Auguste Dubois rare books collection, University of Poitiers

On 27 March, 2012, the first day conference dedicated to the Dubois Rare Books collection was organised by the MIMMOC and CRIHAM research teams, the University of Poitiers Documentary Services at the MSHS on and the University Library (Law-Litterature & Languages) on Poitiers Campus. Attending were academics from English studies and history, specialising in English and UK 17th and 18th century history, an archivist, a librarian and an IT specialist from the Universities of Poitiers, Paris VIII, Paris-Diderot, Montpellier, Metz, Bordeaux 3 and Yale. A post-doctoral research grant will enable a researcher from the University of Manchester to spend 3 months working in Poitiers on the collection in 2013 and the library has been able to enrich its collection of recent published research on the period thanks to backing obtained from the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council.

The Auguste Dubois Rare books collection was presented by Mme Traineau-Durozoy, Conservateur, in charge of the Rare books for the Poitiers University Documentary Service. The cyber library of the First Socialisms, on line on the University Library website, was presented by Mme Nathalie Bremand, Librarian at the University of Poitiers History Library, and Eric Planchon, in charge of the digital resources facility at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société (MSHS-CNRS) in Poitiers, presented the digital resources available and the Omeka platform. These presentations helped gauge the significance and size of the Auguste Dubois Rare books collection, the existing means available on campus in Poitiers and the possible uses that have already been successfully implemented here.

The history of the current project was presented by Susan Finding. The idea of linking two projects to make available University of Poitiers collections took shape progressively. The MIMMOC research team first inscribed the project to conserve and research the Valière collection of tape recordings, anthropological oral history of local Poitou folk culture – songs, customs, storytelling – in conjonction with French-speaking Acadian and Cajun researchers in its pluriannual research remit in 2006. The existence of a number of books in English in the rare books collection was known of, but it was the compilation of a specific catalogue by the Library services in April 2008 (and the more recent incorporation into the online catalogue) that revealed the significance of this collection of 900 books and pamphlets in English for historians of the United Kingdom, economic historians and students of political economy. It became obvious that such a collection was important not only for the University of Poitiers but for the international scientific community.

Thanks to preliminary work by Professor Steven Pincus from Yale University on one hand, and by Karim Ghorbal, doctoral student at Paris VIII on the other, it was established that certain works present in the collection are unique and are to be found in no other known collection. Others are first editions (for example Adam Smith). Furthermore, the existence of a parallel collection of archives, the Fonds d’Argenson, which the University of Poitiers Archives also holds, gives a rare opportunity to compare French and English sources on economic history, a real advantage in knowledge about cultural transfers, knowledge circulation and mutual information between the United Kingdom, France and the American colonies in the 18th century. An intellectual biography of Auguste Dubois, Professor of political and economic theory at the University of Poitiers from 1899, co-founder of the Revue d’histoire économique et sociale, predecessor of the Annales, accompanied by research into the way in which the collection of books was built up, would shed light on the history of ideas, the history of Poitiers University, but also the history and teaching of economics in France.

Steven Pincus has shown how the debates on the place and role of trade, banks, the creation of riches, the colonies, the consequences of the unification of the United Kingdom on the British economy, which the Dubois and D’Argenson collections illustrate, are all the more significant given that the paradigms of the first decade of the 21st century are very similar . globalisation, the opening up of markets in the East, public debt, banking, and the issue of British unity and devolution are once again the centre of attention. The content of the two collections is thus important not just for a better understanding of the 18th century debates on economic and political decisions,  but should also help put present day debate into perspective.

The interest the Dubois Rare Books collection has aroused in French, American and British academic circles in extremely encouraging and enables those present at the first day conference to look forward to further collaboration and an ever growing circle of international partners.

This article is an updated translation of the post in French Auguste Dubois Rare Books Collection (Fonds Auguste Dubois).

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