Discover the project
For some time, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and its American counterpart, the Library of Congress, have established a close relationship, because they share the basic mission of conserving works published in each country, thanks to the practice of legal deposits; because they embody an encyclopedic and universal conception of knowledge; and because they have a shared history, marked at the dawn of the history of the USA by France’s support of the American insurgents. This is what led the two institutions in 2005 to devise an initial joint digitization project, entitled France in America.
Since then, the BnF has pursued and deepened its thoughts about the international dimension of its collections and what they can say about a shared histories, while seeking to profit from what digitization provides: not just drawing together and even uniting collections, but opening them to mutual exploration, and thus building up a common heritage. Shared Heritage is indeed the name of a digital collection, founded in 2016, and devoted to international relations, as they can be seen in the library’s collections. Today, this collection has been deployed across every continent. It is in this context that a new digital library has been conceived concerning the North American continent, based on France in America but with the intention of extending its reach.
Firstly, it does so by broadening the geographical and temporal scope of its documentation. Thus, the choice has been made to extend the project to the Caribbean – which means being able to take in fully the colonial history of the Americas and to shed clearer light on many current debates. As for the chronology, it now takes in the 19th century, whereas the previous project ended with the sale of Louisiana in 1803. It has also been extended to 1946 for the Antilles and Guyana, when these territories lost their colonial status.
Secondly, beyond the BnF and the LoC, the project now unites national and international heritage institutions that deal with the themes in question through their collections and expertise. The project’s scientific committee is accordingly broad, and includes (list).
And so France in the Americas came to be.
After being launched in 2020 for its collections devoted to North America, the project will be fully deployed in 2022 with the addition of collections devoted to the Caribbean. Its thematic structure provides genuine possibilities for virtual travel and for analysis. Through the sharing of collections across institutions, new forms of cooperation and new research avenues will no doubt ensue. Multiple viewpoints, confronted with one another, will surely enrich our knowledge, and lead to its widest possible distribution. With manuscripts, prints, maps, drawings, and photographs, selected from the collections of 19 partners, the project now stands as a corpus of approximately 2, 000 documents of all kinds, whose expansion will continue beyond 2021. We hope that such diversity and richness will be a source of inspiration.
The corpus traces out the complex post-Columbian history of the Americas: a theatre of confrontations between rival colonial projects during which indigenous peoples concerned to maintain their threatened sovereignty, remained full protagonists; North America would become a terrain of expression for a revolutionary political project, marked by the seal of liberty for some, but which left many excluded from citizenship, and firmly asserted the right to own human property while coveting the lands of Indigenous peoples; in the Antilles, the Haitian Revolution, in the wake of the French one, lead to the first abolition of slavery and the second independence on the continent, but slavery was reestablished in Guadeloupe and Guyana; there are resonant names, such as Kondiaronk, Marie Rouensa, Vaudreuil, La Fayette, Toussaint Louverture, Delgres, La Mulâtresse Solitude, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax and Schoelcher, with echoes of maroons and revolts, and where many questions of the contemporary world come together – universalism, the rights of man, slavery, migrations …; but this was also a continent chiming with exploration, travel, sharing, with the figures of Cartier, La Vérendrye, Champlain, Plumier, Jolliet, Le Père Marquette , Iberville, La Pérouse, Labat, or de Wimpffen, and where the talents of cartographers, ethnographers, writers and linguists were exercised, and continue to attract our attention today.
Whether seen from a political and philosophical, or else creative viewpoint, France and the Americas are redolent with echoes, exchanges and cross-fertilization. While the Americas stood as a precursor and embodied new, plural sciences whose vitality and creativity have since spread worldwide, they also bear witness to hybridizations that allude to a complex history, in which Indigenous peoples seek vigorously to reclaim their place, in which slavery has left deep scars—a contested history with much resistance against the colonial order, but which was not without sought-after and welcome exchanges. France played its part in all this and its voice can still be heard, of course, in the French-speaking communities who still use the language, but also in a dialogue with the Creoles associated with it from the Antilles to Guyana.
Thus, France in the Americas hopes to bear witness to a shared destiny and to a multiple and complex heritage, through the availability of precious documents, while inciting projects which will renew their meaning, today and tomorrow.
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