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This article argues that the concept of the ‘Republic of Letters’ or ‘commonwealth of learning’ is just as useful for writing the intellectual history of the modern period, 1750–2000 as it is in the case of the early modern period, to which the term is generally confined. The rise of nationalism and specialization in the nineteenth century was sufficient to modify but not to destroy the community of scholars. Examining the Republic not only as an imagined community but also as a system of communications, the author distinguishes four periods, that of the horse-drawn commonwealth (1500–1850); the age of steam (railways and steamships and the steam press) (1850–1950); the age of jet travel (1950–90) and the age of the personal computer and the Internet (1990-). Divisions between parts of the commonwealth and disruptions to it will be discussed, but it will be argued that reactions to these problems revealed the survival of solidarity.
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Keywords: Republic of Letters; commonwealth of learning; communication; imagined community; network; scholarship

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2012

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