Each month, a researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.
Mandy Paige-Lovingood (North Carolina State University) is a first-year doctoral student examining the cross-cultural exchange between the France and the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth-century. Here she talks about using the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s digital library, Gallica
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) introduced their digital library, Gallica, to online users in 1997 in an effort to preserve the ephemeral nature of their over fourteen-million books, printed documents, images, and objects. With over four-million digitized objects, BnF provides researchers with wider access to many of France’s most precious pieces of history twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all of which is completely free of charge. French researchers, such as myself, now have a framework for which we can track down certified documents to support our historical arguments in the earliest stages of our research, and from anywhere in the world. For French historians living outside of France, researching change over time has never been better.
This past fall semester, I started my research for a seminar paper on the intersections of mobility, class, statehood, and turquerie -a set of French artistic and architectural productions interpreting Turkish culture. My initial research called for an analysis on the many ordonnance du Roi executed for the les échelles du Levant between the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Given that I am located in Raleigh, North Carolina and I did not have the time, nor the funding, for international travel for a semester paper, I immediately went to BnF’s website to access the ordonnances.
The BnF has made navigating Gallica as simple as possible by creating a three-click process. Though this past semester was not my first time acquainting myself with their digital library, it was the first time I needed very specific documents in chronological order. Hence, my first order of business was to search for any ordonnance containing the échelles. To do this, all one needs to do is traverse to the magnifying glass icon and click. The site will then provide a variety of options, of which Gallica is one. Once access to Gallica is attained, a simple search bar is provided. Type in your search, press select one more time, and Voila!
While my search results for the échelles drew over forty-two thousand options, approximately fifteen were relevant to my topic after narrowing my results down using the ‘Refine’ option on the left-hand side of the website. Yet, those few sources pointed me to the Archives de la Chambre de Commerce de Marseille’s Résidence des Français en Levant et Barbarie, Dossier general, 1685-1786. The BnF’s digital library contains documents from over three-hundred partner institutions, but in my case, unfortunately, they did not hold any digitizations from Marseille’s dossier. Therefore, a library specialist was needed.
I strongly encourage researchers to email the BnF’s research specialists and/or archivists for any questions or concerns pertaining to their collections. Since my research needs were quite specific, I sent a query from my account (Mon espace personnel) to their specialists asking about access to the Levantine dossier. Within two days, I received an informative response with multiple links to contacts in Marseille, as well as additional documents on BnF’s site that fell under different search options. Not only were the specialists helpful, but their vast knowledge on their collections both within the BnF and within the Archives Nationales was both accommodating and immensely beneficial. Their digital archives served both qualitative and quantitative purposes and made for a rich start to an academic research project.
Though I have boasted of the many pros associated to digital archives, noting the cons is equally important. Since scanning is done in mass batches, as the BnF adds thousands of resources yearly, quality and licensing become an issue. Consequently, the library asks that those researchers using their online collection for research do so for private purposes. Any work marked for publication requires your physical presence in France to both sign waivers and attain high-quality scans of the documents you plan to use.
Tip: In addition to using the BnF site, be sure to create an account through the Archives Nationales website. Here, you will be able to access your past requests, bookmark specific documents, and request documents and search help from specialists.
Thank you very much for this, Mandy!