Databases, Revenues, and Repertory: The French Stage Online, 1680-1793 is an innovative collection of original essays that explore an important initiative in the digital humanities, the Comédie-Française Registers Project (CFRP). This international online collaboration consists of high-resolution reproductions of the detailed daily box office receipts for the Comédie-Française theater troupe in Paris from 1680 to 1793, as well as visualization tools that allow users to explore the box office data. No other theater troupe in this period maintained such a detailed set of business records, and few business enterprises of any kind in eighteenth-century France have left records this complete.
Databases, Revenues, and Repertory takes advantage of this unique online archive to explore programming decisions made by the royal troupe in Paris during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Scholars of the period know that the plays of Molière, Racine, Corneille, and Voltaire were frequently performed, but the troupe’s full repertory in this 113-year period consisted of more than 1,000 plays written by over 300 authors, spread across more than 33,000 nightly performances. How did politics, economics, and social conflict shape the troupe’s repertory and affect its finances? Was the theater a space for critical discussion of public issues, or a place to seek escape from the uncertainties of the world? Several essays in the volume explore the long-term trends in box office receipts and repertory decisions across the century, while others focus on the critical years around 1760, when the influence of Enlightenment ideals and authors made itself felt on the French capital’s premier stage. A third set of essays considers the uses of digital humanities methodologies in the study of French theater history and in the humanities more generally—how new are the methodologies and conclusions of digital humanists, how do these applications reshape the questions we ask of literature and cultural history, and how do they expand our sensory understanding of the past?
Like the CFRP itself, Databases, Revenues, and Repertory is freely available online, thanks to support from the MIT Press and a generous grant from the MIT Global Languages Section. Funding from the Partner University Fund of the FACE Foundation has made possible English- and French-language versions of all the essays in the volume. An intuitive user interface based on the MIT Press’s PubPub platform allows users easy access to the essays, some of which have online tools from the CFRP embedded in the online texts. Readers will be able to move smoothly back and forth between the essays and the online data on which they are based to explore the data further and reach their own conclusions. They can also leave comments on the pages devoted to each essay. This volume thus takes advantage of online affordances to broaden the nature of the humanities.