Francophone Digital Humanities

Initiative Funded by French Cultural Services


David Bell, Laurent Dubois, Deborah Jenson, Anne-Gaëlle Saliot, Helen Solterer

             The Digital Humanities are gaining an increasingly prominent role in contemporary scholarly life through initiatives aimed at digitizing and showcasing a wide range of materials.  Scholars – in partnership with libraries and archives – are seeking out innovative ways of both preserving and sharing knowledge.  Opening up new possibilities in research and teaching also raises challenging questions of method.  Digital access to materials provides a first step.  Yet to benefit fully from such innovation – and on a global scale, this work needs to be accompanied by curation, interpretation, and aesthetic reflection.

In our university, as across many in the Americas as elsewhere, the Digital Humanities have been characterized by Anglophone literary and intellectual work.  Francophone materials are being widely digitized, in large part thanks to the work of the Bibliothèque Nationale and other institutions within France and the Francophone world.  The task now: curating and organizing materials widely and vigorously.

The grant awarded by French Cultural Services of the Embassy of France will be used to make Duke University a hub for Francophone Digital Humanities.  The Center for French and Francophone Studies, with its tradition of collaboration with international colleagues, is well-positioned to take on this task. Our faculty in French and Francophone Studies offer a wide-range of scholarly involvements and expertise that will provide focus and content for this effort. And Duke University is already at the forefront of work in the Digital Humanities, with a Library System that has provides leadership and technical support in this area, and a PhD lab in the Digital Humanities. By connecting with these initiatives, the Center will carry out a series of innovative and productive digital projects aimed at showcasing critical areas of scholarship and developing new French-language platforms that can serve as a model for other projects. It will work in collaboration with other universities in the region as well, beginning this year with the University of Virginia.

During our first year, starting in September 2013, we are launching 5 projects:

1.                  Duke Digital Archive of Introductions to French Novels

Leader:  David Bell

Theorists from Lukács to Ortega realized that the novel was not like other literary genres, and the literary constraints governing it were developed in a series of prefaces by novelists and exchanges with their readers.  This archive will be assembled digitally with Bostock Library.

 Objective: Establishing a usable database of such texts will create an archive for historical research on the novel in French.  The team will choose a platform and coding system to make this collection available to the internet researcher.

2.                  Digitizing and Curating Medieval Manuscripts in Collaboration with European Libraries

Leaders:          Helen Solterer and Deborah McGrady (University of Virginia)

Thousands of codices offer material for understanding how a literary corpus in French was constructed — from the beginning — on an international scale.   This project will focus attention on two such manuscripts, in Swedish and Italian libraries and archives.

 Objective: Making these codices interoperable by working collaboratively with a Mellon grant at Stanford.  This group will coordinate the technical work with the National Library of France, contributing to the next phase of opening up collections for studying early European literary culture.  An intra-institutional seminar on this work is planned that will include a round table of Franco-American critics.

 3.                   Haiti Digital Library

Leaders: Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jenson

Building on an existing project (, we’ll construct a stronger platform, collaborating with “Bibliothèque Sans Frontières” to promote better accessibility in Haiti.

Objective: Two workshops with a team of Haiti scholars will map out the content and platform for this library. In the larger project, we’ll collaborate with the Libraries, and universities in Haiti.

4.                  Collaboration with the Paris Cinémathèque Française

Leaders: Anne-Gaëlle Saliot and Jacqueline Waeber

Extending a project on the oeuvre of Alain Resnais and the evolution of cinematic modernism, we will pursue it with the Cinémathèque Française, and the Audiovisualities Laboratory at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke.

 Objective: An international Resnais conference will invite academics, museum professionals, and artists, engaging philosophy, new media, theater, and music.  It will be the basis for new seminars, involving master classes with film directors.

5.                  The Digital “Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal,”

Leaders: Gregson Davis and Laurent Dubois

The creation of a digital version of Aimé Césaire’s “Cahier” will lead to a conference held at Duke in October 2013.

 Objective: The Césaire conference will host a workshop with leading scholars planning this digital “Cahier” including Gregson Davis’ new translation. The project will be part of a larger intra-institutional one involving Harvard and Columbia, exploring digital editions of texts from the Black Atlantic.


Workshop Flyer