The members of the early modern Republic of Letters cultivated epistolary communication for several reasons. As specialized scholarly journals emerged only towards the end of this period, current scholarly information was provided by personal letters. These also served to recommend the writer to the addressee by showing him due respect, by confirming mutual benevolence and obligation and by giving proof of a fine Latin style. The custom of 'peregrinatio academica' and the humanistic tradition of cultivating friendship by epistolary exchange facilitated access of young scholars to a network of correspondents that distributed copies of letters written by prominent authors. Substantial parts of this wide-spread 'commercium epistolicum' were collected and published during the life-time of correspondents or soon after. Some authors not only selected the letters they wished to be printed, but polished and disposed them with great care.
While these correspondences are important sources of the history of learning, most of them have not been reprinted or digitized yet. Recent scholarly editing highlights the correspondence of a few prominent authors (such as Reuchlin, Erasmus, Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Calvin, Beza, Lipsius, Kepler, Grotius, Pufendorf, Leibniz). CERA contains 90 printed collections (55'000 pages) of letters written from ca. 1520 through 1770 in Germany and neighbouring countries. Our selection (see List of Editions) focuses on scholarly communication while including a few specimina of different types of letter-writing samples of epistolary style, political correspondence, treatises composed in epistolary form.
Parallel to the publication of CERA a selection of biographical and bibliographical resources dating from the 17th and 18th centuries has be added to the THESAURUS. As the most commonly used information resources (Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Zedler , Jöcher-Adelung, Deutsches Biographisches Archiv) are most often neither exact nor historically adequate, we make available earlier works written by competent contemporaries.
Nearly all the copies we used are part of the rare book collections of Mannheim University Library. Some additional editions have kindly been digitised by the Herzog August Library Wolfenbüttel . These titles too are listed in our List of Editions (with links to the Wolfenbüttel server).
The monumental bibliography Monika Estermann: Verzeichnis der gedruckten Briefe deutscher Autoren des 17. Jahrhunderts. Wolfenbüttel 1992-1993. 4 Bde. in its introduction outlines the types of early modern letter-writing. Its analytical descriptions list the individual letters contained in printed collections.
This project was executed from August 2006 to December 2009.
Last modified March 24, 2009