This month, the Newberry will embark on a year-and-a-half-long project to digitize 30,000 French political pamphlets published between 1780 and 1810—a tumultuous era marked by the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath. These pamphlets, written by various fulminating commentators and political theorists, represent a range of opinion regarding popular sovereignty and royal execution.
Titled Voices of the Revolution, the project is supported by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) as part of its new Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. The Hidden Collections program is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“We are grateful to CLIR for their support of our efforts to provide users with the digital tools necessary for both discovering and using Newberry collections,” says Alice Schreyer, the Newberry’s Vice President for Collections and Library Services. “By digitizing over 500,000 pages of text concerning the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, Voices of the Revolution extends the Newberry’s commitment to enhancing access to a much-studied subject area within our collection. The breadth and depth of the material can support scholarly inquiries from an array of disciplinary perspectives, from legal history and cultural studies to the history of printing and publication.”
Voices of the Revolution builds on a previous CLIR-supported Newberry project that resulted in the cataloging of more than 20,000 French pamphlets. The cataloging project afforded scholars improved access to materials related to the French Revolution in the Newberry collection; the upcoming digitization effort aims to expand what scholars can do with this corpus of material, while making it freely available to users around the world.
Scholars will have the ability not only to sort through the digital collection by subject and genre terms but also to perform full-text searches using optical character recognition tools. In addition, users will be able to download complete sets of digital images and descriptive records for data-intensive digital humanities scholarship.
“Humanities scholars are becoming increasingly interested in having access to large digital collections that can be investigated in a variety of different ways and analyzed as totalities,” says Jennifer Thom, Director of Digital Initiatives and Services at the Newberry. “We’re very excited to make new kinds of scholarship possible in the digital research environment and to see the results of scholarly engagement with the French Revolution digital collection.”
To tackle such a large-scale digitization project, the Newberry has contracted with the Internet Archive, which will digitize the majority of the pamphlets in a regional scanning center and serve as a central portal for the resulting digital images. Through a pilot program, over 1,400 French pamphlets from the Newberry collection are already available on the Internet Archive. More pamphlets will appear on the site as they are digitized.
The Newberry’s French Revolutionary materials are among the most comprehensive in the world. A distinguishing feature of the Newberry collection is the presence of materials from 1794 and after, a rapidly emerging area of research for scholars interested in the trauma caused by the Revolution and its reverberations through history. Hastily printed and distributed in response to the latest political upheavals, the pamphlets that the Newberry is digitizing offer readers an unvarnished look into the hopes, fears, and misgivings of the French people as they confronted the Revolution and its legacy.