Monthly Archives: November 2012

Burnett, on maps

I’ve been thinking about the correspondence of Thomas Burnett of Kemnay, particularly his correspondence with Leibniz (thus this earlier post and indeed this one).[1] Here I’d like to think a little bit about Burnett’s travels, and the geographical distribution of the correspondence. For now I’d like to focus on correspondence with Leibniz, and on the years 1695 to 1705.[2]

Figure 1 shows what might seem to be the three most important geographical locations involved. It shows Kemnay (where Burnett was from), London (where he spent a good deal of time) and Hanover (where Leibniz was, for the most part).

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Measuring and mapping

[Cross-posted from]

I’ve been thinking about Justin Smith’s post Philosophometry, with its reference to Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, and more generally to “the value of quantitative, digitally based study” of the texts one is interested in. There is, as Smith says, a good deal of such discussion of such approaches in the humanities, if not in philosophy — this is part of what goes on under the name of ‘digital humanities’. This is something by which I’ve been persistently intrigued, despite never really doing anything about it.

There is a problem — at least a practical one — with the approach Smith has in mind. One apparently needs “to compile a massive database of texts, titles, key words [and] key arguments”. But how do we do this? Generating a database in this way apparently requires a good deal of interpretation. Do we have to commit to close reading of everything, before we can do the data analysis?┬áIf the project is to map the locations of occurrence of certain views, then probably yes. But is there the same necessity in all ‘digital humanities’ approaches to history of philosophy?

One paper that has attempted an approach of this sort in the history of modern philosophy, with explicit reference to Moretti, is Shaun Nichols’ ‘The Rise of Compatibilism: A Case Study in the Quantitative History of Philosophy’ (Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (2007), 260-70) [pdf]. And Nichols addresses this problem:

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