Adventures in Huntingtonland, Pt. 3


It’s Sunday evening, 10 pm, and I am in Bloomington, Indiana. In the past week I have been staying and working with the marvellous Wally Hooper, a man of many qualities. He is an excellent scholar, an IT wizard, and most of all one of the most generous men I have ever met. I have been looking forward to meeting him in the flesh ever since our first email contact, and there is much I hope to learn from him.

When I arrived last week I was in a jubilant mood about the Newton conference at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and I still am. What a great time we had. I met with so many distinguished Newton scholars and had some wonderful conversations. People whom I only knew through their works are becoming acquaintances, and some even more, friends. Steve Hindle and his team from the Library did an excellent job, providing that magical atmosphere in which creativity thrives.

Papers about specific aspects of Newton’s oeuvre were interspersed with talks that aimed at a broader understanding of his work, embedding it in the tradition of Bacon and More. I immensely enjoyed Niccolò Guicciardini’s explanation of some of Newton’s mathematics, as well as Scott Mandelbrote’s fascinating paper on a number of books from Newton’s library and how he used those. John Henry provided an intriguing analysis of the last lines of Newton’s Opticks, and Robert Iliffe gave a visionary talk about the future of digital scholarship and the Newton Project in particular. It was he who launched the Newton Project back in 1998, and both he and the project are still going strong.

The last speaker on the program, I was very excited to deliver my paper on the chronology of Newton’s chronological works. I think I managed to find the right balance delivering to a mixed lay an expert audience, and received excellent feedback from both parties during the questionnaire and afterwards.

I spent much time explaining some of the intricacies of Newton’s ordering procedures, using results from both classical scholarly research and modern digital approaches such as Latent Semantic Analysis. This is a technique used for identifying similarities in vocabulary between texts, which I am currently employing to find all of Newton’s versions of particular paragraphs and phrases. It is pretty technical stuff, but Wally has helped me immensely to gain a fair understanding of what’s going on beneath the hood.

In a couple of days we will be leaving for Evanston, Illinois, for a Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) conference hosted by Northwestern University. TEI is the standard for most if not all digital editions these days, such as our own Newton Project. I’m really looking forward to meeting with fellow digital humanities scholars, exchanging ideas, and preaching the Newton gospel. He was such a lovely fellow, after all…


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