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Voltaire lab

The Voltaire Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of the Voltaire Lab, a new virtual space for cutting-edge research and experimentation on Voltaire, his immense textual corpus of works, and his enduring impact on the intellectual and literary landscape of the long eighteenth century and beyond. Inspired by similar digital humanities laboratories such as the Stanford Literary Lab and the .txtLAB at McGill, the Voltaire Lab aims to make available for the first time the entirety of Voltaire’s literary output, including his extensive correspondence, for digital research and exploration.

We have combined Voltaire’s complete works, taken from the TOUT Voltaire database hosted by the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago, along with all letters to and from Voltaire provided by Electronic Enlightenment. The resulting database contains some 22,000 individual documents and more than 13 million words, representing one of the largest single-authored datasets available for humanities research. If you would like to know more please email glenn.roe@gmail.com.

Why a Lab? Voltaire wasn’t only a great satirical writer and political campaigner. In the 1730s and 1740s, he strove to popularise the empirical philosophy of Newton on the continent – work recognised by his election in 1743 as a Fellow of the Royal Society. At the same time Voltaire tried his hand as an experimental scientist, and while he was living with Émilie Du Châtelet at the Château de Cirey, he ordered tools and equipment from Paris to create his own personal laboratory in which to conduct scientific experiments. So we take Voltaire’s lab as the inspiration for our Voltaire Lab.

The creation of the Voltaire Lab opens up exciting possibilities that will allow the Voltaire Foundation to engage fully in contemporary research in Digital Humanities. These new methods and resources will enable explorations of Voltaire’s thought and style that were previously unthinkable. As such, we aim to encourage doctoral students to work alongside more advanced scholars to experiment with the data and explore new digital methods and how they interact and intersect with more traditional modes of literary and historical analysis. It is our hope that work undertaken in the Voltaire Lab will contribute substantively to current debates about the validity of digital methods for humanities research, while, at the same time, uncovering new avenues of inquiry into Voltaire’s legacy.

Nicholas Cronk
Glenn Roe
Co-Directors of the Voltaire Lab

The creation of Voltaire Lab has been made possible by a pump-priming grant from the John Fell Fund of the University of Oxford and by a donation from M. Julien Sevaux: we are enormously grateful to our sponsors for their confidence in this new initiative.