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FRENCH 379 A: French And Francophone Cultural And Literary History Through Digital Archives And Tools

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
DEN 111
Joint Sections: 
Geoffrey Turnovsky

Syllabus Description:

Eighteenth-Century France Through Digital Archives and Tools
Course in English. Reading knowledge of French is helpful. 
Supplementary sessions in French for interested students.
Winter 2018; MW 3:30-5:20


Sommes-nous libres.jpg       j'attends_la_tête.jpg      


Description. The last decade or two has witnessed a huge migration of texts and data onto digital platforms, where they can be accessed, in many cases, by anyone anywhere. This is a terrific benefit to students and teachers who otherwise wouldn't be able to consult these materials, and it has transformed the kind of work and research we can do in the French program and the Humanities. We can now discover obscure, archival texts that we would never have been able to find in the past. And we can look at the original forms of more classic works that up to now we've only been able to study in contemporary re-editions which, in amny cases, substantially change and modernize the works.

But this ease of access brings challenges: to locate these resources on the web, to assess their quality and reliability, and to understand how to use them, as primary sources and data and as new research technologies. A PDF of a first edition downloaded through Google Books certainly looks like the printed book it reproduces; but it is not that printed book. It is a particular image of it, and it can be a mistake to forget the difference.

We'll study a variety of digital archives, databases and tools useful for studying French cultural history. These resources will help us explore the eighteenth century and the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment in the decades leading into the French Revolution. We'll look at:

  • a new database of Revolutionary pamphlets recently created by the Newberry Library
  • two competing databases of book orders received in the 1770s and 1780s by a publishing house in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, which shipped clandestine texts into France
  • text analysis tools that use computers to help us see patterns – relations between words or between elements in a literary text – which we might, as “human readers,” miss

We'll discuss current debates on digital scholarship and the digital humanities. These often address the underlying question of what it means to read and interpret a text: computers can be programmed to search through massive corpuses of texts in seconds to find patterns. How might this change or challenge our notions of what reading is? We’ll discuss this against the backdrop of evolving 18th-century reading practices.

We'll consider others aspects of the digitization of texts that we might not normally think about as we scan the internet for materials: how are the texts we find chosen and edited? In what ways do copyright and intellectual property law determine what we can and can't access and how we can use the materials? Finally, we will explore the rudiments of digital publishing, preparing a short reader of Revolutionary pamphlets, scanned, OCR’d, transcribed, encoded in TEI XML, styled and transformed for publishing on the web.


Learning Goals

* to discover at least a few of the growing number of archives and tools becoming available for studying many aspects of French cultural history and literaure.

* to better understand the information these archives present; how the archives are constructed and what kinds of research they lend themselves to. What do they effectively help us know better, but what might they also obscure? In this case, through these tools, you will develop a sense of the reading culture of the late 18th century: what and how French people were reading, as the Revolution and the end of the Old Regime loomed. 

* to better understand digital texts; as PDFs and as searchable text; to learn very basic principles of editing, and specifically digital editing using the TEI protocol.

* to develop a sense of the burgeoning field of the digital humanities, including the debates it has generated. This new field has transformed graduate education, but its effects are only slowly seeping into the undergraduate curriculum. This will change, however.

* finally, to reflect on new relationships between technology, computation, and humanities research. How has digitization transformed the way we read? What new insights do new computational tools enabling us to analyze massive corpuses of text in seconds (which would take an individual years to read) provide us?



Wed, 1/3: The Digital Revolution in Reading and Research

Katherine Hayles, “Close, Hyper, Machine,” in ADE Bulletin 150 (2010) (

Tim Carmody, “10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books,” in The Atlantic, Aug 25, 2010 ( revolutions- before-e-books/62004/)

Think of 2-3 digital archives, databases, repositories or collections you’ve used in your work for your French courses. What did they cover? What lessons were you able to draw from them? What did you find useful about them?


Mon 1/8: A Very Quick Introduction to the Eighteenth-Century Francophone World and to Some Useful Digital Resources

Colin Jones, chaps 6 and 7 (up to p.193) from Cambridge Illustrated History of France

Skim through a few of the following digital projects, which focus (mostly) on the 18th century. (Mapping the Republic of Letters) (The Salons Project) (The Electronic Enlightenment database of 18th-century correspondence. If you’re off campus, try this: (Visite de Paris au XVIIIe Siècle) (Newberry Collection of French Revolution Pamphlets) (Many Faces of Marie-Antoinette) (Mapping the French Empire in North America) (Imaging the French Revolution) (A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789) (Marronage in Saint-Domingue [Haïti]. History, Memory, Technology) (Rousseau Online) (ARTFL Project – see especially the ARTFL Encyclopédie) (Comédie-Française Registers Project) (Mercure Galant at Obvil)


Exercise 1: pick one of the digital resources listed above that seems interesting to you; delve more deeply into the site and write up a short report on it (up to 1 page) following these guidelines:

First, describe the site in general terms: what does it address? what can one learn from it? How does it help us understand French/Francophone history better?

Second, discuss in a bit more detail one idea/fact/concept you gleaned from the site, which you found especially interesting?

Third, address what information the site does not provide. And finally, in a concluding paragraph/sentence, say what kind of research you would expect to do with this site: what kinds of projects would it be especially useful for. Be ready to present this in class.


Wed 1/10: Case Study: The Enlightenment and the Origins of the French Revolution. News, Politics, and the Enlightenment Reading Public.

Voltaire, chapter one, Treatise on Tolerance

Alexis de Toqueville, from The Old Regime and the French Revolution

Robert Darnton, “The Forbidden Bestsellers of Prerevolutionary France,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 43, 1 (Oct 1989): 17- 45.


Mon 1/15: Martin Luther King, Jr Day


Wed 1/17: Case-Study, cont’d: An 18th-Century Publisher’s Registers and Two Databases

Chartier, “Do Books Make Revolutions?” in The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (1991), 66-91.

Mark Curran, “Beyond the Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France,” The Historical Journal 56, 1 (March 2013): 89-112.

Explore the following two websites, based on the sales and correspondence of a publisher in Neuchâtel, Switzerland (Société typographique de Neuchâtel – STN)

The French Book Trade in the European Enlightenment (FBTEE): The database is here:

A Literary Tour of France:

Exercise 2: First, skim through list of books in which the STN did business, as they appear in the FTBEE database (browse books by title and simply look at the titles on the drop-down menu): what are you impressions of this list? How much do you recognize?

Second, use the FBTEE database to look at the business the STN did with Rousseau’s influential novel La Nouvelle Héloïse. Look at the editions it bought or sold; how many copies did it send out? where to? Repeat the exercise for Candide.

Finally, look at the records for a same bookseller in the FBTEE and A Literary Tour of France databases. For the latter (which is a much smaller list based on the travels of one of the STN’s travelling salespeople, named Favarger), click “Tour de France” and scroll down. You’ll see a table with towns, booksellers, and #s of letters. Click on the name of a booksellers and you’ll see a short bio with links to PDFs, including one for the “Full Order List.” Compare this full order list with the results you find when you “Browse by Client” in the FTBEE: find the name of the same bookseller in the drop-down menu, then click “books bought by this client.” You might try La Tourmy in Orléans; Buchet in Nîmes; or Pavie in La Rochelle... But any bookseller will work). How would you characterize this booksellers business generally? Do you see differences between results form the two databases?


Mon 1/22:: Visit of Christophe Schuwey, Professor of French at the University of Fribourg to discuss Digitized Dissent: Three Anti-Louis XIV Pamphlets and other digital projects

Deegan and Sutherland, from Transferred Illusions. Digital Tehnology and the Forms of Print (2009), 110-118

"How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?":

Take a look at the following sites: (old version) (new version)


Wed 1/24: Benefits, Pitfalls, and Trade-Offs of Digitization; and introduction to our corpus of Revolutionary Pamphlets. Visit of Verletta Kern, Beth Lytle and Deb Raftus from UW Libraries

Stephen Nichols, “Materiality and Mimesis: Anatomy of an Illusion,” from From Parchment to Cyberspace. Medieval Literature in the Digital Age (2016), 43-54.

Alexis Madrigal, "What is a Book," in The Atlantic, May 7, 2014: is-a-book/361876/

Look at the Newberry Collection of French Revolution Pamphlets: We’ll be developing a short “reader” of a small selection of excerpts from these documents.


Mon 1/29: Editing, Digital Editing, and Document Analysis: some general principles and preliminary considerations

Leah Marcus, “Textual Scholarship” from Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages, 143-159.

“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”: Read through the section “Is every document really a hierarchy?”

TEI PROJECT ex 1: Pick one of the pamphlets from the Newberry collection (you can pick from my list of suggestions or find one yourself; keep in mind that you’ll be developing an “edition” of this document in groups of 2 or 3). For class, read the pamphlet. Try to understand as much about it as you can, as a historical text and a physical document. Write down some notes in answer to some of the questions which follow, loosely categorized (it is very likely that you won’t be able to answer all, or even more of these questions):

-- who wrote this document? when? who published it?
-- what is the text trying to say? how does it say it? what kind of form does it take as a text?
-- what kind of form does it take as a physical document (inasmuch as you can determined this from the PDF): why does the typography look like? is it a -- who do you think its readership was? Is there any explicit address to the reader? Any implicit indications about who this text was intended for?

Mark-up parts of the text that seem obscure to you – especially references to things that the text doesn’t explain. What annotations do you think might be needed for a modern reader?

Submit prelimary answers to these questions, but keep working on this for Feb. 7 when you’ll start working with 1-2 partners on an edition of the first part of the pamphlet.


Wed 1/31: The Legal Framework – Copyright, Fair Use: Transforming a Text. Visit of Maryam Fakouri, Scholarly Publishing Outreach Librarian

US Copyright Office Circular:

Maryam’s Copyright Guide:

Author’s Guild vs. Google (edited version of decision): EFF discussion of Google Books Opinion:

Carla Hesse, “The Rise of Intellectual Property, 700 B.C. – A.D. 2000: An Idea in the Balance,” Daedalus 131, 2 (spring 2002): 26-45 (read up to p.33 for some historical backdrop, which is relevant to the period we’re studying).


Mon 2/5: Copying Text: Adventures in Transcription and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Plus preliminary Intro to Mark-Up, XML, and TEI

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, “Why We (Mostly) Stopped Messing With Shakespeare’s Language,” New Yorker, October 6, 2015

Irvine, Marcellesi and Zomorodian, “Digitizing 18th-Century French Literature: Comparing Transcription Methods for a Critical Edition Text,” Workshop on Computational Linguistics for Literature (2012): 64-68.

“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”: Read from “Could I please see some XML already” through “Other Web Standards”

Early Modern OCR Project (

Exercise 3: Experiment with OCR. There are many OCR tools out there. A very accessible one is through Google Drive. To use this, upload a PDF to the Drive; then open that PDF in Google Docs. The PDF will be converted to editable text. You can also use the OCR function in Acrobat Pro, which is on the computers in Odegaard. First, OCR a text from a modern edition. Start from scratch: scan a page from a book; then run it through an OCR process (Google; Acrobat Pro or another). Second, do your pamphlet: save it as a text or Word file (we’ll come back to it). What kind of results do you see? Upload both the OCR’ed documents and a short paragraph with your impressions of how they turned out.


Wed 2/7: Visit to Special Collections to see our collection of Revolutionary Pamphlets.

TEI exercise 2. Fun with Transcription. Transcribe the title page and first 2- 3 paragraphs of your pamphlet; type the text into Word or Google Docs. You’ll be making numerous formatting and linguistic decisions (relating to page layout, spelling, punctuation, etc). Make them and think about why you did. Describe a few examples: explain what choices you felt you had to make and why you made them.


Mon 2/12: Digital Editing, cont’d: Text Encoding. A Very Basic Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and XML

“What is the TEI?”; “Getting Started with TEI” and “Technical Background”

Some examples of TEI-encoded corpuses:

“The TEI by Example Project”:

The Mercure Galant Project by Obvil:

Molière at Obvil:

For class, download the oXygen XML editor ( You have a 30-day free trial. If you download the morning of class, this will take us through the last day of class.
If you want to start experimenting, you can look at the directions here: (but we’ll cover this in class).

We’ll talk about other XML editors as well. There are many options.

Bring your updated editorial notes and transcriptions (the OCR version and your hand transcription) to class: we’ll start working in groups.

Exercise 3. At the Molière at Obvil site, you’ll notice when you go to a document that there’s an option to download the TEI file at the top left. Right-click and save to your hard drive. Open up the downloaded file (which will have an .xml extension) in oXygen or another text editor (you can even use the default text editors that come with Macs [TextEdit] and Windows [Notepad]). Try to identify the structure of the document and the various tags and elements that you see. Upload the document you’ve downloaded to the assignment page along with a short paragraph with your impressions.


Wed 2/14: Workshop: Creating a TEI XML File

In class, working in your groups, we’ll begin to create a TEI-XML document of your pamphlet. Bring your updated editorial notes and transcription.

We’ll also talk about automated processes for converted text to XML/TEI.

See TEI’s tool, OxGarage:

And Odette:




Wed 2/21: What to Do With Digital Text? Quantitative Approaches to the Literary Archive. Some General Principles and Applications to 18th-Century France.

Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review (Jan/Feb 200): 54-68 (

Jean-Baptiste Michel, et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.” Science. 16 Dec. 2010

Keith Michael Baker, “Revolution 1.0,” in Journal of Modern European History 11, 2 (2013): 187-219

Exercise 4: Experiment with Google Books Ngram viewer ( and with Philologic 4 on ARTFL.First, using the Google Ngram viewer and selecting the French corpus between 1500 and today, check for Revolutionary keywords “liberté,” “égalité,” “droits,” and “citoyen,” as well as one or two other terms you can think of. Write up your results and impressions.

Second, see if you can run similar tests using the Philologic 4 tool on ARTFL: This is a little complex; but see if you can find some interesting results. Note them down and we’ll discuss and do more in class (the ARTFL-FRANTEXT is the big database of French-language texts).


Mon 2:26: More Text Analysis: Tools and Goals.

Ted Underwood, “Seven Ways Humanists are Using Computers to Understand Text” ( ways-humanists-are-using-computers-to-understand-text)

“Getting Started,” with Voyant:


Exercise 5. We’ll do some exercises using available text versions of works such as Candide and Rousseau’s Confessions; and we’ll also work with our own pamphlets.


Wed 2/28: Workshop and presentaitons: continue collaborative work on your TEI projects.


Mon 3/5: Web Publishing: HTML, CSS, TEI Boilerplate, and XSLT. Styling and transforming our TEI documents.

Do Miriam Posner’s short tutorial in HTML and CSS: publishing/html-css/. You can do this in oXygen. Open up a new document and in the folder marked “New Document,” you’ll see options for both a new HTML and a new CSS document. Or in any other text editor.

“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”: Read the section “Practicing what we preach.”


Wed 3/7: Putting It All Together.



Mon 3/12: FINAL REFLECTION PAPER DUE as well as all materials relating to your TEI project, by 5pm.




GRADE CONVERSION (percentage to 4.0)


Catalog Description: 
Digital archives and tools offer new resources for studying French and Francophone culture, literature, and history, and have transformed the way to learn about these materials. Takes advantage of new resources, as well as to understand them better: how are these technologies reshaping the ways we undertake research?
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
November 1, 2018 - 1:35pm