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 !





George Rude Seminar proceedings

We are delighted to announce that the proceedings of the 20th George Rude Seminar, held at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta campus last year, are now available here. Readers of this blog will probably be particularly interested in the latest article on FBTEE ‘Forgotten Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France‘; Alicia Montoya’s piece on our partner project, MEDIATE; and even, perhaps, in reading the latest round in the soap-opera saga of Darnton versus Burrows.

Highlights from 2016 Digitizing Enlightenment Symposium & George Rudé Seminar

Having just returned from our travels to the 2nd Annual Digitizing Enlightenment Symposium in Nijmegen, Netherlands and SHARP 2017 in Victoria, BC, Canada, we were delighted to find these videos waiting for us.

1st Annual Digitizing Enlightenment Symposium
20th Annual George Rudé Seminar

If you have questions about who appears in the highlights reels, just let us know. Thank you to Addy Fong, WSU, for her time on this project.

Waratah & Thistle: Angus & Robertson Symposium

One of the most exciting aspects of the FBTEE project has been watching other book trade archives being opened up for further study. Yesterday at the State Library of New South Wales we had the opportunity to see how our partner project, ARCHivER is contributing to the opening up of research on the Angus and Robertson archives, which are held by the library. Co-convened by FBTEE chief investigator, Dr Jason Ensor, and held in partnership with the Western Sydney University Digital Humanities Research Group, the Angus and Robertson symposium brought together several generations of Australian book historians, library professionals, senior Angus and Robertson executives  (including Richard Walsh) and friends of the library. The event showcased both the importance of the archives and the firm for understanding Australian literature and culture during the twentieth century, when it was a dominant force in Australian publishing and bookselling, and the progress being made towards revealing further treasures within the archive. These include the efforts of expert cataloguers (led by Ann Peck, who gave a magisterial overview of the archive) and academics, including Dr Jason Ensor and Dr Helen Bones, who introduced their work on the ARCHivER project, which will tag and apply linked data principles to a significant sub-set of digitized Angus and Robertson papers. Dr Bones published some reflections on this work for the State Library’s blog ahead of the symposium, available here.

In addition to the materials held at the SLNSW, we got to see for the first time images of some of the material recently discovered by FBTEE researchers Professor Simon Burrows (author of this post) and Dr Katie McDonough in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, which holds an extensive collection of Angus and Robertson book catalogues spanning many decades. Many of these catalogues appear not to be available among the estimated 900,000+ documents in the SLNSW, and as Dr Jason Ensor showed in his presentation, they contain valuable insights into how the firm positioned itself internationally. The global significance of Angus and Robertson’s trade was a repeated theme: Helen Bones spoke informatively about the firm’s trans-Tasman trade in her discussion of the uses of ARCHivER; Jason himself discussed their trading of books and rights through the London office and at the Frankfurt book fairs; and Angus & Robertson veteran John Ferguson, who was the subject of many of Jason’s remarks concerning London and Frankfurt, was very gracious in giving Jason’s interpretation a thumbs’ up and ‘spot on’.

Equally, the archive now contains extensive newly digitized interview material deposited by Dr Neil James, who created them during meetings with company employees and executives during his oral history researches on the company. In a thoughtful keynote address, Dr James discussed some of the valuable new lines of enquiry for future research into the Angus and Robertson archives. Among areas he highlighted were the graphic history revealed by the thousands of dust-jackets and illustrations in the archive, some of them created by leading artists and designers such as Norman Lindsay and forgotten authors. One such author was Zora Cross, the subject of a presentation by Cathy Perkins, whose daring Songs of Love and Life broke taboos concerning women writers discussing sex and was a publishing sensation in 1917 and accompanied many Anzac troops on campaign.

Angus and Robertson has always been known for its role in curating a sense of Australian culture, both through the literature it published and its iconic Australian publishing projects including The Australian Encyclopaedia, Neville Cayley’s lavishly illustrated What Bird is That? or Charles Bean’s multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Charles Bean’s history was one of the case studies Professor  Christopher Lee used to explore the company’s conscious role in creating a sense of Australian identity in the early twentieth century and around world war one. His other case study was Henry Lawson, whose relationship with the company was so close that the archive still contains one of his pencils and his mother’s wedding ring!

The symposium also addressed many of the formidable characters who shaped the history of the firm: in a particularly illuminating paper Jacqueline Kent discussed the role in shaping Australia’s literary culture of Beatrice Davis, chief editor ‘and arbiter of literary taste’ at Angus and Robertson from 1937 to 1973. We also heard from Dr Craig Munro and Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley of the ultimately unsuccessful but highly profitable attempts of Australian press baron Sir Frank Packer to buy the company in the 1960s.

The organisers and convenors of this symposium, which attracted over 50 delegates, are to be congratulated on a uniformly high quality event, from the “Welcome to Country” by Uncle Ray and opening remarks by Mitchell librarian Richard Neville and Dr Jason Ensor, through to a vigorous closing panel chaired by the State Library’s Rachel Franks. My clear impression is that the Angus and Robertson archive is being opened up in ways that will enable many of its secrets to continue to be revealed across coming decades, and that Australian book history is in rude health ahead of the international SHARP 2018 conference – which is to be held in Sydney at Western Sydney University, Parramatta, and the State Library, 26-29 June. Both Dr James and Dr Ensor emphasized that the time is ripe for a new synthesis of the history of Angus and Robertson and its significance to the cultural, business, social and literary history of Australia and the wider world. It will be, as evidenced by the Waratah and Thistle symposium, an exciting and many-faceted tale.