Circles of Confidence in Correspondence

Modeling Confidentiality and Secrecy in Knowledge Exchange Networks of Letters and Drawings in the Early Modern Period

In: Nuncius
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  • 1 Huygens ING – The Hague
  • 2 Carnergie Mellon University Pittsburgh
  • 3 Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • 4 Huygens ING – The Hague

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Science in the early modern world depended on openness in scholarly communication. On the other hand, a web of commercial, political, and religious conflicts required broad measures of secrecy and confidentiality; similar measures were integral to scholarly rivalries and plagiarism. This paper analyzes confidentiality and secrecy in intellectual and technological knowledge exchange via letters and drawings. We argue that existing approaches to understanding knowledge exchange in early modern Europe – which focus on the Republic of Letters as a unified entity of corresponding scholars – can be improved upon by analyzing multilayered networks of communication. We describe a data model to analyze circles of confidence and cultures of secrecy in intellectual and technological knowledge exchanges. Finally, we discuss the outcomes of a first experiment focusing on the question of how personal and professional/official relationships interact with confidentiality and secrecy, based on a case study of the correspondence of Hugo Grotius.

  • 1

    Franz Mauelshagen, “Networks of Trust and Imagined Community of the Learned,” The Medieval History Journal, 2003, 6:1–32, p. 1.

  • 2

    Dirk van Miert, “Introduction,” in Communicating Observations in Early Modern Letters (1500–1675): Epistolography and Epistemology in the Age of the Scientific Revolution, edited by Dirk van Miert (London/Turin: The Warburg Institute/Nino Aragno Editore, 2013), p. 7.

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  • 3

    Maarten Ultee, “The Republic of Letters: Learned Correspondence, 1680–1720,” The Seventeenth Century, 1987, 2/1:95–112 for the various uses of the term Republic of Letters in the correspondence of Erasmus, Voltaire and Leibniz.

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  • 6

    Margócsy, “The Republican Army of Letters,” 2014. Title of an unpublished lecture presented at the History of Science Society annual meeting on November 8, 2014. We are indebted to Dániel Margócsy (Hunter College – City University of New York) for granting us access to his article in the process of revision for publication: “A Long History of Breakdowns: A Historiographic Review,” Social Studies of Science, [forthcoming], written as an introduction to the conference, Breaking Scientific Networks, organized by him at the Center for Science & Innovation Studies, University of California, Davis, April 25, 2014: (accessed 9 February 2015).

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  • 11

    David Stephan Lux, Harold John Cook, “Closed Circles or Open Networks?: Communicating at a Distance during the Scientific Revolution,” History of Science, 1998, 36:179–211.

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  • 19

    Edzo Hendrik Waterbolk, “Viglius als kaartenverzamelaar,” in Verspreide Opstellen (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1981), p. 144.

  • 22

    Charles van den Heuvel, “ ‘Capitaine Jehan Marie et Maistre Bastien d’ Utrecht’ – Enige onbekende tekeningen van Giovanni Maria Olgiati en Sebastiaan van Noyen van Spaanse grensversterkingen in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden rond het midden van de zestiende eeuw,” Jaarboek Stichting Menno van Coehoorn 1986, 87:9–23; Pieter Martens, Militaire architectuur en vestingoorlog in de Nederlanden tijdens het regentschap van Maria van Hongarije (1531–1555). De ontwikkeling van de vestingbouw, PhD (Ghent: Ghent University, 2009), pp. 175–207.

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  • 33

    Henk Nellen, Hugo Grotius. A Lifelong Struggle for Peace in Church and State, 1583–1645 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2015), p. 232.

  • 41

    Mario Biagioli, “Etiquette, Interdependence, and Sociability in Seventeenth-Century Science,” Critical Inquiry, 1996, 22/2:193–238.

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