The “Montaigne at work” project (MONLOE: MONtaigne à L’Œuvre, Montaigne at Work) is presented by the Virtual Humanistic Libraries in Tours (BVH: Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes), in cooperation with the IRHT (Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes: Institute for the Research of Texts and their History) and supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR). The project intends to virtually reconstruct Montaigne’s complete works, including the main original editions of the famous Essais as well as several other own works and all his surviving manuscripts. Our challenge consists in providing new digital tools to render the complex writing process of Montaigne’s Essays, based on the several layers of handwritten additions.
Furthermore, the digitisation of about a hundred identified sources with Montaigne’s signatures or annotations will allow the rebuilding of Montaigne’s library. The purpose of such a project is to enlarge the knowledge we already have of Montaigne’s method of writing, within the context of his favourite readings. MONLOE sat up this vast corpus, spread worldwide among about twenty-six libraries in ten countries. It is directly accessible on a web platform : https://montaigne.univ-tours.fr.
The success of MONLOE relied on the availability of all prints and manuscripts left by Montaigne and curated by the respective institutions.
Key Dates and Partners: an International Digitisation Programme
3D Reconstruction of the Library: Background and Objectives
Transcription of the Bordeaux Copy (Exemplaire de Bordeaux, aka “1588-EB”)
Montaigne’s Writing Process
The MONLOE project was initiated in September 2008 in collaboration with the Cambridge University Library. In 2009 and 2010, the collection known as “The Montaigne Library”, legated to Cambridge University Library by Gilbert de Botton, was digitised and made available online (BVH website). The important works contained in this collection notably include a copy of Lucrèce annotated by Montaigne. During the same period, preliminary contacts were established with the Chicago University Library and other institutions, such as the Mériadeck Public Library of Bordeaux. The main research partner is the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT).
The MONLOE project is part of the “CAHIER” Consortium (Corpus d’Auteurs pour les Humanités: Informatisation, Édition, Recherche – Authors’ Corpora for the Humanities: Digitisation, Edition, Research), created in 2011.
The project is conducted in close collaboration with the Cambridge University Library (10 items of the MONLOE corpus), the French National Library (33 items) and the Mériadeck Public Library of Bordeaux (33 items, including 4 editions of the Essais). We owe the very first idea of rebuilding Montaigne’s library to Philip Ford, professor at Clare College in Cambridge, and we feel deeply affected by his disappearance (April 8, 2013). The project is dedicated to his memory.
The MONLOE team progressively sat up collaborations with the institutions variously located in Europe and North America, but certain items of Montaigne’s library currently conserved in private collections are not yet accessible.
The first step of this digitisation programme focused on works conserved in the National French Library (BnF) and the Mériadeck Public Library of Bordeaux.
The first round of digitisation requests was largely successful, meeting with a positive response from many French and European libraries. In a few cases, the contact procedure was not carried through and was reinitiated.
The Research Laboratory in charge of this aspect of the project is Archeovision (CNRS, Bordeaux University).
The idea originated in 2003, when a project was envisaged, in collaboration with Alain Legros, Montaigne specialist, and Anne-Marie Cocula, Vice-President of Aquitaine, with an aim to creating a virtual reconstruction of Montaigne’s castle, including the tower, as it was in the 19th century (before the fire). The project was not completed, but the initiative did produce a first test in the form of an interactive DVD which enabled the viewer to “enter” Montaigne’s library and to zoom in on inscriptions painted by Montaigne on the beams.
This virtual visit now combines new technology with research on the way the room was furnished and the specific places occupied by the books on the shelves. 3D digitising technology connects the digitised versions of some books it contained so that the website visitor can not only enter the library and zoom in on different elements, but can also browse and read the books.
Regarding the transcription of the Bordeaux Copy, we intend to produce three different types of transcription: a “quasi-diplomatic” transcription, a “cultural heritage” transcription and a modernised version. The website allows the user to switch between the different versions of the text. The TEI encoding schema is used to detect text misprints, variants and additions and the TXM tool is used to render the normalised version of the text fully searchable.
Besides the Bordeaux Copy, transcriptions of several other editions of The Essays and other works by Montaigne are made available online:
- 1580-82 (included the copy known as “Lalanne’s Copy”)
- Théologie naturelle, 1581 edition (with variants from 1569) established by Jean Céard
And in the future :
- 1588 (printed)
- 1595 (posthumous edition)
The “Montaigne at work” project aims to support both the reading and the mining of the text, and to render the chronology. The edition of the “Bordeaux Copy” renders several layers of handwritten additions that reveal different moments of writing and re-writing. Thus, MONLOE offers the opportunity to analyse the evolution of Montaigne’s handwriting and spelling. With the expert help of Alain Legros (researcher in Tours and expert in Montaigne’s handwriting), Montaigne’s different “hands” could be classified according to time and language. Handwriting samples have been processed by the IRHT with the help of special software in order to detect handwriting similarity. The results will finally integrate the Budé database, developed by the IRHT.
After the MONLOE kickoff meeting, held at the CESR in February 2013, the Bordeaux conference in December 2014, the launching day of the MONLOE website in June 2015 was the next key event. In addition, regular study days were organised throughout the three years of the project.
Marie-Luce Demonet, May 20, 2016