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Mapping the 18th Century French Book Trade

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“Europeans Purchasing a Slave Woman, late 18th cent.,” Guillaume Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique . . . des Europeens dans les Deux Indes (Geneva, 1780), vol. 7, p. 377. (Copy at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University) Image Reference H005 as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

From The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe website:

The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe project uses database technology to map the trade of the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN), a celebrated Swiss publishing house that operated between 1769 and 1794.

As the STN sold the works of other publishers alongside its own editions, their archives can be considered a representative source for studying the history of the book trade and dissemination of ideas in the late Enlightenment.

Using state of the art database, web interface and GIS technology, the project provides a user-friendly resource for use by scholars, teachers and students of French literature and history, book history, the Enlightenment and bibliography more generally…

As the database structure is ideally constituted for other studies of the production, distribution and dissemination and reception of printed works, there are plans for adapting it for use by other scholars as a platform and portal for further work on the book trade.  For latest information on the project and future plans to develop the database into a platform for other researchers, consult the project blog at: frenchbooktrade.wordpress.com.

The website is fairly intuitive and the designers have provided introductory videos that walk you through using the database.  Search results can be viewed by sales destinations or supply origins and they are available in chart or map form.  And you can download the results of a search–or the entire database.

Of special interest to me was finding out how useful the database might be for mapping travel writing about Africa or the Americas as distributed by the Société. Broad geographic regions have keywords available–Africa (21 hits), Caribbean (22 hits), North America (47 hits).  More specific locations like Saint-Domingue, Ile de Bourbon, and Mauritius also appear, although others (say Guadeloupe, Martinique, or New France) do not, which was disappointing.  [UPDATE:  Simon Burrows, Principal Investigator of the project, notes in a comment below that “any book which deals mostly or entirely with just one or two colonies should be tagged as such.”]

Searching does produce a set of related keywords–North America produced the related keyword ‘slavery‘ which had 11 results. (Note: Click to read the designer’s notes on methodology regarding keywords).

I found that knowing what I was looking for was key to producing results.  To that end, powerhouse tomes like Raynal‘s Histoire (which produced this dramatic looking map) and writing familiar to historians of slavery like Girod-Chantrans‘s Voyage d’un Suisse (map) do make an appearance.  The results will fascinate anyone interested in histories of race in France, or the ways representations of Africans, slavery, and plantation life spread throughout Europe during these years.  I can also see how the images produced would be useful for teaching–perhaps in the first part of an early African American or Afro-Atlantic history course and paired with the first chapter of Jennifer Morgan’s Laboring Women (or this article).

What about you?  Any ideas about how mapping books and other texts might be useful for studies of slavery, race, and colonization?  Have you used the database and found it useful?

UPDATED on 7/20/2012:   The post was updated to show that Saint-Domingue does appear as a search term, along with Ile de Bourbon and Mauritius.  Thank you to Simon Burrows for the correction.