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Database receives boost from Mellon Foundation

By : Katie Ellis

A $40,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been awarded to Binghamton University to support the “Image of France” project, a documentary database for all prints authorized for commercial distribution in Paris between 1811 and 1880.

“Image of France” offers a fundamental resource for study of the 19th century visual culture of France by enumerating all of the visual prints that were publicly announced and recorded in Napoleon Bonaparte’s official journal, the Bibliographie de la France.

“The Bibliographie de la France was begun to record the publication of books,” said George McKee, humanities bibliographer, who directs the project. “It surveiled, monitored and regulated the book trade under Bonaparte, but it served the second purpose of censoring and intimidating publishers. The law required that every print be documented and deposited in the national library.”

McKee began work on the database in 1994; it is currently complete from 1811 to 1830 and comprised of about 19,000 entries. The Mellon Foundation grant will allow the work to continue through 1880, to include nearly 100,000 entries documenting almost half a million prints.

The project has fascinated McKee since the beginning. “Before we had electronic images, this is what people consumed,” he said. “We make so much of Impressionism in art, and this is the basis of that. This is what people actually saw. It’s history itself and so much of it remains unknown.”

McKee has worked with colleagues from France to review and enrich the database and will continue to work with them to carry the project forward. He sees the completed project as one that will move beyond the world of scholarship.

“The open-endedness of this project is thrilling,” he said. “It’s not just for academics. Anyone interested in old prints can use this. Never before have we been able to put precise dates on these prints. Now, we’ll be able to.”

The searchable web site for the project can be viewed at
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Last Updated: 10/14/08