Communication now and then: analyzing the Republic of Letters as a communication network

Javier Ureña-Carrion*, Petri Leskinen, Jouni Tuominen, Charles van den Heuvel, Eero Hyvönen, Mikko Kivelä

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Huge advances in understanding patterns of human communication, and the underlying social networks where it takes place, have been made recently using massive automatically recorded data sets from digital communication, such as emails and phone calls. However, it is not clear to what extent these results on human behaviour are artefacts of contemporary communication technology and culture and if the fundamental patterns in communication have changed over history. This paper presents an analysis of historical epistolary metadata with the aim of comparing the underlying historical communication patterns with those of contemporary communication. Our work uses a new epistolary dataset containing metadata on over 150,000 letters sent between the 16th and 19th centuries. The analyses indicate striking resemblances between contemporary and epistolary communication network patterns, including dyadic interactions and ego-level behaviour. Certain aspects of the letter datasets are insufficient to corroborate other similarities or differences for these communication networks. Despite these drawbacks, our work helps confirm that several features of human communication are not artefacts of contemporary mediums or culture, but are likely elements of human behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalApplied Network Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Communication networks
  • Granovetter effect
  • Social networks
  • Social signature


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