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Refine results. Back to Home. Get in touch with us Find Stores. Back to top. This site is intended for US consumers. Cookies and related technology are used for advertising. The remaining five works probably corresponded pretty well to the taste for French literature throughout Europe — and, I would add, to demand as well as to supply. Claude-Joseph Dorat, an enemy of the philosophes , was known for his frothy poems and plays, all of them forgotten today.
One philosophe therefore made it to the best-seller list, although the list itself contains too many peculiarities to be representative of the literary diet that was actually consumed by readers. Perhaps that view is valid. Most literary history is written from the perspective of a corpus of classics that are taken to be typical of their time, and the history of books provides a way to correct the anachronism built into that approach. They emerged in the end with some results that challenge standard views of literary history, and they are to be congratulated for making their findings available free of charge on a beautifully designed web site for anyone to consult in order to agree, disagree, and carry the inquiry further.
Such effusive praise, though far from uncritical, is all the more generous because we are old sparring partners. This premise is something he questions in his review and invites me to discuss, but before I do so, we ought to recognise two things. First, that our complex digitally-based approach has only become technologically feasible in the last few years.
Any implied shortcomings emerging from a comparison of his methods and those of the FBTEE project are thus inherently unfair. His monumental scholarly project, moreover, was more path-breaking in the print era than the FBTEE project is today. Second, that ideally studies of the book trade should consider both supply and demand side evidence. That users of the FBTEE database can actually do this for one small sector of the trade — sales of highly illegal literature to France — is down to Professor Darnton himself. With characteristic enthusiasm he granted us permission to include statistics from his Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France and Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, — on an open source basis.
The FBTEE project shares and salutes his commitment to open source access and sees it as essential to the future of academic research in our area. To appreciate the nature of the FBTEE project and why it adopted its chosen approach, a little history might be useful. I had become convinced that the famed pre-revolutionary pornographic pamphlets against Queen Marie-Antoinette probably did not circulate before Since I was intent on proving a negative proposition, I needed to examine every likely source of counter-evidence.
Later, I was even able to trace how Mauvelain got to hear rumours of the existence of some of these publications, some of which were probably never printed. So I had clear evidence of works which, despite showing up in a demand side project, had not been available to the public and in some cases probably never existed. And because an extensive literature implicated such pamphlets in the origins of the revolution, this discovery was significant, at least on a historiographical level.
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It would therefore be possible to conduct a survey not only of STN sales or to be more precise their dissemination of books , but also where their stock originated. But the biggest attraction was, as Professor Darnton indicates, one of scale. It was a mouth-watering prospect.
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So in the spring of I organised and funded a pilot project, taking my former student Dr Mark Curran with me. Was it down to habit, scale of stock, trust, imprint details, or advertising in newspapers or catalogues, for example? All of these things could distort demand-side statistics.
Moreover, as the Marie-Antoinette libelles had shown, supply and demand did not always match up. Indeed, while I would agree with Professor Darnton that there was no formal system of returns, the steady trickle of books returning to the STN silos from other booksellers — equating to about 2. Thus beyond their respective ancillary advantages, the question really at issue between them is a philosophic one.
What is more important in cultural history: supply or demand? What people desire to read or what they actually get to read? The issue is significant, because although the STN claimed in its sales patter that it could supply almost any book from anywhere, this was untrue.
The reality was that they traded primarily in a limited stock of mostly Swiss editions. They appear to have only dealt in about 7 per cent of titles published in Europe during the s and s.
So what did book-dealers do faced with this reality? But given the costs and time-lags involved in postal communication; the organisational effort required; and the risks of overstocking, it seems likely that they neither ordered the same work from multiple suppliers simultaneously nor wrote to a succession of dealers until they found what they were after. If the STN could not supply something, that would often be the end of the matter.
So what was ordered and what was received often diverged significantly. Indeed, if we look at orders alone, we might still convince ourselves that pre-revolutionary France was awash with scandalous anti-Marie-Antoinette literature. There is thus a strong case for approaching the book trade from the supply side. Much of this review is concerned with discussing how we have dealt with these challenges.
The most significant is the issue of how far the insights drawn from just one Swiss archive can be said to be representative. One analogy I have drawn to help users envisage the trade of the STN is to suggest that it was an Amazon. Darnton is not the first to criticise this throw-away line, which comes from in an introductory video explaining the project. But the image was intended for a less specialised audience, and my intention was to indicate that the STN was a mail-order book dealer, selling its wares via the post internationally across a whole continent.
On this level, I think the analogy is still helpful, even if it is not perfect. As the database hopes to reach a wider audience it has had over 2, unique visitors to date , I hope I will be pardoned by my most expert critics.
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However, if the STN was a smaller operation than Amazon. In its heyday the STN traded in perhaps 1—1. Equally, my survey by subject of the types of work it sold, suggests that it sourced most types of work in broadly similar proportions from its Swiss, French and other European suppliers. Again this hints at a fundamental representativeness. Others probably exist forgotten and gathering dust in attics or archives. Exploiting these other archives may prove more challenging than using the STN archive, because it may be more difficult to cross reference data on clients, places or book titles.
But it should not prove impossible. This brings us to the wider question that Darnton raises — the need for cross-referencing to other types of source if we wish to build up a fuller, more representative picture of the dissemination and reception of books in the 18th century. There can be no arguing with this statement, and once again Darnton has blazed part of the trail himself.
In The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, — , he listed how many times each title appeared in records of police and customs seizures, and in the handful of surviving manuscript catalogues of livres philosophiques [philosophic — i. I always envisaged as only a first stage in this work. The task now is to extend the work in a coherent manner, and one that maintains some semblance of data integrity. These are bulky and problematic sources, but if the technical challenges can be overcome, such a study could uncover a mass of data on pan-European circulation patterns.
We could also supplement our data with more easily obtainable information on the publication of book reviews; newspaper advertisements; mentions of books in private correspondence; or publishing permissions granted in various jurisdictions? It is a huge collaborative project, but the prize seems enormous — a unique and uniquely comprehensive window on late Enlightenment culture, its reception and dissemination. We might also hope to inspire similar work on other times, other places. Such projects obviously require painstaking detective work.
This brings me to the most curious statement in the whole review, and it concerns one of our greatest triumphs. But Durand recorded his orders in a numerical code, corresponding to numbered titles on a list. Only by finding and recognising that list would it be possible to crack the code. But like the real Rosetta stone, it was incomplete. It was split into three parts, and we only have parts one and two.
I leave it to Dr Curran to explain his discovery and how he positively identified it in his forthcoming book. This too is important. Thus, if I agree with Darnton that it is disappointing that we have so little data from onwards — and this was indeed the great disappointment of the project — at least we may be able to explain why. Moreover, contrary to the established view that after the STN were just running down their stock, significant numbers of new titles appear in their accounts.
There are also problems with interpreting the data concerning individual cities. Much depended upon the nature of the clients that the STN attracted in each place. Professor Darnton rightly singles out Paris as an anomalous market. Significant publishing houses there were reluctant to become involved with foreign interlopers. They also acquired newly printed works for the STN to consider pirating.
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Paris was not the only market the STN failed to crack. In their agent Samuel Roulet identified the largest London booksellers and tried to persuade them to place orders. None of them ever did so, though a couple corresponded with the STN. Instead the STN traded with a number of small-time London-based retailers and hawkers — fly-by-nights and marginal operators who frequently defaulted or disappeared. He was soon recognised as the leading foreign bookseller in London, with a catalogue of around 3, titles.
Most of its stock went to other booksellers and wholesalers, so we cannot be sure where a given copy ended up. But what we can do is try to filter out books that went to wholesalers, who likely sold them beyond their immediate region, from those sold to smaller retailers, hawkers and private customers, who either kept the books they bought or sold them locally. Whilst Darnton attempted something similar by selecting only retail dealers for his study of Forbidden Bestsellers , the FBTEE database is able to harness the potential of a digital humanities approach. This is only one of eight option menus that allow users to filter our data to minimise some of the biases Professor Darnton has identified.
Such restrictions can also be used cumulatively to create highly specialised data sets in response to sophisticated questions. The option menus also allow us to get closer to some interesting niche markets and, occasionally, the end consumers of books.
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