A Taste for Criticism: ‘Buon Gusto’ and the Reform of Historical Scholarship in the Early Eighteenth-Century Italian Republic of Letters

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters

Historians of scholarship and intellectual historians have recently been paying more attention to the social and epistemic conditioning of scholarly production. Informed by the history of science, such scholarship has shed light upon how knowledge production changed over time, and how its ‘legislation’, ‘administration’, and ‘institutionalisation’ varied in different contexts. This article explores the reform of intellectual culture in the early eighteenth-century Italian republic of letters, as a case-study in the application of such emergent methodologies. From around 1700, a nexus of ethical, aesthetical and epistemological ideals began to crystallize on the Italian peninsula, codified under the concept of ‘buon gusto’ or ‘good taste’. ‘Buon gusto’ became a point of reference for individual scholars, scholarly communities and literary journals seeking to reform scholarly practice. This led to the normalization of historical criticism as the dominant scholarly mode among Italian scholars by the mid-eighteenth century.