Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England
Influence, Agency, and Revolutionary Change
Blaine Greteman



AS LONG AS WE’VE HAD SOCIETIES, we’ve had social networks. Before Twitter and Facebook, telephones connected us, and before that, telegraphs, the postal service, and footpaths linked one village to the next. We often refer to computer programs or communications technologies as “social networks,” but this isn’t quite right. A social network consists of people and the material objects that unite them, whether those objects are as simple as the stone tools shared by a tribe or as complex as the satellites beaming data back to earth. Some technologies, however, obviously allow us to create larger and more complex social networks than others, communicating further, faster, and more frequently. Networks spread infectious diseases, and they spread infectious ideas and trends, which is why both doctors studying Ebola in West Africa and marketing executives studying teenagers in New York analyze them, employing methods first developed by sociologists and later advanced into a world of big data by mathematicians and physicists.

Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England employs some of the same methods of digital analysis to examine the technologies and structures of social networks in early modern England—especially the network of printers, publishers, booksellers, and authors who revolutionized communications during the time of Shakespeare, Milton, and their contemporaries. No one in this network would have used the term. To them, a “network” would have implied something woven together like chainmail or the “curious networke” Edmund Spenser’s spider Aragnol spins to entrap the hapless butterfly Clarion in “Muiopotmos.”1 But early modern people participated in networked systems of communication, patronage, and citation that have been of increasing interest to scholars seeking to understand the period. And as this book will show, they were aware of and involved in radical structural changes to the print network in the decades leading up to the English Civil War.

Network science has had a major impact on the fields of sociology, epidemiology, and physics, and scholars in these fields have written several crossover books on the power and behavior of networks. Albert-László Barabási’s Linked: The New Science of Networks and Duncan J. Watts’s Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age helped introduce the principles of network science to a broader audience.2 They were quickly followed by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler’s Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives and Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On.3 Most readers are now familiar with basic network visualizations of dots connected by lines, whether those dots represent people linked by friendship, genes linked by co-expression, or airports linked by flight paths. Some of the basic terminology of network science—such as “nodes” for the dots and “edges” for the connections between them—has now permeated public discussions of everything from terrorist groups to retail supply chains. Although social media have helped drive this interest by turning the connections between people into big business, network science was not “born digital.” Many of its most exciting findings and fundamental principles predate the internet, and a brief outline of that history will be useful to introduce the aspects of the English print network that I’ll be exploring in subsequent chapters of this book.

In a series of papers published between 1959 and 1968, the legendary mathematician Paul Erdős and his collaborator Alfred Rényi established random graph theory as a branch of mathematics, demonstrating, among other things, that large, interconnected networks do not emerge slowly, as we might expect. Instead, they suddenly and explosively cross a “threshold,” at which point adding just one additional link brings the majority of nodes in the graph together in one giant connected component.4 Imagine, for example, three distinct railway systems, all serving different towns: One serves four towns, and the others serve three towns each. The largest connected component links four towns, but the majority of towns in the three systems are not connected to one another. A single link between any two of the stations, however, will instantly reverse this situation, so that the majority of towns will be connected. This sudden shift is “one of the most striking facts concerning random graphs,” Erdős and Rényi wrote. And they quickly recognized that it had applications “for the evolution of certain real communication nets (railway, road or electric network system, etc.) . . . and even of organic structures of living matter.”5 For this project I have been able to conduct the first large-scale network analysis of the English print network from its origins through the eighteenth century, and in Chapter 2 I will show that it experienced a similar moment of phase transition at the end of the sixteenth century. This transition from many small communities to one vast, interconnected network did not go unobserved by the people who experienced it. And it had structural consequences that I will trace throughout the rest of the book. Scholars once referred to the historical period under examination as a “golden age” of English literature and culture, although now we opt for less evaluative labels like “early modern.” Whatever the terminology, England’s cultural landscape changed with “startling suddenness”: In a generation, the first public theatres opened, thrived, and closed; the first English poets presented themselves in print as laureates; the first writers began to make their living as print authors.6 And these changes came to define the literary tradition in ways that persist. Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Milton’s Paradise Lost—such works, and the forms of authorship they establish, must be understood in terms of the network that produced them.

Complex, connected networks behave in peculiar, predicable ways, whether their nodes are booksellers or railway stations. One of those peculiarities was dubbed the “Matthew effect” by Robert K. Merton in 1968, in reference to the Parable of the Talents in the biblical book of Matthew: “[U]nto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”7 In more secular terms, “the rich get richer,” which in Merton’s work meant that prominent scientists in authorship networks gained a disproportionate share of new co-authorship credits, making them better connected, more prominent, and more likely to gain new connections via future co-authorship. Merton was a sociologist, and the scope of his inquiry was limited, but he had reviewed enough biological literature to suspect that this Matthew effect “transcends the world of human behavior and social processes.”8 In fact, Herbert Simon showed in a now-famous 1955 paper that the effect holds true whether we are talking about cities or citizens.9 Cities with high populations tend to gain more people, and people with money tend to earn a lot more, leading to extremely uneven “power law” distributions of resources; within networks, this means a few nodes tend to be superconnected and serve as hubs with unusual importance for the larger system. Recent research has demonstrated that this dynamic lies behind the extraordinary robustness of complex networks. Most nodes can be eliminated from such networks with little impact on overall connectivity or the flow of information. But removing just a few hubs will quickly cause the entire system to collapse. Chapter 3 of Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England examines hubs in the English publication network. Who are the outliers? And what strategies or structural factors made a handful of printers and booksellers so “rich” in terms of connections, especially since they have been so poorly represented in histories of the period?

As that last question implies, early researchers into network dynamics noticed that a node’s number of connections was not the only way of measuring importance and agency. Who you know is at least as important as how many people you know. Gatekeepers who can serve as conduits between groups or shut off the flow of information between them are especially important, as Alex Bavelas noticed while he was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, researching the interactions between ideologically distinct minority communities, such as rural Mennonites or urban Catholic immigrants, and majority ones.10 He later founded the Group Networks Laboratory at MIT to develop mathematical models to understand such interactions, proving in 1948 that some of the most structurally important figures in communication may have the fewest connections. To illustrate his mathematical model, Bavelas offered the example of a woman who worked at a garment factory where she was the only one of her peers to speak English: Although she was not as deeply or centrally connected as the plant’s manager or its union boss, “relations between this group and the management of the company regarding hours, wages, working conditions, took place through the single English speaking member (this in spite of the fact that the plant was unionized).”11 She had a unique capacity to facilitate, obstruct, or distort the flow of information, and Bavelas used a series of hand-drawn graphs to demonstrate that such figures could be identified mathematically by calculating the number of shortest paths that crossed between them and other members of the network—a measure that would later become known as betweenness centrality. Chapter 4 of this book explores the hidden histories of high-betweenness figures in the English print network, focusing on female prophets who have been largely ignored but whose texts played an outsized structural role in bridging different communities. Their significance is not a simple accident, but like Bavelas’s English-speaking factory worker, can be attributed to specific qualities these women cultivate as writers, publishers, and public figures.

A focus on betweenness has the potential to upend conventional assessments of agency and importance, but it probably is not the most radical way that network science has reshaped our understanding of influence and the spread of ideas. That distinction goes to Mark Granovetter’s 1973 article on “The Strength of Weak Ties,” which was initially rejected for publication but has subsequently become one of the most cited articles in the history of social science.12 Granovetter’s paper had a simple origin: While studying job seekers in a Boston suburb as part of his graduate work, he noticed that when he asked people if they had found their job through “a friend,” they often replied “no, just an acquaintance.”13 For Granovetter, this indicated that weak ties, like the ones that bind us to casual acquaintances or distant relations, may be more powerful for spreading information than the close ties of intimate friends and family. Our close friends and family members, after all, know many of the same people that we do, so to learn about a new job, trend, or idea, we need contact with someone outside our close social circle, and such contacts will almost always be “weak” rather than “strong” ties. “This was sometime a paradox,” as Hamlet says, “but now the time gives it proof,” and the time was right for Granovetter’s proof, which drew on newly available empirical data and recent developments in graph theory to show that “except under unlikely conditions, no strong tie is a bridge.”14 Almost all sociological theory before Granovetter was grounded on the study of small, close-knit groups, and nearly all literary and historical scholarship to this day continues to fixate on the closest bonds of friendship and family when assessing intellectual influence and development. But Granovetter’s model showed that to understand the diffusion of information or ideas through a network—and especially to understand innovation, infection, or novelty—we need to connect studies of small groups, such as families or literary coteries, to the growing body of large-scale statistical research on social, political, and communication structures. I will discuss that model further in Chapter 5, where I consider the strength of weak ties in John Milton’s social network. At the conclusion of a book that has been built on analyzing links between tens of thousands of people, it will be useful to consider the relationship between English literature’s ultimate “strong” poet and the weak ties through which his authorial voice emerges.

Phase transitions, superconnected hubs, and weak ties: These are some of the basic components of network science that a new generation of researchers, like Watts and Barabási, extended to an entirely different scale with the aid of computational analysis. Although trailblazers in the field had been able to assert the importance of betweenness or analyze the distribution of links across small networks, in a pre-digital age it had been computationally impossible to do this at the large scale needed to extend network science into some of the areas that Erdős, Rényi, and others had pointed toward, such as the study of organic matter. Famous experiments, such as Stanley Milgram’s project that showed it took only about six degrees of separation to link any one person in the United States to any other person, had demonstrated “small world” phenomena in large networks.15 But with the aid of computational processing and vast new datasets, it was possible to test such findings much more rigorously and systematically.16 Some applications had serious consequences, such as working to change network dynamics in order to prevent isolated cases of Ebola from tipping into a sudden epidemic.17 Some, such as using network analytics to target terrorists with drone strikes, have been controversial.18 And some are just odd, such as the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which participants compete to find the shortest path connecting any given actor in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to the star of Footloose.19 But in the age of the internet, the near ubiquity of small-world network behaviors and the utility of network analysis has become increasingly clear.

Although this work has generated much interest and a smattering of articles in the humanities, the field still awaits the books that will apply network analysis to the study of literature and culture, and especially to what John Sutherland has called the “hole at the centre of literary sociology”—the systematic study of publishing history.20 This is somewhat surprising, since the language of “networks,” circles, coteries, and assemblages has been much used in literary studies generally and early modern studies and histories of the book in particular. As early as 1975, the historian Natalie Zemon Davis had already begun to adopt the language of networks to describe the “ways in which printing entered into popular life in the sixteenth century, setting up new networks of communication, facilitating new options for the people, and also providing new means of controlling the people.”21 A generation of scholars and commentators—including Marshall McLuhan, Walter J. Ong, and Elizabeth Eisenstein—explored these networks as they made the case for a print “revolution.”22

At the same time, literary historians like Arthur Marotti and Harold Love turned their attention to the circulation of manuscripts, which Marotti found “were designed to establish ties of social, political, or economic patronage . . . to declare in-group allegiances of various sorts—to family, to a network of friends or colleagues, to a political faction or programme.”23 As I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 2, the persistence of earlier forms of circulation and patronage long into the era of print has gradually led scholars to reject the idea that a new “print culture” emerged with Gutenberg’s press; the language of print revolution has now mostly been replaced with the language of print “evolution.”24 But few would dispute Richard McCabe’s suggestion that print “fostered a new set of social networks that radically altered conditions for the composition, editing, and reception of letters,” and the contours of those networks have increasingly been central to discussions of readership, authorship, and literary patronage.25 Kirk Melnikoff, for example, makes an excellent case that the “web of sustained bonds between printers, booksellers, and bookbinders” was crucial to the development of English literary forms during the Elizabethan period.26 But Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England is the first book to analyze that web using the powerful tools developed by network science—quantifying bonds, describing their contours, and identifying key figures and strategies in their development.

Outside the field of print and manuscript studies, the language of the network has been adopted to very different effects by literary scholars using the terms to invoke the ontological framework of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari or the actor-network theory (ANT) of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, and John Law. Jeffrey J. Cohen, for example, draws on the former when explaining that “in medieval culture, the horse, its rider, the bridle and saddle and armor form a Deleuzean ‘circuit’ or ‘assemblage,’ a dispersive network of identity that admixes the inanimate and the inhuman.”27 This is a networked understanding of being itself: Bodies are organized into systems, systems are combined into assemblages, and this combination is the process of “becoming.” Thus various scholars have explored emotions, bodies, and selves as networks, as in Drew Daniel’s discussion in The Melancholy Assemblage of the “components and relations that persist across time and territory as a material and social network of forces in which melancholy affects, images, substances, and postures, are formed.”28 Actor-network theory is a close cousin of this assemblage approach but turns attention more explicitly toward the actors and processes through which relationships are established, maintained, and altered.29

“We follow the actors’ own ways,” Latour says of actor-network theory, “and begin our travels by the traces left behind by their activity of forming and dismantling groups.”30 Michel Callon identified four stages in this process: problematization, in which an actor identifies a problem or a knowledge claim that requires the involvement of others; interessement, in which those actors negotiate their roles in the new group; enrolment, in which they accept their roles; and mobilization, in which one or more actors speaks for the group or makes a truth claim in which the voices of many actors are subsumed into one. The process involves humans and nonhumans alike, with Callon explaining, for example, that “if the scallops are to be enrolled” in a scientific experiment that includes a network of fishermen, scientists, and scallops, “they must first be willing to anchor themselves” to the equipment used to collect and measure them.31 As that language implies, by tracing the paths whereby various actors become incorporated into a network, ANT aims to understand the ways agency is distributed throughout complex systems, a “shift from principle to practice,” Latour claims, that “allows us to treat the vague notion of power not as a cause of people’s behavior but as the consequence of an intense activity of enrolling, convincing, and enlisting.”32 Michael Witmore, Jonathan Gil Harris, Miriam Jacobson, and others have all drawn on an actor-network theory framework to discuss, respectively, the action of fiction in the world, the “polychronic agency” of anachronistic costumes in early modern plays, and the importation of foreign words and images into English poetry.33

Such work usefully shifts our attention to the materials of culture and the labor involved in network formation, but as Carl Knappett has noted, “[W]hile the ‘actor’ component of ANT has received elaboration in literary and cultural studies, the ‘network’ side has been more of a sleeping partner” or “a heuristic for encouraging relational thinking.”34 This is not surprising, since Latour specifies that “the network does not designate a thing out there that would have roughly the shape of the interconnected points, much like a telephone, a freeway, or a sewage ‘network’”; rather it is a “set of relations.”35 Knappett, however, believes we can “convert network thinking into network analysis by thinking explicitly in terms of nodes and links.”36 I think so too, so long as we are clear about the limitations of most digital analysis for tracing the kind of multilayered networks that are of interest to Latour and others who use the term in his sense. Digital tools help us track and visualize associations that would have otherwise escaped us, and they help us discover and acknowledge the importance of actors who have been left out of existing historical accounts. But as will become clear in my first chapter on this book’s data and methodology, most current tools of network analysis and visualization by definition require the compression of multimodal networks into unimodal ones in which all of the nodes are the same sorts of things (people connected to other people, books connected to other books, proteins connected to other proteins). Tracing the paths by which those actors achieved their place in the network, as this book will demonstrate, is a slower, more discursive process. But this process is where network thinking and network analysis meet.

Although Knappett heralds the promise of digital network analysis, his own work largely involves mapping the spatial and temporal relationships of objects in the classical world. Indeed, as Ruth Ahnert notes in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, “maps have been the dominant mode of representing . . . networks” in early attempts to think in terms of nodes and links by bringing digital methods to the study of literature and culture.37 This is true, for example, of Lindsay O’Neill’s The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World, as well as projects like Stanford University’s Mapping the Republic of Letters.38 It is explicitly the goal of Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis,” which maps character relationships in Hamlet. “I had never ‘seen’ [Horatio’s] position within Hamlet’s field of forces,” writes Moretti, “until I looked at the network of the play. ‘Seen’ is the keyword here. What I took from network theory were less concepts than visualization.”39

But Johanna Drucker has usefully called into question the value of such visualizations, arguing that they are “anathema to humanistic thought,” since “[h]umanistic methods are necessarily probabilistic rather than deterministic, performative rather than declarative.”40 Drucker’s point is not that visualizations are useless, but that we must be cautious about adopting mechanical forms of visualization as if they were interpretive.41 I often share her unease when I stare at dense network hairball visualizations, which all look more or less like one another but which have threatened to become the avatars for “network analysis” in the humanities. Such visualizations, for example, adorn the covers of both Macroanalysis by Matthew Jockers and Distant Reading by Franco Moretti. But the usefulness of network visualization and mapping tends to diminish rapidly as the size of networks increases—a problem, since “distant reading” and “macroanalysis” theoretically hold the most promise precisely at such large scales (a human can read a dozen books and draw connections between them but will find this impossible with 50,000 or 500,000 texts). This is why Drucker suggests that the greatest value of digital analysis lies not in the way it produces some graphic representation, which is typically the “result of display protocols” for this or that program, but in the way it “exposes start points for study and permits the investigation of social and cultural issues in texts at a scale no representative single selective exegesis can produce,” shifting “from the symptomatic to the systematic as a mode of inquiry.”42

This shift has been a real challenge, not only for network analysis in the humanities, but also for the field of digital humanities generally, which as Alex Poole writes, seems always to be in “a liminal state, neither fish (discipline) nor fowl (interdiscipline).”43 Theorists in the field have helped make the important case that new methods are needed to “read” the vast amounts of data now in our archives. But the results, as Jockers is the first to admit, are often “a ringing confirmation of virtually all our stereotypes,” as in his own finding that the “themes most indicative of female authorship” in a corpus of 3,346 nineteenth-century books include “fashion,” “children,” “flowers,” and “sewing.”44 Patrik Svensson notes that the field of digital humanities “always seems to fail to deliver on at least some level, whether it be intellectual robustness . . . or possibly quality of the work produced.” But he concludes that “a solution does exist,” precisely in embracing the interstitial space that disturbs Poole, “a way of thinking about the digital humanities that brings together the humanistic and the digital through embracing a nonterritorial and liminal zone.” 45 Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England attempts to inhabit such a liminal zone, using digital tools to produce starting points for an inquiry into early modern book production that is ultimately humanistic in its close attention to individuals, texts, and cultures.

This seems to me a happy space, in part because digital humanities has progressed as a field in tandem with complementary forms of textual scholarship, or sociological bibliography, that turn attention both to the material technologies responsible for producing texts and our analyses of them. In Jerome McGann’s hugely influential formulation, “[E]very text, including those that may appear to be totally private, is a social text” because it is “produced and reproduced under specific social and institutional conditions,” and it is part of the business of literary analysis to elaborate those conditions.46 D. F. McKenzie similarly found it necessary to reorient bibliography from the description of texts and variants and toward a “sociology of the text” that would elaborate “the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission, and consumption.”47 The work that has resulted from this shift has put relational thinking about bibliography and textuality at the center of literary study. Histories of the book have generally turned our attention to textual technologies—tablets, tables, title pages, indexes, margins and marginalia—as writing and reading technologies.48 They have highlighted the interrelations between print and manuscript and the social dimensions of a printing milieu that, Cecile M. Jagodzinski has suggested, permitted “readers to sit in as members of a gigantic coterie,” that was in some sense an expansion and continuation of an existing textual culture.49 At the same time, they have explored in depth the ways that print “unsettled an established book trade,” as Joseph Loewenstein has put it, and especially the role that monopoly, privilege, and textual commerce played in shaping the figure of the author.50

Some of these works have even flirted with converting their relational thinking into analysis of actual nodes and links, as Knappett suggests. McCabe, for example, collaborated with colleagues to construct a database of print and patronage networks, although he “prefers a qualitative to a quantitative approach” as he attempts “to look beyond the visible markers of dedication to the authorial dynamics that produced them and investigate the role of patronage in literary creativity.”51 Joad Raymond, who has worked extensively on news networks, clarifies that he is “not analyzing data” yet, but instead hopes “to project what network analysis could do on a larger scale.”52

By taking as its object a distinct dataset, large and complete enough to make such analysis both possible and rewarding, Networking Print in Shakespeare’s England attempts to show the value of quantitative analysis. This book’s data comes from the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) of 487,000 books printed in English before 1800. The ESTC is a collaborative project, with over 2,000 libraries submitting hundreds of thousands of records since 1977, and it is the most comprehensive record of the hand-press era. But as I will discuss in Chapter 1, it was also not set up to be used as a database, or even to allow for systematic research of booksellers, printers, and publishers, and I have spent years refining the data and restructuring it as a relational database that can be configured, queried, and analyzed as a network. The book’s argument, however, will make it clear that the value of this work lies in advancing qualitative, humanistic inquiry, rather than replacing it or replicating its results. Although I present some graphs, tables, and charts, readers will find the mode of argument and analysis largely (perhaps dismayingly) discursive rather than graphical.

After an initial chapter on methods and data, Chapter 2 explores the evidence that the English print network experienced a “phase transition” during the late sixteenth century that altered its dynamics in fundamental ways. As I have already briefly outlined, subsequent chapters explore the dynamics of this newly complex, small-world network and focus in some detail on the figures who played an outsized role as hubs and bridges within it from the 1580s to 1660s, a period of tremendous social and political change. But before turning to those chapters, it is worth considering the larger story they tell of the network’s changing structure, the individuals involved in those changes, and the history of the period.

Although their motives differ, the figures in this book all encounter systems of print production or regulation that they work to circumvent and subvert. In the case of the printer Nicholas Okes, who is the subject of Chapter 3 and the most connected printer of the era, this seems largely to be motivated by an effort to gain market share and turn a profit. Okes was trained to produce quality works in prestigious formats and editions, in a shop that placed control and consistency ahead of speed, volume, and collaboration. When he gained control of his own press, he promptly rejected this model. The new one he forged turned him into a hub in a network that was ideal for spreading viral information, with many partners collaborating to produce and sell smaller, more timely works. He was willing to challenge printing monopolies and to evade licensing restrictions in order to print works both of Protestant satire and Catholic Counter-Reformation. It is tempting to cast him as a figure working for the free circulation of knowledge, but it seems more accurate to say that Okes knew controversy sold books and that he opposed monopolies until he got a piece of them himself. Whatever his motives, he helped build a book production system that thrust him into the center of the era’s most monumental political and religious controversies; depending on who you believed, he was either a cynical mercenary who helped engineer the fall of Archbishop Laud or a martyr of Laud’s religious tyranny. The one point on which both Laud and his critics could agree is that once Okes produced a book and put it into circulation, it was almost impossible to eradicate its spread. Indeed, other hubs in the network would come to lament their own role in creating this dynamic. Michael Sparke—who sometimes worked with Okes and who was in his own right the most connected bookseller in England between Shakespeare’s first folio and the collapse of the licensing regime in 1640—initially cheered the fall of Laud and celebrated his own role in it, but he would end his career renouncing the radical forces he helped unleash as a public wildfire that threatened to decimate English society.

Those forces were most dramatically embodied by some of the figures at the center of Chapter 4: the female prophets Eleanor Davies and Mary Cary. This chapter investigates a surprising dynamic: When we rank texts by their degree, or number of connections, the top ones are uniformly male and mostly “official” publications of church and state, but when we rank them by betweenness centrality, or ability to bridge otherwise distinct parts of the network, texts by these female prophets appear to serve an unusually important structural role. That role is not accidental, I will suggest, but the result of publication and promotion strategies pursued by Davies and Cary. Both women position themselves in a state of radical betweenness, as mediators between God and man, between the world as it is and the world as it can be. And to maintain that position, both take unusual measures to print and preserve their texts from state censorship and misogynistic attack. Their efforts range from furtive smuggling operations to sophisticated invocations of female patronage, and along the way, they cultivate a wildly diverse set of connections—from Samuel Hartlib and members of his circle, to Queen Henrietta Maria and her courtly literary coterie, to Gerrard Winstanley and members of his radical Digger group. Their strategies for establishing themselves as print authors had consequences for the print network; as we explore those strategies we see the potential of network analysis for revealing hidden histories and magnifying the contributions of important figures who have been erased from other historical accounts.

It may seem odd, then, to turn in Chapter 5 to John Milton, an author who has suffered no risk of erasure. In fact, he is Harold Bloom’s ultimate “strong poet,” the “central problem in any theory and history of poetic influence in English,” a figure whose influence threatens to erase his ancestors and warp his progeny.53 This way of describing Milton began almost immediately: “I saw him strong,” wrote Andrew Marvell in the preface to Paradise Lost, anxiously suggesting that this poetic Samson might “ruine . . . The sacred Truths to Fable and old Song.”54 But the chapter considers a paradox: This strong poet formed his authorial voice through the cultivation of weak ties to printers, publishers, and others, rather than the strong ties that have been the subject of most literary history. Some of these figures are highly connected and obviously influential; others are remarkable for their ability to leave so small a trace on the print network. In both cases, Milton collaborates with members of the book trade who have their own interests in opposing monopolies, promoting Reformation, and producing his work.

As I conclude the book, I will explore what those collaborations tell us about the ties that bind social networks together and our assumptions about what it means to be a “social” or “anti-social” author. I hope that this analysis of the English print network will not only inform the way we think about English history and culture, but also point the way toward the kinds of work that will be possible with other databases and catalogues, such as the Medici Archive, Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO), the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), and the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). In the Epilogue, I’ll discuss some of the work that is already being done with these materials and some of the ongoing developments in network analysis that could offer new insights into persistent gaps in our historical and literary knowledge. We are at the early stages of using digital methods to analyze historical networks, but as my first chapter will show, this work has exciting possibilities today because of the labor done by generations of archivists, cataloguers, and scholars. This is a powerful network, often rendered invisible, but connecting our work across time and shaping the histories we write.


1. Edmund Spenser, “Muiopotmos,” The Minor Poems: Volume Two, vol. 8 of The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, eds. Edwin Greenlaw et al., 11 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932–1945), line 368.

2. Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks (New York: Plume/Penguin, 2002); Duncan J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003).

3. Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009); Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013).

4. Paul Erdős and Alfred Rényi, “On the Evolution of Random Graphs,” Publications of the Math Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences 5 (1960): 18.

5. Ibid., 52, 19–20.

6. C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 1.

7. Robert K. Merton, “The Matthew Effect in Science: The Reward and Communication Systems of Science Are Considered,” Science 159 (1968): 56–63.

8. Ibid., 50n8.

9. Herbert A. Simon, “On a Class of Skew Distribution Functions,” Biometrika 42 (1955): 425–440.

10. Alex Bavelas, “A Method for Investigating Individual and Group Ideology,” Sociometry 5 (1942): 371–377.

11. Alex Bavelas, “A Mathematical Model for Group Structures,” Applied Anthropology 7 (1948): 23–24.

12. Mark Granovetter, “Citation Classic,” Current Contents: Arts and Humanities 49 (1986): 24.

13. Ibid., 24.

14. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, in The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016), 3.1.112–113; Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973): 1364.

15. Milgram published his work in several venues, but the most detailed early account of the project was in Jeffrey Travers and Stanley Milgram, “An Experimental Study of the Small World Problem,” Sociometry 32 (1969): 425–443.

16. Two hugely influential papers to this effect were published within a year of one another: Duncan J. Watts and Steven H. Strogatz, “Collective Dynamics of ‘Small-World Networks,” Nature 393 (1998): 440–442, which demonstrated that the small-world effect existed in many large networks found in nature, and Albert-László Barabási and Réka Albert, “Emergence of Scaling in Random Networks,” Science 286 (1999): 509–512, which demonstrated that the “preferential attachment model” could lead to rich-get-richer effects in real-world systems ranging from power grids, to citation networks of scientific papers, to actor collaboration networks. Empirical studies of large dynamic networks have since tested and augmented these findings, such as J.-P. Onnela et al., “Structure and Tie Strengths in Mobile Communication Networks,” Publications of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (2007): 7332–7336, and Matjaž Perc, “The Matthew Effect in Empirical Data,” Journal of the Royal Society Interface 11 (2014). doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0378

17. Abdul Khaleque and Parongama Sen, “An Empirical Analysis of the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa,” Scientific Reports 7 (2017): 1–8.

18. See former director of the NSA and CIA Michael Hayden’s admission that “we kill people based on metadata” in the article of the same title by David Cole in the New York Review of Books (10 May 2014).

19. See Watts, Six Degrees, 93–95. The challenge is now much diminished thanks to a website,, which instantly traces these connections.

20. John Sutherland, “Publishing History: A Hole at the Centre of Literary Sociology,” Critical Inquiry 14 (1988): 574–589.

21. Natalie Zemon Davis, “Printing and the People,” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 190.

22. Marshall McLuhan suggests the network is an important object of analysis in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962; reprint, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 5. Networks are implicit in Walter J. Ong’s discussion of revolutionary technology in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen, 1982), 127. And the “formation of syndicates and far-flung trade networks” motivates discussion of cultural changes in Elizabeth L. Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 140. Eisenstein’s book was followed by many others about the ways these networks ushered in a new “print culture.”

23. Arthur F. Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 129. See also Marotti’s John Donne, Coterie Poet (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), and Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

24. Joseph A. Dane shows that much evidence used to assert a revolutionary “print culture” is not supported by fact in The Myth of Print Culture: Essays on Evidence, Textuality, and Bibliographic Method (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003). See also Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 5, and Johns’s debate with Eisenstein in the American Historical Review 107 (2002): 106–125.

David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order: 1450–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 4. For more on the persistence of coterie scribal culture see Betty A. Schellenberg, Literary Coteries and the Making of Modern Print Culture: 1740–1790 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

25. Richard A. McCabe, “Ungainefull Arte”: Poetry, Patronage, and Print in the Early Modern Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 6.

26. Kirk Melnikoff, Elizabethan Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), 13.

27. Jeffrey J. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), xxiv–xxv.

28. Drew Daniel, The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 30. See also Julian Yates, Error, Misuse, Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), and Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

29. John Law, one of the founders of ANT, claims that there is “little difference” between Deleuze’s assemblage and the “actor network”; see “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics,” in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, ed. Bryan S. Turner (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 147. Latour also sees similarities but suggests that where “assemblage” thinking offers a philosophical perspective, ANT offers an empirically grounded approach to that philosophy; see Andrew Iliadis, “Interview with Bruno Latour,” Figure/Ground (24 September 2013).

30. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 29.

31. Michel Callon, “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay,” in Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge?, ed. John Law (London: Routledge, 1986), 211.

32. Bruno Latour, “The Powers of Association,” Sociological Review 32 (1984): 273.

33. See Michael Witmore on the power of “fictions” in Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 12; Jonathan Gil Harris’s discussion of “polychronic agency” in Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 143; and Miriam Jacobson, Barbarous Antiquity: Reorienting the Past in the Poetry of Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 16.

34. Carl Knappett, An Archaeology of Interaction: Network Perspectives on Material Culture and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 8.

35. Latour, Reassembling, 129.

36. Knappett, An Archaeology, 8.

37. Ruth Ahnert, “Maps Versus Networks,” in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, eds. Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 133.

38. Lindsay O’Neill, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Stanford Project (Dan Edelstein, Paula Findlen, and Nicole Coleman), Mapping the Republic of Letters:

39. Franco Moretti, “Network Theory, Plot Analysis,” Literary Lab Pamphlet 2 (2011): 11.

40. Johanna Drucker, “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 86.

41. Johanna Drucker, “Non-Representational Approaches to Modeling Interpretation in a Graphical Environment,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 33 (2018): 248–263.

42. Johanna Drucker, “Why Distant Reading Isn’t,” PMLA 132 (2017): 633.

43. Alex H. Poole, “The Conceptual Ecology of Digital Humanities,” Journal of Documentation 73 (2017): 91.

44. Matthew L. Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 151–152.

45. Patrik Svensson, “Sorting out the Digital Humanities,” in A New Companion to the Digital Humanities, eds. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth (Chichester: Wiley, 2016), 560, 551.

46. Jerome J. McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 21.

47. D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 15.

48. See Ann M. Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Information Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011); Jeffrey Todd Knight, Bound to Read: Compilations, Collections, and the Making of English Renaissance Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); William W. E. Slights, Managing Readers: Printed Marginalia in English Renaissance Books (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001); Peter Stallybrass et al., “Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 55 (2004): 379–419.

49. Cecile M. Jagodzinski, Privacy and Print: Reading and Writing in Seventeenth-Century England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999), 11. See also Schellenberg, Literary Coteries.

50. Joseph Loewenstein, The Author’s Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 63. See also Stephen B. Dobranski, Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993).

51. McCabe, “Ungainefull Arte,” 2.

52. Joad Raymond, “News Networks: Putting the ‘News’ and ‘Networks’ Back in,” in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, eds. Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 113.

53. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 33.

54. Andrew Marvell, “On Paradise Lost,” in Paradise Lost, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), lines 7–8. All subsequent references to Paradise Lost are from this edition.