Given that 1789 was a pivotal year in French history and the history of the Western world, the presentation of these documents is crucial not only for the field of history, but also for the promotion of alternative histories of the Atlantic World and the Haitian Revolution. In part, our project is an attempt to grapple with existing historiographies of this period and geography. For example, French history scholar Joseph Horan’s existing study of the “Grain Dispute of 1789” discusses not just Saint-Domingue but the colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint Lucia. Yet, the scope of his study ignores the particular back-and-forth nature of dispute over grain and flour in Saint-Domingue that these pamphlets reveal. For this reason, we have included some of the documents he references in his article “The Colonial Famine Plot: Slavery, Free Trade, and Empire in the French Atlantic, 1763-1791” as well as a number of documents that are not included in Horan’s work to provide a fuller picture of the potential historical analysis.
Another goal of our project was to encourage the use of archival research tools and resources by providing easily manipulatable and user-friendly documents in translation for teachers of undergraduate courses. With the assistance of Digital Historian Jennifer Guiliano, we developed a presentation environment that allows us to reveal the context for each pamphlet and include a 500-700-word excerpt of the original document in English. By limiting each entry to approximately 1000 words, students will be able to have limited, but rich, engagement with individual pamphlets without being overwhelmed by an abundance of contextual information.
Keeping in mind the undergraduate population, our most lofty ambition is to encourage a new generation of scholars to undertake alternative routes to writing history by searching the margins of university libraries and by making use of rare books and collections that would otherwise sit in climate controlled rooms waiting for the digital age to capture their brilliance, which would simultaneously render the original a novelty. In the short term, the project’s parent initiative, the National French Pamphlet Planning Project, maintains the more reasonable ambition of providing current scholars and specialists with a notion of the holdings of a number of North American libraries and international consortia with whom we have partnered. These collections are rich in texture with a multiplicity of interpretations. It is our hope that this document reader ignites student and faculty interest in the pamphlets and their larger historical context. Any number of future projects relating to France and its rich print culture from the invention of the printing press in the 15th century to the current epoch might build upon this initial effort.