Contested cultural citizenship of a virtual transnational community
From the 15th century onwards, up until at least the end of the 18th century, scholars and scientists in Europe often referred to the concept of a Respublica literaria (‘Republic of Letters’ or ‘Commonwealth of learning’) to denote the world they inhabited: an intellectual world in which scholars, printers, teachers and often patrons were tied together into huge correspondence networks, constituting a pan-European social network. The Republic of Letters is often characterized as an imagined community, but it may also be seen as civil society or even a knowledge commons. As a community that transgressed geographical boundaries and stimulated the sharing of knowledge, its members were forced to accept many differences in religion and politics. The Republic of Letters has therefore often been seen as fostering ‘tolerance’. Yet, the Republic of Letters was also exclusive: only highly educated people could participate, and these were usually white, male and heterosexual. Citizenship of this imagined community was defined by culture: by practices, and increasingly by codes of conduct. In this article, we will examine to what extent theories of citizenship help to gain a clearer picture of the structural impediments for women to be accepted as participants in this community.