The Voltaire Foundation (VF) at the University of Oxford has been at the heart of Enlightenment scholarship for over forty years and has an international reputation for stimulating and disseminating the most academically rigorous and up-to-date research on the eighteenth century. The VF is now expanding its activities and is seeking supporters who will help us become a transformational digital and interdisciplinary hub for eighteenth-century scholarship – the Voltaire Foundation for Enlightenment Studies.
The VF, past and future
The VF came to Oxford in 1976, following a bequest by the visionary bibliographer and Voltaire scholar Theodore Besterman. Since its inception, the Foundation’s core activity has centred on the publication of seminal Enlightenment writings, most notably the Complete Works of Voltaire, to the highest possible scholarly standard. In 2022 the Foundation published the final volume of Voltaire’s writings in an edition comprising 205 volumes in total. To celebrate this momentous achievement, and with a view to honouring and expanding Besterman’s legacy, the Voltaire Foundation is building a new hub for Enlightenment scholarship that will be unmatched worldwide.
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 Foundation for Enlightenment Studies. By nature interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, the Voltaire Foundation for Enlightenment Studies will create a digital home for eighteenth-century scholars worldwide.
This vision of a worldwide network of Enlightenment scholarship will be brought about by three primary drivers:
- To embed and sustain the work of the Foundation within Oxford, we propose the creation of a Chair of Enlightenment Studies, a focal point for eighteenth-century scholarship at the University and beyond.
- To underscore the relevance and availability of Enlightenment thought to the widest possible audience, we propose the creation of a Fellow in Digital Enlightenment Studies, responsible for the creation, dissemination, and teaching of digital methodologies and texts. Enlightenment thought was predicated on plurality, openness, and discussion. Intellectual networks were vitally important to the development of the Enlightenment as we know it today, as ideas were exchanged and refined across international borders. The availability of digital texts and analysis makes manifest this aspect of Enlightenment intellectual exchange in a way that would have undoubtedly been embraced by Voltaire and his contemporaries.
- To further nourish and grow this academic community, we propose the funding of several doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships, and visiting Fellowships open to any area of Enlightenment research from Literature to Politics, History, Philosophy, Economics and beyond. This breadth of possible research areas pays homage to the nature of Enlightenment thinkers who could be, at once, philosophers, poets, and scientists and who understood the need for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural discussions.
The Voltaire Foundation is uniquely positioned to realise these ambitious goals within the University’s framework. The previous creation of Electronic Enlightenment and the newly launched digital Voltaire Lab illustrate the degree to which the VF is poised to take the lead on the establishment of a world-class digitally-focussed Humanities scholarship hub. We envisage that this hub will both complement the University’s new Digital Humanities focus and serve as a flagship model for how Digital Humanities can be carried out at Oxford and beyond, providing the widest possible access to Enlightenment thought.
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