„Paper Clip Economy“ – The Digital Reconstruction of the Leibniz Manuscripts
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is regarded as the universal genius of his time. He was one of the most important philosophers and mathematicians of the late 17th and early 18th century. His oeuvre includes not only philosophical, theological and political writings. In his life time, he also enjoyed world fame as a scientist, technician and mathematician. In developing differential and integral calculus (in competition with Newton) he changed the foundations and possibilities of mathematics. His development of the binary numeral system may be considered the foundation of today's computer science. Without Leibniz, the technical development of the 21st century would be inconceivable.
Leibniz left behind about 100,000 manuscript pages, probably the largest legacy in world history. As part of his estate, the international correspondence was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2008. Today, his estate is kept in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library in Hanover, which was Leibniz's main place of work. It represents the most important testimony of the learned world of the Early Modern Age and Enlightenment.
The goal of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Academy Edition, is to explore this estate in its entirety – including all works and letters – through historical-critical editing work. The vast scope and the fact that many of the texts give an almost direct insight into Leibniz’ thoughts make this estate unique in the history of science and this work very demanding. In this context, the chronology of the composition of the notes is of crucial importance. Particularly, Leibniz's practice of cutting up his notes, adding new notes and moving them to different parts of his estate presents considerable difficulties for contemporary research. Thus far, matching page fragments could only be found by chance. Only this reconstruction of the original pages allows for dating of the notes.
It makes sense to use the technology that is based on Leibniz’s development of the binary number system to attempt the reconstruction of the original context of the many fragments of text in Leibniz's estate. The aim of the planned project is the development of a computer-assistance system for the reconstruction of textual contexts in the Leibniz estate. Such a reconstruction is a desideratum, since large parts of the estate consist of page fragments, loose slips and cut-up papers, the chronological classification of which is often difficult. At the same time, the digitization of the estate, which is necessary for the project, makes it possible to research and access the estate worldwide and for free via the digital collections of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library.
In the following table, selected puzzle results from the mathematical, philosophical and philological writings of Leibniz are documented in an interactive presentation:
Report by the NDR on the Leibniz Project:
The project “Digital Reconstruction of Textual Contexts in the Writings of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz" is carried out by the MusterFabrik Berlin together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK:
The digital reconstruction of selected bundles of Leibniz manuscripts was, amongst others, funded by the Klaus Tschira Foundation (2015-2017) for the mathematical writings, the Nord / LB Culture Foundation (2018) for the philosophical writings and the Cult Foundation Hannover (2018) for the philological writings: