the encoding…). Von Buch writes:

Elle est <supplied
reason=”border of page; bound too tight”>morte</supplied>
<lb/>il y a peu de tems et a laissé 9 Volumes de Manuscrits, parmi lesquels il y
avoit un Traité sur le bonh<supplied reason=”border of page; bound too tight”
<lb/>de l’amour conjugal: <persName ref=”#p0066″>Milady Bute</persName>, sa
fille a eu soin de retirer tous ces manuscrits des mains des librai<supplied
reason=”border of page; bound too tight”>res</supplied>
<lb/>à grands fraix, parce qu’elle ne jugea pas, qu’ils contribueroient à
l’honneur de sa mere, s’ils devenoient <pb n=”3″ facs=”00000340.jpg”/>publics;
ce n’est, que malgré elle, que les <rs ref=”#w00023″>lettres</rs> ont paru.

That would make me want to stop everything and try to reconstruct what actually happened to these manuscripts. Just hoping somebody has done that before and I will be able to find the right book at some point. Alas,  just as for the repeated use of Horace-quotations, I don’t have the time to get into it now (but would it not be a good idea to look closer into the way Horace was quoted in the 18th century, on a larger scale?)

And now for the finale, guess who is my guest tonight? Well, I saw “Moise” again. But Moise was someone with a PND number, for sure, this time. Just “Moise” is in fact Moses Mendelssohn, whose essay of 1763 on the obviousness of metaphysical sciences (first prize of Berlin Academy of Science in the year 1763, even before Kant!) von Buch is trying to purchase as soon as they finished printing it. I spare you the last book he is trying to purchase – Rousseau again, which was a happy occasion to see that the PND number I could get through wikipedia was different from the one I would get through the PND-search of the Geman National Library (DNB)(and no, it was not Jean-Baptiste Rousseau I compared with Jean-Jacques). So today’s lesson will be: Beware of homonyms! – I will tell you about the booksellers later, and get back to the end of my letter now…

How critical should critical be? (Corpus Part Three)

I am polishing two papers connected to Louis de Beausobre, whose correspondence is the third of the four corpora we will edit first (at least part of it). As good an occasion as any other to post on that corpus and the edition problems I am seeing coming.

Louis de Beausobre was born in 1730 in Berlin as the son of the French reformed pastor Isaac de Beausobre (for those who understand French, take a little look at the French wikipedia page on him: the comparison between the French and the English version illustrate pretty well the point of my last post on wikipedia and biographies) and a much younger Prussian pastor’s daughter. Louis de Beausobre should not be mistaken with his older half-brother Charles Louis de Beausobre (1690-1753) who was a theologian and followed his father’s steps as a pastor before reaching, in the last three years of his life, the status of a member of the Berlin Academy of Science (in the theological section).

Louis’ career path is very different and it gives an accurate account of the way Frederick II. actually constituted a francophone elite in Berlin and Potsdam – beyond such symbolical measures as the invitation of d’Alembert and Diderot or the no less symbolical outcome of Voltaire’s stay in Potsdam.

Louis de Beausobre went to school at the local French Highschool (Collège Francois), where he was greatly influenced by his philosophy teacher Jean Henri Samuel Formey (who was himself in a major intellectual debt towards father Isaac de Beausobre). He then went to Frankfurt/Oder to study philosophy (the letters to Formey suggest it was mainly Baumgarten who counted as a teacher for him). I don’t think he really had a lot of occasions (or for that matter any reasons) to work on his German until that point, but it probably happened then. In 1752, Frederick, who had promised Isaac de Beausobre to support (financially, but, as it turned out, also institutionally) Louis, funded a two-year-stay in Paris. When he returned, Louis de Beausobre was received as a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences – as a philosopher – and stayed  there until his death in 1783.

Beausobre developed a philosophy that turned out to be very close to Frederick’s. Who did influence whom? Can it be considered a tendency in terms of history of ideas, or did a few persons – among which Beausobre, who definitely profited from insider input on the Sanssouci doings – see the opportunity to create a closeness of interest with the king and seized it? The situation seems to me so intricate that it is not possible to have a clear overview of it in the current state of research – we need much more archives to be made accessible (working on it!!). Anyway, Beausobre was a skeptical philosopher just like Frederick, as I have shown in my paper “Pyrrhonismus und Politik an der Akademie der Wissenschaften um 1750” (that will be published this year in the volume Liaisons culturelles. Französisch-deutsche Kulturlandschaft um 1800, ed. by Anna Busch, Nana Hengelhaupt and Alix Winter).

The letters addressed to Beausobre and the few ones we have by him have – just like for the other corpora – a specificity I have to somehow make fit into our general editorial guidelines. Ironically enough, what I first considered would be easier to handle in that corpus than in others is now worrying me: the language. For the German texts, we have established clear rules as to what belongs to the diplomatical and what belongs to the critical version of the text (concerning the difference between diplomatical and critical, see this post and this presentation of the edition in German). Writing out abbreviations in the critical part I can implement on a French text, no question. But what I am confronted with now – and it will be the case in other corpora for sure – is that 1) the gap between 18th century French and today’s French seems to me to be bigger than between 1800-German and today’s German and 2) People who are no native speakers and still write in French because it is the usual communication language in Europe in the 18th century make mistakes or write in such an approximate way that makes it even harder to understand. So now I have to choose: Should I be “more critical” with the French texts than with the German ones, and correct things I assume are not “readable”? While taking a look at René-Marc Pille’s dissertation on the French letters by Adelbert von Chamisso last week, I found for instance a letter to a mister “Chamuseau”: as long as it is a person’s name, we have a way to tag and identify it as the Chamisso it actually is. But for substantives, verbs? I am afraid the over-correction would drag me too far though, and I think that in the end the French texts might be rather “less critical” than the German ones. So: polish your 18th-century French to get ready to Beausobre (and his German correspondence partners who write in French to him)!

Source: The first Beausobre manuscripts we will edit are preserved at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK.


My first thoughts on Frederick and pyrrhonism are to be found in the edition of Frederick I was part of until recently, in the volume: Friedrich der Grosse – Philosophische Schriften, ed. by me and Brunhilde Wehinger in 2007 (Akademie-Verlag Berlin)

The second paper I was mentioning is called “Louis de Beausobre, entre cour et Académie. La correspondance d’un intellectuel francophone en Prusse au XVIIIÈme siècle” and will be published in: Entrer en communication de l’âge classique aux Lumières, ed. by Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire and Heloise Hermant, Paris, Classiques Garnier, in preparation for 2012.