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Eighteenth-century studies, Besterman and Voltaire

Thursday, 22 August, 2019
15th ISECS congress
Edinburgh castle.

Edinburgh welcomed dix-huitiémistes this year for the fifteenth ISECS congress. The Voltaire Foundation’s newest staff member, who joined in April 2019, experienced ISECS for the first time and was impressed by the strong ties in the research community. Meeting many of the OCV authors at the book stand was also a very welcoming and enlightening experience.

In July 2017, 50 years after the idea of the OCV was formed, the Voltaire Foundation published a blogpost summarising its first 25 years. Now, as we approach the end of the print edition, only a little later than hoped (does Achilles ever catch the tortoise?), it is time to look at the next 25 years, from 1993-1994 to 2018-2019, where the dominant theme has been scholarly collaboration.

15th ISECS congress

The Voltaire Foundation at 99 Banbury Road, Oxford.

In 1993 the Voltaire Foundation bought a large Victorian house at 99 Banbury Road, giving much more space than the cramped modern offices it had previously occupied near the city centre. The first OCV volumes published from 99 were by key colleagues who are still being published in OCV, including Christiane Mervaud, with her edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique (vol.35-36) and her introduction to the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (vol.37, 2018), Henri Duranton (vol.21, Essai sur les mœurs, 2018), Ralph Nablow (Le Dimanche and Lettre de Monsieur de La Visclède, vol.77A, 2014), John Renwick (Annales de l’Empire, vol.44, publication in 2019), and David Williams (Corpus des notes marginales: complément, vol.145, 2019). The ISECS conference of this period took place in Münster, Germany, in 1995.

Two members of staff who transferred to 99 are also still publishing in OCV: Janet Godden (vol.29, Précis du siècle de Louis XV, 2019) and Martin Smith (vol.146, 2020). The earliest members of staff to join the VF at the new premises and who are still at 99 working on OCV were Pippa Faucheux (1998) and Nicholas Cronk. The latter joined the editorial board and became Director of the edition in 2000.

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News Bulletin for the 1999 ISECS congress in Dublin.

International collaboration continued in other ways. By the time of the ISECS congress in Dublin in 1999, the general editor of OCV was Haydn Mason, soon joined by Nicholas Cronk (current general editor) who took sole responsibility for the series on Haydn’s retirement in 2001.

In 2002 regular annual Besterman lectures were instituted, bringing eminent scholars from the UK and other European countries and the USA to talk on a vast range of subjects related to eighteenth-century studies, from Jesuits in China to the French Revolution, from problems of editing to the progress of plagiarism, from the late Renaissance to digital culture, and many other topics.

In the same year the British Academy commenced its longstanding, ongoing and valuable support for OCV. At the same time, another event of great importance for international collaboration was the signing of the contract to complete the publication of the Corpus des notes marginales, originally a project of the Russian State Library in St Petersburg, and to incorporate it into OCV.

2003 brought the next ISECS congress, in Los Angeles, the first in the USA since Yale in 1975.

In 2005 the OCV in-house team began to expand with Paul Gibbard, who is still contributing from Australia, as author in vol.144 (2018). Our current research editors joined the team from 2006 to 2010, enabling the high-calibre work on the edition to be continued at increased pace and scale. In 2006 the first of the new Corpus des notes marginales volumes (no.6, vol.141) was published, and enhanced re-issues of the first five volumes appeared between 2008 and 2012.

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Coffee with M. de Voltaire.

In 2007 the Voltaire Foundation initiated a process whereby a younger scholar is introduced to an established Voltaire scholar to collaborate on the critical edition of a particular text. The first of these partnerships was between Tom Wynn and Haydn Mason, for the Poème sur la loi naturelle in vol.32B. Many more successful collaborations followed.

In the same year important progress was made on the major multi-volume editions within the Complete works: the first of eight volumes of the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie appeared (vol.38), the work of a large team of collaborators, and the Voltaire Foundation also received a five-year AHRC award to support the publication of the nine-volume Essai sur les mœurs project. The first Essai volume would be published in 2009. 2007 was also the year of the twelfth ISECS conference, in Montpellier.

At this time, the Voltaire Foundation also declared a completion date for the OCV of 2019-2020, which would be achieved by publishing six volumes a year, making the edition a roughly fifty-year project, like the Oxford English Dictionary.

In 2009 the Voltaire Foundation continued its support of younger researchers by introducing another newer scholar to a well-established name, in this case Renaud Bret-Vitoz (then in Tunisia, now Professor at the Sorbonne) with Basil Guy (Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley), who co-signed the edition of L’Orphelin de la Chine (vol.45A).

Supporting post-doctoral work on Voltaire, the VF was pleased to welcome Antonio Gurrado, who was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship for two years to work in Oxford on Voltaire’s religious works of 1776 (vol.79B, published in 2014). By 2010 all the current team of in-house OCV research editors (Gillian Pink, Alison Oliver and Georges Pilard) were working at 99 Banbury Road.

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News Bulletin for the July 2011 ISECS congress in Graz, Austria.

Also in 2010, the Fondation Wiener-Anspach, which fosters academic exchanges between the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, provided support for the collaborative research project that was the Essai sur les mœurs edition. The OCV also received the Prix Hervé Deluen from the Académie française ‘in recognition of the fifty-year OCV project publishing the complete and critical works of Voltaire for the first time, so changing the image of Voltaire’.

The following year, 2011, eighteenth-century scholars of the world gathered at Graz for the thirteenth ISECS congress.

In 2013 the Voltaire Foundation began a collaborative blog and benefitted from the first of two MHRA one-year research associateships supporting new scholars: Nick Treuherz, working on vol.83 (published in 2015), followed by Helder Mendes Baiao, working on vol.60A (published in 2015). In 2014 a three-year Leverhulme research grant provided support for the preparation of the introductions to Voltaire’s historical works (Essai sur les mœurs, Siècle de Louis XIV and Précis du siècle de Louis XV, all published in 2019). The following year brought support from the Château de Versailles research centre for the first volume of Siècle de Louis XIV, and Nicholas Cronk received AHRC research support for his work on vol.6 (Lettres sur les Anglais).

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The Voltaire Foundation’s stand welcoming dix-huitiémistes at the fifteenth ISECS congress in 2019.

Since the fourteenth ISECS conference, in Rotterdam in 2015, the last few years have seen the fruition of various collaborative projects. In 2016, unidentified texts published for the first time in the Kehl edition appeared in vol.34. In 2017 LVMH started supporting one volume per year (vol.20C, vol.65B and vol.21). In 2017 the Voltaire Foundation’s new website went live, replacing one dating from before 2002! This improvement was instigated by Alice Breathe, who is still contributing from Switzerland. In 2018 Christiane Mervaud’s introduction completed the eight-volume set of Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, and 2019 saw the completion of the eight-volume set of Essai sur les mœurs, the seven-volume set of Siècle de Louis XIV and the ten-volume set of the marginalia.

Theodore Besterman

Theodore Besterman.

More than fifty years after Theodore Besterman held the first Congress in Geneva, he would probably be moderately pleased with the progress that has been made…

– Clare Fletcher et al.