‘ John Locke likes this’ – An analysis of a Digital Humanities Project.

I chose Mapping the Republic of Letters and focused on Locke’s Letters Project for a deeper analysis. 

The author of Locke’s Letters Project – Claude Willan of Princeton University, provides an attractive subheading for his work -‘ John Locke likes this’: An ego-network analysis of Locke’s letters. Willan says his goal was to answer a simple question about John Locke: how did Locke think of his letters? I wanted to know what an ego network was/is, and did John Locke speak about himself in the third person in his letters when he said, “John Locke likes this?” Sadly I couldn’t find these answers on the website and didn’t have the time to investigate for myself. 

Willan’s visualizations are impressive, and you get a sense of how much work it must have taken to put them together. His visualizations all have the same design -a colorful cluster of what resembles an island surrounded by a circular coral barrier. When you zoom in and click on one of the circles on the island, it brings up interesting information about a person whom Locke wrote. For instance, Philippus van Limborch was a Dutch philosopher, theologian, editor, letter writer, and latitudinarian. According to Wikipedia, Latitudinarians were people of that time who believed “The sense that one had special instructions from God made individuals less amenable to moderation and compromise, or to reason itself.” They sound fascinating, and the visualization would be so much more interesting if there were accompanying links explaining such things and how someone like van Limborch and latitudinarian were relevant to John Locke and his letters. 

I think that because there isn’t more context, it diminishes the significance of Willan’s work. I know the project is ‘mapping the republic of letters,’ but it would be great to have a little more background on why these letters were so important and what they contributed to the enlightenment. That information is out there, but if it was alongside Willan’s visualizations, more people could appreciate his efforts.