Collection Spotlight

Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers

One of the jewels of the Library of Parliament’s rare books collection, the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers [Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts, and known as the Encyclopédie] is undoubtedly one of the most significant intellectual works of the 18th century. Published between 1751 and 1772 under the direction of philosopher Denis Diderot and mathematician Jean d’Alembert, the Encyclopédie contains 71,818 articles covering all fields of knowledge of the time. Over 150 literary scholars, other types of scholars and various specialists, including doctors, botanists, chemists and physicists, worked together on this ambitious and costly collaborative project. The Encyclopédie is an outstanding example of the popularization of knowledge, demonstrating a new way of thinking.

The Encyclopédie is the product of the Enlightenment philosophical movement in Europe. This movement sought to counter the “darkness” of ignorance through the pursuit of knowledge and spreading knowledge to as many people as possible. The growth of printing and the publication of serials in the 18th century helped democratize access to knowledge. This led to the publication of reference works such as the Encyclopédie. However, publishing the Encyclopédie was not without challenges. Some volumes were censored, especially by government and religious authorities, because of their controversial and disputed content.

The Library of Parliament has the Encyclopédie’s entire collection of 35 volumes, which includes 17 volumes of text, 11 volumes of illustration plates and 7 supplementary volumes published later, between 1776 and 1780.

Details

  • The format of the Encyclopédie is quite imposing. Each volume is 41.5 cm high, 27 cm wide and an average of 7 cm thick.
  • The leather bindings for the volumes in the collection, most of which date back to the 18th century, have weakened over time. For this reason, the volumes are carefully stored in the Library of Parliament’s rare book room, where access, temperature, humidity, light and air quality are controlled.
  • The illustrations are an especially important part of the Encyclopédie. For the first time, labour tasks, machines or technical operations were depicted realistically, and sometimes in great detail. This use of illustrations was unprecedented, since engravings at the time usually focused on religious scenes, landscapes or portraits.
Image of 3 volumes of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
Image of a table of contents in the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers
Table of contents
Image of the plate 1
Relieur [Bookbinder], plate 1 from volume VIII