CE38 - La Révolution numérique : rapports au savoir et à la culture

Digitization and analysis of the Dictionnaire universel by Basnage de Beauval: lexicography and scientific networks – BASNUM

Submission summary

The aim of BASNUM is to digitize the Dictionnaire universel (DU) by Antoine Furetière, in the 1701 version rewritten by Basnage de Beauval, and to analyse it with digital methods, in order to better assess the importance of this work for the evolution of sciences and mentalities in the 18th century, and to contribute to the contemporary movement for creating innovative and data-driven computational methods for text digitization, encoding and analysis.
To date, no study has endeavoured to evaluate and to understand the extent of the transformations and additions brought by the émigré French lawyer to the initial work by Antoine Furetière. However, between 1690 and 1701 the dictionary triples in volume and undergoes important qualitative changes. The working hypothesis is that, unlike both Furetière and the members of Compagnie de Jésus involved in the conception of Trévoux (1704), Basnage approaches dictionary writing much more as a scientist. As a result, he produces an encyclopaedic and descriptive work, operating also as a form of learner’s dictionary.
Beyond the understanding of the lexicographic method of Basnage, the project intends to explore the linguistic vision within which the DU is built. It will raise the question about how the sociological and religious identity of the author affected his work. In this regard, dictionary writing may be seen not only as an encyclopaedic enterprise, but also as a means to maintain the link with France, for himself and moreover for a community keen on preserving its identity in spite of being severed from its motherland.
The project sets to test these hypotheses and to answer these questions through a systematic, i. e. computer assisted, reading of the text. First, this involves the preparation of the text in an XML/TEI compliant format. In addition to manual encoding, the project will use advanced techniques for semi-structured text acquisition, adapting the scholarly paper parser GROBID to the digitization of a historical dictionary. Second, once the source digitized and further corrected and marked-up, it will be compared, using digital tools, to precedent and subsequent dictionaries, so as to evaluate Basnage’s contribution. Third, a series of queries will be conducted in order to extract all available information about scientific domains and branches of arts and crafts, as seen by Basnage, as well as about his auctorial stance. Fourth, the lexicographic corpus of the 1701 DU and Basnage’s scientific network will be, at least partially, identified, both through manual identification of authors quoted in the text, and through the use of the named entity tool NERD, freely available via HUMA-NUM.
To sum up, the project is original and relevant insofar as it will:
• create a digital publication of an important heritage dictionary, compliant with the most advanced standards of scholarly digital editions, under an open-access licence;
• allow to better evaluate Basnage’s contribution to the advancement of the lexicography, and his role in the “republic of letters” at the beginning of the 18th century;
• open the way to a digital analysis of the “corpus” underlying the dictionary by exploring the knowledge networks and cited sources that can themselves be mined and analysed digitally;
• push further the automatizing of text capture and basic annotation of semi-structured documents;
• contribute to the establishment of best practices in annotating semantic and bio-bibliographic information in dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and linking such information to other internet resources;
• help refining methods and techniques for building linguistic and historical knowledge from digitized sources and material, and through using digital tools.

Project coordinator

Arts et pratiques du texte, de l'image, de l'écran et de la scène (Laboratoire public)

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.


Arts et pratiques du texte, de l'image, de l'écran et de la scène
Langues, textes, traitements informatiques, cognition
Centre de Recherche Inria de Paris

Help of the ANR 439,598 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2018 - 36 Months

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