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Mapping the Republic of Letters

Project Overview

Mapping the Republic of Letters (MRofL) is an international, collaborative project that is centered at Stanford University. MRofL is an on-going project which began in 2008. Developed by (MRofL) is an international, collaborative project that is centered at Stanford University. MRofL is an ongoing project which began in 2008. Developed by Dan Eldenstien and Paula Findlen the project goals are to create visual representations of the information in the Republic of Letters (RofL) focusing on the correspondence, travel and social networks that existed during that time. The project now has an additional lead Nicole Coleman.


History - The Republic of Letters

RofL in its Latin form respublica litteraria* is a compound of two words res and publica mean???matter??? or ???object??? and ???public??? or ???common???respectively and litteraria translates to ???learning??? or???knowledge.??? The phrase was coined to describe the sharedpursuit of knowledge for the common good. The RofL was aself-proclaimed community of scholars that mostly spanned Europeand America. Members were limited to well educated individuals andinstitutions. The influence RofL had on the the Enlightenment isstill questionable among historians however, circulation of writtenletters and packages sent within the RofL illustrates aninternational network of intellectual communication.


The purpose of the project was initially to answer 4questions:

  • What do the networks within the RofL look like?
  • How geographically extensive were the networks?
  • Do individual networks overlap or connect?
  • Did the networks configuration evolve over time? (Eldstien andFindlen, 2008)

To answer the questions posed the project goals includedcreating tools to make visual representations of all theinformation available from RofL. Creating interactivevisualizations of the information allow users to see at-a-glancethe span of the correspondence across the globe, patterns that maybe occurring and there is potential to learn more about certainschools of thought at the time or in specific regions.

Although the project has great potential for re-discovering historyand learning new aspects of RofL there are some limitations to theproject. Since the RofL is a self-acclaimed community of scholarsand academic institutions, MRofL may be excluding some key scholarsor institutions of the time not part of RofL.

Case Studies

MRofL is a collection of case studies. There are currently seven individual case studies in progress each looking at a unique aspect of RofL. The following are brief descriptions of each case study;

  • Francesco Algarotti???s Reverse Grand Tour: Travels, Publications and Letters: is a project working on creating a series of three integrated maps from a database of Algarotti???s travels, publications and letters. The material from this case study will be made available publically upon completion.
  • Visualizing Benjamin Franklin???s Correspondence Network: is working on creating a visual representation of Benjamin Franklin???s correspondence. This case study is currently in progress.
  • Mapping Galileo: This case study has an estimated completion date of 2012-2013. This case study is designed to visually represent the changes in Galileo???s correspondence network through the different stages of his life.
  • An Intellectual Map of Science in the Spanish Empire 1600-1810: a case study unlike the others within MRofL it is working on creating a map of 360 individuals focusing on the people and their interactions with each other and institutions across the Spanish Empire and not specifically mapping the correspondence.
  • Grand Tour Travelers: focusing on British and Irish travelers to Italy this case study represents the social networks and geospatial data.
  • A Jesuit???s Letters: Mapping Athansius Kircher???s Correspondence: this case study has grown from creating a visualization of letters from an archived database to creating an interactive map of Kircher???s correspondence. Currently in progress this expected completion date is 2012-2013.
  • Voltaire and the Enlightenment: a case study focusing on Voltaire???s correspondence to discover who, why and where he corresponded to. This case study is currently in progress.


RofL Viz tool screen capture October 14, 2012
Correspondenzia tool screen capture October 14, 2012
Fineo tool screen capture October 14, 2012

There are several tools being used for the MRofL project as wellas some that are in development. Each of the tools are uniquevisualizations of the information given from RofLcorrespondence.

  • The first tool, RofL Viz developed in 2009 by students Shiwei Song, Dan Change and Yuankai Ge is the first tool used by the project. This tool is designed as an interactive map with scrolling timeline feature that lets the user see the network of communication for selected individuals.
  • Corrispondenzia was developed in 2010 to convey incomplete data geographically.
  • The Priestly - Inspired Timeline is a tool similar to Joseph Priestly???s Chart of Biography. The Priestly - Inspired timeline is interactive and searchable tool that allows the user to view large amounts of data at a glance and get a sense of the travel patterns at a given time.
  • Fineo is essentially a flow diagram designed to convey relationships among the different aspects of the data being presented.

  • Inquiry allows the user to search a large collection of the correspondence.
  • Developed in January 2012 INK is a map, timeline and histogramand a Fineo version of the data. INK is a highly interactive toolthat allows the user to click on various aspects of any of thethree displays and view the corresponding information in the othertwo views.

Currently in development are two tools: Knot and Schema. Knot allows the users to see a network take shape where Schema will allow users to explore nationality of the correspondence more thoroughly.


MRofL receives funding from the following areas;

Additional funding for individual case studies are from the following;


The project benefits from a number of collaborations:


Edelstein, Dan and Paula Findlen. Digging Into the Enlightenment: Mapping the Republic of Letters. 2011. [cited October 14, 2012] Available from

Whelan, Ruth. Republic of Letters. Alan Charles Korseditor. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment Oxford Reference. CurrentOnline Version 2012 [cited October 4, 2012] Available from

External Links

The majority of the information on this wiki post has been collected from the Republic of Letters Mapping the Republic of Letters, Stanford University [retrieved October 15, 2012] , Stanford University (retrieved October 15, 2012)

*Republic of Letters Wikipedia (retrieved October13, 2012)*

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