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Image, Music, and Text in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture

Performing Transdisciplinarity project

Performing Transdisciplinarity is an Australian Research Council Discovery project that brings together an international and multi-disciplinary team of researchers to explore the ‘transdisciplinary’ nature of the 18th-century illustrated songbook, a genre whose performative nature and fusion of images, music, and text escapes conventional scholarly analysis. New models of cross-disciplinary collaboration and multimedia dissemination are thus required to unlock such unique cultural productions. Through multifaceted research on an exemplary songbook ­– Jean-Benjamin de Laborde’s Choix de Chansons (1773) – this project aims to create a multimedia digital interface for linking deep disciplinary knowledge and the innovative recreation of the sounds, sensibilities, and social mores of 18th-century France. The project's model of rich digital understanding promises significant benefits for cultural institutions whose similarly complex objects currently lie dormant or underused.

Through the digital editing and analysis of Laborde’s Choix de Chansons the team will ‘perform transdisciplinarity’ in a way that both forges spaces for knowledge discovery and sharing and elucidates 18th-century practices of cultural production. To achieve these goals, they will develop a digital interface that acts as a holistic framework to enrich our understanding of the Choix de Chansons as well as other, similarly complex cultural objects and, more generally, of the performative nature of the cultural experience in 18th-century France. The transdisciplinary data model and interface developed for this project can then be applied to future humanities research efforts across a variety of disciplines, including art history, literary studies, musicology, visual culture, book history, and digital humanities.

The project team includes:


  • Voltaire Foundation blog post: “Jean-Benjamin de Laborde’s Choix de Chansons: Digital Editing and the Limits of Disciplinarity” [linked to blog post]
  • Our first major presentation of Performing Transdisciplinarity was delivered at the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (BSECS) conference in January this year, as part of the panel ‘Unboxing Jean Benjamin Laborde’s “Choix de Chansons” (1773) – ancien-régime socialbility and the possibilities of the digital humanities.’ Conference delegates were also treated to a recital of eight songs from Laborde’s book, sang by Emilie Renard and accompanied Erin Helyard on Harpsichord (see video link). Further developments of this project can be found on the project homepage as well as the Voltaire Lab.

Le dernier parti a prendre from Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, Choix de Chansons (1773). Music by Laborde, lyrics by Voltaire.

Funding and Institutional partners:

Australian Research Council
Australian National University
University of Melbourne
University of Sydney
Voltaire Foundation