50-year project reveals new insights about the evolution and influence of Voltaire's thought

Thursday 19th May 2022, 11.42am

Among the many insights from the process of collecting and annotating Voltaire’s writings was the discovery in 2012 of 14 previously unknown letters from Voltaire. They shed new light on his stay in England in the 1720s, including the receipt of a £200 grant from the British Royal Family and his use of ‘Francis’ as an alter-ego to ‘François’.

The project team now plan to digitise the entire collection of Voltaire’s work to enable detailed analysis by scholars and researchers from all over the world. This new challenge aims to establish a new cutting-edge digital hub for the humanities in Oxford with a focus on digital research. Oxford’s Voltaire Foundation will forge ever stronger ties with other leading institutions across Europe through the Foundation’s Voltaire Lab, with partners including the Sorbonne in Paris, to share knowledge, understanding and best practice.

Professor Nicholas Cronk, Director of the Voltaire Foundation, said: ‘The completion of all 205 volumes of the Complete works of Voltaire marks a milestone in the history of the Voltaire Foundation. As we celebrate the end of this 50-year project, we also celebrate the beginning of the next chapter, in which we will explore the potential of scholarly digital editions to highlight the enduring importance and relevance of Enlightenment authors.’

The Voltaire Foundation will mark the completion of the Complete Works of Voltaire with a series of events across the year. This includes:

The Voltaire Foundation’s mission is to disseminate world-leading research into the Enlightenment, and to bring the debates of Voltaire and his contemporaries to the widest possible audience. It is part of the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford.

Xavier Darkos, Chancelier de l’Institut de France, said: ‘It seems astonishing that this work was done in Oxford rather than in France. But Voltaire based his political thinking on the English model, as Montesquieu had done before him. The philosophies, the great minds of the eighteenth century, were fascinated by the English political system. In my capacity as Chancellor of the Institute and as a member of the French Academy, I want to mark France’s gratitude for this edition of the Complete Works of Voltaire.’

The Foundation’s work also aims to offer context to some of the major issues facing the world today, as Professor Cronk continues, ‘at this fractious time in European history, the work of the Voltaire Foundation, located within humanities at the University of Oxford, may be felt to be needed more than ever, as it continues to promote and disseminate the very best of Enlightenment scholarship across a wide range of subjects, including economics, history, literature, politics and science.

‘At the heart of Enlightenment studies for over forty years, the Voltaire Foundation places democracy firmly at its heart with a keen eye to Voltaire’s European origins that helped shape his thinking. A better understanding of the Enlightenment means a better understanding of the world that we live in today.’