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 will set up this vast corpus, spread worldwide among about twenty libraries in ten countries. It will be directly accessible on a web platform using 3D software development.
The success of MONLOE depends 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 hopes to progressively set up collaborations with a further 23 institutions variously located in Europe and North America. Requests will also be introduced to digitise certain items of Montaigne's library currently conserved in private collections.
The first step of this digitisation programme focuses 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 should be reinitiated.
The Research Laboratory in charge of this aspect of the project is Archéotransfert (CNRS, Bordeaux University, Adéra).
The idea originated in 2003, when a project was set up, 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 enables the viewer to “enter” Montaigne's library and to zoom in on inscriptions painted by Montaigne on the beams.
At present, the aim is to improve this virtual visit by combining 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 may be used to zoom in on books with special binding or with spines on which the title can be read. Our aim is ultimately to articulate the 3D reconstruction of the library and the digitised versions of the books it contained so that the website visitor can not only enter the library and zoom in on different elements, but can also browse 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 will allow the user to switch between the different versions of the text. The TEI encoding schema will be used to detect text misprints, variants and additions and PhiloLogic and TXM tools will be 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 will shortly be made available online:
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” will render 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 are going to be 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 launching day of the MONLOE website at the end of the first two years will be the next key future event. In addition, regular study days will be organised throughout the three years of the project.
Marie-Luce Demonet & Myriam Olivier, April 26, 2013