Rediscovering our origins and our cultural heritage

In Québec, the libraries of many of our university, religious and cultural institutions contain a wealth of early written works dating back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately, many of these works are unknown, not only to the general public, but to researchers as well, because they have never been indexed. In order to make this rich cultural heritage accessible to Quebecers, Claude La Charité of Université du Québec à Rimouski and the Canada Research Chair in Literary History, directs a team of researchers who are affiliated with the Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and the Cercle interuniversitaire d'études sur la République des Lettres, with whom he has undertaken to carry out an exhaustive inventory of all of the documents printed in Québec before 1800. "Printed documents" is understood to mean all works of which multiple copies were published for the purposes of dissemination. Handwritten documents, whose particularity is that they usually exist in only one single copy, are not included in this definition.

This research project has led to the development of a central catalogue in which the records of all early printed works are collected.

Since 2004, graduate students from Université du Québec à Rimouski and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières have been criss-crossing Québec, collecting the information needed to catalogue these documents. This information, which includes the edition, the format and the owner(s) of each work, is used to create the bibliographic records that make up the inventory. The researchers have called on experts in library science and antique books at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), to help them guide the students in their endeavours. This research project has led to the development of a central catalogue in which the records of all early printed works are collected. This catalogue is now accessible on the Aleph virtual platform of Université du Québec.

On the longer term, this important research project aims to draw a detailed portrait of Québec's literary culture and to educate governmental and private authorities about the importance of preserving early works. Indeed, a 2001 report by the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition Féminine insisted that "inventories, registers and directories must be given renewed importance as tools of knowledge". The researchers hope that their work will help to better document the circulation of books before the 19th century, in order to improve our understanding of the knowledge networks that developed in early teaching institutions and the concerns that have stimulated our intellectual history since the days of Nouvelle-France. In so doing, the project should greatly contribute to increasing and refining our historical and cultural knowledge of Nouvelle-France, and provide Quebecers with better knowledge and understanding of their origins and their heritage.