Friday, November 9, 2018

Encyclopedic Enlightenment

Title page of the Encyclopedie's prospectus
Denis Diderot's Enyclopédie, ou dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, a mammoth undertaking that was launched in 1751 and took over twenty years to complete, is arguably one of the most famous encyclopedias ever made. The work ticks a lot of boxes for people who love "firsts," as nebulous as such claims may be: first to include contributions from a wide number of well-known people such as Voltaire and Rousseau, and first general encyclopedia to describe the mechanical arts. Diderot's work is also hailed as representing the intellectual thought of the Enlightenment, and is sometimes credited as an inspiration for the French Revolution because of his and others' entries on political authority.

A plate titled "Agriculture" from the Encyclopedie.Here in Special Collections, we're fortunate enough to have a complete set of the Encyclopédie and we also have a facsimile of the prospectus. Sent out as a way to drum up financial support in advance of the actual publication, the prospectus promised a ten-volume work with a clearly defined finish. Ultimately, however, the sprawling encyclopedia swelled to twenty-eight volumes, frustrating its subscribers and even causing a few lawsuits along the way (as well as a run-in with the royal censors).

To see our copy of the Encyclopédie, come to Rauner and ask for Rare AE25 .E53. To see our prospectus facsimile, ask for Rare AE25 .E25 1751a.

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