New Digital Collection: Revolutionary France

A selection of French revolutionary proclamations are now available on Manchester Digital Collections

The French Revolution collection at the John Rylands Library contains an excellent range of printed material published in France between the start of the French Revolution of 1789 and the fall of the 1871 Paris Commune. There are particular strengths in newspapers and periodicals from the first revolutionary decade, and nineteenth-century histories and memoirs dealing with the various Revolutionary, Napoleonic and Restoration eras. Much of the collection was originally part of the enormous private library of the Earls of Crawford, the ‘Bibliotheca Lindesiana’. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the 26th Earl enthusiastically directed a series of large purchases at auction to build up the collection, which his son then transferred to the JRL during the first half of the twentieth century (in the form of a gift and a ‘semi-permanent’ loan). In the late 1980s, the loan collection, including most of the French Revolutionary manuscripts, was withdrawn by the Crawford family and is now available for study at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. However, all the other items (forming the majority of the original collection) are still at the library, and this collection remains a rich resource for the study of France and her revolutionary traditions.

This new collection on Manchester Digital Collections originated in a project funded by the John Rylands Research Institute, directed by Professor Bertrand Taithe with research by Dr Alexander Fairfax-Cholmeley. You can find further results of the research project on the blog site Printed Revolutions: Writing, Printing and Reading Revolutions in France, 1789-1871.

The project focussed on a collection of over 10,000 proclamations and broadsides, now categorised as the European Proclamations and Broadsides Collection as they in fact span a period from c1530 to 1890 and cover much of the European continent. An inventory of the collection is available here. This document also contains more detail on the selection of items in this digital collection.

The  digitisation  project  was  built  around  the  identification  of  core  themes from within the relevant parts of EPAB, with the intention of creating a digital resource that brings together a broad range of interrelated sources for the benefit of researchers, students and the general public. While it is true that the resulting digital collection only covers a small percentage of the physical holdings, its great advantage is that it makes a diverse range of material readily accessible for comparative study. The result is  a  unique  resource,  both  in  terms  of  the  individual  items  available  and  the  range  of subjects they cover.

The earliest from the collection is a luxury copy of Louis XVI’s speech opening the 1789 Estates-General printed on silk. Its royal symbols were subsequently defaced – most likely after the King’s overthrow on 10 August 1792.

Discours du Roi, prononcé le 5 mai, jour où Sa Majesté a fait l’ouverture des Etats-Généraux(Paris: Didot l’aîné, 1789). EPAB Box 4/R207075

One striking image celebrates the revolutionary figure of the sans-culotte depicted as a field worker dressed in blue and red, sowing seed and holding a scythe. He stands on farmland in which crowned heads sit among the growing crops.

La Royauté anéantie par les sans-culottes du 10.(Paris: Auger, 1792?). EPAB Box 12/R207264

The collection covers the period from 1789 to 1815 with three supplementary items from 1848 including this coloured broadside from Metz reporting key events from the February Revolution in Paris.

République française. Combat du peuple parisien dans les journées des 22, 23 et 24 février 1848. EPAB Box 130/R198413

Special thanks to Dr Alexander Fairfax-Cholmeley for his work on the original project

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