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French and Italian Studies

The Gustave Gimon Collection on French Political Economy

imageIn 1996 the Stanford University Libraries acquired a collection of books and manuscripts that concentrate broadly on the philosophical and social foundations of economic theory in France from the late sixteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. In recognition of intensified programs in French studies at Stanford, notably the creation of the Institute for French Interdisciplinary Studies, now the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, this purchase was supported by special funding from President Gerhard Casper’s office, the Stanford University Libraries, and, most importantly, by the relatives of Gustave Gimon (1907-1991), a courageous leader of the French Resistance and a philanthropist whose sens civique was evident in a life dedicated to social responsibility and community service.

This large set of research materials is composed primarily of works in French, but within a comparative world-wide perspective that includes works on religious theory, trade with the Americas, colonial policy, and transmission of economic systems to non-European settings. It contains close to a thousand titles in approximately 1500 volumes, enlarged further by multi-volume sets or smaller internal collections that make the acquisition unique. While a small group of 73 manuscripts is included, most of the material is printed, often in ephemeral or rare successive editions. Going beyond the more predictable titles widely held in research libraries and reproduced in microform or reprint, the Gimon Collection includes carefully selected ranges of publications on related topics, bringing celebrated works together with lesser known responses and offering significant contributions to economic thinking that have often been overlooked, not fully studied, or not seen in relation to their contemporary commentaries. The collection’s unusual depth represents the lifetime effort of a private collector whose scholarship is evident in the material he assembled.

Even with its clear unifying theme, the broad range of topics reflects the fact that political economy was not formally constituted as a discipline until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Thus in its early segments, beginning with the late sixteenth century, the collection contains works touching on a variety of themes in French and European religious, political, social, cultural, and economic history. Economic questions are considered, but in a larger philosophical context. This may be seen, for example, in the many ephemeral publications on the Wars of Religion, uncommon editions of Jean Bodin’s works, and multiple viewpoints on François Hotman’s Franco-Gallia. Competing theories on the nature of monarchy and the need for constitutional limits are combined with publications relating those controversies to official decrees or remonstrances that are more obviously linked to taxation, trade, or public finance. Among the rarer titles within the early sections are the first collected edition of remonstrances against a French king (published between 1490 and 1496), a first printed edition of the Edict of Nantes, and rare early editions of Jean Bodin’s Six livres de la république.

It is in the large eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sections that the theme of political economy becomes most clearly focused. Key works on major economic debates are paired with opposing theories, most notably physiocratic and anti-physiocratic, enriched by publications with diverse perspectives on such issues as colonial theory (including studies of slavery), the concept of empire, public welfare, probabilities and statistics, trade policy (including publishing and the book trade), transportation, and agriculture. Combined, they demonstrate the interlacing of economics and political theory in the years before and after the French Revolution. Utopian speculation plays a major part in the collection, beginning with eighteenth-century responses to earlier works, such as those of Thomas More and Tommaso Campanella, and continuing in the nineteenth-century section with theories that shaped both European and American communal societies and large scale plans for sharing of wealth. There are clusters of editions and polemical publications surrounding the work of Charles Fourier, Victor Considérant, Saint-Simon, and Pierre Joseph Proudhon, as well as ephemeral editions, such as those of Flora Tristan, that are rarely found together. Journals and newspapers, especially those promoting worker’s rights, form an important part of the nineteenth-century section, with first proofs, full runs, and related publications surrounding l’Écho des travailleurs, L’Écho de la fabrique, La Phalange, and Le Nouveau monde.

The collection’s many smaller sub-collections have been listed separately on finding guides available from the curator or in the Department of Special Collections. One of the larger sets of ephemera is available as a searchable database. 

Conference and Publication

In April 2004, the Stanford University Libraries and the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, with the generous support of the Flora Family Foundation, sponsored an international conference, The Gimon Conference on French Political economy. This event brought together over 20 scholars from the US, France, and Great Britain, for 3 days of presentations and debates. The schedule of the Gimon conference is available on the Web. We anticipate publishing the papers presented at this gathering.

The Gimon conference coincided with the publication of A vast and useful art : the Gustave Gimon Collection on French Political Economy, edited by Mary Jane Parrine. Stanford University Libraries, 2004, a book containing the catalogue of the Gimon Collection of French Political Economy, as well as detailed thematic essays on its "highlights" and five essays by leading scholars. This publication is available for purchase from the SUL Department of Special Collections.

Last modified: January 23, 2008

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