52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 19: Diderot’s Encyclopédie and the art of making paper

The posts from Echoes from the Vault are always interesting and often very amusing. In this post, the art of papermaking is subjected to a practical experiment by staff from the University of St Andrews’ Special Collections team.

Echoes from the Vault

This week’s blog focuses upon one of the greatest works of the Enlightenment and 18th century – the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert. In scope nothing like it had been previously planned. Based upon the Cyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers, this was the first encyclopaedia to include items from many contributors (Diderot and d’Alembert being amongst them, but also leading intellectuals of the day, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu), and the first to focus attention upon the mechanical arts. Additionally, it was the first encyclopaedia in the French language, and was aimed at representing the thoughts of the Enlightenment. As such, this gave the work a political stance, for on several occasions it survived attempts at censorship by the Catholic Church, in addition to the removal of its royal licence in 1759.

Title page from tome 8 of the Encyclopédie . After the removal of the royal licence, the authors’ names no longer appear, and a false name and address was given for the imprint. Title page from tome 8 of the Encyclopédie

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Filed under Eighteenth century, Historic Libraries

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