Sponsored by a major grant from the European Science Foundation.

Since 2015 the workshop has been extended by further meetings of its members in Cambridge and in other research centres in Europe.

The Understanding Mediation workshop has pioneered a new interdisciplinary history of communication and its contemporary understanding in Enlightenment Europe by establishing a platform to connect diverse historical approaches to ‘mediation’ with new digital sources and retrieval opportunities.

The social history of knowledge is being transformed by advances in transnational histories of ‘mediation’, print and material culture, communication networks and parallel critical approaches, but awaits joined-up investigation.

Further details:

  1. The ESF workshop explored new directions in the social history of knowledge by forging new connections between research and digital resource possibilities (databases/textual corpora/digital libraries) and different conceptual approaches which, independently, have been transforming the transnational European history of communication. The main topics were mediation, bibliographical digital resources, the history of letters, print, books and reading, network theory and material cultures (including ‘thing theory’ and ideas of ‘quasi objects’), and the contemporary response to mediation change. Experts in all of these presented resumes of the current state of research to outline new possibilities in comparative understanding of Enlightenment networks in Europe c. 1650-1800. Discussion developed the concepts of ‘mediation’ and the social history of knowledge to engage with recent and developing bibliographical and digital resources on a pan-European scale. Nearly sixty years after L’apparition du Livre by Febvre and Martin the fast developing study of the ‘history of the book’ has revolutionised national bibliographical study and yet does not fully engage with adventurous new work concerning networks, mediation and material objects. It is essential to engage with the both newly accessible archives and libraries in central and eastern Europe and fast developing trans-European digitising projects and digital research possibilities to provide a framework for productive collaboration.
  2. The workshop developed three important new breakthroughs: first, to extend current exploratory work in the social history of knowledge and the concept of ‘mediation’ to consider eighteenth-century understanding of the processes of mediation by trawls of correspondence and printed representations (many allowed by new archival and digital resources); second, to combine bibliographical and new Enlightenment scholarship in a broad European context; third, to move beyond national history of the book projects, and in particular to embrace new international digital resources. Many European scholars are working on these issues in relative isolation or within set disciplinary frameworks; the CPBT workshop offered the opportunity to explore beyond these limits and forge a new agenda. National short-title catalogues and completed and on-going national histories of the book offer resources and models but we need to break down artificial boundaries, exactly as books did, and to exploit new resources and advances in historical research to offer new and innovative approaches to understand cross-cultural production and reception of material texts (including correspondence). As some countries take up the challenge of fresh but nationally-based bibliographical projects, there is a great need to plan beyond such endeavours, assisting with those in progress, but also encouraging pan-European co-operation and historical research in broadly European communication history.
  3. Discussion addressed the transmission of correspondence and manuscript and printed texts in the context first of digital bibliographical projects, and second, of conceptual work about mediation, communication networks and material objects. Those attending drew up in advance a series of 1. brief overviews of current research in their area 2. statements of specific strategies to enable long-term collaboration. These were precirculated. An ESF standing committee representative outlined future application possibilities and assisted in their design. The workshop was arranged to discuss and draw up conclusions in a stage-by-stage method (as outlined below) following but also updating 1. the current state of bibliographical and history of communication, correspondence and book history projects and 2. the future of digital projects and the opportunities for collaboration. Those engaged in digital projects (notably ESTC) are offering timely calls for greater engagement with current research agendas. Breakthroughs are especially sought in bringing together scholars from western, eastern, southern and northern Europe to share advances (digital and procedural) and research weaknesses, to mutual benefit. Discussants and chairs at the workshop have proven experience in follow-up initiatives and in planning follow-up events and disseminating results and publication. Digital humanities representatives are at the fore of various international bibliographical projects: the workshop offers a platform for forging long-term collaboration.