Using the Gustave Gimon Collection on French Political Economy, a scholar's report

September 6, 2017
Sarah B Sussman

2017 marks the 10th year of the Gustave Gimon Visiting Scholar Fellowship at Stanford Libraries, during which time 22 scholars outside of Stanford have had the opportunity to use the materials in the Gustave Gimon Collection of French Political Economy. The Gimon collection, acquired by the library in 1996 and named in honor of the donor's father, Gustave Gimon, a hero of the French Resistance, contains almost 1000 items documenting the development of political and economic ideas in France from the 16th-19th centuries. The collection contains foundational works grappling with issues such as sovereignty and the role of religion in the state. Other works propose theories and offer practical guides for trade and commerce, agriculture and land economy, labor and work conditions, and the creation of ideal societies. Particular strengths include works by the Physiocratic thinkers of the 18th century and socialist theorists of the early 19th century, just before Marx. The Gimon Collection gave a big boost to the already strong holdings in this area. In the years since the initial acquisition we have added many complementary materials that further enhance the research possibilities and uniqueness of Stanford Library's collections in French political economy.

Dr. Simon Macdonald of the Institut des études avancées in Paris is the most recent Gimon Fellow. Dr. Macdonald spent a month working in Special Collections in support of his research on British expatriates in France in the 18th century, and the political and economic questions regarding foreigners' status more generally.  What he found in the collections kept him very busy. I've excerpted below some selections from his final report that convey his excitement about the materials in the Gimon collection, and in Special Collections more generally, and how they contribute to his findings: 

This 4-week Gimon fellowship supported research towards the completion of my book project on British expatriates in eighteenth-century Paris, based on my PhD (Cambridge University). This work revolves around the British presence in France, and larger questions regarding foreigners’ status. It argues that the changing fortunes of Britons in France offers a key index for the redrawing of the political boundaries of inclusion and exclusion for foreigners during the old regime, the French Revolution, and beyond.

Much of my time as a Gimon fellow has been given to working through published and manuscript contributions to political economy debate in eighteenth-century France, in which the Gimon collection is so conspicuously strong, and following reference therein to Britain — or a supposed ‘British’ model of political economy and administrative frameworks — as a point of comparison. Broadly, at the start of the eighteenth century, concern with the British comparison was conspicuous mainly by its absence. For instance, it receives only a low profile in the anonymous manuscript ‘Idée générale du commerce’ [MISC CODEX 0040] (undated, but likely 1706 or shortly thereafter). By the later eighteenth century, however, reference to Britain was becoming ubiquitous, whether as a model to be followed or rejected, but always as a competitor to be evaluated. Concern to take the British model seriously rose especially steeply following France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War. For example it is discussed prominently in d’Argenson’s Considérations sur le gouvernement ancien et présent de la France, comparé avec celui des autres états (1764, with a ‘second edition’ in 1784 [JN2344 .A74 1784]); and in manuscript works such as Marc de Villiers’s remarkable ‘Mémoires concernant les finances’ [MSS CODEX 0080 F]. In Necker’s Compte rendu au Roi de l’Etat des Finances (1781), the British comparison was again the essential point of reference and object of emulation. (The de Villiers collection of Necker material was particularly interesting on this point [MSS CODEX 0081].)

More specifically, given the themes of my own work, I have been particularly keen to follow how Franco–British comparison paid attention to exchange or transfers of individuals, socio–economic groups, and ideas between Britain and France. The case of John Law — himself France’s most famous British immigrant, and whose policy ideas were partly presented as drawing on but also exceeding British experience — presents various of these themes in a nutshell. Another particular object of study has been Turgot’s first published work, Questions importantes sur le commerce (1755 [DP762 .G68 1756]), a French translation of a pro-immigration tract by Josiah Tucker, with Turgot arguing France too could profit from Tucker’s prescriptions.

Besides exchange of political economic ideas between Britain and France, another focus of my work has been on records of individual transnational careers between Britain and France. As with the case of Law, some of these figures were themselves also involved in Franco–British policy debates. Most, however, represent individuals involved in the praxis and phenomena of cross-Channel exchange. Particularly valuable collections in this respect have been the Lee family papers [M0220], which includes much material relating to leisured travel in France during the later eighteenth century; the Hussey papers [M1418], which provide a case-study regarding Franco–Irish and Franco–British exchange around military service . A major collection of French administrative records [M1368] provided insights into questions relating to the management of British prisoners-of-war in France. The ‘general ephemera’ holdings of the Gustave Gimon Collection [M0910] were also very valuable in this regard. Various other Stanford manuscript holdings touch on British visitors to France and larger patterns of Franco–British exchange to which their trajectories related. Examples include a 1782 letter from the British Foreign Secretary Charles James Fox to Thomas Walpole, resident in Paris, regarding colonial territories and investments whose jurisdiction shifted between Britain and France at this period [MISC 1657]; a 1791 letter from the novelist Charlotte Smith, then living between France and Britain, to her London publishers [MISC 1604]; a record relating to the policing of British expatriates in France at the time of the French Revolution, involving Grace Elliott [MISC 2034]; and letters from London and Paris in 1794–6 written by the American visitor Enoch Edwards [MISC 2040]. Stanford also holds an interesting annotated copy of de Vattel’s Le droit des gens (1758 [JX2414 .A1 1758]) which formerly belonged to the English seminary at Paris (which was suppressed during the French Revolution).

In conclusion, the Gimon and wider Stanford collections have provided outstanding and unique research resources for my book project, and my wider research interests, and the Gimon fellowship has allowed me to draw on this exceptionally rich material which is of essential value to my work. The Gimon fellowship has allowed me to meet and engage with Stanford-based researchers with research interests in related areas (including professors such as Giovanna Ceserani, Dan Edelstein, Paula Findlen; and doctoral students such as Erik L. Johnson). Finally, I should like to thank the Gimon Collection Visiting Fellowship scheme, the Stanford University Libraries Special Collections and its staff, and above all the Stanford curators — especially Dr Sarah Sussman — who have done so much to make this fellowship such a fruitful and enjoyable one for me. 


Sarah B Sussman

Sarah B Sussman

Curator, French and Italian Collections
Head, Humanities and Area Studies Resource Group