Via Maria Popova over at the awesome Brain Pickings, who spotlights 7 important digitization projects in the Humanities: this one Mapping the Republic of Letters is wonderful:
When early modern scholars (from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment) described the broadest community to which they belonged, they most frequently called this international community of scholars the “Republic of Letters.”
The Republic of Letters was an intellectual network initially based on the writing and exchange of letters that emerged with and thrived on new technologies such as the printing press and organized itself around cultural institutions (e. g. museums, libraries, academies) and research projects that collected, sorted, and dispersed knowledge. A pre-disciplinary community in which most of the modern disciplines developed, it was the ancestor to a wide range of intellectual societies from the seventeenth-century salons and eighteenth-century coffeehouses to the scientific academy or learned society and the modern research university. Forged in the humanist culture of learning that promoted the ancient ideal of the republic as the place for free and continuous exchange of knowledge, the Republic of Letters was simultaneously an imagined community (a scholar’s utopia where differences, in theory, would not matter), an information network, and a dynamic platform from which a wide variety of intellectual projects – many of them with important ramifications for society, politics, and religion – were proposed, vetted, and executed.