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2000-2001 Visiting Fellows

Louis van Delft
Professeur émérite
Université Paris X

I had the privilege of being awarded a Friends Research Fellowship for a project entitled "Theatrum mundi revisited". I had originally planned to spend three weeks at Princeton. However, as work progressed, I decided to stay the full month of October 2000 (completing the $2,000 award with personal funds).

Combining the remarkable resources of Rare Books and Special Collections, Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology and of course Firestone Main catalog, I started by closely examining the various works mentioned in my application and which I knew were available in the Special Collections (either at Firestone or at Marquand). To name a few: Amman, Jost, Gynaeceum, sive Theatrum mulierum., 1586; Cartari, Vincenzo, Theatrum ethnico idolatrieum politico historicum., 1699; Placcius, Vincent, Theatrum anonymorum., 1708; Verstegen, Richard, Theatrum crudelitatum haereticorum nostri temporis., 1587.

After some time, my research took a turn I had not foreseen. Benefitting of the first-rate access to computerized catalogs (and in particular the RLIN Eureka which seems to have restricted [intranet] access) I decided, after about three weeks, to establish a Bibliography of most works published in the XVIth, XVIIth, XVIIIth centuries, the titles of which include the word Theatrum, or Theater, Theatre, Teatro. Not being a professional bibliographer, but rather a historian of ideas, this offspring of my original project was not intended to produce an absolutely complete listing of those works: that would at any rate be a vue de l'esprit, those titles having become at the time a real fad.

Rather, I considered this bibliographical inquiry the basis for a study of the very notion of theatrum during the three centuries under consideration. For example, many of the books in question, especially the Latin and German ones, are encyclopedias and thus have an obvious relation to the art of memory. Others retain a distinct connection with a true theatrical performance, and by means of emblemas or other engravings deal with their topics in a moste figurative way.

It therefore appears that the very words Theatre, Théâtre, Theater., as we use them currently or even in the fields of literary criticism, history of ideas, etc. to-day, have lost a great part of their original and even Renaissance and Baroque meaning.

I must confess that I had little knowledge of the electronic book shelves upon arriving at Princeton, as our systems in France are generally less sophisticated, less easily accessible and more costly for the user (in particular regarding print-outs). However, learning somewhat experimentally, but greatly benefitting from hints received from reference librarians, I believe I developed a reasonably fair ability to surf on the worldwide catalogs. I was thus in the position of producing in ten days a Bibliography which I feel would have demanded several weeks of labouring if based on traditional methods or even on a computerized system of lesser quality and output.

I moreover greatly benefitted not only from the supplementary iconographical material consulted at Marquand Library, but also from the photoduplication facilities offered at the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections itself.

The first results of my research are to be presented in an important conference here in Paris in March 2001 ("Jeux et enjeux des théâtres classiques aux XIXe et XXe siècles"). I consider the month spent in the Princeton libraries of vital importance for my research. Moreover, having worked in many libraries in Europe and North-America, I do not remember having felt so well in any of them! Many thanks to the Friends and no less to the entire staff who contributed so much to this true humanistic experience by always creating a warm, stimulating and productive environment.


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