Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica opens again!

Rumour has circulated in Amsterdam for a while that Mr. Joost Ritman somehow has managed to re-acquire a sizable portion of his old collection, and has been planning to open the library again. Today, almost exactly one year after the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica was shut down, the story has become official. In the mail I found an invitation to the opening of a new exhibition – Oneindig Vuur (“Infinite Fire”) –  on December 16, 2011, hosted by the Ritman library, in its original rooms in Bloemstraat 13-19, Amsterdam.

For those who will be in Amsterdam in three weeks, the doors open at 13:30. There will be an opening lecture at 14:00, by Wouter Hanegraaff, entitled “Per aspera ad fontes” (“Through hardships to the sources”).

It remains unclear at this point how the library will function once the doors are open again. In the summer I reported that most of the books seized by Friesland bank were being moved back to the BPH location in Amsterdam. This most likely forms the background for the new exhibit that will be put on display in a few weeks. However, as noted previously, the library had to see its staff go during the crisis, and it is very unclear how it will be possible to keep the library open to the public on a daily basis as before. The leaflet I received this morning states that 23.000 manuscripts and printed works are currently in the possession of the new foundation, governed by the Ritman family. It also mentions several grandiose plans and ambitions for the future of the library, including the use of innovative technology, digitization, and online communication.

If this means that the library is going to be more of a virtual than a physical resource in the future remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a new website is being built, and we have to wait for the opening to see how this story is going to proceed.

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This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Quantitative heterodoxology

Last week Science published an article introducing the term “culturomics” – the quantitative study of cultural trends. By constructing a database out of the by now 15 million books that Google have digitized over the past years, a Harvard based research team led by Jean-Baptiste Michel have created a powerful searchable tool which makes it possible to create quantitative date for analysing cultural trends. As they state in the abstract:

We constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed. Analysis of this corpus enables us to investigate cultural trends quantitatively. We survey the vast terrain of ‘culturomics,’ focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology. Culturomics extends the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.

In short, this is a tool which has the potential to revolutionise research methods in a vast number of fields. The best part: Google Labs have made the tool (the Ngram viewer) publicly available. Before even starting reading the article I found myself  thinking about a number of applications for my own research and field. Below follow some  rough examples, and preliminary results which already seem to challenge established knowledge in the history of esotericism.