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Registers of the Comédie-Française – Programme RCF

Submission summary

The numerical accumulation of data on the screen evokes the ambitions of the Ptolemies, as well as those of the great encyclopedic projects. But it also prompts questions about the nature of knowledge that define human civilization itself. (cf. Milad Douehi, 2008) In this sense, the digital humanities pose new technological challenges. How does one efficiently constitute and interpret these massive databases in ways that are meaningful? The RCF Project will focus on an exceptionally rich dataset: the handwritten daily receipt registers of the Comédie-Française (CF), a major part of the theatrical patrimony of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France.

The CF is actually the only theater in the world to have saved its administrative records from this period. Its archives represent a unique and precious resource, but they are difficult to exploit in their current state. Access to these manuscripts, preserved by the troupe in the Palais Royal in Paris, is limited, and the sheer mass of information they contain poses quantitative and qualitative methodological problems. New digital technologies, however, can overcome these limitations, offering both new modes of conservation and new forms of public access to the material.

Our primary goals are the digitalization, the statistical analysis, and the interpretation of the data contained in the daily registers of the troupe for the 1680-1793 period. The RCF Project will work towards these objectives by means of the most advanced database and visualization technologies. Specifically, it has two components:

• An IT aspect that will include the online reconstitution of digital facsimiles of the registers, and the development of innovative online tools for visualization and statistical analysis that will result in the creation of an interactive online database available to all users free of charge;
• A set of scholarly research initiatives, based on the exploitation of the online facsimiles and database, that will result in a series of conferences, publications, and teaching initiatives.

Thanks to the CF’s desire to offer greater access to these materials, and to the possibilities inherent in today’s digital technologies, this project will enlarge and accelerate the study and diffusion of knowledge in the field of theater history. Those of us working on the RCF Project see it as part of efforts throughout the academy to provide greater accessibility to cutting-edge scholarship, thereby creating large-scale communities of scholars and students working in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

This initiative is the result of an international collaboration between the HAR 414 research team (“The History of the Arts and of Representation”) at the Université Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense; the MIT Department of History and “HyperStudio,” MIT’s Digital Humanities Laboratory; the Bibliothèque-Musée de la Comédie-Française; Harvard University’s Humanities Center and the Harvard Department of Romance Languages and Litteratures; the research team CELFF/17-18 (Paris IV-Sorbonne); and the FoReLL team (Université de Poitiers). The international dimension of this project (France-United States) represents a convergence of expertise between technological, cultural, patrimonial and educational institutions.

Project coordination

Christian BIET (Histoire des arts et des représentations) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


FoReLL- EA 3816 Formes et représentation en littérature et linguistique
UMR 8599 //CELLF-17-18 Centre d'Étude de la Langue et de la Littérature Françaises des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles
HAR-4414 Histoire des arts et des représentations

Help of the ANR 239,252 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2012 - 36 Months

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