Mapping the Republic of Letters

Mapping the Republic of Letters is a visualization project that maps patterns of letter-writing networks of Voltaire, Galileo, Locke, and other intellectuals from those eras. The maps give the user a better sense of the shape and structure of the communication networks of letter-writing. The projects add and visualize complexity to a lost world of letter-writing.

  1. What kind of files, data, objects are being used in the project in question?

The site uses picture files to visualize the content. The data used tracks names, geographic locations, dates, the letters themselves, the number of letters written by a person, and the recipients. There is also chart data that provides the subject of the letter (e.i. military, sciences, clergy, state officials). Additionally, there are various interactive maps and charts for each case study. The maps and charts visualize the network of the letter writing from all over the world and give the data context.

  1. What’s the project research question? Or, questions?

The scholars behind this project created a source of data and visualization that details the communication and scholarship from earlier eras. This site aims to understand what the structure of the networks looked like, how extensive they were, and how they evolved over time.

  1. What tools are being used?  Created?

To support these files and objects, there were many different tools that were used. For the various graphics, photo editing software was used to add description and content to the pictures. Scanners were used to transfer the letters from physical to virtual. They used archives like the BnF Catalogue of letters to collect data. Spreadsheets and databases were used to organize, digitize, and chart the data from the letters. Additionally, they used mapping software tools to visualize the network. Mapping the Republic of Letters used a plethora of visualization tools, they used: Palladio, Idiographic, Knot, Inquiry, Fineo, Corrispondenza, and RPLVIZ.

  1. What methods are being undertaken?

The methods used were data analysis and digitization via scanning and databases. In addition, the method of visualization brought the data to life.

Alex Cadet and Alex Straus