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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.

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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.

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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), 262–93.

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

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

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

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), 62.

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), 251–76.

10 Brockey Liam, Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 (Cambridge, MA, 2007); 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); and Hsia Florence, Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits and Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China (Chicago, 2009).

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), available at

12 The two books are Ostrander Gilman, Republic of Letters: The American Intellectual Community, 1776–1865 (Madison, 1999); and Smith James, ed., The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1776–1826, 3 vols. (New York, 1995). 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), 411–33; Landsman Ned, “A Transatlantic ‘Republic of Letters,’” in idem, From Colonials to Provincials: American Thought and Culture, 1680–1760 (Ithaca, 1997), 3156; 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), 642–60. 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); and Shields David, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (Chapel Hill, 1997).

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); Sher Richard, The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America (Chicago, 2006).

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), 111–36.

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), 128–35.

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

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), 329–70.

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), 425.

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

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, 21.

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

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: 151–3.

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

28 Bridenbaugh Carl, Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America, 1625–1742 (New York, 1938), 303. 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, 204.

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).

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

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

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), 65.

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), 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. 327.

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); Ferguson Robert, The American Enlightenment, 1750–1820 (Cambridge, 1994); Winterer Caroline, The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries (Stanford, 2011).

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

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

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), 88.

51 Safier, Measuring the New World, 252.

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

53 Ibid., 65.

54 Ibid., xvii–xviii.

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

56 Harris Steven, “Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks and the Organization of Jesuit Science,” Early Science and Medicine 1 (Oct. 1996), 287318; 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), 212–40. 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, 213.

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. 485.

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), 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), 67.

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

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), 11.

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), 9.

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), 37.

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), 226.

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

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).

74 Games, Web, 299.

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

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

77 Ibid., 140.

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

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, 170; Stansell Christine, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York, 2000).

* 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.

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Modern Intellectual History
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