The strength of the 18th-century French holdings at Cornell is based on the foundation laid in 1891 by Andrew Dickson White with the gift of his collection of French Revolutionary pamphlets, books, manuscripts, newspapers, and prints. Since White's time, major additions have continued to extend the range and depth of original 18th-century French materials at Cornell, many of them made possible through the generosity of Arthur H. Dean and Mary Marden Dean, his wife. Currently the collections are comprised of over 18,000 pamphlets and books, 16,000 manuscripts, 2,400 prints and maps, and 135 newspaper titles. In addition to the White Collection, they include the Lafayette Collection, the Lavoisier Collection, the LaForte Archive, the Maurepas Collection, and the Ben Grauer Collection. As a whole, the collections offer an unparalleled opportunity for the intensive study of 18th- and early 19th-century France and present extraordinary strengths for research on the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic period, and the Restoration.
The collection is strongest in the areas of economy and finance, the Revolutionary government, and Revolutionary culture, with unusual strength in popular culture. In the area of economy and finance, it covers topics including agriculture, with material on the physiocrats, transport and customs, food, and prices; paper currency reform, with much material on the assignats, and some on counterfeiting; the biens nationaux; and taxation, including the clerical tax, seigneurial dues, aristocratic privileges, the cahiers de doléances, and the reforms of the night of August 4, 1789.
Materials on the Revolutionary government include laws and other documents from the Estates General, the National Assemblies, the National Convention, and other bodies at the national, département, and local levels, including all the various constitutions drawn up in the course of the Revolution, as well as documents on poor relief, divorce, representation, suffrage, despotism, conspiracies, accusations, denunciations, the monarchy, and the nobility. Also included are materials on Catholicism, including the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the théophilanthropes, and non-juring clergy; and on political culture, including the impact of the Enlightenment, popular culture, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Bastille, martyrs and oaths, revolutionary festivals, and education.
Other topics covered include political rights, including the political clubs, the Third Estate, freedom of the press, and detention; France's colonies, including the slavery question; war and foreign affairs, including material on the navy and especially the army; and events in the Vendée and Toulon, with material on royalists and émigrés. Local government materials focus especially on Paris, Toulon, and Strasbourg.
The Maurepas Collection, Lafayette Collection, LaForte Archive, and Lavoisier Collection provide rich manuscript documentation of the years immediately preceding the Revolution, while the Charles X Collection and Lafayette Collection add significantly to the coverage of the Restoration period.