Dictionnaire de Trévoux

While many book prospectuses, considering their ephemeral nature, are little more than simply printed single-sheet advertisements, some are rather lushly printed to showcase the beauty and importance of the book they are advertising.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 109

One such example from the Newberry’s Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials is a prospectus for the 1771 edition of the Dictionnaire universel françois et latin, commonly known as the Dictionnaire de Trévoux after the French city in which it was first published in 1704.

The Dictionnaire de Trévoux was a much-published encyclopedia during the Enlightenment, and precedes Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s famous Encyclopédie, first published in 1751.  The title page of the prospectus more or less reproduces that of the 1771 Trévoux.  Measuring 36 cm. in height and printed in red and black ink, this prospectus was likely expensive to produce.

Case Wing Z 45 .18 ser. 1a no. 109 (title page verso)

On the verso of the title page is a list of 15 booksellers who comprise the Libraires associés, the publisher of Trévoux.  Considering the expense of printing an illustrated folio 8-volume work, it is likely that pooling resources among several booksellers was the only way to realize this undertaking.

This uncommonly beautiful piece of ephemera showcases the importance placed on reason, learning, and scholarship in 18th-century France and underscores the mounting interest in the encyclopedia as a literary genre during this time.

Scholars’ visit

Since we spend so much of our time working behind the scenes on projects benefiting researchers and academics whom we rarely get to meet, it is always a pleasure to discuss the collections and our cataloging work at the Newberry Library with the people who are going to use them. For one thing, it’s helpful to hear from researchers about what they are interested in finding within our collections and how they intend to find it—keeping their perspective in mind makes it easier for us to provide user-friendly records with logical access points. For another, although we have all learned a lot about the French Revolution through the sheer number of pamphlets we have read and background research we have done, most of us didn’t come to this project with advanced degrees in French History.  Because of this, we I frequently wish we had unlimited access to experts in the field who could take one look at a pamphlet and tell us exactly what it’s about and in what context it was written.

One recent visit provided us with just such an opportunity. Last month, part of our team was fortunate enough to meet two visiting scholars of the French Revolution who came to take a look at our collection. Although most of the visitors to whom we show our French Revolutionary pamphlets are genuinely interested in them, it was especially rewarding to witness the enthusiastic reactions of researchers who were excited about being able to use our newly cataloged collection.

One of the scholars in particular was able to provide an astonishing amount of information about the pamphlets we showed him from just a cursory look. In fact, after I showed him a recently cataloged satirical dialogue between Louis XVI and the ghostly spirit of Louis XIV, he skimmed a few lines from the beginning, flipped to the final page, and promptly listed several ways he could tell that the pamphlet was an anti-monarchist piece. The intricacies of revolutionary politics and satire, were instantly recognizable to him because of his experience and expertise.

Opportunities to discuss our collection with experts are valuable because they show us that, although it is obvious even to the layperson that this collection is a treasure trove of information about the French Revolution, to the trained eye it contains even more depth and nuance than we could imagine.

Project Cataloging Assistant Job Openings

We have posted a full-time and a part-time job description for our project.

Financial subject analysis

Taking a look at the subject headings that have come up so far in the project reveals a heavy bias towards financial matters. Anyone reading the blog posts up top this point is likely to be unsurprised by this. As far as I’m concerned, the preponderance of public finance related pamphlets presents a set of special challenges for cataloging. The dilemma that immediately comes forth is that with several thousand pamphlets on public finance, any user searching for public finance will be presented with an overwhelming number of records. Because these are special collections materials, individually paging thousands of pamphlets to search for a specific financial topic is unwieldy, time consuming, and inconvenient for both researchers and library staff. Is it worthwhile to tack on the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) Finance, Public on every pamphlet that touches on the subject?

We asked a similar question early on in the project: should we add the France—History—Revolution, 1789-1799—Sources subject heading to all of the pamphlets? In that case, the decision was no. Having the same subject string for 20,000 records that are all part of the same collection means that the subject is virtually meaningless. Researchers could use it in combination with other headings, but in terms of making the pamphlets easily findable, it doesn’t accomplish very much, especially when the name of the collection is French Revolution Collection (FRC). We decided not to add this string. This dilemma helps to underscore why local cataloging practices are important. A library with a less extensive collection of these pamphlets would be well served by including this subject string as a method of collocating all the primary source documents in its online catalog.

This is where more specific subject headings come in handy. While it seems like there are a great many highly specialized, apparently redundant, subject headings on financial matters, subtle distinctions between subject headings become vital when the collection becomes this large. Of course, this also requires additional time from the cataloger. A good example of this is the various “policy” subject headings that are narrower terms under Finance, Public (Fiscal policy, Monetary policy, Commercial policy, etc.). These headings have proven invaluable to prevent a deluge of Finance, Public, but require careful analysis to understand the distinctions.

Fiscal policy, monetary policy, and commercial policy all concern government attempts to control the economy. Each of these three headings represents a different method of doing so. Fiscal policy is essentially government tax policy. This covers government activities designed to affect the economy through manipulation of taxes. Monetary policy is similar, but the vehicle for economic manipulation is currency, be it through printing more fiat money, less fiat money, or converting to decimal currency. Commercial policy is slightly different in that it focuses on government policy towards foreign trade. By double checking pamphlets and making sure that none of these three headings applies before applying a Finance, Public heading helps to reduce the “wall of finance” effect.

What if a researcher did want to collocate all of the financial records in one place? What if some penitent cataloger feels the need for some masochistic collection analysis? Well, this is still possible with the FRC collection without engaging in fancy search strategies involving multiple limiters. There is still a heading that gets applied to nearly all of these pamphlets, France—History—Revolution, 1789-1799—Economic aspects—Sources. This heading has several advantages over the vanilla Finance, Public. The Economic aspects string is significantly more focused than Finance, Public, since even with the appropriate subdivisions (Finance, Public—France—Early works to 1800) the subject heading still covers over 1000 years of French history. While still presenting a daunting number of options, the longer subject string only covers ten years, and different period subdivisions (Directory, 1795-1799, Reign of Terror, 1793-1794, etc.) allow for even more precise identification while still collocating relevant pamphlets.

Newberry Minute

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Royalist snarkily defines the Révolution

Sorting out the context-specific meaning of terms employed in very particular ways by the pamphlet authors can be challenging for modern readers and catalogers alike. Apparently it was a source of confusion for readers contemporary to the pamphlets as well. I found a pamphlet whose author expressed a certain bewilderment about the “en vogue” terms being bandied about at the time, and he wrote a dictionary to explain these terms.  Granted, he’s writing from a strong royalist point of view, so the definitions are not always useful from a factual or truly explicative perspective, but most of the entries are intended to be quite humorous.  The entries on patriotisme and patriote are notable for their satire:

Case FRC 15500

Case FRC 15500

Patriote. Animal bipède qui fait peur aux honnêtes gens timides, et qui a peur des honnêtes gens courageux. [Patriot. Bipedal animal that frightens timid honnêtes gens, and who is afraid of courageous honnêtes gens.]

Patriotisme.  … Les grammairiens disent, que c’est le courage de sacrifier son intérêt particulier à sa patrie.  Les historiens qui se proposent d’écrire l’histoire de la révolution, disent, que c’est maintenant le courage de sacrifier sa patrie à son intérêt particulier. J’aime sincérement ma patrie; ce qui le prouve, c’est que je n’ai pas encore un seul acte de patriotisme à me reprocher. [Patriotism. … The grammarians say that it’s the courage to sacrifice one’s own interest to his country. The historians who propose to write the history of the Revolution say that it is now the courage to sacrifice one’s country to his own interest. I sincerely love my country; what that proves is that I still don’t have a single act of patriotism for which to reproach myself.]

Buée, Adrien Quentin. Nouveau dictionnaire, pour servir à l’intelligence des termes mis en vogue par la Révolution. Paris: Crapart, 1792, p. 95 (Case FRC 15500).

Of calendars and public education, counterfeit bills and beekeeping

Assignat from the FRC Collection (Not Yet Cataloged)

The Newberry Library presents an informal colloquium every Wednesday afternoon to give staff, fellows, visiting scholars, and friends of the library an opportunity to present their work on virtually any topic.  Last week, some of the project staff presented a colloquium on discoveries they’ve made while cataloging the Library’s French Revolution Collection (FRC) of pamphlets.  Dana, Kate T., Kate S., and David each briefly discussed a particular theme that is well represented in FRC, drawing from selected examples in the collection.  Dana discussed the impetus for creating the French Republican Calendar; Kate T. led us on the slow road to public education reform in Revolutionary-era France; Kate S. demonstrated how to identify counterfeit assignats; and David provided examples of various means of increasing the domestic production of goods during times of scarcity in late 18th-century France, with a particular focus on new methods of beekeeping.

Without a doubt I knew that many audience members would be drawn to the varied and historically significant subject matter of the presentation.  But to my cataloger’s delight, many staff members and scholars in the audience were just as interested in the behind-the-scenes cataloging and processing of the collection as in the subject matter of the pamphlets.  One scholar asked how to locate the FRC pamphlets in the Library’s online catalog.  (Hint: Search FRC as a keyword.)  A staff member inquired whether it was possible to find pamphlets that included maps.  This presentation underscored my feeling that researchers are as much interested in the “process” of a collection as the “product.”

New Project Cataloging Assistant Hired

We are very excited that Shawn Keener has accepted our offer for the vacant Project Cataloging Assistant position.

Manuel de l’éducation des abeilles

One of the more interesting items I’ve come across lately is a beekeeping handbook from 1798 entitled Manuel de l’éducation des abeilles, ou, Manière sûre et facile de les conserver, de les multiplier et d’en tirer un grand profit (Case FRC 15998). Not only is beekeeping a topic on which I know very little, thus rendering it by turns exotic and bizarre to me, but the pamphlet was written by a woman author, Augustine Chambon de Montaux. Since the vast majority of pamphlets we’ve cataloged so far have been authored by men (aside from the occasional petitions by women for reparations or widows’ pensions), I was especially intrigued to come across a woman writer presenting herself as an expert on a technical and scientific subject. A cursory Google search of Chambon de Montaux reveals little more than a few contemporary articles mentioning that she holds a patent for the invention of an “economical foot stove,” which she aptly named the augustine.  Her husband, respected doctor and one-time Paris mayor Nicolas Chambon de Montaux, wrote the footnotes for the handbook, which was approved by the Institut de France.

Chambon presents her work as a more accessible synthesis of previous academic research on bees and beekeeping, intended to encourage a less educated rural audience to take up the practice. For me, the twist came just as I was wondering what beekeeping had to do with the French Revolution (although our pamphlet collection does contain a number of works on similarly offbeat topics). Chambon explains in her preface that increasing domestic production of honey and beeswax would reduce France’s reliance on foreign imports, a significant issue for France in the midst of a war with England and other European powers set in motion by the Revolution—all of which was making international commerce a touchy subject. In particular, she notes that the production of honey would diminish the threat of an impending sugar shortage brought on by troubles in the overseas colonies. In this way, she frames her work as a labor of patriotic love, all the while apologizing for her (supposedly) amateurish writing style.

Case FRC 15998

Case FRC 15998

I have no way of knowing how unusual it may have been for a woman to pen such an authoritative treatise, nor whether beekeeping was considered a suitable or even fashionable hobby for women. In any event, I was especially entertained by one chapter on how to bathe bees. In case you were wondering: first dunk your beehive in a bucket of water until the bees lose consciousness, then remove them with a passoire, or slotted spoon. (Don’t worry about drowning the bees; according to Chambon, they can be revived after up to nine hours underwater.) Lay the bees out on a towel and dry them off, then use a silver spoon to transfer them to a homemade drying compartment. Once the bees have woken up, usher them back into the hive. N.B. If you’d like to color-code your bees, painting them is easiest while they are unconscious. Make sure to use a fast-drying paint, though!

The peer review

Although our project is a “rapid cataloging” project, we are still able to create large quantities of catalog records with rich subject analysis.  One method we have integrated into our workflow to help cope with the large number of pamphlets we must catalog in a limited period of time is a system of peer review.  In the French Revolution Collection (FRC), the pamphlets have been divided into portfolios, averaging about 25 pamphlets to a portfolio.  After a Project Cataloging Assistant creates records for each pamphlet in a portfolio, he or she passes the portfolio to a peer assistant to proofread for typographical errors, well-formed notes, and valid subject headings.

The advantages of this process are many, as it draws on the complementary strengths of our diverse team.  For example, some team members may excel at subject analysis, while others may proofread meticulously or have a deep knowledge of the historical events represented in the pamphlets.  Moreover, exposure to the cataloging work of others who are cataloging similar materials helps the Project Cataloging Assistants to enhance their knowledge of cataloging and subject analysis, particularly in subject areas like law and economics with which they have less experience.

After the Project Cataloging Assistants make their revisions after peer review, I, in my role as Cataloging Project Librarian, do a final review of their portfolios.  Because the Project Cataloging Assistants have by this point corrected any typographical or other minor errors, I can move through the portfolios rather quickly and focus my energy on questions regarding complicated subject headings or publication history.  Overall, this workflow has helped as to create catalog records at a rapid pace without sacrificing thorough quality cataloging.