Networking Archives publication in Computational Humanities Research

The Networking Archives project is reconciling three separate datasets—Early Modern Letters Online, the Tudor State Papers Online, and Stuart State Papers Online—into one meta-archive. One commonality between the three is that they all, to some degree, contain missing and partial data—potentially a source of anxiety when we come to consider the veracity of our findings. In a recent paper authored by some of the project team, presented at the first Computational Humanities Research Workshop, we outlined some strategies for dealing with missing data, and argued that perhaps we shouldn’t be so worried after all.

First we set out to understand the data in detail, and to this end we’re working on a set of ‘views’, which will visualise the shape of the data along different dimensions. What struck us first is how remarkably similar the State Papers data looks to EMLO, despite their very different origins. These visualisations also help us to analyse the precise ways in which the data is missing and partial—we’re mapping absences as well as presences. Mapping absences has led us to understand, for example, that dates in SPO were more reliable during the secretaryship of the bureaucrat-extraordinaire Joseph Williamson, and less so during the interregnum. They also show that some types of missing data are more correlated than others: statistically, a record in EMLO missing a date is significantly more likely than chance to be missing an author or recipient, but the fact has less bearing on whether that record will be missing an origin or a destination field, for example. Potentially these findings can help us to model in even greater detail the effects of very specific types of absences in the data.

Many of the findings on the Networking Archives project are based on network science metrics. We might, for example, use a ranked list of a particular metric to make a claim about an individual’s proximity to the centre of power, or to find individuals who acted as ‘sustainers’ between different parts of a network. To understand the impact of the missing data, described above, on these kinds of rankings, we ran a series of experiments inspired by the work carried out by Matthew Peeples on archaeological networks. To put it simply, we removed random chunks of letter records from the datasets, re-ran the network algorithms, and compared the ranks of the metrics across the original and ‘sample’ networks. Surprisingly, we found that most metrics were actually pretty similar, even when 60 or 70% of the network was removed.

The last part of the paper is about why we’re interested in studying these joined-up catalogues. One reason is because it allows us to find new, ‘informal’ catalogues at the intersection of the formal collections. Take the example of John Dury: a Scottish minister who worked as a diplomat and towards the promotion of peace amongst Christian factions, he spent much of his life travelling across Europe trying to convince secular leaders of his cause. As such, rather than his correspondence being collected in a single ‘Dury Archive’, his letters are scattered across a number of others (much of it is in the archive of his friend Samuel Hartlib, but we found him in eight other catalogues in EMLO as well as in the Stuart State Papers). Computational methods allow us to find other individual like this, and in the case of Dury, gather his dispersed correspondence into a single, informal catalogue, and through this get a more complete picture of his role in seventeenth-century religious, intellectual and diplomatic networks.

Historians are often—understandably—skeptical about quantitative results of this kind, because working in historical archives makes one only too aware of their partial, often chaotic nature. We suggest that in terms of network science at least, this partiality has less effect than might be expected. In fact, what we’ve discovered is that in most fields using network analysis, complete data is more of an illusion than a fact, and that we should work around absence, rather than without it.

New Networking Archives Fellows Yann and Philip

We are pleased to introduce two new members to the Networking Archives team: Yann Ryan and Philip Beeley. They joined us as Fellows earlier this year, and will be undertaking key parts of the collaborative research projects that we have scoped, including co-authoring the project ‘multigraph’ with the rest of the team, and co-editing the collection of essays coming out of the training schools.

Yann recently completed a PhD thesis ‘Networks, Maps and Readers: Foreign News Reporting in London Newsbooks, 1645 – 1649’ (QMUL), which looked at the flow of news from overseas to London, and examined how this can be traced and measured using computational techniques (including network analysis) as well as more traditional scholarly methods. Prior to the Networking Archives project, he worked in the British Library as a Curator of newspaper data – a newly-created post which sought to promote the use of the Library’s digital newspaper holdings to a wider audience.

His current research interests include historical network analysis, the history of news and intelligencing in Europe, digital and spatial humanities, as well as early modern post and communications. He’s also keen on developing alternative ways of communicating historical research, and is experimenting with writing an open-source book on newspaper data as well as producing computational tools for the Networking Archives team.

Philip’s research and publications are focused on the history of science and epistolary cultures in early modern Europe. He is especially interested in the role played by correspondence networks in the emergence of early modern scientific thought and in the ways in which mathematical ideas were disseminated and discussed both in scholarly communities and across different social milieus. A particular focus thereby is on the history of early Royal Society and of its relations to cognate institutions across the continent. A further area of his research is on early modern cryptography and its significance for diplomatic decision-making as well as in shaping political affairs and military events in seventeenth-century Europe.

He has been involved with the Oxford-based Cultures of Knowledge project and its collaborative database of early modern correspondence EMLO since their inception. Until recently, he was Co-I on the AHRC-funded Reading Euclid project, which investigated the impact of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry on early modern culture in Britain and Ireland by examining educational, editorial, and reading practices through printed, scribal, and other material records.

Philp and Yann’s arrival on the project has already given us a huge boost in terms of productivity, and we are looking forward to sharing the fruits of our collaborative labour in due course.

Ruth and Sebastian make an appearance in new PBS documentary on historical networks

Two members of the Networking Archives project team, Ruth and Sebastian, recently contributed to a new PBS documentary, Networld. The documentarycreated by historian Niall Ferguson, is a three-part series exploring the history of social networks.
In the episode they talk about their work on Protestant letter networks in the reign of Mary I. You can watch it in full on Youtube, here, or visit the official site for more information.

Job Opening: Postdoctoral Research Associate (University of Oxford)

In addition to the currently open postdoctoral position at Queen Mary University London, we’re offering a second ‘Postdoctoral Research Associate’ post beginning January 2020 at the University of Oxford.

This is a full-time, fixed-term post for 18 months. The successful candidate will conduct independent research on the intersections of political and intellectual ‘intelligencing’ in mid-17th century England. In addition to this, they will participate in the collaborative, interdisciplinary ‘laboratories’, in which experiments will be conducted on the newly curated and merged datasets whilst also developing plans for disseminating the results.

For full details please see the official job posting. Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Prof Howard Hotson ([email protected]) after September 6th for an informal discussion of the job and its requirements.

The closing date for applications is 14 October 2019. Interviews are expected to be held shortly thereafter.

Job Opening: Postdoctoral Research Associate (Queen Mary University London)

We’re looking for a ‘Postdoctoral Research Associate’ based at Queen Mary University London to join our project in January 2020.

The Postdoctoral Research Associate will be actively involved in all facets of the project, and will be provided with the necessary training to contribute towards these tasks, although pre-existing skills in network analysis (or other digital humanities training) would be beneficial. In discussion with the PI and Co-Is, the research associate will develop their own research agenda and publications arising from the experimental monthly Lab meetings, to analyse the archive of 430,000 letters using a combination of quantitative network analysis and traditional literary historical research.

For full details please see the official job posting at QMUL. Interested candidates are also encouraged to contact Dr Ruth Ahnert ([email protected]) for an informal discussion of the job and its requirements.

The closing date for applications is 23 September 2019. Interviews are expected to be held shortly thereafter.

ps. See also our second post-doctoral job opening for this project at the University of Oxford.

‘Networking Archives’ training schools and colloquium participants

We are delighted to announce the participants of our AHRC ‘Networking Archives’ training schools and colloquium. We received a large number of exceptionally strong applications for a limited number of places and the final selection was difficult. Thank you again to everyone who applied, and congratulations to the following scholars who will be joining us in July!

List of participants (with most recent institutional affiliation):

      • Evan Bourke (National University of Ireland)
      • Helen Brown (University of Oxford)
      • Caitlin Burge (University of York)
      • Mary Chadwick (Bangor University)
      • Hannah Coates (University of Leeds)
      • Melanie Evans (University of Leicester)
      • Giacomo Giudici (The Warburg Institute)
      • Mark Hill (University of Helsinki)
      • Neil Johnston (The National Archives, UK)
      • Ffion Jones (University of Wales)
      • Rachel Midura (Stanford University)
      • Emily Montford (King’s College London)
      • Yann Ryan (Queen Mary, University of London)
      • Ruggero Sciuto (University of Oxford)
      • Oscar Seip (University of Manchester)
      • Emily Stevenson (University of Liverpool)
      • Yasmin Vetter (University of Birmingham)
      • Luca Zenobi (University of Cambridge)

We look forward to meeting you at King’s College, Cambridge.


Apply for our Digital Humanities training, research, and publication opportunities

‘Networking Archives’ ( is a three-year collaborative research project that will merge the early modern correspondence data collected in ‘Early Modern Letters Online’ with metadata from ‘Gale State Papers Online’. The resulting dataset and accompanying infrastructure will allow researchers to interrogate and analyse epistolary metadata to pose new kinds of questions on the history of ‘intelligencing’ from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

A central goal of the project is to build a wider community of researchers and collaborators. To this end we have designed an opportunity for colleagues (of all career stages) with cognate interests to join us for a series of two funded training schools and a colloquium, which will provide:

  • training in best practices for data collection, preparation, and curation;
  • hands-on sessions to learn how to undertake network analysis and to gain basic skills in coding;
  • close collaboration with colleagues with similar research interests;
  • the opportunity to use newly acquired data-analysis skills to develop a paper for presentation in the colloquium;
  • feedback on this paper to develop it into a book-length chapter, which will be published in an edited collection of essays;
  • mentoring for existing projects, or in the development of new projects, using early modern letter data;
  • the potential to develop spin-off projects and funding applications arising from this work.

We are now accepting applications for the two training schools and the colloquium. One condition all applicants must fulfil is an advance commitment to attend all three events. These have been scheduled as:

Data curation (8–10 July 2019; King’s College, Cambridge)
Network analysis (6–8 January 2020; St Anne’s College, Oxford)
Colloquium (14–15 September 2020; St Anne’s College, Oxford)

Applications should consist of a CV (up to three sides of A4), and a one-page covering statement of suitability. Costs covered include all training, accommodation, breakfasts, lunches, and one dinner. In addition, applicants may apply for a contribution towards travel expenses if their institution is unable to provide support. These bursaries will be discretionary and, depending on the number of applicants calling on them, may vary in size.

Selection will favour candidates who clearly demonstrate one or more of the following:

  • existing work on early modern epistolary culture;
  • a focus on the UK State Papers archive, or on the Republic of Letters;
  • an existing archive or dataset they particularly want to work on from the perspective of network analysis;
  • some background in a complementary area of digital humanities.

Deadline: 1 April 2019. Decisions will be announced on or before 30 April.

To apply, please send your CV and statement (PDF or Word) to Esther van Raamsdonk <[email protected]>. Further questions about the training schools and colloquium, and the application process may be directed at Arno Bosse <[email protected]>.

Dr Esther van Raamsdonk joins ‘Networking Archives’

We are delighted to announce that Dr Esther van Raamsdonk has joined our project team as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant based at Queen Mary University of London.

Her Ph.D. thesis, ‘Milton, Marvell and Seventeenth-Century Anglo-Dutch Relations’ (University of Exeter) examines the connections between the United Provinces and England in a transnational framework. As well as developing several strands of under-considered connections in trade, politics, religion and intellectual exchange, the thesis explores Andrew Marvell and John Milton as crucially ‘European’ rather than only ‘English’ literary and political figures.

She is currently preparing a monograph from this material, due to be published this year, entitled ‘Milton, Marvell, and the Dutch Republic’, with Routledge. Her current research interests and publications include work on Milton and the spice trade, state intelligence gathering and information networks, Joost van den Vondel’s religious and political plays, Dutch and English demons in pamphlet culture, and common destinations and reactions displayed in travelogues of the period.

Please join us in welcoming Esther to ‘Networking Archives’!

Job Opening: Postdoctoral Research Assistant

We’re looking for a ‘Postdoctoral Research Assistant’ based at Queen Mary University London to join our project in January 2019. For full details please see the official job posting at QMUL. Interested candidates are also encouraged to contact Dr Ruth Ahnert ([email protected]) for an informal discussion of the job and its requirements.

The closing date for applications is 27 November 2018. Interviews are expected to be held shortly thereafter.