Stanford University

A Jesuit's Letters


  • Lead: Paula Findlen
  • Start Date: September 2009
  • Team: Suzanne Sutherland Duchacek
    Iva Lelkova
In the heart of baroque Rome the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) corresponded widely with patrons, scholars, his fellow Jesuits, and other members of the republic of letters. His fascinating encyclopedias were the product of a diffuse information network and, in turn, circulated through the Jesuit missionary network as well as channels of communication connecting Italy and Habsburg Europe, and facilitating relations between Catholics, Protestants, and converts in the first century of the Grand Tour.

This project builds on earlier work to create a digital archive, The Athanasius Kircher Correspondence Project created by Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding. It updates this correspondence archive and also explores new ways to map the political, religious, and intellectual geography of one of the most fascinating Jesuit scholars of the early modern period.

Our initial goal with this project was to update and improve the digital correspondence archive, since it was almost ten years old at the beginning of this project, and to see how difficult it would be to extract a pre-existing database of letters from a digital archive in order to visualize its contents. In 2008-10 we worked with Stanford University Libraries to accomplish these tasks. Dr. Duchacek is the principal editor of the new website that launched in 2010 (chk date; insert link). She also is responsible for editing and enhancing the data from the collection of Kircher’s letters at the Gregorian University in Rome that we extracted from The Athanasius Kircher Correspondence Project.

The arrival of Dr. Lelkova as a Fulbright Exchange Scholar at Stanford (2009-10) provided us with an additional team member with special expertise in Central and Eastern Europe. During 2009-11 she updated the bibliography of Kircher’s letters housed in other archives than the Gregorian University and worked with Dr. Duchacek to integrate them into the database. By 2011 we had a fairly complete database of Kircher’s correspondence.

During 2010-11 the Kircher team began its collaboration with DensityDesign, experimenting with different ways to visualize the patterns of Kircher’s correspondence. Duchacek and Lelkova explored the possibilities of using Fineo and presented their initial findings in March 2011 at the Cini Foundation workshop on “Mapping the Republic of Letters.”

The culminating products of this research will be an interactive map of Kircher’s correspondence, designed to enhance the digital archive, and an accompanying publication by Findlen, Duchacek, and Lelkova that draws upon their combined expertise to explore how a Jesuit’s letters reflect the geography of knowledge in the seventeenth century. We anticipate their completion in 2012-13.



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