Project Vox publishes du Châtelet’s “Essay on Optics”

Project Vox, a collaboration between Duke University Libraries and the Department of Philosophy, recently announced the publication of the first English translation of Émilie Du Châtelet’s Essai sur l’Optique, or “essay on optics.” Duke doctoral student Bryce Gessell played a pivotal role in making this translation—and the transcription that preceded it—publicly available and accessible to scholars, instructors, and students worldwide. You can read more about Bryce’s work on the translation on the Duke Graduate School’s website.

Image shows handwritten text from the original manuscript
Excerpts of Emilie du Châtelet’s handwritten “Essai sur l’Optique” that were used to construct the translation. (Images courtesy of Project Vox)

Scholars have known about Du Châtelet’s Essai sur l’Optique for many years, but until recently the text has been unavailable because all copies were thought to be lost. In 1947 Ira O. Wade published the first known edition of the Essai’s fourth chapter, which was held among Voltaire’s papers in Russia. Sixty years later, Fritz Nagel, Director of the Basel Research Center of the Bernoulli Edition, discovered the first complete copy of the Essai in the Bernoulli archives in Basel. Two other complete copies, which had previously gone unnoticed, were then discovered among Du Châtelet’s surviving manuscript material.

Working with Nagel and with Duke Philosophy professor Andrew Janiak, Gessell helped produce and publish a transcription of du Châtelet’s Essai on Project Vox in 2017. The translation, more accessible to undergraduate philosophy students, helps the next generation of scholars recognize and follow the development of Châtelet’s ideas about natural philosophy.

Project Vox seeks to transform the discipline of philosophy by making the lives, works, and ideas of early modern women philosophers available for research and classroom use. Since its inception in 2014, this open educational resource has been produced by a cross-professional, cross-disciplinary, and cross-institutional team made up mostly of students, with review and advisement from philosophers worldwide. Learn more about how Duke University Libraries increase access to scholarship at ScholarWorks.duke.edu.

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