Study title
Study of the relationships among scholars in the eighteenth century. The example of Swiss correspondents with the secretary of the Berlin academy
Ref study 6080
Study language French
Contributing institutions
  • Suisse
  • Europe (centrale)
  • Lumières
  • Epistolarité
  • Réseau helvétique
  • Académie de Berlin
  • Jean Henry Samuel Formey
  • Echanges scientifiques
  • Echanges littéraires
  • Echanges philosophiques
Geographical space
Europe (centrale) - Suisse (réformée)
  • Switzerland
The notion of network is at the heart of current methodological concerns, both in historiography and other areas of the social sciences and humanities. It nourishes studies on cultural life in the 18th century, an area where epistolary exchange materializes the principles of belonging to the "Republic of Letters" and reveals the ramifications of European cosmopolitanism. In this respect, the correspondence of Jean Henry Samuel Formey, perpetual secretary of the Berlin Academy from 1748 to 1797, constitutes a privileged source. But its dispersion from the 1940s onwards between four funds (two in Berlin and two in Krakow) and political circumstances (the Third Reich, the satellite system of Eastern Europe) practically prevented access from the Interwar period until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, once again open to research, it obliges the specialist to select the data: quantitatively, it is comparable to that of Leibnitz, reputed to be the most abundant in Germany. From this crossroads of the Enlightenment that constitutes the Berlin of Frederick II, the work has focused primarily on the French influence. However, Formey's Swiss correspondents not only form a significant sample (nearly 180 out of a total of 2,400 correspondents; about 2,000 letters, most of them unpublished, out of 17,100), but also an exceptional one, because it allows us to renew both our knowledge of the Enlightenment in Europe (the Swiss of the Academy, a counterweight to the French influence) and the intellectual life of their country (it took place partly abroad, through cosmopolitan networks of sociability). The project's ambition was to study, within this historical framework, based on this unpublished source and the Swiss correspondents, the functioning of a learned network as well as the exchanges of information, thoughts and services it generates.
A first phase of processing and analysis aimed to reconstitute the human network of correspondents, to study its dispersion in the European area and its chronological evolution. It allows the virtual reconstruction of the "active" correspondence of Formey, largely disappeared. The second phase involved the transcription of the corpus, indispensable for achieving our final goal: to study not only the life and functioning of the Republic of Letters, but also the specific intellectual and social environment of the "scholars" who belong to it. It is a matter of following the ramifications of the exchange beyond the relationships with the crossroads character who constitutes the opportunity, to recognize the shared values and reciprocal services that feed the network over time. A scientific book will provide a synthesis of our work. The richness of the corpus and the multidisciplinary nature of the working group (literary history, philosophy, history) allow an approach that goes beyond the limits generally retained in such cases. They offer the possibility of an extensive panorama, from philosophical and religious discussion to preceptorship, including the book trade, law, science and fine arts. Our works are original because of the attention given to spaces that reconcile the intellectual life of the Switzerland of the Ancien Régime, especially Protestant, without distinction of linguistic nature, and that of Europe. By rediscovering a framework of thought partly common to the German countries, the United Provinces and the Protestant Switzerland, we are freeing ourselves from the only status traditionally recognized to our country, that of intermediary. The planned approach is in line with the in-depth studies carried out in the history of philosophy applied to establish the vulgate of the thought of an epoch through environments and institutions.
- liste, biographies et bibliographies des correspondants suisses de J.H.S. Formey - inventaire détaillé des lettres reçues par Formey (correspondance passive) - transcription des lettres reçues (en cours) - synthèses partielles de sous-ensembles (Genevois-Bâlois-Bernois et alliés)
Methods (description)
Repérage des documents dans les fonds de Berlin et de Cracovie;
Collation de ces sources sous forme de microfilms;
Tirages sous forme de photocopies des sources;
Inventaire systématique des sources constituant la correspondance passive de J. H. S. Formey;
Analyse des sources sous forme d'inventaires: de la correspondance active; des documents annexes cités; des références intellectuelles (livres, oeuvres d'art, etc.);
Transcriptions diplomatiques des sources si nécessaire;
Numérisation partielle des documents;
Analyse de détail du contenu des sources

Démarche méthodologique: Analyse de contenu ouverte, Analyse de documents ouverte
Methods (instruments)
  • Bandelier, André. 2007. Des Suisses dans la République des lettres. Genève: Slatkine, 2007.
  • Gigandet, Cyrille. 2002. 'Arracher quelque portion de ces odieuses baréres qui nous divisent...'. Analyse des préfaces aux traductions "nordiques" du Genevois Paul-Henri Mallet. In: La vie intellectuelle aux refuges protestants, II Huguenots traducteurs. Actes de la Table-ronde de Dublin, juillet 1999. Paris, Honoré champion, 2002, p. 153-174.
  • Gigandet, Cyrille. 2001. Dans la toile des Lumières: méthode d'analyse des correspondants suisses de J. H. S. Formey. In: Histoire & Informatique, vol. 11, 2001, p. 129-154.
  • Bandelier, André. 2000. Réseaux savants européens au XVIIIe siècle: les correspondants suisses du secrétaire de l'Académie de Berlin. Avec la collaboration de Cyrille Gigandet et Christian Sester. In: Bulletin du Fonds national suisse pour la recherche scientifique, 22/III.2000, p. 3-5.
  • Bandelier, André. 1997. Présentation du projet.... In: Bulletin de l'A.I.R.E. (Association interdisciplinaire de recherche sur l'épistolarité). Bulletin N 20, nov.-déc. 1997, pp. 45-46.
  • Bandelier, André. 1997. Sur la correspondance de Jean-Henri-Samuel Formey. In: Penser par lettre: Colloque d'Azay-le-Ferron, 15-17 mai 1997. Montréal : FIDES, 1998. P. 205-217.
Unpublished documents
  • Bandelier, André. 1998. Etude d'un réseau de relations savant au XVIIIe siècle. Rapports intermédiaires au FNSRS en 1998 et 2000. Rapport final au FNSRS au 30.06.2001.
Financed by
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) Web
Date created 27.04.2018
Date modified 27.04.2018
Start - End date 01.10.1997 - 28.06.2001