Afterlives of the Republic of Letters: Learned Journals and Scholarly Community in the Early Nineteenth Century

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters


What happened to the Republic of Letters? Its history seems to stop at the end of the eighteenth century. And yet, in the nineteenth century, there still existed a community gathered in scholarly societies, maintaining a transnational correspondence network and filling learned journals. The term indeed becomes less frequent, but does not go entirely out of use. This article traces the afterlives of the Republic of Letters in the early nineteenth century. Specifically, it investigates texts that attempt to (re)define the Republic of Letters or a cognate, the wider diffusion of the term, and the changing role of learned journals in that period. While most attempts to reinvent the Republic of Letters failed miserably, they indicate a diagnosis of the state of learning and the position of scholars in a period of transition, and in doing so they contradict an ‘unpolitical’ conception of the Republic of Letters.

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