Robert Darnton is Professor of History and University Librarian, Emeritus at Harvard. He specializes in the history of early modern Europe and has been a leader in the development of the new field of the history of books. His outside activities include terms as president of the American Historical Association and the International Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies and service as a trustee of the New York Public Library and the Oxford University Press (USA). Among his awards are a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Humanities Medal conferred by President Obama, and the Del Duca World Prize in the Humanities awarded by the Institut de France.
Cultural history as informed by anthropology; publishing and the book trade in early modern Europe; censorship and authorship in eighteenth-century France.
A Literary Tour de France: The Book Trade on the Eve of the French Revolution
This project is an attempt to study the ways of the book trade and the penetration of books in France under the Ancien Régime. It takes as a starting point the tour de France by a publisher’s “sales rep” (commis voyageur), who spent five months on a horse selling books and assessing book stores in all the cities of southern and central France in 1778. His diary and correspondence show how the book trade operated at street level, and supplementary archives, including thousands of letters by the booksellers themselves from 1769 to 1789, make it possible to reconstruct the demand for literature in a systematic manner. Although it does not explain the causes of the French Revolution, this research provides an answer to an important question related to the Revolution’s ideological origins: What did the French read during the eighteenth century? A further purpose is to understand publishing itself—how publishers did their business and how they understood it, especially in relation to the attempts of the state to control books as a force in society.
Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, New York, W. W. Norton, 2014.
Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris, Cambridge MA, Belknap Press, 2010 (L’Affaire des Quatorze. Poésie, police et réseaux de communication à Paris au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 2014).
The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France, New York, W. W. Norton, 1995.
The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, New York, Basic Books, 1984 (Le Grand Massacre des chats : attitudes et croyances dans l’ancienne France, Paris, Robert Laffont,1984, rééd. 1986).
The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1979 (L’Aventure de l’Encyclopédie, 1775-1800, un best-seller au siècle des Lumières, Paris, Perrin, 1982).