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DePaul University Special Collections and Archives


Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-1772)

Translation: Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts, the Encyclopédie

Histoire Naturelle, Quadrupedes.

Illustration of Histoire Naturelle, Quadrupedes from the Encyclopédie

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Denis Diderot's original plan for the Encyclopédie envisioned a 17-volume work. Diderot served as the primary editor until 1759 when he was joined by Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Both men were active in Parisian salon circles, although neither was of distinguished birth.

Diderot's goal for the project was to assemble the world’s scattered knowledge. By presenting information in a methodological way, he sought to change the way people think. Diderot also hoped to disseminate the Enyclopedie's content through the ranks of society more evenly and for subsequent generations.

Système Figuré des Connoissances Humaines.

Organizational method for the information contained in the Encyclopédie

From University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Spring 2013 Edition), Robert Morrissey (ed),

As planned, the Encyclopédie initially comprised 17 volumes (or subjects) of text and 11 volumes of plates. Although this was no small feat, these materials were later supplemented by additional text, plates, and an index. Spanning philosophy, law, science, commerce, and the mechanical arts, the completed Enyclopédie made up 35 volumes.

Noted intellectuals, such as Voltaire and Montesquieu, and other renowned trades and craftsmen contributed their expertise. In total, the completion of the Encyclopédie took 21 years.

Du Commerce des Pelleteries.

Page 665 of Du Commerce des Pelleteries outlining the fur trade from January 1777

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In addition to its expansive range, the Enyclopédie broke new ground by addressing knowledge as a product of human reason. At the time, most explanations looked to divine intervention or nature. The Enyclopédie proposed that knowledge and intellect branched from three categories of human thought.

Each of the categories (Memory, Reason, and Imagination) was associated with a subject (History, Philosophy, and Poetry). As shown in the images, this ordering may explain why Memory/History encompasses nature and the natural world as well as the uses that derive from nature.