Workshop 2

Workshop 2: Growing and pruning the Republic of Letters: Learning to simulate the past with agent-based modeling using the ‘mesa’ package

Verantwortliche:Malte Vogl, Bernardo Sousa Buarque, Jascha Merijn Schmitz
Organisation:Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin
Datum:Dienstag, 23.05.2023, 9-13 Uhr
Ort:Raum 2070 A, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Hauptgebäude, 1. Obergeschoss, Unter den Linden 6, 10117 Berlin
Sprache:English (with German assistance if necessary)


This workshop introduces participants to the simulation method ‘agent-based modeling’ by providing a guided group exercise, using one of our own models as example, “LetterSpace”, which models communication in the Republic of Letters and processes of preservation of the source material/letters, and the ‘mesa’ python package.

The workshop gives participants a practical introduction to the method of agent-based modeling and is aimed at fostering discussions of and reflections on potentials and limitations of the method for historical research.

Technische Voraussetzungen

Participants will need to bring their own laptop to be able to work on the exercises. 

Participants will need to prepare a conda-environment with all necessary libraries before the workshop. We will share a setup-kit via the project’s gitlab page containing instructions and package requirements with all participants, including a jupyter notebook to test necessary imports


We invite researchers and students of any level with at least some basic knowledge of python to participate in the workshop. It is primarily aimed at historians, but people of any background are welcome!

Info-/ Ankündigungstext

Simulation methods have been rarely but continuously applied in Digital History since the beginnings of the subfield in the middle of the last studies century. Over the last 10 to 15 years, though, there has been an increasing number of historians using simulation methods. In other disciplines working partially or entirely on historical issues however (such as archeology, philosophy, or sociology), a simulation method called agent-based modeling has been established as a particularly fruitful approach. Agent-based modeling is a simulation method that combines individual behavior with emergent system phenomena and it can offer a unique perspective on the in-between of the micro- and macro-levels of certain historical phenomena – what we call the meso-level.

This workshop has two goals: On the one hand, we want to give you a practical introduction to the method of agent-based modeling. For this purpose, we will try out and discuss possible approaches to modeling using a model we created as part of the ModelSEN project as an example (the “LetterSpace” model). On the other hand, we want to get into reflecting on potentials and limitations of the method as well as possible ways forward for the participants to come up with their own models with these potentials and limitations in mind.

The python package “Mesa” will be used as programming base in the workshop. Mesa is a well-documented, regularly updated, and comprehensive open-source python library for creating, running, and visualizing agent-based models. The model we want to present and use as basis for the workshop is the ‘LetterSpace’ model, developed within our SciCom package. It tries to reconstruct communication in the “Republic of Letters”.

After this workshop, we hope that you will have a solid basis both practically and theoretically to continue learning about agent-based modeling and simulations on your own.

Die Pre-Conference-Workshops werden im Rahmen der diesjährigen Digital History-Tagung angeboten. Die Anmeldung zu den Workshops erfolgt zusammen mit der Tagungsanmeldung über ConfTool.

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