Dropping out of circulation: How authors faded from 18th century learned journals

Tobias Winnerling

Time and Place: Thursday, 01.07., 15:05–15:25,Room 1
Session: Co-authorship and Citations

The aim of this paper is to show two entangled developments: how patterns of written references to scholars in learned journals faded over time, and how epistemic communities, that is, ‘invisible colleges’ centred around specific research questions rather than delineated by (not yet constructed) disciplines, were constructed in these journals by situating scholars within circles of other scholars. In the absence of a clear system of assigning scholars to disciplines and within journals which were general in scope, encompassing all of learning (skewed by their respective biases towards special topics), mapping out such imagined communities of scholars being referred to in the same contexts sheds light on the formation processes of fields of inquiry within the republique des lettres. This is especially important to determine the reasons why any given scholars were mentioned at all, and why journals ceased mentioning them after some time.

To be able to do so, I focus on four scholars selected as exemplary figures the references to whom and the scholars co-cited with them I tracked over the course of the whole 18th century in a corpus composed of a sample of learned journals. These scholars, serving as my protagonists here, are the German-Dutch reformed theologian and Hebraist Johannes Braun (1628–1708), the English Anglican theologian and classical philologist Thomas Gale (1636–1702), the Dutch ‘oriental’ philologist, historian and religious scholar Adriaan Reland (1676–1718), and the French ‘oriental’ philologist and church historian Eusèbe Renaudot (1646–1720). 

The data set constructed to visualize and analyse these patterns covers all issues of four major learned journals of the 18th century – between January 1701 and December 1799 – referencing my protagonists. This sample comprised the Journal des Savants (Paris); the Philosophical Transactions (London); the Maandelyke Uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt (Amsterdam); and the Acta Eruditorum plus Nova Acta Eruditorum (Leipzig). To allow for co-citation analysis despite the absence of a formal citation scheme or system, which were not yet developed by learned journals in the 18th century, all other persons and publications mentioned together with at least one of my protagonists on the same page were tracked.

This focus on individual pages rather than full texts (articles/papers) was due to two reasons:

a) Extracting all references and publications from the complete texts in questions, most of which are review articles focused on certain publications and which usually cover between 5 and 20 pages, would not have been possible as it all had to be done manually;

b) as I had to manually extract all data from full text I necessarily had to close-read large parts of these texts, which showed that quite usually they were arranged topically. Thus scholars and publications considered as relating to the same topic by the author of the text in question were referred to close to each other, and the discussion was consequently moved to other topics. Identifying persons and publications on the same page thus captured a reasonably large clipping of scholars clustered around a specific research question.

To process the corpus, all issues from the respective journals falling into the 18th century were accessed as full texts via HathiTrust which were then searched for pages on which at least one of my protagonists was either referred to by name or cited with a publication. For each of these pages all other names of scholars and cited publications were manually assembled, identified, and entered into a Nodegoat database. 

The completed data set contains data of 395 journal issues, in which 1532 persons and 841 publications are co-cited together with my protagonists. The resulting network data are used for: 

a) co-referencing analysis, relations being defined by who is named on the same page as my protagonists;

b) co-citation analysis, relations being defined by being cited on a page my protagonists were either cited or referred to.

Nodegoat was used for diachronic visualization of the data set for both patterns of relations, while the results were checked by running the exported data in Gephi also, using gliding ten year averages. The results make clear that not only the patterns of references are specific to each scholar within each journal (although the aggregated data show that the patterns for Reland and Renaudot are similar, as are those for Braun and Gale) but also that the epistemic communities built from scholars being frequently co-referred to or co-cited with each other were no stable entities in the 18th century but subject to shifts over time and differences between journals.

It also becomes clear that a rapid decline of reference frequencies sets in about ten to twenty years after each protagonist’s death, to be followed by long phases of low-scale intermittent irregular referencing – that is what I call fading into structural oblivion – only disrupted by occasional spikes caused by rising attention connected to specific intellectual currents and events.  

¹ This paper presents some results connected with my current research project on the topic, see: http://www.fading18-20.hypotheses.org/ for more information. 


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