Digitizing Enlightenment IV – programme

The programme for Digitizing Enlightenment IV is now out. This year’s event takes place as a day workshop within the International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference at Edinburgh, for which registrations are still open here.

There is quite a stellar line-up and we are very much looking forward to the opportunity to extend our discussion with the wider community of eighteenth-century scholars.

Congratulations to the organisers for attracting a mix of established and new contributors to the symposium. It is encouraging to see that no less than eight of the speakers were present at the Digitizing Enlightenment launch at Western Sydney back in 2016. The book arising from that first gathering is scheduled to appear next year.


Special Event: Digitizing Enlightenment IV
Tuesday 16th July / Mardi 16 juillet

Organized by the Voltaire Foundation / Organisé par la Voltaire Foundation
9:00-10:30 Welcome and Roundtable 1 – Data and databases
• Alicia Montoya, Radboud University
• Simon Burrows, Western Sydney University
• Greg Brown, UNLV/Voltaire Foundation

10:30-11:00 Coffee

11:00-12:30 Roundtable 2 – Mapping Enlightenment
• Franck Salaün, ICRL/Université Montpellier-3
• Linda Gil, ICRL/Université Montpellier-3
• Audrey Calefas-Strébelle, Mills College
• Mikkel Jensen, University of Erfurt

12:30 Book launch:
Networks of Enlightenment: Digital Approaches to the Republic of Letters, Chloe Edmondson & Dan
Edelstein, eds., Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2019.

2:00-3:45 Roundtables 3 and 4
Text reuse in the 18th century
• Clovis Gladstone, Robert Morrissey & Mark Olsen, ARTFL/University of Chicago
• Glenn Roe & Nicholas Cronk, Voltaire Lab, University of Oxford
• Katie McDonough & Keith Baker, Stanford University
• Lucas van der Deijl, University of Amsterdam

New methods, new approaches, new resources I
• Melanie Conroy, University of Memphis
• Elisabeth Bond, Ohio State University
• Nicholas Cole, University of Oxford

3:45-4:15 Coffee

4:15-6:00 Roundtables 5 and 6
New methods, new approaches, new resources II
• Mark Hill and Mikko Tolonen, University of Helsinki
• Christina Clarke, Australian National University
• Nicolas Morel, University of Bern

Concluding roundtable – Expanding digital 18th-century studies
• Dan Edelstein, Stanford University
• Melissa Terras, University of Edinburgh
• Thomas Wallnig, University of Vienna
Organisers: Nicholas Cronk & Glenn Roe Lena Zlock (student coordinator)

Bureaucratic circuits of the banned book trade

This cool infographic is a parting gift from Dr Laure Philip to students of the French book trade and censorship, on leaving the MPCE / FBTEE project. Laure developed it over several months for the project’s study of the illegal book trade. Her explanatory notes appear below:

A PDF version of this document, is available here. Please cite as Laure Philip, ‘Le Circuit administratif des livres entrants a Paris’ (infographic), 2018.


‘The infographic was created to visualize the circulation of illegal books in France and how administrative and censorship institutions policed and filtered the books entering Paris according to their legality status. It is predominantly inspired by Robert Estivals’ extremely detailed study La Statistique bibliographique de la France sous la Monarchie au XVIIIeme siècle (1965) which brings an estimate of the quantities of books censored by the state apparatus and deciphers the bureaucratic mechanisms in place.

Estivals’ study is central to understanding how the French monarchy dealt with an increasing number of publications at the eve of the Revolution, but the level of details is such that the reader is likely to be left confused. This infographic allows for a greater visualization of one part of the apparatus, the policing of books entering Paris by four secular institutions: the customs, the Chambre syndicale, the Bureau de la Librairie and the Bastille. It was crucial for the Illegal Book Trade Revisited project to establish a clear representation of this particularly intricate stage in the life cycle of a prohibited book.

The most important institution is the Chambre syndicale de la librairie (Booksellers’ Guild), where elected booksellers, the inspecteur and the syndics, were in charge of processing and recording the legality statuses of incoming books. When they cannot decide on the legality of a book because no authorisation had been previously granted, they referred it to the Bureau de la Librairie. Composed of the royal censors, the Bureau was where the censorship process was centred: censors assessed the books and decided whether they were deemed fit for publication. The Bastille fortress, unsurprisingly, is the place where highly dangerous books were sent for pulping.

To the right of the infographic are represented some of the known key manuscript sources that were consulted or used by the employees of each institution to record the statuses of the incoming books. They do not always exactly match the policing responsibilities of each institution and are not the only ones produced in the administrative policing process. However they are a lively testimony to the interdependence between each successive step of the policing of books. For instance, the Chambre syndicale depended upon the censors’ verdict to fill out their Journal des livres suspendus (Ms Fr 2193-4).

Estivals’ intention was to convey the ‘philosophy’ behind each policing institution: this infographic clearly separates each stage of the legality assessment, with its accompanying administrative documents and actors.’

French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe online appendices

I am delighted to announce that the delayed appendices to the French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe vol. 2 are freely available here.

They include maps, graphs, endless tables, my ‘Designer Notes’ from the FBTEE database, and an essay explaining how I calculated the approximate size of the clandestine sector of the French trade.

Enjoy where possible!

Ecrasez l´infâme numériquement!

I owe this wonderful slogan to Greg Brown of the Voltaire Foundation, who appended it to an announcement of a new virtual space for discussions arising from the Digitizing Enlightenment initiative, ‘a growing network of scholars using digital tools and methods in the study of the Enlightenment.’ This will form part of the Voltaire Lab!

Great to see how the academic community has taken up this initiative since Glenn Roe and I held the first Digitizing Enlightenment symposium here at Western in 2016.

This important new space is under development at digitizingenlightenment.com

There is also information there about the recent Digitizing Enlightenment 3 meeting in Oxford. Greg has invited participants at that meeting to send summaries of their presentations for blogging, so watch for new announcements.

Out today: The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe, vols I and II

Today sees the long-awaited publication of the first two volumes arising from the French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe project, Mark Curran’s Selling Enlightenment and Simon Burrows, Enlightenment Bestsellers, both published by Bloomsbury. The online appendices to accompany volume two should also appear shortly on the Bloomsbury website here.

These books represent a milestone in the history of the project, but also, we hope, for digital humanities (DH). DH has produced many significant essays, articles, and collaborative collections. But we have so far been light on game-changing , single author single project monographs in the classic humanities mode. A few such volumes might serve as a healthy riposte those who claim DH has not lived up to its transformative promise…

Happy readings.

French Book Trade volumes launched

They’re here! The first two volumes dedicated to reporting the results of the FBTEE project are in our hands. They were on display at a pre-publication reception at SHARP2018 here at Western Sydney University last night, at which distinguised book historian and French revolutionary scholar Martyn Lyons introduced both works.


In his conclusion Professor Lyons suggested that ‘you need to read these books if you are interested in French cultural history. You need to read these books if you are interested in book history. You need to read these books if you are interested in the enlightenment. And you need to read these books if you want to know what to do with numbers.’

Praise indeed!

We hope that these are landmark studies will become classics of their kind, establishing once and for all the power of digital humanities approaches to enrich and significantly revise our understandings of some of the most important historical questions.

The cover blurb praise for both volumes would seem to support this aspiration. Jeremy D. Popkin writes of my volume:

“Using the latest digital-humanities techniques, Simon Burrows’s book gives us new insights into the readers and publishers of the Enlightenment era. His conclusions challenge the popular interpretations of scholars such as Robert Darnton and Jonathan Israel and force us to rethink the notion of “Enlightenment bestsellers”. This is a valuable contribution to book history and the history of the circulation of ideas.”

Comments on Mark Curran’s volume are perhaps even more glowing:

“A striking achievement. Curran’s commendably exhaustive delving into the STN’s superb business archives and his use of digital humanities methodologies to form and to test hypotheses adds a renewed level of relevance to key questions about the European Enlightenment and the role of the STN within it.” –  Colin Jones, Professor of History, Queen Mary University of London, UK

“For those with an interest in the history of the 18th-century book trade and the dissemination of knowledge in Enlightenment Europe, this is a work of major importance. Curran knows the rich archives of Neufchatel as well as anyone, and he communicates his important and provocative findings with liveliness and grace.” – Darrin M. McMahon, Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor, Dartmouth College, USA

Happy reading !