Intellectual and Academic Networks 1450–1800

von by Dirk van Miert Original aufOriginal in English, angezeigt aufdisplayed in English
PublishedErschienen: 2024-02-05
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    Intellectual and academic networks in the period 1450 to 1800 were structured by diverse connections between persons, including letters, and by academic institutes. Network studies reveal the hierarchical structures, as well as the intertwining of academic and learned networks. The emergence of the so-called Republic of Letters coincided with the expansion of the printing press and the quadruplicating of universities. Intellectual networks thrived and academic mobility increased, influenced by political, economic, and religious factors. The 18th century saw a decline in overall student mobility but scholarly exchange remained crucial, setting the stage for the modern international scientific community.

    InhaltsverzeichnisTable of Contents


    The "network" is a relatively young concept to analyse the connections between people, institutions or objects that together form a group or collection. There have always been intellectual or academic groups that were structured as "networks", and this accounts all the more for the second millennium, when scholars became acutely aware of their collective identities. Yet the very notion of a "network" as a concept was unknown to pre-modern people involved in the business of knowledge communication. Rather than the image of a net or grid (rete or crater in Latin), early modern people thought in terms of individual connections (friendships, master and student, patron and client or family relations). When giving expression to collectives, they did not envision these as "networks" but as groups, societies, guilds, academies, households, etc. The connections between learned men and women took shape as conversations, at dinner tables or in academies, in academic disputations and during private teaching sessions. Whenever oral communication was impossible, the idea of a letter as part of a dialogue across distance was gratefully adapted from Cicero (10643 BC)[Marcus Tullius Cicero IMG]. In fact, Cicero's own correspondence acted as a model for humanists and led to numerous treatises on how to write a proper letter.1 Erasmus von Rotterdam (1466–1536)[Erasmus von Rotterdam IMG] was one of the great theorists of epistolography, and as an avid practitioner of the genre, he exemplifies the vast correspondence networks that spanned much of the in the 16th century.

    In the first decades of the 16th century, it was Erasmus who made the so-called "respublica literaria" into a household name for European scholars to express a sense of collective identity. Our first recording of this intriguing phrase "respublica litteraria" dates from 1417 in a letter from Francesco Barbaro (1390–1454), and the expression was attested again in 1484 in a letter from Rudolph Agricola (1444–1485)2 . Before Erasmus started using the term, first in his Anti-Barbari, drafted in 1494, expressions like "coetus" (gathering), "sodalitas" or "societas" were in use to express a sense of learned commonality. It is tempting to regard the "respublica" itself as a political term, but the concept seems to have been used at the time not to express any "republican" ideas of commonality, but merely to reference a common interest, i.e. the business of learning.3

    It is understandable that sometimes, in Latin, English and French, this Republic of Letters is understood not as "learned commonwealth" but as a republic of epistles (the Latin term respublica litterarum is an ambiguous expression in this sense, since litterae also means a letter/epistle in Latin). Recent network research acknowledges the reductionist consequences of studying intellectual network primarily as correspondence networks, but few studies manage to integrate different types of sources that give evidence of networks of other types of contact, such as poetry of friendship in alba amicorum (friends albums or Stammbücher) or through occasional poetry; master and student relations (for example through disputations, shared institutional affiliations, or boarding practices); table talks (Tischreden or what in French literature is known as the genre of "les -ana", referring to the Scaligerana, Thuana, Menagiana, etc.)4 or family relations. The 2019 landmark volume Reassembling the Republic of Letters consciously focusses on the letter as the prime building block of the European intellectual network, but does hint at analyses that go beyond the epistolary metadata of people, places, dates and objects, used to construct intellectual and academic networks. The data described by these metadata are almost invariably texts, although there is a growing interest in the circulation of objects and specimens (such as dried plantsHerbarbeleg Athyrium filix-femina, stones, instruments, food, images, such as author portraits, scientific drawings (botanical studiesFriderich Martens, Plants IMG, fortifications) or numerical data (astronomical observations). Still, such non-textual objects were almost always accompanied by cover letters from which they were detached and filed.5 Approaching premodern intellectual communities through the lens of the "network" proves to be a fruitful way of studying hierarchies. They become visible through formal analyses such as centrality, betweenness and clustering coefficients. Where tables help to compare such measures of people's positions in networks, the visualisations of networks through such programs as Gephi help students to make sense of their data and study patterns. Visualisations offer "macroscopic" views of data and are of great heuristic value, since they often give rise to questions about the data. Yet, next to such networks based on people, there were also exchanges on institutional levels, through networks that we might term "academic" – not because the ideas exchanged were academic in content, but because these were networks that linked academiae, as universities were usually called. In the period under scrutiny, the rise of the universities led to the creation of a vast European-wide network of schools connected through travelling students and scholars. In such networks, the nodes are the institutes, and the links are the people. With the number of institutions for higher education steadily rising, the mobility of students in Europe grew concomitantly and only dropped in the 18th century.

    In between the intellectual network of correspondences and the academic networks of universities, is the learned network of books and journals, connecting authors and readers. The rise of the scholarly and scientific journal since the 1660s added a whole new layer to the already complex learned networks, tying together scholarly journalists and lay readers as interested consumers of knowledge, with entrepreneurs in the thriving book-printing industry.

    Antiquity and Middle Ages

    Although the idea of intellectual networks in Europe is bound up with the rise of the concept of a Respublica literaria near the end of the 15th century, the sense of community expressed by that term preceded its verbalization. To be sure, there were intellectual networks in and Roman antiquity as well as in the late Roman and early Middle Ages. In , and the , scholars travelled from one school or scholar to another (famous literati, salons, madrassas, convents) binding such centres of learning together through the communication of manuscripts and ideas.  

    Cicero's letters are one of the best studied intellectual correspondence networks centred around one principal author (a so-called ego-network).6 During the period of the Germanic , from around 500 CE onwards to the end of the , there were not only epistolary networks but also networks of travelling routes. Such routes, connecting centres of learning, can be reconstructed from evidence which indicates that texts and text-carriers such as manuscripts travelled from one place to another, with Christian monasteries acting as nodes in the intellectual networks. It was precisely the shared goal of salvaging the literary legacy of the Roman Empire that gave these networks a common feature, if not some sense of collective identity. Magnus Felix Ennodius (473–521), Sidonius Apollinaris (431–487), Ruricius of Limoges (c. 485/507) and Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus (455–518), who all lived in the decades around 500 CE in Gaul, formed an epistolary network that in some cases reached beyond the Visigothic reign of influence. While only few of their letters survive, those of Isidore of Seville (560–636) in the 7th century or Gerbert of Aurillac (950–1003) in the 10th century have been preserved in larger quantities, giving evidence of intellectual networks spanning central, western and southern Europe. Held together by Ciceronian notions of friendship, familiarity and association, expressed through stylistic conventions appropriate to the epistolary genre, these letter writers were bent on sharing texts and correcting drafts of each other's works, creating a discourse of obligation.

    Monasteries acted as focal points for intellectual exchange, with people, letters and manuscripts travelling between them frequently. Yet, the rise of the universities from the 12th century onwards ensured the learned community with a new supply of people who made use of, and stimulated, the mobility of the "wandering scholars". At the moment that Petrarch (1304–1374) discovered Cicero's Letters to Atticus in 1345, he himself already had built up a correspondence network that reached across Europe.7 Papal avenues of political and diplomatic communication were important links in such correspondence networks, in particular since the early humanists often acted as governmental or ecclesiastic officers (secretaries, orators, diplomats). Cicero also played a vital role in Petrarch's self-presentation as a man of letters who cultivated the art of letter writing. Although the notion of a respublica literaria gained currency only a century and a half after Petrarch's death, the learned culture of conversing about Latin scholarship and the exchange of intellectual news, was upheld by him and other humanists from the Italian peninsula.

    Renaissance and Reformation

    In the centuries between 1450 and 1650 Europe witnessed a "revolution" in the possibilities for scholars in Europe to communicate with one another, as Howard Hotson (born 1959) and Thomas Wallnig (born 1975) describe in the introduction to the aforementioned volume Reassembling the Republic of Letters.8 The number of universities quadrupled from 45 to 160 and the introduction of the printing press created intellectual trade-networks between the cities of Europe, with estimates of a production of 20 million printed books before 1500 and 200 million a century later. The Thurn & Taxis postal system is said to have employed 20,000 couriers, facilitating commercial, diplomatic and intellectual exchange of letters and goods Europäische Postkurse 1563 IMG. After about 1650 the postal services became even more effective. Not all scholars were letter writers, but professors working at universities often were the focal points of local communities of students who shared classes or boarding houses. Thus, the enrolment registers (matriculation lists or alba studiosorum) of European universities are hubs from which (after prosopographical research) emerge networks of students and professors who never gained fame but who were involved in the daily business of exchanging knowledge. Students visited and often seriously studied at various universities. For the better situated students, the libraries of princes and prelates, of universities and monasteries, and of cities and scholars acted as much as nodes in the networks as the scholars and their patrons. Erasmus is famous as one such travelling scholar, but the size of the surviving correspondence of his contemporary Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) quadruples that of Erasmus' 3,100 surviving letters. Their contemporaries Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560), Johannes Dantiscus (1485–1548) and Martin Luther (1483–1546) account for about 20,000 letters, taken together Portrait von Martin Luther (1483–1546) IMG. The Reformation sparked a great deal of intellectual fervour and communication, creating networks of partisans. Thus, intellectual networks can also be discerned in the religious pamphlet wars of the period: these ephemeral pamphlets travelled far and wide, carried by couriers and sold cheaply at street corners by peddlers of all sorts. Polemics sold well, as Erasmus and Luther knew all too well. Supported by printers, they created a theatre of verbal wars, negotiations and programmes. The combination of antagonist and protagonist forces pushed the dynamics of these printing networks, with the bi-annual and book fairs acting as physical nodes of exchange, where and Italian printers could meet and trade. The political fragmentation, the limited jurisdiction of political and some religious rulers, prevented single rulers to put effective caps on the exchange. Although the Council of Trent tried to control the spread and consumption of literature in Catholic territories, the Index of Forbidden books did not prevent Catholics from having books printed abroad. Suppression did have its effect, of course, but zooming out to the scale of Europe the political patchwork and the relative freedom in some principalities, city states or even whole countries was enough to render the measure of more suppressive authorities ineffective, even if they persecuted authors and even if some ended on the stake, such as Michel Servet (1511–1553).

    On the other hand, more liberal intellectual centres courted both Catholic and Protestant scholars. The court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612)[Büste von Kaiser Rudolf II (1552–1612) IMG] was one such focal point, not only of artists but also of scholars and scientists. Rudolf's librarian Hugo Blotius (1533–1608) strived to turn the imperial collection into a "European Library for Mankind", including works of arts and scientific instruments but also newsletters and unpublished collections of scholarly letters, apart from books and antiquities.9 Blotius did not act as publishing scholar himself, but he was a veritable "mediator" of knowledge, much like later knowledge brokers such as the French data collector Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637),10 the secretary of the Royal Society Henry Oldenburg (1618–1677), the Medicean librarian Antonio Magliabechi (1633–1714) and the Dutch scholar-politician Gisbertus Cuper (1644–1716). Their letters survive by the thousands, ranging from the 3,176 letters in Oldenburg's correspondence to the almost 21,000 letters in Magliabechi's. Whereas the correspondence of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1717) equals that of Magliabechi in size, his is much better known, albeit still not fully publishedGottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) IMG. While Leibniz is world-famous, the enormous private archive of his contemporary, the Lutheran schoolmaster Christian Daum (1612–1687), is ignored, even if he owned over 10,000 books and his correspondence, largely limited to and , counts 5,177 items. Such lesser gods in the Republic of Letters are drawing increasing attention as intellectual history is expanding the history of ideas with attention for the practices of learning. The cultural turn has increased the attention for the daily scholarly lives of intellectuals, professors and schoolmasters who never gained fame, but who continued to educate each new generation.11

    Not only universities acted as nodes, but also secondary schools, as in the case of Daum. An earlier example of such institutional nodes in the learned network of Europe is the Latin school of the small Aragonese town of in the 16th century. This example shows that even small schools in relatively isolated rural areas could become part of a European-wide intellectual and academic network, thanks to the use of Latin, the flourishing of the printing press and the tradition of high mobility among early modern intellectuals. Alcañiz was the birthplace of Juan Lorenzo Palmireno (1524–1579), author of a string of textbooks, particularly geared towards first generation students, to train them in classical rhetoric, Ciceronian language, and proper behaviour. Palmireno did so as professor in and , but also as a teacher in his home town. He was one of a string of humanists poured out by the Latin school of Alcañiz. Among these was, one generation before Palmireno, the exemplary poet Juan Sobrarias (ca. 16th century), professor at the University of Zaragoza. Another was the poet Pedro Ruiz de Moros (1506–1571), who also studied in and went on to make a career as legal advisor of the Polish king Sigismund II August (1520–1579) of the : he set up a university in Vilnius and opened up an avenue for Spanish Jesuits to build schools in Lithuania. The wandering theologian Bernardino Gómez Miedes (1515–1589), author of an encyclopaedic commentary on salt, and the prolific Latin poet Domingo Andrés both enjoyed a thorough drilling in the classics in Alcañiz before studying in Valencia and in – the latter returning to become a teacher in his birth town.12

    Of course, there were fluctuations in the mobility of such scholars, depending on political, economic and religious circumstances. Around 1500, the universities of Northern Italy counted more graduates from beyond the than from the peninsula itself.13 But other universities, all over Europe, attracted a great many wandering scholars, too. Along the route, students from different regions met and sometimes joined, leading to friendships that were consolidated afterwards by correspondence. Mobility was hence a vital condition for the scholarly and academic networks to constantly renew themselves.

    The reformation deeply affected the pattern of itineraries, with Catholic universities restricting their students to study at Protestant universities. Reversely, Protestant students continued to study in and Italy. Overall, German universities became much better integrated into the academic network due to the Reformation. Around 1550, at Leipzig University one third of the student population came from abroad. became Europe's most international university in the 17th centuryVaulted chamber, Leiden University Library IMG, but also the University of the Frisian town of drew almost half of its students from outside the borders of the Dutch Republic.14 Catholic universities were generally less open, in particular those on the , despite large-scale internal Spanish migration. Jesuit colleges created something of a network of their own. Papal universities such as Bologna and Rome became less welcoming towards northern students, but others such as and were more tolerant. The wars of Louis XIV (1638–1715)[Ludwig XIV. von Frankreich IMG] had a negative effect on student mobility, rendering French universities less accessible to itinerant students. Some universities acted as hubs in the academic network due to their role as religious asylums, such as and for Protestants and and for Catholics. The latter funnelled the most talented graduates to papal colleges in Rome. The success of the network depended on the variation of choices: while some universities were geared towards training, others catered to foreign students bent on obtaining a quick (and sometimes expensive) doctorate. Others, yet, were more fashionable as tourist attractions.15 Thus both academic pilgrims (students on their peregrinatio academica) and more gentleman-like young tourists who sought to familiarize themselves with the European circles of fashion in centres of power (often noblemenPlanning the Grand Tour IMG on their Grand Tour) were the living links in a network of universities that spanned European space.

    It was only in the 18th century that student mobility decreased, partly because the overall number of students dropped significantly. Those who did study oriented themselves more regionally, due to successful policies of local cities and rulers. Even new fashionable universities such as and were less international than we tend to believe, drawing on the numerous travelogues that praised these cities as centres of learning. Overall, the Enlightenment stimulated domestic rather than international student mobility.

    The same pattern of increasing "nationalisation" in the 18th century after centuries of intense international orientation becomes visible in the extra-institutional networks of the Republic of Letters. Whereas Latin always had to compete with the use of Italian on the peninsula, the 16th century noticed the rise of French. English in the second half of the 17th century and German in the 18th century became languages of learning in their own right. At first, this had no clear bearing on the internationalism of the scholars. If one regards, for example the networks of the "triumvirate of learning" around 1600, the Catholic scholar Justus Lipsius (1547–1606), the Reformed Joseph Scaliger (1540–1609) and Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614), the Flemish Lipsius communicated in Dutch and Latin, while Scaliger's extant network (which comprised some 230 scholars) is for one third in French, and Casaubon's kept correspondence is almost exclusively in Latin. Their contemporary Carolus Clusius (l'Ecluse, 1526–1609) corresponded in six different languages, with letters going beyond the confines of Europe.

    Their successors Hugo Grotius (1583–1645)Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) IMG, Daniel Heinsius (1580–1655) and Claude Saumaise (1588–1653) were no less international. Despite their Protestant stance, they maintained contacts with Catholic scholars, although it must be said that their realm was that of Western Europe. Theirs was a heyday of French scholarship with the likes of Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), André Rivet (1572–1651), Claude Sarrau (ca. 1603–1651), Denys Petau (1583–1652), Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) and René Descartes (1596–1650). Participating in these networks were people like Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), Gerard Vossius (1577–1649), Johann Valentin Andreae (1586–1654), Samuel Hartlib (died 1662), Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), John Selden (1584–1654), Johannes Scheffer (1621–1679), Nicolaas Heinsius (1620–1681), Christian Huygens (1629–1695), Isaac Vossius (1618–1689) and Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678). For a generation later, a similar list can be drawn up, with correspondence networks ranging from the to , from to Italy, from to France. The likes of Henry Oldenburg, Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), Jean LeClerc (1657–1736) and Leibniz were nodes not only in correspondence networks, but also in the new networks of scholarly, philosophical and scientific journals. Not all nations were tied to this network in equal measure. Bayle's network, for example, features no Spanish scholars and Italian scholars are only his radar through the network of Antonio Magliabecchi (whose extant correspondence counts over 20,000 extant items). Others, such as of his contemporary Theodorus Janssonius al Almeloveen (1657–1712) were more oriented towards Dutch-German networks.16

    These networks were very resilient: they did not depend on single authors only, but were also tied to academies, libraries, collections, cabinets, and salons. Nor did these networks depend on single sources of income: individuals were employed by states, princes, universities, churches and religious orders. The intellectual networks were, moreover, dependent on existing commercial and diplomatic networks, such as those of the Fugger banking family, the huge network of the Plantin Press in Antwerp, or the diplomatic networks of scholar-ambassadors such as Jacques Bongars (1554–1612), Georg Michael Lingelsheim (1556–1636) or Paul Choart de Buzanval (died 1607) around 1600, or of Hugo Grotius, Constantijn Huygens and Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654) in the 1640s. Also, the networks were not simply an accumulation of ego-networks: central figures made use of agents who built and drew on local networks beyond the grasp of their patron. Pierre Bayle, for example, collected input for his famous Dictionnaire by using correspondents as intermediaries.17

    Religious networks such as those of the Benedictines created sub-networks of their own, while the Jesuits reached out across , the basin of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.18 Diplomatic and political networks rubbed shoulders with the scholarly and academic networks, although the two can be distinguished. The networks of the Dutch wives of stadholders, of Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662) or of Johan de Witt (1625–1672) did feature scholars and intellectuals (the correspondence of Elizabeth's daughter with Descartes is a famed example), but with De Witt we enter into a network that overall differs much from that of his contemporary J.F. Gronovius (1611–1671) or even that of his neighbour Constantijn Huygens, himself the best-connected diplomat of his country.19

    Gradually, the Republic of Letters changed in structure. On the one hand, the numbers of scholars increased, as did their means of communication, in particular with the rise of scholarly and scientific journals in the latter decades of the 17th century. Domestic postal routes improved, as digital studies of the postal networks have recently demonstrated.20 Universities might show a drop in student numbers, but part of this can be explained by the increasing number of universities and academic schools catering to local students. The number of universities expanded, whereas different types of institutions of higher education appeared on the scene, such as academic gymnasia or illustrious schools. In 1790, there was in Europe one university for every 1.2 million inhabitants.21 But relatively speaking, the mobility dropped over the course of the 18th century, and the reach of the communication was shorter. Of course, highly international networks remained in place, such as those of the Huguenot "universe" after the revocation of the Edict of NantesEdikt von Nantes in 1685 Die Auswanderung der Hugenotten nach dem Edikt von Fontainebleau, Bildquelle: Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Kartengrundlage: IEG-MAPS Server für digitale historische Karten, Bearbeiter: A. Kunz / R. Moeschl, Kartographie: Joachim Robert Moeschl, Herausgeber Editor: Andreas Kunz, © IEG / A. Kunz 2008,, with scholars forming centres of Calvinist learning in , Leiden and , or such places as the Marsh's LibraryMarsh's Library Dublin IMG in or even beyond Europe into southern , and the .22


    In the 18th century, epistolary networks remained central in the European theatre of learning. They continued to supply salons and academies with fresh faces and travellers. Voltaire's (1694–1778) correspondence is a case in point: his letters were included in his complete works right from the first of several editions. The "definitive edition" includes over 21,000 items, of which some 15,000 were authored by Voltaire himself. It spans seven decades and some 1800 correspondents and constitutes perhaps the largest extant ego-network of the early modern period. While the number of letters continues to rise up to the present day, the gaps are evident as well. Female authors in particular were dismissed in the process of transmission.23

    Jean-Paul Bignon (1662–1743) is an example of a not particularly well-known figure who nevertheless acted as a hub in various intellectual networks. Bignon led the scientific academies of for half a century, was a councillor of state for 40 years and an editor of the Journal des Savants for three decades. Inheriting the social capital of his grandfather Jérôme Bignon (1589–1656), who had corresponded with Grotius, Claude Saumaise (1588–1653), Gronovius, Peiresc and the cabinet Dupuy, he maintained a vast correspondence that can be divided into a political and administrative network, a scholarly-academic one and one centred around the acquisition of books. Not a publishing scholar himself, we encounter among his scholarly correspondents a number of other extremely well connected and hyperactive letter writers, such as Gisbertus Cuper (1644–1716), Pierre Desmaizaux (1666–1745), Prosper Marchand (1678–1756), Jean LeClerc and Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750). The latter's correspondence trumps even that of Voltaire; its edition in 46 projected volumes has been underway since 1975 and is almost half way in 2023.24 Bignon even had some scholars from the Iberian peninsula in his network.25 The networks of the scholarly agents Desmaizaux and Marchand tied together the entire Huguenot diaspora in Europe, facilitating the printing, exchange and reviewing of works of learning that came from the Dutch, French and German presses, including the learned journals. In the first decades of the 18th century, the intellectual networks were dominated by this French speaking Huguenot community of journalists, printers and booksellers, which facilitated the circulation of manuscripts, books and the ideas contained in them. Many of them were "journalists" involved in the business of scholarly journalism. Almost half of the correspondents of Marchand were Huguenots.26 These included Jean Henri Samuel Formey (1711–1797)[Johann Heinrich Samuel Formey IMG], the secretary of the Academy of Berlin, that was founded by Leibniz in 1700. Formey tied the second-generation Huguenots into the German networks. He facilitated the rise of Berlin into a major focal point of science and scholarship, due to his French, Italian, English, Dutch, , and contacts. His is one of the largest epistolary networks of the 18th century, next to those of Voltaire, Muratori and Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). His extensive correspondence with Johann Albrecht Euler (1734–1800) again underscores the importance of scientific academies in the intellectual networks of the 18th century, Euler being secretary of the Academy of , founded in 1724, with the help of Leibniz.27 That same interest in eastern Europe is noticeable with the philosopher and playwright Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1766). Some 5,000 letters remain of his correspondence, and part of its significance lies in Gottsched's active interest in Eastern European territories, which acts as a healthy correction to the western-centric orientation of most of the Enlightenment network studies.28 The networks of Gottsched and Formey directly tie in with those of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) (1,243 letters), and those of other German idealists, such as Fichte (1762–1814) (1559 letters) and Schelling (1775–1854) (5509). And this is to ignore even the correspondence networks of Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) (over 14,000 letters), Friedrich Gustav Schilling (1766–1839) (5261) and Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813) (9,275). Even someone like the Dutch novelist Isabelle de Charrière (Belle van Zuylen, 1740–1805), whose extant correspondence of 2,667 items featured relatively few correspondents, was only two handshakes away from the likes of Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), Schiller (1759–1805), Goethe, or Jacob Grimm (1785–1863)  or David Hume (1711–1776), through the intermediation of such active letter writers as the essayist and critic Benjamin Constant (1767–1830, app. 6,000 letters),29 the botanist and journalist Paul Usteri (1768–1831), and the author and editor Therese Forster-Huber (1764–1829) and her husband Ludwig Ferdinand Huber (1764–1804). Van Zuylen was three handshakes removed from almost any living correspondent in Europe and Northern America.


    While the rise of the nation state may have had a negative impact on the popularity of the idea of an international "Republic of Letters",30 the ideal lived on into the 20th century. Certainly, the praxis of letter writing, conjoined with publishing reviews in journals, only expanded, even if most epistolary networks came to be more nationalized. The rise in absolute numbers of scientists and scholars as well as the reconfiguration of the Early Modern university did lead to the creation of new vectors for international exchange, such as the international scientific conference. Thus started a new era in the history of intellectual and academic networks. Clearly, however, new media did not lead to obfuscating previous methods of networking: attending university lectures, academic mobility, international correspondence, scientific and scholarly journalism were there to stay, as was the old habit of the dinner table, be it as a symposium in the Greek sense, the table talks of the 17th century or the salons of the 18th century. Perhaps the salon as a sociable format of informal but at times ritualized exchange is one of the formats which was most unrecognizably transformed and fragmented in the post-war period into the many modern forms of academic gatherings that characterize university life as well as literary authors' public lectures organized by the publishing industry. If we are to understand academic and intellectual networks as systems of communication, then the Republic of Letters is still very much alive, even if we tend to refer to it rather as the "international scientific community".31

    It is with good reason that the institutionalization of academic mobility by the European Union harked back for the name of its program to Erasmus, that patron saint of European intellectual networking. They might have chosen, however, dozens of other scholars and scientists of the premodern period.

    Dirk van Miert



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    1. ^ This article was written in the context of the ERC Consolidator Project SKILLNET, grant agreement No. 724972, carried out at Utrecht University. The author is indebted to the members of the SKILLNET team for their critical input on previous versions. Miert, Letters and Epistolography 2010, pp. 520–523.
    2. ^ See the overview of early usages (and further literature) in Miert, Republic of Letters 2019, pp. 33–34.
    3. ^ Herbert Jaumann has deplored modern historians' leisurely use of the term: Jaumann, Respublica literaria 2005, pp. 73–88.
    4. ^ Wild, Naissance 2001.
    5. ^ Miert, Introduction 2013,  pp. 5–6.
    6. ^ Schröder, Couriers and Conventions 2018, pp. 81–100; Gildenhard, A republic in letters 2018, pp. 205–236; Gilles, Family or Faction? 2020.
    7. ^ Marcozzi, Petrarca e le sue reti epistolari 2021, pp. 23–40.
    8. ^ This paragraph is largely based on Hotson / Wallnig, Introduction 2019, p. 7.
    9. ^ Molino, L'Impero di carta 2011.
    10. ^ See Miller, Peiresc's Mediterranean World 2015.
    11. ^ Ross, Daum's Boys 2015.
    12. ^ Maestre Maestre, El humanismo Alcañizano 1990.
    13. ^ Ridder-Symoens, Mobility 1996, p. 418.
    14. ^ Ridder-Symoens, Mobility 1996, pp. 421–423.
    15. ^ Ridder-Symoens, Mobility 1996, p. 428.
    16. ^ Verheesen-Stegeman, Patronage and Service in the Republic of Letters 2005.
    17. ^ McKenna, Pierre Bayle 2005, p. 318.
    18. ^ Wallnig, Critical Monks 2019; Mrozik, The Jesuit Science Network 2018; Findlen, How Information Travels 2019, pp. 57–105.
    19. ^ For De Wit, see Witt, Johan de Witt en Frankrijk 2020; Witt, Johan de Witt en Engeland 2019. For Elisabeth of Bohemia, see Akkerman, Elizabeth Stuart 2021 and Stuart, The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart 2011–[forthcoming] in three volumes.
    20. ^ Midura, Masters of the Post 2020.
    21. ^ Frijhoff, Patterns 1996, pp. 77–80: In 2017, in the Netherlands, this number was 1.3 million (13 universities on 17 million inhabitants), i.e. less than at the end of the ancient régime. Admittedly, modern universities are about 20 times larger than their early modern predecessors.
    22. ^ Larminie, Huguenot Networks 2018; Stanwood, The Global Refuge 2020.
    23. ^ Mervaud, Voltaire's Correspondence 2009, pp. 153–154.
    24. ^ Centro di studi muratoriani, Carteggio.
    25. ^ Bléchet, L'Abbé Jean-Paul Bignon 2005, pp. 339–360.
    26. ^ Berkvens-Stevelinck, Prosper Marchand 2005, pp. 366–367.
    27. ^ Hâseler, Jean Henri Samuel Formey 2005, pp. 413–434.
    28. ^ Döring, Johann Christoph Gottsched 2005, pp. 387–411.
    29. ^ Constant, Oeuvres complètes 2022. I have projected the 4,429 letters up to the end of 1824, further to the end of Constant's life (end of 1830), with an average of 215 letters per year for the six remaining years, taking the years 1823–24 (429 letters) as indicative.
    30. ^ Solleveld, Afterlives of the Republic of Letters 2020, pp. 82–116.
    31. ^ Burke, The Republic of Letters 2012, pp. 395–407.

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