Writings:An enquiry into the uses and abuses of digital history

Past Conference: RSA 2024 Chicago

After last year’s RSA in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this time there was a completely different setting: Chicago. On the photo featured here, you can see me in action on the last day of the conference. That was too bad, especially since I had hoped for better after last year, but the conference in general proved very fruitful.

I used this opportunity, to present someo of the work that I undertook for my dissertation. In the near future, I hope to turn this into an article. My abstract was as follows:

In the early modern period, news circulated through easily adaptable anonymous handwritten news-sheets. This paper discusses how the analysis of these adaptations aids our understanding of the broader networks in which this type of document circulated. It comprises a structural comparison based on a dataset built from two different archives and highlights examples of similarities both between and within these collections.

How and when these documents were created is difficult to unravel as they were frequently copied, edited, and paraphrased. The advantage is, however, that with the application of similarity analysis, we can systematically recover the documents’ textual history. The mathematical formula of cosine similarity traces news items with a high degree of similitude across the dataset. This enables one to recover traces of how news traveled between regions and illuminates to what extent different collections were based on the same sources. This method also resurfaced some particularly intriguing examples of news writers making small mistakes during the process of newsletter compilation. This further illuminates the method in which these documents were created on which we otherwise know very little.

Past Conference: 16th-Century Conference Baltimore

This year, the annual conference of the Sixteenth Century Society was held in Baltimore between 26 and 29 October. As I stationed not too far from there this year, it seemed a good opportunity to participate in person.

Instead of presenting from my current project on early modern news, I decided to go back and prepare some material taken from my master’s thesis, which was also based on extensive archival research.

Read my complete abstract here:

The blame for the French descent in Italy of 1494 is not rarely put on Ludovico Sforza. That has not been without reason as he was instrumental in Charles VIII’s advent. The overtly Italian patriotic rhetorics that he would express after his volte-face and adherence to the Italian league in 1495 has therefore raised many eyebrows. Less known, however, are his involvement in discussions on ‘the health of Italy’ while still collaborating with the French the year prior. When reading the correspondence with his Este and Gonzaga relatives residing in their own Padan courts, it is striking how often they dwell upon ‘the matters of Italy’. Already in 1494, before the French had even set foot in Italy, Ludovico seems fully aware that he endangered the international position of his own state as well as those of other Italian princes.

The fact that Ludovico felt pressured to come up with excuses in front of his peers for harming the interests of ‘Italy’ shows that this was a matter of concern among his relatives. A recurring expression in the correspondence is that of ‘Italy and her states’. The elite, therefore, seems to have represented the Italian ‘nation’ first and foremost as the status quo among themselves. As the princes of these states were often related to each other, the notion of the nation is therefore sometimes represented as a family affair, notwithstanding the heavy-handedness which with some of these Renaissance princes treated their relatives.

New Year, New Adventures

I am elated that this year I am embarking on an exciting new adventure. Because my dissertation is all but finished, I have been able to think about the ‘what after’ question. This has resulted in a year-long fellowship at the German Historical Institute, Washington and George Mason University. That also means that in about a week, I will be moving to the DMV area in order to attend the institutions of this residential fellowship.

During my PhD, I have obviously extensively worked on manuscript newsletters. Thanks to my Gerda Henkel Fellowship, I will be able to continue doing this in a completely different way. Whereas at first, the documents were still mainly transcribed manually, in this fellowship I will aim to integrate Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technologies in my workflow.

Past Conference: RSA 2023 San Juan

Last week, we attended the Renaissance Society of America Conference with a EURONEWS panel. This year, the conference was held in San Juan, Porto Rico, which certainly required an update of my wardrobe of conference gear compared to last year Dublin’s-based edition.

Follow the link for more information: https://rsa.confex.com/rsa/2023/meetingapp.cgi/Session/6504

There were many interesting DH panels among which the open meeting of the Digital and Electronic Media community. As you can see above, I have also been spotted here in my new beige blazer, with my supervisor Prof. Dooley right next to me.

The EURONEWS panel itself was on the morning of the conference’s last day. For those interested, I have reproduced my abstract in full here below:

The separation of the news genre from that of history in the sixteenth century brought a new awareness of time. The manuscript newsletters that arrived with weekly intervals, bearing news from different places, gave the present a more distinctive character. Already in early modern times, there was understood to be a relation between the genres of history and news. In the historiography, historical awareness is not understood to be perennial, but only to have come into existence around the sixteenth century, roughly around the same time that the manuscript newsletter was introduced. The development of this historical awareness is generally considered to go hand in hand with a shift from a worldview based on ‘universal’ Christian values to one based on particular moments in time. This paper will explore this tension between universals and particulars with relation to the sixteenth-century manuscript newsletter (also called avviso). Attention will be paid to, among other aspects, the republic of Genoa, which received ample attention in the news during the civil war of 1575-76. The Republic’s citizens are during this time represented in the news as being divided between two particular constitutional moments in the city’s history, namely the years 1528 and 1547.

New Article: Temporal Philology

It is with great excitment, that I can announce that a paper from my hand has been published in the DH journal Magazén. The complete title follows: “Reconstructing Patterns of Avvisi Creation and Distribution With Travel Times”. The aim has been to develop a method to systematically study the speed with which the news travelled over the European continent (and beyond). The scope of the article is further explained in the abstract:

Continue reading New Article: Temporal Philology

Past Event: Research Showcase

On 21 June, I was back in Cork to present at UCC’s Research Showcase on behalf of the EURONEWS project. Here, I discussed the general outline of the project endeavors to create a new workflow for the study of manuscript newsletters. At the same time, it was a good moment to receive an update about the other research projects active at UCC. A short impression of the day can be found hereunder.

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Past event: Opening Virtual Exhibition

The following is from a few months back, but we had not shared the recording at this venue yet. The EURONEWS project has been working for a while on the news of what is perhaps the most stupefying siege from the early-modern period. The Siege of Ostend was so unusual because it lasted for no less than three years. Therefore, the EURONEWS project has worked for a long time to collect several reports coming from this event. This has led to a digital exhibition for which I have also written several contributions, and which can be visited here.

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Past Workshop: The Making and Unmaking of Identities

The last two days, I have participated in the workshop ‘The Making and Unmaking of Identities in the Early Modern Mediterranean’. A full grasp of the cultural and political dynamics within the Mediterranean are fundamental in order to better understand the manuscript newsletters from here. This region also takes a pivotal place within the news network in general. The workshop has proved to be most useful in this respect and I hope to be able to integrate these new insights into my dissertation.

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Upcoming Conference: RSA

Tomorrow, the conference of the Renaissance Society America will commmence. This year the RSA will take place in Dublin. Naturally, the EURONEWS project cannot be absent from this venue. Therefore, I will present on the second day of the conference, Thursday 31 March. Together with my supervisor Prof. Brendan Dooley and with Dr. Davide Boerio, postdoc in our project, I will form a panel that will start at 09:00 in a room at the main venue, the Convention Center Dublin. Details can be found here.

My wish is use this opportunity to disclose some of my digital strategies in studying manuscript newsletters. This can of course also be understood from the abstract of my paper which follows:

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Upcoming Conference: Free Speech

Next week, I will be participating in the conference Religion and Free Speech in the Early Modern Period on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th of November. Originally, it was planned to be held in person in Amsterdam, but due to recent developments the event is scheduled to take place online on zoom.

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