Abstract

Letters to the editor were published in the thousands during the 1770s and 1780s, shaping a forum that constituted an eighteenth-century information network. Such letters serve as a powerful touchstone for ideas that circulated among the French reading public, shedding new light on the cultural history of the Enlightenment. Drawing on world history and digital history approaches, this article analyzes a subset of letters that were exchanged and reprinted among provincial papers (affiches) throughout France. By visualizing the exchange of such reprinted letters as a network, it becomes clear that provincial readers did not read their local papers in isolation but instead were connected to a larger community that often included published missives from the surrounding généralité and the capital. The content of such letters communicated an optimism about the possibility of ameliorating daily life through incremental, practical changes, fostering a notion of a practical Enlightenment.

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