The French Revolution in Pictures

The French Revolution Digital Archive has more than 14,000 images from the Revolution of 1789

The storming of the Bastille French Revolution Digital Archive
"J'somm' du Tier-Etat," roughly, “We are the third estate,” a name for the privileged classes. French Revolution Digital Archive
Queen Marie-Antoinette caricatured as a harpy. French Revolution Digital Archive
A cartoon criticizing the English leader Pitt the Younger French Revolution Digital Archive
The death of French general Jean-Baptiste Gouvion. French Revolution Digital Archive
Celebrations for the Fête de la Fédération, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. French Revolution Digital Archive

There were no cameras in place to document the events of the French Revolution, from 1787 to 1799, but there were a great many writers and artists ready to capture the storming of the Bastille or to lampoon Queen Marie-Antoinette. In a partnership between the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Stanford University, archivists have digitized thousands of images and a massive trove of historical documents, including “legal documents, pamphlet literature, belles lettres” and even musical scores, says the French Revolution Digital Archive.

The documents span the early years of the war, from 1789 to 1794. Archivists began compiling the documents in 1862, and as of 1914 the collection had grown to 82 volumes. These 82 volumes are the ones included in the new digitization.

The images, some 14,000 in all, cover a wider time period. 

While the digitized version of the AP offers the most comprehensive way of accessing and analyzing the Revolution’s vast textual production, the French Revolution also produced a rich visual corpus of great importance. Because language was constantly exercised in new ways, because language really mattered to the Revolutionaries, and because events were unprecedented, the image-based record plays a significant role in helping researchers today understand the physical and intellectual universe of the Revolution.

The long-running nature of the project, though, means that librarians have struggled with the rapidly changing pace of storage technology. Many of the images were, most recently, stored on laserdiscs, a format that became largely obsolete by the early 2000s. With everything now digitized into JPEG images, hopefully they can keep this massive archive ahead of the curve.

H/T Fast Company

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