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Sep
3rd
Sat
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Republic of Letters ☞ Exploring Correspondence and Intellectual Community in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800)


                                            The Republic of Letters

"Despite the wars and despite different religions. All the sciences, all the arts, thus received mutal assistance in this way: the academies formed this republic. (…) True scholars in each field drew closer the bonds of this great society of minds, spread everywhere and everywhere independent. This correspondence still remains; it is one of the consolations for the evils that ambition and politics spread across the Earth."

Voltaire, Le Siècle de Louis XIV cited in Dena Goodman, The Republic of letters: a cultural history of the French enlightenment, Cornell University Press, 1996, p. 20

Republic of Letters (Respublica literaria) is most commonly used to define intellectual communities in the late 17th and 18th century in Europe and America. It especially brought together the intellectuals of Age of Enlightenment, or “philosophes" as they were called in France. The Republic of Letters emerged in the 17th century as a self-proclaimed community of scholars and literary figures that stretched across national boundaries but respected differences in language and culture. These communities that transcended national boundaries formed the basis of a metaphysical Republic. (…)

As is evident from the term, the circulation of handwritten letters was necessary for its function because it enabled intellectuals to correspond with each other from great distances. All citizens of the 17th century Republic of Letters corresponded by letter, exchanged published papers and pamphlets, and considered it their duty to bring others into the Republic through the expansion of correspondence.” - (Wiki)

"[They] organized itself around cultural institutions (e. g. museums, libraries, academies) and research projects that collected, sorted, and dispersed knowledge. A pre-disciplinary community in which most of the modern disciplines developed, it was the ancestor to a wide range of intellectual societies from the seventeenth-century salons and eighteenth-century coffeehouses to the scientific academy or learned society and the modern research university.

Forged in the humanist culture of learning that promoted the ancient ideal of the republic as the place for free and continuous exchange of knowledge, the Republic of Letters was simultaneously an imagined community (a scholar’s utopia where differences, in theory, would not matter), an information network, and a dynamic platform from which a wide variety of intellectual projects – many of them with important ramifications for society, politics, and religion – were proposed, vetted, and executed. (…)

The Republic of Letters existed for almost four hundred years. Its scope encompassed all of Europe, but reached well beyond this region as western Europeans had more regular contact with and presence in Russia, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century merchants and missionaries helped to create global information networks and colonial outposts that transformed the geography of the Republic of Letters. By the eighteenth century we can speak of a trans-Atlantic republic of letters shaped by central figures such as Franklin and many others, north and south, who wrote and traveled across the Atlantic.”

"Recent scholarship has established that intellectuals across Europe came to see themselves, in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as citizens of a transnational intellectual society—a Republic of Letters in which speech was free, rank depended on ability and achievement rather than birth, and scholars, philosophers and scientists could find common ground in intellectual inquiry even if they followed different faiths and belonged to different nations.”

— Anthony Grafton, Republic of Letters introduction, Stanford University

Republic of Letters Project

         
                                          (click image to explore)

Researchers map thousands of letters exchanged in the 18th century’s “Republic of Letters” and learn at a glance what it once took a lifetime of study to comprehend.

Mapping the Republic of Letters, Stanford University

See also:

☞ Dena Goodman, The Republic of letters: a cultural history of the French enlightenment, Cornell University Press, 1996
☞ April Shelford, Transforming the republic of letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European intellectual life, 1650-1720, University Rochester Press, 2007
New social media? Same old, same old, say Stanford experts, Stanford University News, Nov 2, 2011.
☞ Cynthia Haven, Hot new social media maybe not so new: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, Stanford University The Book Haven, Nov 2, 2011