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An overview: What is the Preliminaries Project?

Hello and welcome to the Preliminaries Project official blog!

Today I would like to give a general overview of the CulturePlex Lab’s Preliminaries Project. This blog will be published biweekly, with in-depth information, progress updates, and detailed accounts of the methodology and results of the Preliminaries Project as it continues to develop.

The Preliminaries project was conceived here at the University of Western Ontario by Professor Juan Luis Suárez, director of the CulturePlex Lab, in order to study the complex social networks involved in the production of Early Modern Spanish literature. More specifically, it focuses on literature published in the European Spanish Empire and its American colonies during the 17th century, a period characterized by an increasingly complex globalized structure that allowed for a comparatively rapid exchange of ideas, goods, and cultural objects between Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

The project divides the 17th century into periods based on shifting power structures within the Habsburg dynasty that ruled Spain from 1516-1700. Intuitively it may seem that these periods would be defined by the rise and fall of kings, however, we have chosen to define these periods based on the king’s valido, or royal favorite, who was responsible for much of the day to day governance of the Spanish empire. For more information on validos there is an excellent Wikipedia page in Spanish:

Or a less Spain-specific, but equally valuable page in English:

Currently, the Preliminaries Project is working on the first period (1598-1618), which corresponds roughly with the rule of Phillip III, or more specifically with the era of the valido Don Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of Lerma.

The process:

In order to study the social networks at play during this period, we use information present in the preliminary sections of literary texts published principally in Spain, but also in other regions of the Spanish empire such as Brussels, Milan, and the Americas. This information consists primarily of the documentation of the processes of censorship, approval, and permissions through which all texts had to pass before being published. However, other interesting information can be gleaned from the preliminaries: details of publication and issue, pricing, and literary social circles that appear in the form of dedications and poetry written by various authors and published in their friend’s or associate’s books. To get a comprehensive look at this information, we have generated lists of every edition of every literary text published during the various periods. As we can see in the following screen shot, we have not only focused on acquiring a representative sample of these editions, but every available edition of each literary work.

Now, while I say every edition of every text, it is important to recognize that compiling this kind of data is not a straightforward process. Bibliographic information about this period is imprecise at best, and many editions have been lost, or are too fragile to be opened and scanned. We have not been able to obtain every edition on the list, and surely there are missing publications and what are known as ghost editions, rumored to exist but elusive, or impossible to locate.

After we generate a list, we attempt to acquire scanned copies of the preliminary sections of the texts using WorldCat and the UWO interlibrary loan systems. Then we use the graph database Sylva, designed here in the CulturePlex Lab, to store and organize the information gleaned from the scanned copies. This is achieved through a custom designed system of schemas based on a node/edge relationship system. The schema design will be further discussed in later blogs. For more information about Sylva, visit the official CulturePlex website:

Finally, we are able to export the database to  graph visualization and manipulation software, such as Gephi, that allows for visualization and statistical/metric analysis of the network using built-in algorithms and Python based scripting. This allows us to detect important communities within the network, key players, important objects, and physical hubs of production. Also, it makes pretty neat looking pictures that allow the user to visually analyze something that was relatively abstract before.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, but that is how we like it here at the CulturePlex Lab.

Coming soon: More information on methodology, results, historical processes, and progress.

P.S. An emphatic thanks to all the libraries that have helped us acquire the preliminaries sections of these old and rare texts, especially the Biblioteca Nacional de España, which has tirelessly provided us with PDF´s from their extensive collections.

For more information email David Brown at



September 26, 2012 · 4:07 pm