If the modern scientific world looks back into the mirror of its coming into being, its gaze meets Leibniz – the mathematician, natural scientist, engineer, logician, philosopher, jurist, science organizer and perhaps the last universalist, who still succeeded in uniting in his mind the essentials of the knowledge of his own time and of a time yet to come. “The position of Leibniz at the beginning of modern science is analogous to that of Aristotle at the beginning of ancient science. Leibniz’s universality is comparable to that of Aristotle …”.
The collection of manuscript papers of Leibniz at the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek - Niedersächische Landesbibliothek (hereafter GWLB) encompasses about 50,000 items, comprising 150,000 to 200,000 sheets. These include about 15,000 letters from and to about 1,100 correspondents.
It is Leibniz’s correspondence in particular extending to all parts of Europe and beyond, even as far as China, that reveals the wide range of topics he worked on. At the same time this correspondence provides an invaluable insight into the extent to which Leibniz influenced the thought of the scientific world of his time.
Leibniz was a central figure in the Republic of Letters of his time. His correspondence marks a turning point in the development of thought and of technology in his time.
Leibniz established a global network of correspondents and thus exchanged letters with the most eminent scientists and scholars of his day. His correspondence represents the transition from humanist-baroque thought to enlightenment and reason.
Being accepted as the most prominent scientist and scholar of his time, Leibniz was looked upon by his contemporaries as expert, arbiter, scientific advocate and referee in matters of science and scholarship. His correspondence thus reflects everything that was known about these matters, be it in Leibniz’s discussions of his own works, be it in discussions of the work of others, or be it his aspiration to academic positions. This correspondence may even act as a mirror of the entire scientific world of Leibniz’s time. Anyone confronted with Leibniz’s correspondence today will certainly realize that Leibniz was one of the first to establish what is nowadays called the scientific and scholarly community.
The GWLB and its predecessor institutions have owned the collection of manuscript papers ever since Leibniz’s death in 1716. In 1895 the librarian Bodemann published a catalogue of the Leibniz-manuscripts and in 1889 a catalogue of Leibniz’s correspondence. From that time on scholars and scientists from all over the world have continually worked on editing and interpreting the Leibniz collection of manuscript papers, particularly the correspondence. In 1901 work was started on publishing a critical edition of Leibniz's writings and correspondence.
Since then the Academy Edition (“Akademie-Ausgabe”) has been publishing the different series of Leibniz's writings and correspondence, a task that will continue for an estimated 30 years to come.