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Robert Darnton

Harvard University
A Literary Tour de France: The Book Trade on the Eve of the French Revolution
01 February 2017 -
30 June 2017

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.

Research interests

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.

Key publications

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).

07 Jun 2017 09:30 -
07 Jun 2017 10:30,
Paris :
Les censeurs au travail : la France au XVIIIe siècle, l’Inde britannique au XIXe siècle, et l’Allemagne communiste du XXe siècle
31 May 2017 18:00 -
31 May 2017 19:30,
Paris :
Blogging and Texting in Eighteenth-Century London and Paris: Early Varieties of Fake News
Workshop organized by S. Macdonald (Paris IAS) and J.-F. Dunyach (Paris-Sorbonne University)
31 May 2017 11:00 -
31 May 2017 19:30,
Paris :
Histoires croisées : France et Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle
22 May 2017 18:30 -
22 May 2017 20:00,
Paris :
Un Tour de France littéraire : le piratage du livre sous l’Ancien Régime
Debate with R. Darnton (Paris IAS), R. Chartier (EHESS / Collège de France) and J.-N. Jeanneney (Sciences Po) organized by the Paris IAS and Esprit
16 May 2017 17:00 -
16 May 2017 19:30,
Paris :
Livres et bibliothèques à l'ère du numérique
Lecture by R. Darnton, Paris IAS fellow
08 Apr 2017 16:00 -
08 Apr 2017 17:30,
Bruxelles :
Comment pirater les livres au XVIIIe siècle
Lecture by R. Darnton, Paris IAS fellow
01 Apr 2017 17:00 -
01 Apr 2017 18:30,
Genève :
Contrefaire les livres à l’époque moderne
Lecture by R. Darnton, Paris IAS fellow
24 Mar 2017 14:30 -
24 Mar 2017 16:30,
Padoue :
The Science of Piracy
Talk by Robert Darnton, Paris IAS fellow
31 Jan 2017 18:00 -
31 Jan 2017 20:00,
Paris :
Histoire mondiale de la France
Conférence de Robert Darnton, résident de l'IEA de Paris
Débat avec Robert Darnton (Harvard University, IEA de Paris), Roger Chartier (EHESS / Collège de France) et Jean-Noël Jeanneney (Sciences Po)
Modern period (1492-1789)
Western Europe