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“We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.”
Beyond the fact that we can now use these images however we please, this is also an opportunity for them to crowdsource knowledge, with the launch of an application next year allowing users to comment on the images. This reminds me a little of the New York Public Library’s interactive reading of Candide, with users invited to comment on passages, creating essentially a collaborative digitised critical edition.
In both of these examples a job is done away with, that of the cataloguer and the editor, jobs that normally take place in the shadows and are rarely commented upon outside of reviews in specialist publications. As someone who has taken on both of these roles in the last few years, I can only see this as a positive and necessary move. Bravo!
The digitization of eighteenth-century resources is an ongoing project, here are some of my favourite iPad apps, designed to enhance teaching, facilitate research, or simply entertain:
- An enriched edition of Candide: naturally, I am biased since this was created by the BnF and Orange in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation. Useful to both researchers and students, this beautiful edition offers multiple entry points into Voltaire’s text.
- Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie: ARTFL have recently launched an app as a companion to their incredibly useful website. This is in no way inferior to their online version, allowing the reader to search by volume or theme, and including scans of the original edition.
- Gallica: not just restricted to the 18th century of course, this app makes available some of the incredible resources of the BnF. Also of note, the BnF’s 14th to 18th century marine maps app.
- MAU M&L Natural History: High-resolution images of rare books from the Musashino Art University Museum and Library, with a focus on Anatomy, Natural History and Voyage from 17th to 19th century.
- The French Revolution seems particularly popular, veering from useful apps (such as French Revolutionary calendar), to interactive historical drama (Time traveller tour with Charlotte Corday), to a full-on educational game in which you play the role of the French army as it wages war against the coalition (Levée en masse).
This iPad app involves three complementary sections:
To provide an optimal reading experience, the app can simultaneously display the text and the BnF’s manuscript. Denis Podalydès’s voice allows the reader to hear a lively and personable interpretation of Candide by a major actor. With one touch, the reader can make use of the enhanced reading mode which facilitates access to the work: definitions, variants of the critical edition as established by the Voltaire Foundation, character sheets, place, concepts, illustrations of the text by 18th century engravers but also by Paul Klee, etc.
A map allows the reader to chart Candide’s journey while providing opportunities to further investigate the text thanks to interviews, a bibliography, and an iconographical library.
Michel Le Bris, Alain Finkielkraut, Martine Reid and Georges Vigarello all shed new light on such themes as women in the 18th century, El Dorado, cultivating one’s garden, and images of the Other.
A collaborative space facilitating discussions on Candide, the garden gives each reader the opportunity to publish a notebook made up of their own comments and their favourite analyses. Each notebook takes the shape of a tree of learning in the garden. A living space in constant evolution, this garden grows according to the reinterpretations produced by the online reader-contributors. This section will be a vital learning tool for schools: teachers will be able to create their own presentations in the garden and invite their students to contribute to them.
Orange and e-books
This project is part of Orange’s ongoing project to support as many players in the book distribution chain as possible during their process of digitization. Accordingly, Orange is developing a series of innovative services such as the platform Read and Go (facilitating the digital reading of magazines, books and graphic novels), and experimenting with narrative projects (Fanfan2…). Orange also launched in 2009 the Orange Prize for Fiction, a literary prize judged by Internet users and chaired by Erik Orsenna. Furthermore, Orange initiated the project MO3T, an open model of e-book distribution, and created a consortium with all key players in a book’s creation: telecom operators, editors, booksellers, IT and technology service providers…
What is at stake for the BnF
The BnF digitally uploads an increasingly large portion of its vast collection. Gallica, its digital library, provides users with nearly 2 million documents, including 381 000 books and more than 500 000 images.
Access to this collection is now facilitated by a particularly ergonomic iPad app.
Through its educational policies and activities, such as its online exhibitions (expositions.bnf.fr) and teaching resources (classes.bnf.fr), the BnF aims to make the cultural heritage it preserves accessible to the largest audience possible.
This project is also aligned with the BnF’s aims, along with the Ministry of Education, to offer digital resources to all secondary school students to help them engage with language, history, history of art, and literature.
The Voltaire Foundation’s point of view
Candide is a timeless and universal text. The Voltaire Foundation is proud to be associated with the creation of this Candide app, designed to make Voltaire’s masterpiece accessible to the widest audience possible.
What is exciting about this new digital edition is that it is free, beautiful, accessible, and in no way inferior to the most erudite of editions. Its starting point is the definitive critical edition of Candide by René Pomeau published by the Voltaire Foundation. The two levels of annotations, ‘discovery’ and ‘research’, solve the limitations of a paper edition by making it a useful tool for both academics and students. Thanks to these two levels, as well as the map of the world charting Candide’s travels, the reader can choose their own way into the text. Just like Candide, the reader is free to wander through this voltairean world and make their own discoveries at their own pace.