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The Publication of the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte

The General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte

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In 2002, the Fondation Napoléon launched its project to publish the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was jointly initiated by Baron Gourgaud, then president of the Fondation Napoléon, Thierry Lentz, director of the Fondation Napoléon, and the Fondation’s board of directors, and the first volume was published in 2004.

The project is being managed by a publishing committee for the General Correspondence of Napoleon, led by the president of the Fondation Napoléon, Victor André Masséna, Prince d’Essling. The vice-presidents are Mme Martine de Boisdeffre, conseiller d’État and Pesident of the Cour administrative d’appel de Versailles, Director of the Archives de France from 2001 to 2009, and professors and members of the Institut de France Jean-Claude Casanova and Jean Tulard.

The board of directors of the Fondation Napoléon comprises a steering committee, along with another committee responsible for the academic and editorial work, the historical committee, led by Professor Jean-Claude Casanova, member of the Institut de France.

The Fondation Napolééon is being sponsored for this project by Archives de France,the Fondation La Poste and the Service Historique de la Défense

The need for a new edition

Since the end of the French Empire, there have been numerous collections of Napoleon’s letters, which has made any study of them a lengthy and tedious process. The Correspondence published during the Second Empire, owing to its political and hagiographical nature, was in fact only a very partial synthesis, and of a corpus which was itself already very scattered. Furthermore, the selection of letters and interference with the texts by the Commission Historique rendered this a biased work, provoking a considerable volume of criticism from the moment it was published. From the 1880s onwards and throughout the 20th century, historians and archivists have laboured to complete and correct the work published during the Second Empire.

Objectives

The publishing committee for the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte has set itself several objectives:

  • to give historians and enthusiasts a single series of volumes regrouping all of Napoleon’s letters arranged in chronological order, both private and public alike, in an attempt to be as exhaustive as possible; 
  • to return to source documents so as to publish texts as close to the originals (dispatch) as possible, and to restore the integrity of the texts already published;
  • to publish the first annotated correspondence of Napoleon’s letters;
  • to revive Napoleonic studies by modernising the research tool.

Working methods and resources for an ”industrial” project

Centralising Napoleon’s thousands of letters scattered throughout France and abroad made it essential to establish a rigorous and methodical working system.

National and local archive centres in some forty countries were contacted, along with museums and associations, making nearly 200 institutions which have taken part in the project. Private collectors were also targeted in a big campaign to raise awareness of the project. Furthermore, the committee has gone through more than 350 monographs and journals, as well as the collection of sales catalogues of the French National Archives (AB XXXVIII).

The scale of this work made it essential to appeal for voluntary help. Almost 200 individuals have assisted the Fondation since the beginning of the project, and nearly 90 volunteers are currently involved in the project.

Letters are processed by some fifty voluntary "corresponding members" all passionately interested in history and Napoleonic history in particular. They come to the Fondation to work on enriching the database developed by Télécom Étude. Each letter is broken down into about twenty keywords to make it easier to manage the Correspondence. The database entries, a real pedigree of the letters, centralise all the data known about the documents: type, source, sale, publication etc., and make sure that they can be traced.

The annotation is, for its part, taken care of by former scholarship holders of the Fondation, students, historians etc. These are supervised by the volume editors who are responsible for finalising the annotations and generating the index.

Coordination of this work at the Fondation Napoléon is the task of François Houdecek, who is in turn supported by the entire body of staff at the Fondation Napoléon.

Each volume of the General Correspondence is designed to be a tool. The corpus of letters is supplemented by studies which clarify sets of themes developed in Napoleon’s correspondence. A series of appendices (maps, conversion tables, chronological tables) and three indexes (biographical, index of institutions, index of places of publication) complete each volume.

Production schedule

Since 2004, 9 volumes have been published by Editions Fayard, 40 % of which were not included in the Correspondence published under the Second Empire and 33 % of which may be considered as hitherto unpublished.

Volume I: « Les apprentissages, 1784-1797 » Thierry Lentz (ed.), working with Gabriel Madec, assisted by Emilie Barthet and François Houdecek, preface by Baron Gourgaud, President of the Fondation Napoléon, Éditions Fayard 2004.

Volume II: « La campagne d’Égypte et l’avènement, 1798-1799 », Thierry Lentz (ed.), working with Gabriel Madec, assisted by Emilie Barthet and François Houdecek, preface by Henry Laurens, Professor at the Collège de France, Éditions Fayard 2005.

Volume III: « Pacifications, 1800-1802 », Thierry Lentz (ed.), working with Gabriel Madec, assisted by d’Emilie Barthet, Irène Delage and François Houdecek, preface by Jean Tulard, of the Institut, Éditions Fayard 2006.

Volume IV: « Ruptures et fondation, 1803-1804 », François Houdecek (ed.), working with Gabriel Madec, assisted by Irène Delage and Elodie Lerner, along with Patrick Le Carvèse and Michèle Masson, preface by Thierry Lentz, Éditions Fayard 2007.

Volume V: « Boulogne, Trafalgar, Austerlitz 1805 », Michel Kerautret and Gabriel Madec (eds.), working with François Houdecek, Elodie Lerner and Irène Delage, preface by Martine de Boisdeffre, Director of the Archives de France, Éditions Fayard 2008.

Volume VI: « 1806 - Vers le Grand Empire », Michel Kerautret (ed.), working with François Houdecek, Elodie Lerner and Irène Delage, preface by Jean-Claude Casanova, Éditions Fayard 2009.

Volume VII: « 1807 - Tilsit, l'apogée de l'Empire », Michel Kerautret, Gabriel Madec (eds.), assisted by François Houdecek, Marie Baudouin and Irène Delage; preface by Victor-André Masséna, Prince d'Essling, President of the Fondation Napoléon. Éditions Fayard, 2010.

Volume VIII: « 1808 - Expansions méridionales et résistances », Gabriel Madec (ed.), assisted by François Houdecek and Marie Baudouin; preface by General Gilles Robert. Éditions Fayard, 2011.

Volume IX: « Wagram. Février 1809 - Février 1810 », Patrice Gueniffey (ed.) with Michel Inglebert, assisted by François Houdecek, Soléna Cheny and Irène Delage; preface by Michel Kerautret. Éditions Fayard, 2013.

Volume XII: « La campagne de Russie 1812  », Thierry Lentz (ed.), assisted by François Houdecek and Irène Delage; preface by Marie-Pierre Rey. Éditions Fayard, 2012.

Another 4 volumes (making a grand total of 14) are planned, which will make public more than 40,000 letters. Later, the Fondation plans to publish a digital version.

Volume
Date limits
Editor
Volume 10
March 1810 - March 1811
Annie Jourdan
Volume 11
April - December 1811
-
Volume 13
January - August 1813
André Palluel-Guillard
Volume 14
September 1813 - 1821
Vincent Haegele, Jacques Macé

Project reports from year to year

See also

 

 

 

 
 
 

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