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v2.1 Reference

Leibniz Discovers Asia

Social Networking in the Republic of Letters

Who are the nations of Europe, and where did they come from? Early modern people were as curious about their origins as we are today. Lacking twenty-first-century DNA research, seventeenth-century scholars turned to language—etymology, vocabulary, and even grammatical structure—for evidence. The hope was that, in puzzling out the relationships between languages, the relationships between nations themselves would emerge, and on that basis one could determine the ancestral homeland of the nations that presently occupied Europe.

In Leibniz Discovers Asia, Michael C. Carhart explores this early modern practice by focusing on philosopher, scientist, and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who developed a vast network of scholars and missionaries throughout Europe to acquire the linguistic data he needed. The success of his project was tied to the Jesuit search for an overland route to China, whose itinerary would take them through the nations from whom Leibniz wanted language samples. Drawing on Leibniz's extensive correspondence with the members of this network, Carhart gives us access to the philosopher's scintillating discussions about astronomy and mapping; ethnology and missionary work; the contest of the Asiatic empires of Muscovy, Persia, the Ottoman, and China for control of the Caucasus, the steppes, and the Far East; and above all, language, as the best indicator of the prehistoric genealogy of the myriad peoples from Central Asia to Western Europe.

Placing comparative linguistics within Leibniz's intellectual program, this book offers extensive insight into how Leibniz built his early modern scholarly network, the network's functionality within the international Republic of Letters, and its limitations. We see the scholar, isolated and lonely in little Hanover, with his hands on knowledge trickling in from scientific centers across Europe and around the world. By the end of 1697—the year his network finally began to work—Leibniz laughed to one of his patrons, "I'm putting a sign on my door reading, 'Bureau of Address for China'!" Depicting Leibniz not as a philosophical authority but as a scholar with human limitations and frustrations, Leibniz Discovers Asia is a thrilling and engaging narrative.

About the Author

Michael C. Carhart is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University. He is the author of The Science of Culture in Enlightenment Germany.

Endorsementss

"A fascinating portrait of a well-known scholar at work on a little-known project. Carhart's treatment of Leibniz's informal practices of scholarship, his use of long-distance correspondence and social networks, and indeed of Leibniz's idiosyncrasies as a scholar is very well done. The author has done an excellent job of connecting a diverse body of material in lively and engaging prose."

- Paul Nelles, Carleton University, coeditor of Books in Motion in Early Modern Europe: Beyond Production, Circulation, and Consumption

"A fascinating study of the role of historical linguistics in the work and the network of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Extremely well written, with a love for scientific practice, this is a masterful, remarkably detailed book."

- Han F. Vermeulen, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, author of Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

"This is an extraordinary and wonderful book. It reads like a novel—like a detective story—although it is the result of painstaking scholarship. Michael C. Carhart reconstructs virtually month by month Leibniz's tireless efforts to build networks in order to gain information about the languages of Asia."

- Martin Mulsow, Research Center Gotha, University of Erfurt, author of Enlightenment Underground: Radical Germany, 1680–1720

"This ground-breaking book takes the reader on a fascinating journey. In a gripping narrative entirely grounded on virtually unstudied sources, Leibniz's discovery of Asia unfolds through his investigation of its languages, against the backdrop of the multilayered circulation of knowledge in an increasingly global world and the dawn of modern comparative linguistics."

- Maria Rosa Antognazza, King's College London, author of Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography

"Leibniz Discovers Asia details Leibniz's linguistic quest to uncover the origins of peoples. In this fascinating and deeply researched work, Carhart analyzes how Leibniz assembled information and constructed his massive correspondence network to explore history before history. Carhart is a witty raconteur and a knowledgeable guide to one of the most influential thinkers of the baroque Republic of Letters."

- Mary Lindemann, University of Miami, author of The Merchant Republics: Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg, 1648–1790
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421427539 : leibniz-discovers-asia-carhart
Hardback
344 Pages
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