Impolite Learning

Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750

Anne Goldgar

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During the period immediately preceding the Enlightenment, scholars throughout Europe located themselves within an informal social and cultural community. The members of this Republic of Letters traveled to meet each other, exchanged letters, contributed to scholarly journals, and helped with the publication of other scholars' work.

In this original and stimulating book, Anne Goldgar examines the everyday interactions of the scholars and the values that underpinned their society. She argues that the pressures of the marketplace and the popularity of the new, competing Enlightenment literature diverted the older community's attention from the content of debates and toward the manner in which they were conducted. This tendency intensified an earlier reluctance to turn away from the personal communal structure to a more professional, academic society. Inferring ideas about cooperation through recorded instances of conflict, Goldgar looks at often amusing stories of plagiarism, theft, insult, and impersonation. These stories illuminate the fundamental academic ethos of obligation; the Republic's attempts, not always successful, to reorganize and professionalize the community, notably through literary journals; the basis of scholarly hierarchy and the ideal career path toward intellectual prominence; and the difficulties, in an international and non-denominational community, of dealing with the realities of religious and political division within Europe. In an important final chapter, Goldgar presents a new slant on the difficult transition from the old erudition to the Enlightenment.

Based on wide-ranging research in European archives, yet refreshingly readable and entertaining, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of an era long regarded as a turning point in European cultural history.

Anne Goldgar is lecturer in early modern history at King's College London.

"[Goldgar's] remarkable erudition, exhibited on every page of this book, marks her out as the lineal successor of the 17th-century savants she knows so well."—Anthony Grafton, London Review of Books

"Anyone interested in the strange cocktail of idealism and commercialism that colours 'the information' today will be engrossed by this rich study of its roots."—Roy Porter, New Statesmen & Society

"This is an interesting and thorough study; its scholarship is deep and its judgments are careful. Goldgar deals at length and subtly with complex sources, and she has provided extremely full notes and a very substantial bibliography. . . . Impolite Learning tells an interesting tale and tells it well. Along the way, it reveals much that is new and important."—George Mariz, History

"Undoubtedly the best-researched and most perceptive study ever written on the republic of letters. . . . Anne Goldgar has reconstructed the values of the republic of letters with great attention to detail and close reading of a wide range of sources."—Roger Chartier, Times Literary Supplement

"The Republic of Letters and the scientific community overlapped at many points, and since the challenges faced by the former also had to be confronted by the latter in the 1600s and 1700s, the issues raised by Goldgar merit the close attention of historians of science."—David J. Sturdy, Isis

"Those inspired to further research inherit from Goldgar an enriched agenda of issues to probe, as well as a dense yet engaging presentation that is as systematically structured and beautifully crafted a piece of writing as one might hope to see."—Carolyn Chappell Lougee, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"It's possible to doubt that the much-hyped information highway heralds a new intellectual age. But in 1750 that's exactly what was happening and Anne Goldgar's Impolite Learning conveys the excitement of its arrival with a just-right mix of wit and solid scholarship."—Stan Persky, Toronto Globe and Mail

"An excellent book . . . a pleasure to read."—Richard Waller, British Journal of 18th Century Studies

ISBN: 9780300053593
Publication Date: July 26, 1995
412 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4