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The Commerce of Letters: Networks and "Invisible Colleges" in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe

David A. Kronick
The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy
Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 28-43
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309484
Page Count: 16
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Commerce of Letters: Networks and "Invisible Colleges" in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe
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Abstract

The "erudite letters" of early modern science had their antecedents in classical literature. The letters were not always concerned with scholarly matters but bear witness to the intellectual currents of the period in which they were written. Letters were circulated as a prepublication means of sharing and assessing ideas before they were put into print and also served as a medium of publication. The establishment of scientific societies and journals, rather than diminishing the flow of letters, served to stimulate and enhance their use. The commerce of letters also sustained what seventeenth-century scholars called "invisible colleges." The concepts of networks and invisible colleges have been applied to modern scientific communication, where research techniques such as "co-citation analysis" have been used to reveal coteries with communal research interests. A study of early modern correspondence networks may suggest an analytical approach to scholarly correspondence that is capable of revealing additional networks or invisible colleges in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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