Whom did Klaus Mann write to on October 24th, 1933?
Did he himself receive a letter on this day?
Where was he at this point of time?
Did he write more letters that day?
If so, were these addressed to friends far away or in his vicinity?
Was he concerned with one particular topic in these days?
Did one of the addressees adopt the topic and spread it amongst his own correspondents?

The project “Epistolary Networks: Visualising multi-dimensional information structures in correspondence corpora” aims at answering these and similar questions. The focus lies on German speaking people engaged in culture forced into exile by the Nazi empowerment. With methods of the Digital Humanities, the letters shall be linked together, indexed, and categorised by keywords in order to be able to visualise whole networks of correspondences and topics.


The forced migration of countless authors and other people does not only mean a material and cultural loss, but also the loss of a familiar environment; formerly important friendships and acquaintances cannot be held upright as easily anymore. At the same time, personal networks gain importance since they often are, after the loss of one’s own existence, the only thing migrants could take into exile with them. Networks proved to be particularly substantial and even existential for survival in the face of new everyday challenges. In this context, letters become the significant medium of contact and exchange, as – despite significant losses of letters due to the circumstances at that time – numerous correspondences from exile show. Yet, if letters are solely taken as  the exchange of two single persons, they only partly allow for the networking function of this medium. Only by establishing whole epistolary networks does it become possible to measure the extensive dynamics of correspondences of exile, the spatial expansion of their networks, frequency, variety of subjects, as well as their discursive distribution. The project “Epistolary Networks” tackles these challenges for the first time.


At the interface between Literary Studies, Academic Editing, and Computer Science, the project focuses on the scholarly usage and development of innovative methods for a semantic network analysis and visualisation, and aims at answering genuine questions of the Humanities and Cultural Sciences from the major fields of Exile Research, Epistolary, and Communicational Studies. On the one hand, categories and tools of network research are to be applied to a text corpus with advanced methods of Information Technologies. On the other hand, a new look shall be taken onto the letter as a biographical as well as a historical testimony in and on the Third Reich, thus not only examining the function of the epistolary networks of exiled authors at that time, but also opening up a new perspective on everyday life in exile.


The aim of the project is the development of a modular, interactive, and web-based platform for the visualisation and research of social, spatial, and personal networks in letter corpora. By various types of analysis and visualisation, the user will be able to phrase questions about the epistolary network from different perspectives depending on their particular research interest. This will enable the researcher to recognize connections and visualise processes in order to make them comprehensible and explorable, and to open them up for personal experience which usually would hardly be possible due to the sheer variety of the complex and widely distributed texts. Questions like those mentioned above can thus be answered.


The project is financed within the frame of a German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) promotion scheme supporting the idea of ‘developing new research approaches in the cooperation of the Humanities and Social Sciences with fields of studies related to Computational Sciences’ (press release 16466, 24 May 2011)

Project term: 1 February 2013 – 31 January 2016