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Special Collection: Histories of Ignorance

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Moving Around in Narrowing Circles: How Four Scholars Got Forgotten in Eighteenth-Century Learned Journals


Tobias Winnerling

Heinrich-Heine-Universität, DE
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This article takes up the production of ignorance in early modern academic information circulation by focusing on the question of how information changes from being present to being absent in the medium of the learned journal—in short, how knowledge becomes forgotten. To examine the processes behind this change, I have selected four exemplary late-seventeenth- to early-eighteenth-century scholars: Johannes Braun (1628–1708), Thomas Gale (1636–1702), Adriaan Reland (1676–1718), and Eusèbe Renaudot (1646–1720), and tracked their reception over the course of the eighteenth century, as indicated by patterns of references to them in learned journals. To this end, I chose four exemplary eighteenth-century learned journals, the [Nova] Acta Eruditorum, the Journal des Savants, the Maandelyke Uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt, and the Philosophical Transactions, and searched digitally for all references to the four scholars between 1 January 1701 and 31 December 1800. Each journal page bearing at least one reference to one of these scholars is treated as a textual unit for the extraction of co-citation data. These co-citation data were then used as material for a diachronic network analysis of the reference patterns. The results show that the frequency of references made to all four scholars began to decline demonstrably in the middle of the eighteenth century and that by the last quarter they had become forgotten, that is, effectively “ignored.” These processes turn out to be context-sensitive and not determined by the quality of the contributions of those who became forgotten.


This article is part of a special issue entitled “Histories of Ignorance,” edited by Lukas M. Verburgt and Peter Burke.

How to Cite: Winnerling, Tobias. 2021. “Moving Around in Narrowing Circles: How Four Scholars Got Forgotten in Eighteenth-century Learned Journals”. Journal for the History of Knowledge 2 (1): 8. DOI:
  Published on 29 Nov 2021
 Accepted on 28 Jun 2021            Submitted on 24 Sep 2020

Ignorance and Forgetting

In this paper, I examine patterns of references to scholars in learned journals that fade over time to show how ignorance was produced in eighteenth-century academic information circulation.1 I focus on how something once known, in this case a scholar’s work and name, becomes forgotten, that is, knowable in theory but unknown in practice, or “ignored.” Forgetting is the process, ignorance the product. I am not concerned with the synchronic construction of ignorance—the processes that deny importance to something from the start.2 Instead, my argument revolves around the diachronic production of ignorance, which entails processes that gradually lead to perceiving something as non-important. In these processes, individual and collective processes are inextricably intertwined, “[f]or here the personal oblivion we call death and the societal oblivion we call forgetting are two sides of the same coin.”3 Ignorance through forgetting is the result of selective choice processes within an economy of knowledge.4 As such, ignorance is a cultural product deserving closer study.5 This also applies to the institutionalized form of remembrance in a scholarly context in which references to persons are made via formalized citation procedures. Each such reference, though itself an individual process, is conditioned by culturally constructed frameworks that determine how to operate within a respective discipline or genre and thus carries supra-individual significance.6 Vice versa, this also applies to the negative counterpart of non-referencing.7 As Paul Connerton put it: “So really the notion of forgetting on a societal scale is to suggest two things: first, that the collective representations held knowledge about the matter in general for all competent participants; and second, that the knowledge was progressively lost.”8

Until now, however, these relationships have largely been explored in theoretical form. This paper attempts to sketch how the nexus between forgetting and ignorance might be explored in a more empirically grounded manner by investigating how knowledge loss happened in eighteenth-century academia. To this end, I focus on the circulation of references to four sample scholars in four sample learned journals from France, England, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire. The kind of ignorance I am interested in here thus never concerns the eighteenth-century public as a whole but only those parts of it with academic affiliations. Among these, it is restricted to a largely north-west European share of this social formation. I chose journals as sources for the sample because of the prominent place they occupied in early modern knowledge formation.9 They quickly became the most important platforms for communicating information within the Republic of Letters.10

Four Eighteenth-Century Journals

I concentrate on four leading learned journals in Europe that attracted national as well as international attention and ran over at least most of the eighteenth century. As technical and logistical obstacles made it impossible for journals to be broadly marketed on an international scale, smaller local and regional journals copied or abstracted articles and notices from the leading ones for news to present to their readers.11 The original content thus proliferated quite quickly, even beyond the readership of the journals they came from.12 I selected the Journal des Savants (Paris), the Philosophical Transactions (London), the Maandelyke Uittreksels, of Boekzaal der geleerde waerelt (Amsterdam), and the Acta Eruditorum/Nova Acta Eruditorum (Leipzig). All four published reviews, research articles, and nova literaria (scholarly news). The Philosophical Transactions put much more emphasis on research articles than reviews and, in modern terminology, favored the natural sciences over the humanities. The Maandelyke Uittreksels in turn favored the humanities, foremost theology, publishing almost nothing but reviews and nova literaria. The Journal des Savants and the (Nova) Acta Eruditorum were situated between these two.

Three of these journals were already established in the seventeenth century while the Maandelyke Uittreksels was first published in 1715. Only two journals saw the end of the century: the Philosophical Transactions and the Maandelyke Uittreksels, both of which continued beyond 1800. The Acta Eruditorum transformed into the Nova Acta Eruditorum in 1732 but changed very little in content. Under its last editor, Karl Andreas Bel (1717–1782), the journal slowly ceased to operate between 1776 and Bel’s death. The Journal des Savants went out of print in revolutionary France in 1792. Thus, the only period covered by all four journals is 1715–1782, with the years 1701–1715 and 1782–1792 covered by three journals and 1792–1800 by two.

Four Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century Scholars

The scholars who serve as the protagonists are Johannes Braun (1628–1708), Thomas Gale (1636–1702), Adriaan Reland (1676–1718), and Eusèbe Renaudot (1646–1720), all of whom were well-known and well-connected during their lifetimes and faded into oblivion soon afterwards. I chose four moderately but not overly successful scholars of their day so as to be able to show the unobvious nature of processes falling into oblivion. In this sense, they may stand as the John Does of late-seventeenth and early eighteenth-century academia.

What kind of average, modestly successful scholar were they? To begin with, they shared a strong philological background: Thomas Gale was a classicist who edited ancient Greek and Latin sources; Johannes Braun and Adriaan Reland worked on biblical Hebrew; and Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot edited sources in Arabic, Aramaic, and Chaldean. Reland had an additional research interest in Persian and Renaudot was also an active Coptic scholar.

Second, they also shared a strong theological background. Thomas Gale held a D.D. and ultimately became Dean of York Cathedral.13 Johannes Braun was a reformed minister in the Dutch Republic before becoming a professor of (reformed) theology at Groningen University. Although Braun advocated for a minority position in Dutch reformed theology at the time, his main theological work was quite successful during his lifetime.14 Adriaan Reland held two professorial posts at Utrecht University (Oriental Languages and Biblical Antiquities), the latter tied to the theological faculty, and was foreign member of the British “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.” His first major publication, an annotated edition of Quranic texts, was generally regarded as too accommodating towards Islam by contemporaries.15 Eusèbe Renaudot took Catholic orders as an Oratorian early in his life but soon dropped out of the order because of bad health.16 He kept his vows and lived a clerical life afterwards, developing strong connections to the Benedictine monks of St.-Germain-des-Prés.17

Third, they all shared a strong interest in historical subjects, from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. Thomas Gale edited late ancient and medieval British chronicles, and Eusèbe Renaudot published on the Eastern Christian churches and the Coptic patriarchate of Alexandria.18 Johannes Braun and Adriaan Reland both published on Hebrew antiquity, Reland detailing the geography and history of ancient Palestine.19

The four differed somewhat more in regard to their institutional positions. Thomas Gale was made Regius professor of Greek at Cambridge University in 1672 but left this post in 1673 to become headmaster of St. Paul’s School, London. He was an early member of the Royal Society, serving as the society’s secretary from 1679–1681 and 1685–1693 and as vice president in 1682.20 When he moved from London to York in 1697, his active engagement with the society ceased, but he still kept the connections alive he had established during his spells as secretary.

Johannes Braun started out as a preacher for the French reformed church in the Dutch Republic. Of German extraction (he was born in Kaiserslautern), Braun had moved to French-speaking Lorraine early in his life before studying in Leiden.21 In 1661, he became preacher to the Huguenot community in the town of Nijmegen and professor of Hebrew and Biblical history at the local Gymnasium Academicum. In 1680, he was offered a professorship of theology at Groningen University, which he held until his death in 1708.22

Adriaan Reland made his way through Dutch academia much faster than Braun, having been offered a professorial post at Harderwijk University in 1700 and then moving to Utrecht University as professor of Oriental languages in 1701. In 1713, he was awarded the additional professorship of Biblical antiquities after declining an offer from Leiden.23 When he died in 1718, contemporaries regarded him as an outstanding linguistic specialist.24

Eusèbe Renaudot pursued his scholarly career in Paris where his family was well-connected: both his father and grandfather had been private physicians to the royal family. In 1680, he took over the Gazette de France as chief editor, the privilege of which had been heritable in the Renaudot family since 1631.25 In 1681, he was admitted into the Académie Française, and, in 1689, into the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. This placed him at one of the central hubs of eighteenth century scholarship.26

Between them, the four protagonists cover much of the range of the north-west European part of the république des lettres: two of them Dutch, one English, and one French; two Calvinists, one Anglican, and one Catholic; two university professors, two members of learned societies. Two of them died very early in the eighteenth century, Gale in 1702 and Braun in 1708. The other two lived into the century’s second decade, Reland dying in 1718 and Renaudot in 1720.

Co-citation, Forgetting, and Ignorance

Peter Wehling redefined the term “rational ignorance” as a function of the costs incurred by acquiring knowledge. To gain knowledge, actors need to invest resources. Once an actor becomes convinced that the costs of acquiring some knowledge outweigh its presumed benefits, it is rational not to get to know.27 Deciding which knowledge to acquire and pass on and which not by referencing the respective works and authors or not became a central process in the formation of early modern scholarship.28 An evolutionary epistemology of knowledge thus needs to take decisions involving non-reception, that is, the omission of references that could justly have been expected to be made, into account for the development of bodies of knowledge in general.29

Scientific publications are always selective in prioritizing some kinds of knowledge over others, and, as outlined above, single out low-priority knowledge to be omitted, that is, to become forgotten.30 If knowledge practices are shaped by such utilitarian considerations, what does this mean historically? Actors who decide not to invest in knowledge leave only implicit traces of these decisions. If, as a result of an author’s decisions, a text does not include information a historian would have reason to expect to be included, then a recognizable lacuna will be produced.31 Moreover, eighteenth-century scholars rather consciously chose references to specific persons according to patterns and strategies of self-advancement.32 The question, then, is how such processes and strategies can be studied on a larger scale as I want to do here. There are some studies that try to map information onto persons in historical perspective, but these consider only networks of contemporaries.33 The same applies to the one longue durée study of how networks fall apart over time that has been undertaken so far.34 Since I am concerned with posthumous and diachronic reference patterns, I need to modify these approaches, and have settled for a modified variant of co-citation analysis.

Corpus and Analysis

The data set covers all issues of the four journals between January 1701 and December 1800 in which at least one of the protagonists was mentioned. The searches were done using digitized editions of the journals available via Hathi Trust.35 I have read in full selected issues to cross-check the full-text search and found it to be highly accurate. All hits were inspected manually to cull false positives. All persons and publications mentioned together with at least one of the protagonists on the same page were noted as references and, if possible, identified.

To account for the structure of the processes involved in circulating information about the protagonists, I submitted the references to co-citation analysis. Co-citation analysis is well established in bibliometry and information science. The idea behind the method is that persons who are often cited together in scientific texts are bound to be connected thematically, as persons are purposefully referred to in such texts.36 Co-citation analysis has been under development since the middle of the twentieth century,37 especially for texts in the natural sciences.38 To study the evolution of bodies of knowledge, co-citation analysis has already been combined with diachronic network analysis.39 But co-citation analysis has rarely been applied to historical cases, and the studies that have been done so far look back only two or three decades from the time of the particular study itself.40 Applications to pre-nineteenth-century texts are very few apart from analyses of epistolary communications.41

Co-citation analysis is best suited for texts that use a clear method for indicating citations and have an easily identifiable bibliographical section detailing the quoted literature. In their modern form, providing citations and bibliographical references is a product of nineteenth-century scholarship.42 In working with texts conforming to these standards, it is established procedure to process all references in one text together, treating all of them as respectively co-cited. I have not done this, as the texts in my corpus do not fulfil these requirements. Most of them are review articles providing overviews of the state of learned discussion for each particular topic they cover. They have no bibliographical section and provide all references in-text, most of the time in rather cryptically abbreviated form. Nevertheless, such references are functionally bibliographical.43

Because of the broad thematic scope of the reviews, which account for the largest share of texts in my corpus and which detail information about each topic touched upon by the work under review, it would have been useless to extract all the references from one review and treat them as co-cited with protagonists who only appeared in a discussion on one of the topics. But since the topics were discussed individually, all those referred to who were in close proximity to the protagonists were probably seen as conceptually or thematically related. As an easy-to-handle standard to be applied equally to all the texts in the corpus for consistency, I defined “close proximity” as “referred to on the same page” for the purpose of this article. Where one of the protagonists was mentioned, I treated all persons and works referred to on the same page as co-cited. If this was the case for several pages of an article, or even all of them, I processed each page individually. Each of these pages was in effect treated as a separate text.

The margin of error caused by not counting authors co-cited with the protagonists but accidentally separated by a page break is at most about 10 percent, as indicated by manual cross-checks. This is not a standard approach to co-citation. To my knowledge, this method has not been used before. It has not been employed in any of the literature cited. But it was necessitated by the source materials and the obstacles they raised in regard to data collection.44 The data were processed with Gephi to be visualized and analyzed as network graphs (see Diagrams 1 to 9).45

Diagram 1 

Co-citation network, first decade: 1701–1710.50

Patterns I: Circulation

The graphs (Diagrams 1 to 5) show a more or less continuous circulation of references to the protagonists for the first half of the eighteenth century. Authors are modeled as network nodes and co-citations as edges that link the nodes. For each graph, strong edges (weight above 1), the lines that indicate more than one co-citation, are colored in black, and two network centrality measures (betweenness and PageRank) were visualized. Network centrality measures are mathematical methods that originated from Social Network Analysis. I use them here to determine the structural properties of nodes in a network in order to identify the most central and, by consequence, most important nodes. Each of these measures represents a different concept how to express the importance of a given node as a function of the network.

Betweenness and PageRank are appropriate metrics to determine the relative importance of authors within the network of co-citation references extracted from the corpus. Betweenness was originally devised to account for the share of flows in a network that passes through a given node and to quantify the node’s capability to control the flows.46 As there were no actual flows between my co-cited authors, I use betweenness to measure the intellectual connectivity of an author within the network. Nodes scoring high on betweenness indicate that the authors represented by the nodes offered points of departure for various scholarly topics, which heightened the probability of them being referred to.47 Betweenness is visualized by the intensity of the node color: the darker, the higher.

PageRank was originally devised to rank websites within the results obtained through executing a search algorithm by measuring the likelihood of a given page being visited by a user entering the web from a random point.48 An eighteenth-century reader of learned journals would also often plunge into scholarly discussions at random points. PageRank can be taken to account for the relative importance of a given author within a co-citation network, because both the hyper-textually linked internet and the web of scholarly texts entangled by mutual references can be interpreted as “attention economies,”49 that is, a competitive system where public attention is the crucial measure for success. Nodes scoring high on PageRank thus represent those authors to whom it was especially attractive to refer to textually within the network. In the visualizations, PageRank is indicated by node size: the larger, the higher. Both measures have the advantage of not being mathematically affected by the hairball structures, mass citations produced by lists of dozens of authors on a single page, which occur frequently throughout the corpus.

The first two decades of the eighteenth century is the time period within which all the protagonists died. Thomas Gale and Johannes Braun died in the first decade, Adriaan Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot in the second.

Interestingly, both graphs consist of only one component because all nodes are part of one interconnected whole. These connections are established by authors co-cited with the protagonists rather than by the protagonists themselves, who were not directly co-cited with each other, with the exception of Johannes Braun (node 3) and Adriaan Reland (node 2) who were co-cited once in Diagram 2. This could not have been expected prima facie since the discussions may have been fragmented by journal, confession, nationality, language, or other factors. Instead, it turns out that early in the eighteenth century, the discussions featuring the four scholars were integrated into a discourse belonging to a larger république des lettres. Both graphs are characterized by many strong edges, that is, connections of authors co-cited together more than once. The subgraphs are not connected by strong edges because there are no secondary authors cited two or more times with two or more of the protagonists: their close-connection networks do not overlap. Both graphs feature almost the same number of co-cited authors: 348 in the first decade and 345 in the second. These numbers indicate that the discussions had fluctuated in intensity over time. Between 1711 and 1720 roughly the same number of authors was referred to as between 1701 and 1710, although the Maandelyke Uittreksels provided an additional source of potential references since 1715.50

Diagram 2 

Co-citation network, second decade: 1711–1720.

Both graphs display a characteristic feature: densely connected grey hairball structures. These hairballs are indicative of texts that provide an overview of a research field by listing all the scholars connected to it that the reviewer knew. The large hairball in the lower left quadrant of Diagram 1 is the result of a Journal des Savants review from March 1702 of the tenth volume of Thomas Theodor Crusius’s (Crenius, 1648–1728) Animadversiones historicae et philologicae. It listed sixty-five scholars with whom Crusius had engaged, including Johannes Braun, of which forty-nine are visualized here (ancient and medieval authors subtracted).51 All forty-nine are visualized as being connected to all the others because they are all co-cited on the same page, which is what generated the hairball. Such mass citations are usually characterized by the absence of strong edges, showing that the authors in question were co-cited only once over the entire decade. This indicates that these authors were already quite obscure, or at least peripheral to the discussions in which the protagonists were referred to in the corpus.

The 1720s (Diagram 3) are marked by the first drop in the number of references. The number of authors co-cited went down to 315, and the network is much less densely interconnected. The number of strong edges also decreased, creating separate citational spaces for Eusèbe Renaudot (node 1), Adriaan Reland (node 2), and Thomas Gale (node 4). Johannes Braun (node 3) is now represented by just an ordinary node, without any strong edges at all. His reception obviously died down during this decade, and he was rarely discussed. For the first time, Eusèbe Renaudot surpassed Adriaan Reland in terms of connectivity. In regard to both PageRank (node size) and betweenness (node color), Renaudot figures prominently in the visualization, although he outstripped Reland only in PageRank.52

Diagram 3 

Co-citation network, third decade: 1721–1730.

Renaudot’s prominent position in the web of strong connections in the upper and lower right quadrants of Diagram 3 is due to two discussions in the 1720s. The first one concerned a controversy that arose in 1724 following the publication of Pierre-François Le Courayer’s (1681–1776) Dissertation sur la validité des ordinations des Anglois, a tract that defended the orthopraxy and validity of Anglican episcopal ordinations as conforming to Catholic theory and practice of episcopal succession. Le Courayer’s work caused violent Catholic opposition.53 His principal opponent, the Dominican Michel le Quien (1661–1733), an old acquaintance of Renaudot, had printed a formerly unpublished memoir of his during the debate.54 The second discussion was centered on the Oratorian Pierre LeBrun’s (1661–1729) commentary on the Mass. Renaudot featured prominently in reviews of this work as LeBrun had made ample use of Renaudot’s writings on the Eastern Churches.55 Strong edges in the visualization thus are indicative of more intensive debates. In each case, Eusèbe Renaudot was referenced to by the Journal des Savants. Since the epicenter of both debates was in France, Renaudot’s rise to prominence during this decade was thus dependent on the contingencies of national discourses.

In the 1730s and 1740s, the developments of the 1720s were reversed. The number of nodes as well as the number of strong edges rose again, reaching 407 co-cited authors in the 1730s (Diagram 4) and 373 in the 1740s (Diagram 5). In the 1730s, the discursive connections are less pronounced than in the 1740s when all the protagonists are linked within a sub-network formed by strong edges. This points to some overarching topics that sufficiently united the different perspectives of the journals to create a group of authors cited alongside each other often enough to form a robust circuit of information.56

Diagram 4 

Co-citation network, fourth decade: 1731–1740.

Diagram 5 

Co-citation networks, fifth decade: 1741–1750.

Patterns II: Descending into Ignorance—Becoming Forgotten

As suddenly as interest in the four scholars rose in the 1730s and 1740s, it waned again in the decades afterwards. The 1750s (Diagram 6) shows a much less dense network, much of which is concentrated in three hairball structures that correspond to three citation-heavy articles. The three articles consisted of a 1751 review of the 1748 re-edition of Adriaan Reland’s poems by Abraham Perrenot (1726–1784), a 1757 review of Claude-François Lambert’s (1705–1765) Histoire littéraire du regne de Louis XIV, and a 1759 announcement of the first part of the fifth volume of Charles Pierre Chais’s (1700/1–1785) La sainte Bible.57 All three were published in the Nova Acta Eruditorum. There was, however, one discussion in the 1750s to which Adriaan Reland and Eusèbe Renaudot were connected, which is captured by the tangle of strong edges visible in the middle of the top half of Diagram 6.

Diagram 6 

Co-citation networks, sixth decade: 1751–1760.

This tangle is due to a quarrel between the British antiquary John Swinton (1703–1777) and the French numismatic and philologist Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716–1795) over the deciphering of the Palmyrene inscriptions. Both had discovered how to read the unknown script of the equally unknown language of ancient Palmyra in 1754 using new engravings of the city’s ruins and their inscriptions, which had been published in London in 1753.58 The quarrel was a one-sided one, as Swinton vehemently claimed to be the first discoverer while Barthélemey refused to argue with him. It is likely that both scholars deciphered Palmyrean independently of each other, but Barthélemy was the first to succeed.59 He read his solution at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris in February 1754, which was published as a memoir in July 1754, whereas Swinton’s paper was read to the Royal Society only in November 1754 and subsequently published in the Philosophical Transactions.60 But neither Reland nor Renaudot had a lasting impact on the Swinton-Barthélemy controversy. Their results, which were forty years old by this time, were long outdated. Yet, both were still cited as customary references in publications related to the Palmyrene inscriptions in the 1750s, and thus were brought back into circulation. For Johannes Braun and Thomas Gale, there were no analogous discussions in which their works were entangled.

As interest in the Palmyrene inscriptions faded again, interest in the protagonists faded as well. In the 1760s, the number of authors co-cited with the protagonists fell to 120, and the graph shows only a few strong edges (see Diagram 7). Johannes Braun (node 3) was no longer co-cited with Gale, Reland, or Renaudot, not even indirectly. The one reference made to him in this decade was coincidental. On 22 December 1761, the reformed preacher Themmo Themmen (*1677) died in the town of Sappemeer near Groningen. Themmen had studied theology at Groningen more than sixty years before—he graduated in 1697. As Braun had been one of his teachers, he was mentioned in Themmen’s obituary.61 If Themmen had not died, no reference would have been made to Braun in the journals included in this study during this decade. The case was nearly the same for Thomas Gale (node 4). Eusèbe Renaudot (node 1) and Adriaan Reland (node 2) emerge as the only two referenced in more serious discussions, with Reland obviously being better positioned. This points to the confessional bias inherent in the corpus. Both authors were mentioned in the context of research on the history and geography of the Levant: Renaudot in the Journal des Savants, Reland in the Nova Acta Eruditorum and the Journal des Savants.62 Although a similar set of authors was referred to in these discussions in both journals, Reland and Renaudot were only indirectly co-cited. There are authors who are co-cited with both of them, but they themselves are never co-cited directly on the same page. Given that there was still a strong theological impetus to the study of the history and geography of the Holy Land in the second half of the eighteenth century, this division is not a result of content, but of confession. That the corpus features three Protestant journals and just one Catholic one is most likely the reason Reland emerges as the more prominent protagonist here. But the results highlight that confession was a factor capable of producing ignorance by ignoring scholars from differing denominational communities.

Diagram 7 

Co-citation networks, seventh decade: 1761–1770.

Unlike Johannes Braun, Thomas Gale did not disappear from view. The references made to him during this decade were connected to a developing intellectual trend: classicism. Gale was referenced neither as an Anglican theologian nor as an editor of medieval chronicles but as a Greek scholar first and foremost, a trend that extended into the 1770s.

In the 1770s, Eusèbe Renaudot and Johannes Braun were relegated to the periphery of the graph, and Adriaan Reland remained connected largely by weak edges, indicating that he had no important role in the discussions. The most complex structure of interconnections is centered on Thomas Gale (node 3). This is due to the classicist trend that had motivated references to him already in the 1760s. Although this trend was a structural development that followed a broader cultural current, it also contained a coincidental element: it depended on a single person, Johann Friedrich Fischer (1726–1799), the headmaster of St. Thomas’s school in Leipzig, represented by the black circle directly opposite Thomas Gale in the top right quadrant of the graph. Fischer was a very productive writer. In addition to Latin and Greek, he had studied classical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Chaldean, but later concentrated on Greek.63 He produced the main references to Thomas Gale in the 1760s and 1770s as well as those to Johannes Braun.64

As soon as Fischer turned to editing other publications, these connections collapsed. The references to the protagonists from the 1780s and 1790s only form a unified graph (as in Diagram 8) if one chooses exactly the right time slice to be visualized (see Diagram 9). The 1790s saw only one reference to any of the protagonists—a fleeting mention of Adriaan Reland (see Diagram 9, E).65 The complex and wide-ranging circuits of information visible until the 1750s had fallen apart. The four scholars were no longer of any systematic interest to the communications of the learned world in the journals included in the corpus. They had moved from gradually being ignored to almost completely being ignored, that is, they had fallen into scientific oblivion.

Diagram 8 

Co-citation networks, eighth decade: 1771–1780.

Diagram 9 

Co-citation networks, A: ninth decade, 1781–1790; B: 1783–1792; C: 1786–1795; D: 1789–1798; E: tenth decade, 1791–1800.

Patterns of Ignorance?

What I have followed here is nothing more than the common fate of the majority of all scholars who contributed to academia. Information which constituted prized knowledge at one point in time becomes questioned, devalued, and ultimately either actively discarded or passively forgotten over time, a process that is conditioned by the competitive logics inherent in science.66 Learned journals, with their inherent quest for up-to-date information, must be understood as large-scale producers of ignorance, continually ceasing to report certain elements of knowledge in favor of others. The patterns within this process are thus patterns of the production of ignorance. The developments highlighted here were, first of all, undirected. There were different factors contributing to the protagonists becoming ignored at different points in time. Referring to authors or their works is a voluntary act requiring an effort and will not occur if the envisioned benefit does not outweigh the effort.

So, what were the factors that made referencing Braun, Gale, Reland, and Renaudot increasingly unattractive during the eighteenth century? First, the inevitable increase of literature over time was interpreted as the advancement of knowledge. Once a new standard was set, older results could safely be ignored.67 Second, there was a tendency to view knowledge, especially if touching on theologically relevant issues, as denominationally prejudiced. Any text that came from the “wrong” side could thus be ignored. This tendency favored the reception of Adriaan Reland over Eusèbe Renaudot in some of the debates in the 1760s. Third, certain general trends had an impact too. For example, orientalist knowledge’s falling out of fashion and classicism’s rise in the 1760s and 1770s. In such cases, references to scholars with less connectivity to the prevailing trends declined. Such developments served to amplify the ignorance of kinds of knowledge that did not fit into the most dominant trends.

Together with random events, these factors caused references to decline about two decades after the scholars’ deaths. This decline was followed by long phases of low-scale intermittent and irregular referencing that were disrupted only by occasional spikes caused by a specific intellectual trend and/or random events. The further the century progressed, the less frequent these spikes became and the larger the lacunae between them stretched. Roughly fifty years after their deaths, the four scholars had “become forgotten” through processes that created ignorance, processes that were not mere by-products of scientific progress but were governed by their own patterns. Braun, Gale, Reland, and Renaudot were by no means exceptional in this regard, and neither was their being forgotten. On the contrary, to fade into ignorance and to become forgotten was the normal case for almost any eighteenth-century scholar, regardless of their merits. Producing knowledge always entails a far larger production of ignorance.


1The data and main argument are taken from Winnerling, Entschwinden der Erinnerung, ch. 4. 

2Cf. Schneider, Management der Ignoranz, 15–16, 73–74. 

3Rieff, In Praise of Forgetting, 8–9. 

4Proctor, “Agnotology,” 6–7. 

5Cf. Schiebinger, “Agnotology,” 320, 337–38. 

6Berger and Luckmann, Gesellschaftliche Konstruktion, 185. 

7Sebald and Weyand, “Formierung sozialer Gedächtnisse,” 180–81. 

8Connerton, How Modernity Forgets, 47. 

9Dietzel and Eilhammer, “Gelehrte Journale,” 167. 

10Beaurepaire, “Introduction,” 5–8; Munck, “Eighteenth-Century Review Journals,” 417–18. 

11Mauelshagen, “Netzwerke des Nachrichtenaustauschs,” 413–14. 

12Cf. Colavizza et al., “Early Modern News Flow,” 251. 

13Doggett, “Gale, Thomas.” 

14Klever, “Spinozisme,” 130–31; Braun, Doctrina foederum (three editions: 1688, 1691, 1702; plus a vernacular translation in four editions: 1694, 1703, 1723, 1737). 

15Hamilton, “From a Closet,” 243; Reland, De religione Mohammedica. 

16Skehan, “Renaudot, Eusèbe,” 105. 

17Müller, “Renaudot, Eusèbe,” 37. 

18Gale, Historiae Anglicanae; Gale, Historiae Britannicae; Renaudot, Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio; Renaudot, Historia Patriarcharum. 

19Braun, Selecta Sacra; Reland, Antiquitates sacrae (four editions: 1708, 1712, 1717, 1741); Reland, Palaestina Illustrata. 

20Birch, History, 3:511, 4:108. 

21Steenbakkers, “Johannes Braun,” 197–98. 

22Graafland, “Braun(ius) (Brun),” 87. 

23Kernkamp, De Utrechtsche Academie, 294–95. 

24Bastiaensen, “Adrien Reland,” 45. 

25Müller, “Renaudot, Eusèbe,” 35. 

26Cf. Bots, “Transmission du savoir,” 114–15. 

27Cf. Wehling, “Vom Nutzen des Nichtwissens,” 16. 

28Blair, Too Much to Know, 66–67. 

29Toulmin, Menschliches Erkennen, 162; Fangerau, “Evolution of Knowledge,” 14. 

30Wehling, “Weshalb weiß die Wissenschaft,” 58; Connerton, How Modernity Forgets, 29. 

31Cf. Dimbath, Oblivionismus, 10. 

32Füssel, “On the Means,” 137. 

33Van de Camp and van den Bosch, “A Link to the Past”; Breure and Heiberger, “Reconstructing Science Networks.” 

34Margócsy, “Long History of Breakdowns,” 313. 

35Hathi Trust, See bibliography for details, as Hathi Trust features different digitized collections for each of those journals. 

36Solla Price, “Networks of Scientific Papers.” 

37Leydesdorff, “Bibliometrics.” 

38Cf. Garfield, Citation Indexing, 99–102; Andrés, Measuring Academic Research, 75–76. 

39Fangerau, “Evolution of Knowledge.” 

40Cf. Chen et al., “Structure and Dynamics,” 1388–89. 

41Breure and Heiberger, “Reconstructing Science Networks,” 95; Gingras, “Mapping the Structure,” 331. 

42Leydesdorff, “Scientific Communication,” 380. 

43Cf. Burbules, “Changing Functions of Citation,” 719. 

44It would be interesting to compare the results of this analysis with one that uses the texts I used single pages of in full. To request data, please contact me via 

45The version used is Gephi 0.9.2. All graphs are unimodal, undirected, and weighted. Edges result from two authors being referred to on the same page, either by name or by work. Parallel edges form one edge with the summed-up weight of all parallels going into it. Betweenness and PageRank were calculated using the algorithms provided by Gephi. 

46Borgatti, “Centrality and Network Flow,” 60. 

47Cf. Andrés, Measuring Academic Research, 77–78. 

48Brin and Page, “Web Search Engine,” 110. 

49Ding et al., “PageRank for Ranking Authors,” 2232. 

50In diagrams 1–9, the protagonists are marked as follows: 1: Eusèbe Renaudot, 2: Adriaan Reland, 3: Johannes Braun, 4: Thomas Gale. 

52PageRank scores: Renaudot: 0,041612; Reland: 0,028341. Betweenness scores: Reland: 0,4161441; Renaudot: 0,4152. 

53Review of Dissertation, 6; Review of Nullité, 589; Le Courayer, Dissertation; Quien, Nullité and Nullité nouveau. 

54Quien, Nullité nouveau, 2:229–311. 

55LeBrun, Explication litteralé, unsigned review of Explication littérale, sixieme dissertation, 572–73, 575–76; Review of Explication littérale, dixieme dissertation, 611; Review of Explication littérale, 81. 

56Cf. Zerubavel, “Social Memories,” 283. 

57Review of Adriani Relandi Poemata, 190–92; Review of Histoire Littéraire, 126–35; Announcement of La Sainte Bible, 422–30. 

58Pace, “Wood and Dawkins,” 271. 

59Cf. Daniels, “Shewing of Hard Sentences,” 435–36. 

60Barthélemy, Reflexions sur l’alphabat; Swinton, “Explication of All Inscriptions.” 

62Review of Abulfedae Tabula Syriae, 365; Guignes, “Lettre”; Review of Commentationes Societatis Regiae, 458–61; Review of Mémoire sur la carte, 613. 

63Schlichtegroll, “Joh. Fried. Fischer,” 82–86. 

64Fischer and Gale, Rhetores Selecti; Review of Palaephati De Incredibilibvs, 108; Review of Prolusiones quinque, 140. (All Nova Acta Eruditorum issues between 1776 and 1779 were dated 1776.) 

65Review of Reizen door Palestina, 354. 

66Bourdieu, Praktische Vernunft, 70. 

67Leydesdorff, “Bibliometrics,” 72–74. 

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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    1. HathiTrust Digital Library 

    2. Acta Eruditorum. 

    3. Nova Acta Eruditorum. 

    4. Journal des Savants. 

    5. Maandelyke uittreksels. 

    6. Philosophical Transactions. 

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