A whirlwind tour of libraries and archives in three French cities

Georg Braun, map of Bordeaux in Civitates orbis terrarum, c. 1620. Newberry Vault oversize Ayer 135 .B8, v. 1

Georg Braun, map of Bordeaux in Civitates orbis terrarum, c. 1620. Newberry Vault oversize Ayer 135 .B8, v. 1. Click images for larger pop-ups.

Bibliothèque municipale Bordeaux

Georg Braun, map of Lyon in Civitates orbis terrarum, c. 1620. Newberry Vault oversize Ayer 135 .B8, v. 1

Lyon’s Musée de l’imprimérie

Cité du Livre-Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence

I recently visited a handful of libraries and archives in France that have large collections for the Middle Ages and early modern period (and beyond). These collections support scholarship but also are housed in institutions—like the Newberry—that aim to make their holdings available to a wide range of users.

The Bibliothèque municipale (city library) of Bordeaux holds a collection of some 300,000 rare and unique items dating from the Middle Ages to the modern era. The original library of Bordeaux’s eighteenth-century National Academy of the Sciences, Humanities, and Arts forms the nucleus of the city library’s fond patrimonial. Highlights include major collections of materials relating to “the three Ms”: the three most famous figures of Bordelais intellectual history, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Mauriac.

Bordeaux is also home to the Archives départementales de la Gironde, where I was able to consult remarkably well preserved sixteenth-century notarial records pertaining to the Newfoundland cod fishery.

In Lyon, as in Bordeaux, the Bibliothèque municipale houses a major historic collection, which also had its beginnings in an early institutional collection: the library of the Collège de la Trinité (founded in 1527). Numelyo, the City Library’s digital collection, provides a good introduction to the holdings of rare books, manuscripts, engravings, and more. The city library also houses—on deposit for fifty years beginning in 1999—the huge Jesuit bibliothèque des Fontaines.

Lyon’s Musée de l’imprimérie (printing museum) will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary next year with a refurbishing of the galleries that present the permanent exhibition. The collection includes rare books and ephemera that illustrate the results achieved by various printing technologies, as well as working machinery from different eras of print history. Although the museum is housed in a sixteenth-century building, it casts a wide chronological net: a special exhibition of graphic works and sculptures by the contemporary Czech artist Eduard Ovčáček is presently on display.

In Aix-en-Provence, the rare book and manuscript holdings of the public library, the Cité du Livre-Bibliothèque Méjanes, are strong for the history of the region. A recent exhibition, A Taste of the Orient: Collections and Collectors of Provence, looked at the identities and the work of scholars, adventurers, and artists from Provence who devoted attention to the Mediterranean world, from Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc in the seventeenth century to Arsène Roux at the beginning of the twentieth. In Aix one can also visit the Archives nationales d’outre-mer, which houses the French national archives pertaining to the history of France’s overseas colonies from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

The Newberry looks forward to building new partnerships with libraries in Bordeaux, Lyon, and Aix-en-Provence.

Posted by Carla Zecher, director of the Center for Renaissance Studies and Newberry curator of music.

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