Club de la propagande

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Over three decades ago, while working with the splendid French Revolution Collection (FRC) at the Newberry Library in Chicago, I came across one of those entertaining little finds that stick in your memory and makes working in great research library so worthwhile.  Came across is not quite right, since the librarians at the Newberry had begun working on a database catalog of the collection, starting with the anonymous texts from the FRC.  Searching for "Club" in this early database, which I recall was running on a stand-alone IBM-PC/AT from that epoch, generated a list of titles which included a document which I probably would not have found using standard printed catalogues such as Tourneux's Bibliographie... .   The Dénonciation a toutes les puissances de l'Europe : d'un plan de conjuration contre sa tranquilité général (link), is a right wing attack on the Société de 1789, a political club founded by Condorcet and Sieyès in 1790[1].  

What stuck in my mind for all these many years is the basis of the attack; that the "Club de la Propagande" was part of an American plan to destabilize the thrones of Europe with the ultimate objective of subjugating the old world to the new:

Elle qu'une légère vapeur qui s'élève du sein de la mer, comme le vestige d'un homme, attire du plus loin tous les nuages étendus dans l'air, se condense, s'obscurcit, & éclate enfin en une furieuse tempête ; tel on a vu le spectre pâle & maigre de l’insurrection, sortant d'une terre ingrate, & du milieu d'enfans rebelles parricides, croître & s'élever en un colonne fastueux, qui, posant un de ses pieds sur l'hémisphere qui l'enfanta, essaya de l'autre de franchir l'Océan, pour porter ses ravages sur celui-ci; & comme si l’Amérique avoir encore plus à se plaindre qu'à se louer de l'Europe, elle a envoyé l'anarchie à celle-ci, pour prix du soin qu’elle a pais de la civiliser.
    C'est elle qui est le berceau des convulsions qui commencent à agiter notre continent; c'est-là qu'est né le projet de soumettre l'ancien au nouveau monde ... (link)

Like all good political invective, there were some grains of truth to the attack.  The Société was no doubt rather pro-American in its orientation naming, for example,  Franklin, mentioned by name in the Dénonciation, as an honorary member.  The anonymous author identifies the root cause of all of the disorders in France and Europe are due to the contagion liberal ideas.

Les monstres! Ils ont égaré le peuple par deux mots l’ont toujours rendu la dupe des fourbes = égalité, & désobéissance = l’un, ils le lui on présenté comme un droit naturel. L’autre, comme,  un moyen légitime d’y rentrer. = II ne connoit  pas, ce malheureux peuple, le pouvoir magique  de ces deux mots, qui ont couvert la terre de crimes & de sang, qui ont rendu son séjour un objet d’horreur pour la vertu[?], & qui lui font, à la fin, désirer à lui-même un remede qu’il abhorre.
To insure that his readers were precisely able to identify the source of the conspiracy, the author attached a 10 page extract from  Sieyès'  Ébauche d'un nouveau plan de société patriotique, adopté par le Club de mil sept cent quatre-vingt-neuf  (BNF) which includes a discussion of l'art social as well as elements of the club's formal organization.  

The good folks at the Newberry produced a photocopy of this little treasure shortly after, which I squirreled away in my files and have kept, along with the charge slips and other notes, to this day.  Yes, I should provide seriously consider cleaning out the old paper files at one point.  

I had occasion to revisit this text several years ago, almost three decades after my first reading, in a completely different context.  In 2016-7, the Newberry Library made the entire collection available in digital format.  The release on Github consists of Library’s exceptional metadata describing each object, the OCR text data, and links to the digital facsimiles accessible from the Internet Archive, encouraging researchers and instructors to incorporate the digital collection in new kinds of scholarship and engagement.  In 2018, the ARTFL Project, in collaboration with the Newberry, released two versions of the collection under PhiloLogic4 (link).  The collection has also been extremely valuable as a corpus to test various new applications based on sequence alignment and machine learning.  In this course of this work, I was pleased to find the Dénonciation was indeed included in this collection.  

Part of our experimental work in developing the Intertextual Hub, is the deployment of various text mining and machine learning algorithms to a number of large heterogeneous collections.  As I was preparing a presentation on some of this work, I looked up the Dénonciation once more, to observe that the first topic listed in the citation is topic 34, the top words of which are: "election electeur nomination assemblee scrutin majorite elu choix membre votant" (accents removed).  Closer examination of the topic model for this document reveals pretty much the kinds of subjects that I had recalled:

With the notable exception of the first topic, number 34.  This unexpected topic sent me back to the text itself for the first time in decades, reminding me that significant parts of the Dénonciation contains an almost comically complex description of the election process of members taken from Sieyès'  Ébauche... . Here is just part of the involved process to elect members, the number of whom would be limited to 660:

Il est d'une bonne vue de donner au plus grand nombre possible des membres, la facilité de prendre part aux scrutins, afin qu'ils soient d'autant mieux le résultat de la volonté générale ; en conséquence on pourroit régler, que chaque scrutin se fera en quatre parties ; savoir, au premier & au deuxieme jours , & au quinze & au seize de chaque mois; de maniéré que le scrutin commence le matin du premier du mois ; par exemple , depuis onze heures jusqu'à midi , le soir pour ceux qui n'auroient pas pu se présenter le matin; le même scrutin continueroit le lendemain matin, ne se terminera que le, soir. Alors seulement on feroit le recensement. Pour prévenir les abus , il suffiroit que les feuilles de papier , remises aux membres fussent signées par un commissaire , qu'en recevant sa feuille , chaque membre s'inscrivit , ou fut inscrit par un commissaire; on connaîtroit par-là le nombre des feuilles données , ceux qui ont reçu la leur. Il faudrait encore que la boëte du scrutin fut fermée à clef, & qu’on ne pût en rien tirer jusqu’au moment du recensement.  (emphasis mine)

Trying to determine the "general will" just might well require such care and management of election procedures, but I have to admit that I wondered if I had missed the joke the first time around.  Was this a spoof of Condorcet's electoral combinatorics?  

Alas, you can't make this stuff up.  Or at least the author of the 
Dénonciation did not have to. The current version of the Intertextual Hub is based on a number of collections and the system provides two links to the original text by Sieyès. The Topic Model representation of the Dénonciation in the Hub
shows 2 parts of the Ebauche as being the top 2 most similar documents by a measure of vocabulary.  

It is followed by Condorcet's constitutional proposal of 1793.  The document read function of the Hub isolates numerous borrowed passages from the Ébauche

 The system allows the reader to compare two passages side by side to examine just how closely related they are.  

It is important to note that Sieyès' Ébauche is not part of the Newberry French Revolution collection, but is contained in the Goldsmiths-Kress collection of French works related to political economy.  The different techniques employed in our implementation of the Intertextual Hub, lexical density and sequence alignment, gave two different avenues to indicate the the two documents are related.  Being contained in different collections is important in itself. The Dénonciation does not have internal divisions (chapters or sections) while the  Ébauche does. Thus similar documents function from Dénonciation the does not find the Ébauche, because it is treated as parts of a document.  To find various potential points of contact between documents, we use various measures which are complementary and necessary, since we are trying to find relationships between items that are not all the same.  Thus, some of the complexity of the Hub is an artifact of treating huge numbers of heterogeneous documents.

My long, very intermittent, relationship with Dénonciation a toutes les puissances de l'Europe..., a minor text if ever there was one, is illustrative of the progress I believe we have seen over the last three decades in digital humanities. I first found it as part of an experimental bibliographic database in the late 1980s and able to access it only in person and store it as a photocopy. Decades later, it became a small part of an extraordinary collection, searchable as both excellent metadata and uncorrected OCR text. Our current work reflected in the Intertextual Hub, is to build and environment which can draw connections between documents across collections, using the power of distant reading tools to help navigate and elucidate closer considerations of even minor texts.

1   Mark Olsen, "A Failure of Enlightened Politics in the French Revolution: the Société de 1789" in French History 6 (1992): 303-34. (DOI)

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Topic Models in the Intertextual Hub


ARTFL’s NEH funded Intertextual Bridges project is an effort to facilitate distant and close readings across a large heterogeneous set of collections of 18th century French documents. These range from Revolutionary pamphlets and newspapers to the great works of Enlightenment in the original French as well as translations of many English texts. This post and associated slide show (see below), will provide an overview of the many ways which we attempt to use topic models as a way to search and navigation the collections. In two previous blog posts, Tracing Revolutionary Discourses
and Modeling Revolutionary Discourse, we provided an overview of some the development implementations and offered some initial observations arising from our use of topic models in this effort.  While the description of the procedures and implementation of both posts are reasonably current, we have made significant progress in the intervening months.  Thus, our discussion of Topic Models in this post builds upon our previous posts.  

The Intertextual Hub ( makes extensive use of Topic Models to provide search services, analytics and one form of document navigation[1].  This is an extension of the TopoLogic package which functions as an add-on to ARTFL's PhiloLogic4 text analysis system.   Topic Models are generated by invoking the ARTFL Text Preprocessing Library (ATPL), to extract metadata and word data from the standard representations generated by PhiloLogic4. This allows us to use PhiloLogic4 services to support navigation back to the text. The ATPL supports the treatment of files as either entire documents or as collections of sub-units depending on the available data markup and has a variety of NLP, normalization, and other parameters that can be adjusted for tasks such as Topic Modeling.  For Hub Topic Models, we use modernized unigram nouns longer than 2 letters.  These are directed to the TopoLogic generator which supports another layer of vector parameters, typically using NMF vectors with TF-IDF weightings.  For the primary topic model in the Hub, we selected to use 150 topics across all of the collections, which seem to give the best balance of reasonably coherent topics and number of obscure or meaningless topics.  In addition, we generated two Topic Models of 100 topics each using the same parameters based on documents from 1700-1788 and 1789-1799, which we believe will facilitate exploration of topics from each period. 

It is important to note that the tuning of Topic Models is based on selection and application of a large number of parameters, from number of topics to which words to use, which change the nature of the resulting topics significantly.  These judgements are based to a certain degree on what we expect to observe.  
For example, a topic which contains "citoyen patrie petition commune concitoyen secours moyen defenseur arrete magistrat" (accents removed) as the most heavily weighted terms, quite reasonably, as shown in the graph, is found to be most heavily weighted during the years of the Revolution.  This reliance on expected results, even though they may be perfectly reasonable, does point to a significant limitation of the approach.  Topic Models are extremely useful heuristics which can help summarize and navigate the contents of large collections, but should be used with due care as they can reflect parameter selection in ways that can skew results in various ways. 

The Intertextual Hub, offers several ways to use Topic Models.  From the top down, as it were, with the ability to navigate the collections starting with topics as well as the ability to select the top weighted terms from any of the 150 topics restricted by any available bibliographic data (dates, authors, collections, etc.) returning a list of documents (which may be parts of documents or entire texts depending on available encoding) ordered by relevance to the query.  Just as important, however, is the ability to identify the most important topics for any document and to find other texts that share the same topic distributions which is another way to measure how similar the documents are.  

As shown in the last few slides above, we have included two 100 topic Models derived using the same parameters from documents predating the Revolution and those from 1789-1799.  
These are both full installations of Topologic and not directly linked to the Intertextual Hub.   Users may block copy topic words from one Model and apply these to the full set of documents using the Search and Retrieval functions of the Hub. Some topics, such as 77 from the Revolutionary Model  (pont, canal, ingenieur, navigation, riviere, chaussee, travail, construction, reparation, devis), are probably not significantly different from the ancien régime considerations.  Other topics, however, are more clearly identified as having Revolutionary concerns.  Topic 46 of the Revolutionary 100 (election, scrutin, nomination, electeur, suffrage, majorite, liste, membre, votant, pluralite) reflect contemporary concerns.  Searching for this list of words in documents from 1700-1787 (run search), returns an interesting list of documents, the first six of which are chapters from La Rochefoucauld's Constitutions des treize États-Unis de l'Amérique (1783)

Running one's eye down the list of documents suggests suggests that the discourse regarding elections found its origins in a number of examples from England, the emerging US states, and some other European states.   There is also an interesting mix of well know names, Rousseau and Voltaire, authors who would become better known during the Revolution such as Brissot, and numerous less known writers.  

The Intertextual Hub is designed to offer potentially interesting texts to consider.  We employ Topic Models to provide granular search across the collections as well as to point to similar documents based on the current context.  Finally, we can track topics derived from documents of a later period, to early instances, potentially revealing connections that can offer new evaluations of these texts.  


[1] There is an extensive literature on the use of topic models in digital humanities including JDH 2012.  

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Reading the Bibliothèque de l'homme public in the Hub

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The Intertextual Hub ( is an NEH funded project to develop a reading environment that aims to situate specific documents in their broader context of intertextual relations, whether in the form of direct or indirect borrowings, shared topics with other texts or parts of texts, or other kinds of lexical similarity. Relationships discovered by text mining algorithms among texts in large, heterogeneous collections can fruitfully inform and guide traditional close-reading approaches.  

The document collections in the Intertextual Hub can approached in several ways. Viewed from the top or most abstract level, one may search the entire set of collections for specific topics or themes (see related discussion) What follows here is, is an examination of a specific document or a set of documents from, as it were, the bottom up. Using the Bibliothèque de l’homme public (BHP) as a point of departure we are interested in aspects of reading the document which include:
  • similar passage identification, such as reuses, citations, paraphrasing,
  • identification of similar chapters, parts and selections, and,
  • thematic and semantic relationships between documents. 
All of these relationships are established from wider patterns identified by techniques generally known as distant reading. The slides shown below present a step by step itinerary of how one can navigate in the Hub starting from a single document.

The BHP was published between February 1790 and April 1792 by Condorcet and several others, spanning some 28 tomes.  The full title gives an indication of the nature of the project: Bibliothèque de l'homme public et Analyse raisonnée des principaux ouvrages français et étrangers sur la politique en général, la législation, les finances, la police, l'agriculture et le commerce en particulier, et sur le droit naturel et public.  (BNF Link
It was one of numerous efforts by Condorcet to contribute to public instruction and he published a number of pieces, most notably his Cinq Mémoires sur l'instruction publique (1791) and the discussion of Smith referenced below.  As Tourneux notes, however that his role was not clearly defined: 
Barbier l'attribue à l'abbé Balestrier de Canilhac, dont le nom ne figure ni sur les titres, ni dans les avant-propos. Celui de Peyssonnel disparait au tome VI et Condorcet est seul nommé à partir du tome XI. Ce recueil, qui avait pour but de mettre autant que possible la science du gouvernement et de l'administration à la portée de tout le monde.... (Tourneux, Vol 2 p. 648).

While the BHP was aimed the education and raising awareness of newly minted French citizens by publishing the "analysis of well-known works, both ancient and modern.” (Faccarello-Steiner 2002, p. 82), it was not always well received as noted in the Journal des révolutions, 1790, VII, p. 9-10 link):

Bibliothèque de l'homme public, par MM. de Condorcet, Chapelier et Peyssonnel ; le premier n'y travaillera point, le second n'y travaillera guère ; le dernier est vieux et cacochyme, il est froid et lent, deux qualités que n'avaient point Bayle, le Clerc et l'abbé Prévost.

It featured extended discussions and extracts of numerous French, English as well as classical authors, including major figures such as Aristotle, Machiavel, Bodin, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Montesquieu, and Hume, as well a contemporary figures such as Mirabeau and Raynal and lesser known authors such as Guicciardini.  While generally expository, not all of the discussions were intended to be positive:

La vivacité naturelle à l'esprit françois, l'économie du tems , l'ennui qu'entraîne un long ouvrage sur des matières, aussi sérieuses, le caractère national, tout concourt à nous faire adopter la méthode Analytique. [...]  On fera connoître aussi tous les ouvrages relatifs à ce plan, à mesure qu'ils paroîtront: on se permettra même des réflexions critiques, sans toutefois blesser l'amour-propre des auteurs: la malignité aigrit, & n'éclaire pas mieux qu'elle ne corrige.  (Bib homme public, 1790, vol 1 pp. vi & viii)
Smith's Wealth of Nations, for example, is extensively covered, taking up some 220 pages of the BHP. Diatkine (1993) argues that the summary is "very inaccurate", going on to suggest 
[T]he summary published by Bibliotheque de I'Homme Public is the Wealth of Nations minus the 'Invisible Hand'. This shortcoming is too systematic to be attributed to a casualness of approach or to technical difficulties. We are in the presence paradox: here is a book which seems to be very important, yet completely misunderstood. (pp 219-220)
The (BHP) is a highly intertextual collection with a significant number of direct and indirect references to a large number of major authors as well as relatively minor texts. It reflects a distillation and selection of late Enlightenment views on the nature of government and society.  Reading the BHP in the context of the Intertextual Hub allows one to navigate this collection with an eye to the intellectual inheritance and as well as later influences of the authors and texts had during the Revolution.

There are, of course, a great number of texts in the collects deployed in the Intertextual Hub that have many borrowed, reused, or paraphrased passages that can be identified.  For example, the two volume  Les délassemens d'un homme d'esprit, ou nouveau recueil de pensées amusantes, extraites des meilleurs auteurs (1780) is made up of numerous extracts (link to search) organized by theme or subject, such as chapters on SPECTACLES and JALOUSIE.  

This post will be followed by others which we hope will outline the various search and navigation facilities of the Intertextual Hub with a focus on step itineraries from specific starting points.  

Please do post comments below or email us at  


Diatkine D. (1993), "A French Reading of the Wealth of Nations in 1790". In: Mizuta H., Sugiyama C. (eds) Adam Smith: International Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, London.  (DOI)

Faccarello, Gilbert and Steiner, Philippe. 2002. The diffusion of the work of Adam Smith in French Language. In Tribe, Keith (ed.), A Critical Bibliography of Adam Smith, London, Pickering and Chatto, pp. 61-119 (link)

Tourneux, M., Bibliographie de l'histoire de Paris pendant la Révolution française, Paris 1890-1913 (BNF)

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