Oregon State University

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The Republic of Letters in the colonial Americas: Whose Letters? Whose Republics?

Lunch Bunch with Jorge Canizares-Esquerra

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Historiographically, the "Republic of Letters" came of age along with the also deeply problematic category of the "Public Sphere." The two categories worked in tandem: the Republic allegedly paved the way for the Public to emerge. Coffee shops and salons disseminated print culture values that were first established in the epistolary networks of humanists, the literati, and the philosophes.

Both aristocrats and urban middle classes rapidly embraced the values of the Republic of Letters and lively engaged in rational criticism of all subjects. Epistolary networks and print culture fostered new centers of production of knowledge, no longer controlled by the clergy, university, courts.

This new knowledge, in turn, swept off traditional understandings of politics and religion that led to the ideological undoing of the ancien regime. Communicating vicariously through a vibrant print culture, the public was instrumental in transforming the old regime into new republics of citizens.

This narrative of the Republic of Letters and the Public Sphere might work partially well in Anglo America and parts of France but it fails dismally elsewhere. Historians are often hard pressed to find evidence of publics and republics in the Iberian Atlantic such as humanist epistolary networks, coffee shops, salons, and print culture.

In this seminar, I seek to identify the kind of epistolary networks that existed in colonial Spanish America that the category of the Republic of Letters and the Public Sphere render invisible.

Memorial Union (campus map)
Robert Peckyno
robert.peckyno at oregonstate.edu
School of History, Philosophy, and Religion