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Event Type: Public Lecture/Forum/Seminar/Workshop/Conference/Symposium
Event Nature: Culture and Arts

Event Details

The Enlightenment Text: Publishing, Culture and Popular Reading before the French Revolution

Speaker: Prof. Simon Burrows
(Western Sydney University, Australia)

For almost a century, cultural historians have sought to understand what the French read before the revolution, and how they read it. The cultural turn and rise of interest in the public sphere and book history more generally have given these efforts new impetus, abetted by the work of luminaries such as Robert Darnton in the United States and Roger Chartier in France. Building on Darnton’s celebrated and innovative study of Forbidden Bestsellers of Prerevolutionary France, my own digital project on the French book trade in Enlightenment Europe (FBTEE) promised to give us representative new insights into the pan-European trade of a typical extra-territorial French publisher, the Swiss based Société typographique de Neuchâtel (STN). Publishers such as the STN had long been seen as fundamental to understanding the enlightenment book trade, since their extra-territoriality gave them licence to print and disseminate books banned within the Bourbon realm. Yet for all its many accolades, the FBTEE database has exposed the inherent biases of the Swiss, Protestant STN, calling its representativeness into question as never before. Clearly large swathes of the French-language publishing industry's output were hardly represented in its silos, and these ranged from the hardcore atheistic propaganda produced in the Netherlands and Britain through much enlightenment scientific output, to the mass-produced Catholic devotional works that spewed forth from French and Belgian presses. How then can we use the digital technologies of FBTEE to gain a better sense of the totality of print and its implications? One way to respond to this conundrum is to take a linked 'big data' approach, expanding the dataset beyond the 450,000 books in the FBTEE-1 database and triangulating them against a more representative range of new sources, embracing all sectors of the French book trade, including the officially tolerated books, the pirate sector and the clandestine trade. This paper offers some of the first fruits of this research and explores how it is recharting the literary field of the late ancien regime.
Simon Burrows is Professor of Digital Humanities and Professor of History at Western Sydney University, Australia. He holds his DPhil from Oxford and has also worked at the Universities of Waikato (NZ) and Leeds (UK). He is best known for his path-breaking digital project on 'The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe' and is now lead investigator on its successor project, the ARC funded 'Mapping Print, Charting Enlightenment' project. He is also an investigator on Jason Ensor's sister project, ARCHivER, an Australian National Data Service funded linked data project on the Angus and Robertson Archive. Simon Burrows is author of French Exile Journalism and European Politics, 1792-1814 (2000); Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution: London's French Libellistes, 1758-1792 (2006) and A King's Ransom: The Life of Charles Thééveneau de Morande, Blackmailer, Scandalmonger and Master-Spy (2010). He has co-edited important collections on Press Politics and the Public Sphere (2002); Cultural Transfers (2010); and The Chevalier d'Eon and his Worlds (2010). A further monograph entitled Enlightenment Bestsellers is scheduled for publication in early 2018 and a co-edited collection on Digitizing Enlightenment for 2019. He can be contacted at

Co-sponsored by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU.

All are welcome.

Date/Time26/09/2017 16:30-18:00
VenueRoom 4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus

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