Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-pjpqr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-16T07:13:24.649Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2012

Department of History, Stanford University E-mail:


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.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



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.


1 The term “British America” is problematic since it seems to anticipate the arrival of “Americans”—that is, of the United States—and it promises attention to Canada that I do not give here. The terms “colonial America” and “early America,” however, do not distinguish enough among Britain, France, and Spain's New World empires. So British America it is, for lack of a better term.

2 This is from the website of Cambridge University Press.

3 Lundberg, David and May, Henry F., “The Enlightened Reader in America,” American Quarterly 28 (1976), 262–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Brockliss, Laurence W. B., Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France (New York, 2002), viiviiiGoogle Scholar.

5 On the use of the term orbis litterarius see Bots, Hans and Waquet, Françoise, La république des lettres (Paris, 1997), 23, 63–90Google Scholar.

6 Furey, Constance, Erasmus, Contarini, and the Religious Republic of Letters (Cambridge, 2006)Google Scholar; Shelford, April, Transforming the Republic of Letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European Intellectual Life, 1650–1720 (Rochester, 2007)Google Scholar.

7 Adams, John, entry for 16 April 1778, in Butterfield, Lyman H., ed., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 4, Autobiography Parts Two and Three 1777–1780 (Cambridge, MA, 1962), 62Google Scholar.

8 The last twenty years is 1990–2010. Only English-language titles were sampled. For this research I am indebted to Scott Spillman, PhD candidate, Department of History, Stanford University.

9 The Electronic Enlightenment Project, University of Oxford (; the Cultures of Knowledge Project, University of Oxford (; and the Circulation of Knowledge project in the Netherlands ( For a useful introduction to scholarship on spatial mapping in the republic of letters see Mayhew, Robert, “British Geography's Republic of Letters: Mapping an Imagined Community, 1600–1800,” Journal of the History of Ideas 65 (April 2004), 251–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Brockey, Liam, Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 (Cambridge, MA, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, ed., Portuguese Colonial Cities in the Early Modern World (Farnham, 2008); Ogborn, Miles, Indian Ink: Script and Print in the Making of the English East India Company (Chicago, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Hsia, Florence, Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits and Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China (Chicago, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 For a recent overview of the scholarship, see Grafton, Anthony, “A Sketch Map of a Lost Continent: The Republic of Letters,” Republics of Letters 1 (May 2009)Google Scholar, available at

12 The two books are Ostrander, Gilman, Republic of Letters: The American Intellectual Community, 1776–1865 (Madison, 1999)Google Scholar; and Smith, James, ed., The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1776–1826, 3 vols. (New York, 1995)Google Scholar. The topic has been treated in shorter formats. See especially the useful essay by Hall, David, “Learned Culture in the Eighteenth Century,” in Amory, Hugh and Hall, David, eds., A History of the Book in America, vol. 1, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (New York, 2000), 411–33Google Scholar; Landsman, Ned, “A Transatlantic ‘Republic of Letters,’” in idem, From Colonials to Provincials: American Thought and Culture, 1680–1760 (Ithaca, 1997), 3156Google Scholar; Fiering, Norman, “The Transatlantic Republic of Letters: A Note on the Circulation of Learned Periodicals to Early Eighteenth-Century America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series 33 (Oct. 1976), 642–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The subject has also been treated influentially in books that play with the wording: Warner, Michael, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, MA, 1990)Google Scholar; and Shields, David, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (Chapel Hill, 1997)Google Scholar.

13 Thanks to Michael O'Brien for his shrewd thoughts on this matter; email communication to the author, 5 November 2010.

14 See especially Amory and Hall, Colonial Book; Augst, Thomas and Carpenter, Kenneth, eds., Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States (Amherst, 2007)Google Scholar; Sher, Richard, The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America (Chicago, 2006)Google Scholar.

15 Trevor Burnard makes the same point for imperialism more broadly in “The British Atlantic,” in Greene, Jack and Morgan, Philip, eds., Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (New York, 2009), 111–36Google Scholar.

16 Hugh Amory, “Reinventing the Colonial Book,” in Amory and Hall, Colonial Books, 43.

17 Parrish, Susan Scott, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World (Chapel Hill, 2006), 128–35Google Scholar.

18 O'Shaughnessy, Andrew, An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia, 2000), 1927Google Scholar.

19 Mark Peterson, “Theopolis Americana: The City-State of Boston, the Republic of Letters, and the Protestant International, 1689–1739,” in Bailyn, Bernard and Denault, Patricia, eds., Soundings in Atlantic History: Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500–1830 (Cambridge, MA, 2009), 329–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Phillipson, Nicholas, “Culture and Society in the 18th Century Province: The Case of Edinburgh and the Scottish Enlightenment,” in Stone, Lawrence, ed., The University in Society, vol. 2, Europe, Scotland, and the United States from the 16th to the 20th Century (Princeton, 1974), 425Google Scholar.

21 Davis, Richard Beale, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, 1585–1763, 3 vols. (Knoxville, 1978), 1: 363Google Scholar.

22 For city populations see Peter Clark, European Cities and Towns: 400–2000 (Oxford, 2009), 121.

23 Flavell, Julie, When London Was Capital of America (New Haven, 2010), 4, 11, 21Google Scholar.

24 Raven, James, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade, 1450–1830 (New Haven, 2007), 9Google Scholar.

25 Davis, Intellectual Life, 1: 371.

26 See especially Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Charles Carroll of Annapolis, 10 April 1760, in Hoffman, Ronald, ed., Dear Papa, Dear Charley: The Peregrinations of a Revolutionary Aristocrat . . ., 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, 2001), 1: 151–3Google Scholar.

27 Quote from Feld, Stuart, “In the Latest London Manner,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (May 1963), 308CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 Bridenbaugh, Carl, Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America, 1625–1742 (New York, 1938), 303Google Scholar. Contrast this with Spanish America, where by 1740 Mexico City had a population of 112,000 and Lima 52,000; see Elliott, John H., Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830 (New Haven, 2006), 262, 204Google Scholar.

29 O'Shaughnessy, Empire Divided, 19–27.

30 Fea, John, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (Philadelphia, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Wood, Gordon, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (New York, 2004), 9Google Scholar.

33 Behrends, Johann Adolf to B. Franklin, 28 Oct. 1778, in Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 27, ed. Lopez, Claude (New Haven, 1988), 656Google Scholar.

34 Benjamin Franklin to Noah Webster, 26 Dec. 1789, available at

35 Woodward, Walter, Prospero's America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606–1676 (Chapel Hill, 2010), 65Google Scholar.

36 On the estimate of five thousand, I am grateful for the email communication from Walter Woodward, 18 Aug. 2010, who also advises that a number of letters may not have survived. For locations of correspondents see Woodward, Prospero, 3, 54, 65.

37 Bots and Waquet, La republique des lettres, 147.

38 On his languages see Freiberg, Malcolm, ed., Winthrop Papers, vol. 6, 1650–1654 (Boston, MA, 1992)Google Scholar, x. On annotations in Latin see Browne, Charles, “Scientific Notes from the Books and Letters of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606–1676),” Isis 11 (Dec. 1928), 325–42, esp. 327Google Scholar.

39 Woodward, Prospero, 262, 263, 254.

40 Woodward, Prospero, 69.

41 Thanks to the Sébastien Heymann at Gephi ( for producing these visualizations for this project.

42 May, Henry, The Enlightenment in America (New York, 1976)Google Scholar; Ferguson, Robert, The American Enlightenment, 1750–1820 (Cambridge, 1994)Google Scholar; Winterer, Caroline, The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries (Stanford, 2011)Google Scholar.

43 For recent examples see, in a growing literature, Schiebinger, Londa, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic Word (Cambridge, MA, 2004)Google Scholar; Delbourgo, James and Dew, Nicholas, eds., Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York, 2007)Google Scholar.

44 Safier, Neil, Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America (Chicago, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Ibid., 9.

46 Ibid., 15, 25.

47 Ibid., 199, 223.

48 Ibid., 210.

49 Ibid., 223.

50 Winterer, Caroline, The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910 (Baltimore, 2002), 88Google Scholar.

51 Safier, Measuring the New World, 252.

52 MacCormack, Sabine, On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru (Princeton, 2007)Google Scholar.

53 Ibid., 65.

54 Ibid., xvii–xviii.

55 Feingold, Mordechai, “Jesuits: Savants,” idem, ed., Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA, 2003), 145Google Scholar.

56 Harris, Steven, “Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks and the Organization of Jesuit Science,” Early Science and Medicine 1 (Oct. 1996), 287318CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Harris, Steven, “Mapping Jesuit Science: The Role of Travel in the Geography of Knowledge,” in O'Malley, Johnet al., eds., The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540–1773 (Toronto, 1999), 212–40Google Scholar. I am indebted to my colleague Paula Findlen for opportunities to view maps of Kircher's correspondence network.

57 Codignola, Luca, “The Holy See and the Conversion of the Indians in French and British North America, 1486–1750,” in Kupperman, Karen, ed., America in European Consciousness, 1493–1750 (Chapel Hill, 1995) 195242, 213Google Scholar.

58 Stanwood, Owen, “The Protestant Moment: Antipopery, the Revolution of 1688–1689, and the Making of an Anglo-American Empire,” Journal of British Studies 46 (July 2007), 481508, esp. 485CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 I arrived at the Catholic population figure by adding the number of Catholics (20,000) in Maryland in 1765 to the number on the eve of Revolution in Philadelphia (1,200)—both figures in Walch, Timothy, ed., Early American Catholicism, 1634–1820: Selected Historical Essays (New York, 1988)Google Scholar, unpaginated introduction (3–4). For American population totals in roughly 1775 see Evarts Greene, Harrington, Virginia, et al., American Population before the Federal Census of 1790 (New York, 1932; repr. 1981), 67Google Scholar.

60 Dolan, Jay, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY, 1985), 81Google Scholar.

61 Ibid., 82. The first permanent Jesuit institution of higher learning in the United States was Georgetown Academy (later a college), founded in 1789. See Mahoney, Kathleen, Catholic Higher Education in Protestant America: The Jesuits and Harvard in the Age of the University (Baltimore, 2003), 11Google Scholar.

62 Codignola, “Holy See,” 213, quotation at 196.

63 Games, Alison, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitanism in an Age of Expansion, 1560–1660 (New York, 2008), 9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

64 Ibid., 10.

65 Ibid., 224.

66 Ibid., 230; “scholar-chaplains” at 231.

67 Mungello, David E., The Great Encounter of China and the West (New York, 1999), 37Google Scholar.

68 “Northampton was indeed remote, as far from Boston as Kansas City today”; “The way is long from Oxford to Northampton, as far as from the High Street to Main Street.” Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, MA, 1953), 226Google Scholar.

69 Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA, 1939), ixGoogle Scholar.

70 Games, Web, 9–10.

71 Ibid., 9.

72 Ibid., 272.

73 See, for example, Jacobs, Margaret, Strangers Nowhere in the World: The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern Europe (Philadelphia, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 Games, Web, 299.

75 See, for example, Vertovec, Steven and Cohen, Robin, eds., Conceiving Cosmopolitanism: Theory, Context, Practice (Oxford, 2002)Google Scholar.

76 Appiah, Kwame, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York, 2006), xvGoogle Scholar.

77 Ibid., 140.

78 Kaplan, Catherine O'Donnell, Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship (Chapel Hill, 2008)Google Scholar.

79 Ibid., 68.

80 Ibid., 2.

81 Ibid., 67.

82 Ibid., 200.

83 Butler, Leslie, Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform (Chapel Hill, 2007), 168, 170Google Scholar; Stansell, Christine, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York, 2000)Google Scholar.