What were English East India Company merchants drinking in Japan?

A note on terminology, and an addendum (and correction) to my PhD thesis 1. How did I miss that? Doing research, it’s easy to find yourself going down rabbit holes, chasing answers that seem to always elude your grasp. You do your best, but still have to resign yourself to unsatisfactory results. In my case, […]

Letterlocking: How did you fold a letter in the early modern period and what did it mean?

First impressions are important. When I receive mail – physical items by post, that is – simply the size and shape of the envelope tells me something about the sender. A5-sized envelopes (well, C5-sized, but you know what I mean; ditto below) tend to be bills or notes from the bank, A6 and smaller are […]

An addendum on the history of the word “linguist” in the sense ‘interpreter’

One of my first publications was an article titled “Jurebassos and Linguists: The East India Company and Early Modern English words for ‘interpreter’” (abstract; full paper as a pdf). The article is a fairly straightforward and I admit rather light-weight investigation of the Early Modern English semantic field of ‘interpreter’, in which I note that […]

On marking language-switching in speech and writing

So what I have to say is too long to fit in a tweet or even a handful of tweets. I followed the link in this tweet – https://twitter.com/kissane/status/627264725697581057 …which lead to this video by Daniel José Older, titled “Why We Don’t Italicize Spanish”, where he explains why language-switches in his books are not italicized […]

Counting correspondence, listing letters

A number of years ago, I gave a talk on mapping correspondence – that is, about the ways in which you can plot letters and epistolary exchanges on a map. Perhaps the most important point arising from that talk, for me anyway, was the understanding that mapping correspondence was by no means a straightforward matter. […]

Editing is Hell, and normalization is an illusion

As a procrastinatory excursion, here are some thoughts about editing historical texts. Rather than an insightful comment on editorial philosophy, the following stems from practical matters and contains nitty-gritty details, and is not written in conversation with other editors (sorry). I’m sure everything I say here has been said before, but repetitio etc. 1. Why normalization […]

quantity +/- quality

For a long time, I’ve felt that the pressure to produce MORE publications – more Things To Count, since the system as it is now uses quantitative methods to establish quality of academics – is doing everyone a disservice, with lots of half-formed publications seeing the light of day.* In this publish or(/and) perish world, […]


At the beginning of this week, I attended the two-day Big Data Approaches to Intellectual and Linguistic History symposium at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki. Since Tuesday, I’ve found myself pondering on topics that came up at the symposium. So I thought I would write up my thoughts in order to unload them […]

No signal, just noise

One of the (oh too many) things I work on is code-switching* in historical texts. Or, more broadly, how multilingual environments are reflected in Early Modern English (merchants’) letter-writing. In particular I’ve done some work on the letters of early English East India Company merchants – some of it published – and then of course a […]