The Preliminares Project: Geography, Networks, and Publication in the Spanish Golden Age

Recent studies that focus on the preliminaries sections of early modern texts have sparked a new interest in the individuals involved in the publication of Spanish Golden Age literature. The information contained within the preliminaries, or front matter, consists of a wide variety of metadata regarding the people, places, and institutions involved in the creation of texts such as Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Lope de Vega’s Comedias. To better understand the patterns of social interactions encoded in these texts, the Preliminaries Project extracts this information to build a network  model of early modern Spanish publication. Using a data-driven approach backed by techniques borrowed from graph theory and statistics, this essay investigates the interaction of geography with the production of early modern Spanish literary texts and the underlying social networks made up of the authors, printers, bureaucrats, and nobles involved in their production.

This research was conducted by the following questions:

1. Was Spanish Golden Age publishing primarily a local phenomenon, or did it transcend geographic bounds?

2. Did individuals form communities around the process of publication? If so, what types of individuals interacted to produce a book? How do these communities relate to the historical context of Spanish book production?

3. What kind of interactions can be observed in the preliminaries data? Were certain individuals able to exert more power over the process of publication? If so, what conditions led to this imbalance?

The Preliminaries Project methodology was carried out in a variety of phases beginning with data acquisition and extraction, followed by the creation of a data model that would undergo a series of transformations to produce the data structure used for social network analysis.

Screenshot from 2016-10-07 11:53:46
Regional map of printers that produced literary texts in Spain between 1598 and 1618 (left). The linear relationship between number of printers in a city and number of editions produced in that city (right)

The research conclude that through a combination of historical contextualization and systematic analysis, the preliminaries sections of these texts allow us to paint a clearer picture of the social aspects of the early modern Spanish publishing industry. In summarizing our results we begin to see that certain patterns emerge consistently across the data set; however as these patterns are broken down and analyzed at the individual level, we see that they are laden with idiosyncrasies and historical curiosities. Overall, we have found that publishing was in many ways a very local phenomenon, with printers and signatories having strong roots associated with particular cultural centers, both American and Western European. Another important conclusion is that we see that Felix Lope de Vega Carpio, the Fenix de los Ingenios and Cervantes’s ‘monstruo de la naturaleza’, stood out above all others due to his extremely prolific authorship, his profound talent, and his skill at creating and maintaining powerful relationships.

A minimum spanning tree of the Preliminaries Network’s giant component shaded by community and sized by degree (shown in legend)

The results of this study were published in Digital Scholarships in the Humanities on Aug 2016.