The word “network” is more likely to call to mind computer connection than the “glittering net-work” of a spider-web E. Darwin, The Botanic Garden, 1781 or a “Mantle of blacke silke” Book of Robes, 1600. What is the link between such “curious Piece[s] of network” Addison, Spectator 275, 1712 and contemporary social networking? These older uses of network illuminate the development of early modern techniques of loose connection. By contrast with a chain-of-being model, networks are versatile, allowing for manifold modes of association. We invite proposals for papers that explore early modern networks of both human and nonhuman actors in areas such as knowledge production, religious practice, international trade, infrastructure development, and others. In the area of knowledge production, for example, one might ask: what social practices were developed to manage the early modern “explosion” of knowledge? How were the ownership claims of the producers of knowledge and users of knowledge negotiated? We speculate that social networking, in the broad sense that we are using it, lies behind many of the transformations of the three centuries after 1500.
Possible topics include: knowledge networks, (such as the Royal society, libraries, salons, and coffeehouses); secret societies; clubs; literary coteries; epistolary correspondents; religious communities (including sacramental practices); print and publication networks; gift communities (patronage, the ward system); trade networks (such as the East India Company, the Royal Exchange, workers’ guilds, black markets); colonial administration; infrastructure expansion (the post, turnpikes, canals); financial organizations (stock markets, insurance); and others we have not anticipated.
This two-day conference will consist of keynote talks and panel discussions that will encourage all participants to engage the issues raised throughout the conference.