Modern Intellectual History

Essay

WHERE IS AMERICA IN THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS?  *

CAROLINE WINTERER

Department of History, Stanford University E-mail: cwinterer@stanford.edu

Where is America in the republic of letters? This question has formed in my mind over the last four years as I have collaborated on a new project based at Stanford University called Mapping the Republic of Letters. The project aims to enrich our understanding of the intellectual networks of major and minor figures in the republic of letters, the international world of learning that spanned the centuries roughly from 1400 to 1800. By creating visual images based on large digitized data sets, we hope to reveal the hidden structures and conditions that nourished the growth of the republic of letters in the early modern era and the causes of its transformation in the nineteenth century. This task has only recently become feasible with the digitization of the correspondences of major intellectuals such as Benjamin Franklin, John Locke, Athanasius Kircher, and Voltaire, and of libraries, cabinets of artifacts, and Grand Tour itineraries.

Footnotes

*  Thanks to Charles Capper, Michael O'Brien, Mark Peterson, and James Turner for their incisive comments on earlier versions of this essay. I am also grateful to my colleagues on the Mapping the Republic of Letters project at Stanford University for many productive conversations: Giovanna Ceserani, Nicole Coleman, Dan Edelstein, and Paula Findlen. My graduate students Julia Mansfield, Claire Rydell, and Scott Spillman have also worked tremendously hard on the project, and I remain very appreciative of their labors. Thanks to Giorgio Caviglia of DensityDesign Research Lab in Milan, Italy, for producing the maps of Franklin's and Voltaire's correspondence.