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French 499 A: Special Topics

French and Franchophone Cultural and Literary History through Digital Archives and Tools

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
DEN 111
Joint Sections: 
Geoffrey Turnovsky
This Special topics course is being added to the French and Italian studies course catalog as French 379 and wil fulfill the Culture and Civilization requirement for French majors and minors.

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 classic French texts, scanned, OCR’d, encoded in TEI XML, converted to HTML and published digitally.


Additional Details:

French and Franchophone Cultural and Literary History through Digital Archives and Tools

Catalog Description: 
Topics to meet specific needs.
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 10:11pm