‘John Locke likes this’: An ego-network analysis of Locke’s letters

Claude Willan

The goal of this project is to answer a simple question about John Locke: how did Locke think of his letters? Locke wrote over 3000 letters, one of the highest totals of anyone in the period loosely called ‘The Republic of Letters.’ And he wrote them to more or less everyone who was anyone in England at the time – as well as luminaries in France, the Netherlands, and further afield. He wrote about medicine, about education, about accounts, about what he was having for lunch – about anything and everything in his life. And he wrote to anyone who could be related to the debates he was involved in.

So what did the letter represent, to Locke? Was Locke simply a prolific letter writer, who found it simply the most convenient way to communicate with other people? Doubtless that’s true. But there’s more to it: for Locke the letter, the network of letters and letter-writers, was a goal worth pursuing in and of itself. In this project, I will show that Locke deliberately set himself up as a nexus between the many, many disparate communities in seventeenth century northern Europe, and brought them together to foster the creation of the public sphere.

This project will visualise the communities that Locke communicated with, and show the connections within those communities. Whether writing to puritans, theologians, astronomers, arabists, alchemists, tutors, or other doctors, Locke was often a unique connector between otherwise isolated bodies of scholarly and professional expertise, religious feeling, and scientific enquiry. Through Locke’s connections to some of the most famous and influential men and women in the country – like John and Sarah Churchill, the future Duke and Dutchess of Marlborough, or Thomas Tension, the Archbishop of Canterbury – Locke helped to unite the private intellectual foments of the early British Enlightenment and worked to build from them a single public.

Project Index

Note: Each item below should be cited separately. Follow the link to each page for citation information. The data are available for download from the Stanford Digital Repository. The data schema and interactive visualizations are viewable at this site.


Locke's Correspondents Graph by Modularity of the Subcommunities

Claude Willan
This graph shows the modularity of the subcommunities of Locke's ego-network.

Locke's Correspondents Graph by Religion at Birth

Claude Willan
This shows the religion of Locke's correspondents at birth; their conversions are recorded in a separate field. This graph shows that Anglicanism was far from ubiquitous in the diffuse hub of Locke's acquaintance. Dissenters, Catholics, and Anglicans were bound together by Locke's epistolary practice. This export is one of a small number of test exports among many; each correspondent has metadata encoded in upwards of forty categories; we provide these examples for illustrative effect.

Locke's Correspondents Graph Grouped by Members of the Royal Society

Claude Willan
This graph shows those correspondents of Locke's who were members of the Royal Society [FRS]. Membership clusters around Robert Boyle, in the lower central portion of the graph. This export is one of a small number of test exports among many; each correspondent has metadata encoded in upwards of forty categories; we provide these examples for illustrative effect.


Schema for John Locke's Correspondents

Claude Willan , 2010-2016
This schema describes the data and metadata structure behind my article, 'John Locke Likes This: An Ego-Network Analysis of Locke's Letters'. The schema describes the different data and metadata categories in the data set, and details not only the value ranges each field can contain but also some explanations of and justifications for those value ranges and the decisions I made in constructing them. It also includes miscellaneous caveats as to the data's construction. Some of the data is incomplete; I have chosen to leave some data carpentry undone. This will allow other researchers leeway to massage the data into the shapes that best suit their purposes. Since those purposes are as yet unknown, some data fields (dates, for example) are more raw than others. This schema was compiled with extensive reliance on Electronic Enlightenment, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and the journal Locke Studies.


Locke's Correspondents: Data, Metadata, and Relationality.
(This link will take you to the Stanford Digital Repository)

Claude Willan
Biographical data, metadata, and relational data for all 335 of Locke's correspondents. For a legend, please see the accompanying ontology explaining the meaning and structure of the terms used.

Mapping the Republic of Letters Project

Mapping the Republic of Letters has been an exciting collaboration for us, as well as an ongoing experiment in how to conduct collaborative, interactive historical research in a digital age. To learn more about that project, visit republicofletters.stanford.edu.