Patterns of Reference and Networks of Authority: Classical and Biblical Citations and the Production of a new Canon in Early Modern Culture 1500-1800

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Computing


Just as citation plays a central role in modern academic life, so early modern intellectuals lived in a predominantly text-based culture and cited numerous sources in their writings. More generally, people in the early modern period routinely cited and constructed their own moral and religious selves by means of biblical sources, while university-educated elites were familiar with hundreds of quotations from classical sources. The working and writing lives of medieval and early modern scholars was conditioned by their attitudes to ancient authorities: classical, biblical, and patristic. The commentary tradition, in which a series of exegetical techniques were deployed for grasping the accuracy and meaning of canonical texts, marked out a practical form of study for students in universities. The availability of printed editions meant that citations to both contemporary, classical or scriptural sources became fixed within texts, permitting, as Eisenstein puts it, a new 'era of intense cross-referencing between one book and another'. In many spheres, the possibility of breaking away from tradition and presenting oneself as a modern author, free to criticize rather than merely to interpret ancient sources, was contemporaneous with developments in print culture. Modern authors introduced a new set of citation practices, since references to ancient texts could signal a rejection rather than an appeal to authority. This in turn created a new forum for determining the credibility, accuracy and originality of modern authors, and hence their authority.

In the last two decades there has been substantial interest in the history of Renaissance and Early Modern forms of authorship, especially relating to authority through forms of reference to the past; e.g. R. Weimann on the authority of discourse in the early modern period; Ann Moss on commonplace-books and the structure of Renaissance thought; A. J. Minnis on authorship and textual criticism; R.J Connors on the rhetoric of citation systems; S.A Barney's collection of essays on textual annotation; Derrida, Cosgrove and Grafton on footnoting; Richmond-Garza on classical references in tragedy; Martindale and Taylor on Shakespeare's use of the classics; Clark and Leach on classical references in music.

By having the capacity to automatically search for citations and build up a visualization of Early Modern authors citing multiple source texts, we assume that 'patterns of reference' will emerge across different disciplines that will enable humanities researchers to establish more precisely the extent to which these areas of study are interconnected and mutually dependent on clusters and networks of classical and biblical sources. The ability to track citations across an entire period would constitute a major breakthrough in understanding important differences between citation practices in varying subjects (i.e. politics, natural philosophy, theology, literature); the transmission of authority through citation practices; and the production of a new canon. It is envisaged that any researcher armed with a digitized text could load it into our system and see which source texts are cited; who else has cited the same text (in part or whole); how a citation pattern relates to similar texts; and if there are 'worm-holes' (i.e. patterns that join up to create larger networks of reference that are self-referring).

The Project will have three parallel strands of research: (i) Historical: basic research on the history of citation and citation practices; (ii) Technical: tagging texts in XML-TEI; collaborative designing of tools based on humanities user needs; creating visualization for display of results; (iii) Evaluative: 4 stage iterative process of (a) identification/retrieval of citation, (b) classification of citations into types, (c) contextualization, (d) hypothesis building, and (e) interpretation of citations, that will enrich our understandingh of the 'culture of citations'.


10 25 50