The Voltaire Lab at the Voltaire Foundation for Enlightenment Studies

The Voltaire Lab at the Voltaire Foundation for Enlightenment Studies

Executive summary

The political, social, and economic world that we know today was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by the principles laid down during the Enlightenment by thinkers such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith and Voltaire. These thinkers placed rational thought at the heart of debate, questioned authority, challenged tyranny, argued for the separation of Church and State, and believed that men and women should be given the autonomy and opportunity to determine their own fate. Their influence was crucial on men like Franklin and Jefferson as they imagined the new constitution of the United States of America. A transnational movement, eighteenth-century thinkers freely exchanged ideas and writing across borders, creating an international network of scholars not unlike our digital networks today.

For over forty years, the Voltaire Foundation has been at the forefront of Enlightenment studies with an international reputation for stimulating and publishing the most rigorous and up-to-date research into the eighteenth century. The Foundation has also led the field in digital projects, notably Electronic Enlightenment (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) and Tout Voltaire (created in partnership with the University of Chicago). In 2022 the Foundation completed its flagship project – the Complete Works of Voltaire (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire) a 205-volume publication considered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to be ‘one of the most important ongoing British-based publishing projects in the field of French literary studies’ (2008).

On the strength of these and other seminal publications and projects, the Foundation is now poised to expand its focus and activities, bringing the works of Enlightenment thinkers to a wider and broader audience than ever before through the creation of the Voltaire Lab. This ambitious and dynamic department will become a hub for innovative and interdisciplinary digital research across the whole spectrum of Enlightenment and eighteenth-century studies, using new digital methods to help better understand the Enlightenment and its legacy. The transformational programme outlined in this document will place the Voltaire Lab at the heart of developments in digital humanities and digital publishing, making full use of today’s technologies to demonstrate and promote the contemporary relevance of Enlightenment thought.

The Voltaire Lab will create a new virtual space for cutting-edge research and experimentation on a broad spectrum of subjects, examining the impact on the intellectual and literary landscape of the long eighteenth century and beyond. The Lab will consist of several key elements:

  • Research Fellow in Digital Humanities: responsible for the creation, dissemination and teaching of digital methodologies and texts. Our understanding of what constitutes an authoritative or correct text is shaped by how it is presented, edited, and even the medium in which it is produced. What then of digital texts? How are digital texts more problematic or more transparent than traditional texts, and what constitutes an authoritative digital eighteenth-century text? The Fellow in Digital Enlightenment Studies will be key to addressing these and other questions, and will be able to teach these new methodologies as they are being developed.
  • Doctoral scholarships: to nourish and grow this academic community further, we propose the funding of several doctoral scholarships, open to any area of Enlightenment research from Literature to Politics, History, Philosophy, Economics and beyond. This breadth of possible research areas is unique for an Oxford D.Phil. scholarship, and pays homage to the nature of Enlightenment thinkers who could be, at once, philosophers, poets and scientists who understood the need for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural discussions.
  • Visiting Fellowships: the exchange of ideas across disciplines was crucial to the development of Enlightenment ideals. Equally, the exchange of ideas between different nationalities was instrumental in developing Enlightenment theories of government, economics, scientific and social organisations. We propose to create a Visiting Fellowship fund that will allow scholars world-wide the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Voltaire Lab, strengthening the reach and impact of its scholarship. The fund would be flexible, allowing scholars to take advantage of shorter or longer stays. This would enable scholars the widest possible access to the Voltaire Lab, creating an unmatched research network.

We are now looking to bring together a visionary group of supporters and advocates who share our belief in the importance of intellectual curiosity and rational enquiry, to help us launch the Voltaire Lab at the Voltaire Foundation for Enlightenment Studies. By nature interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, the Voltaire Lab will create a digital home for eighteenth-century scholars worldwide.

For more information please contact Caitlyn Sanderson.

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