In 1751 Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert began publishing their monumental, multi-volume work: the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Frustrated by what they saw as the excessive authority of the clergy, the monarchy and the craft guilds, and of the tendency to suppress the dissemination of knowledge from scientific and empirical study, they decided to construct a gigantic compendium of all human knowledge in hopes that it would lead to a better informed and more productive populace, freed as they would now be from superstition and ignorance. Banned in France by the king because of its exploration of politically volatile themes, the Encyclopedie was printed clandestinely in Switzerland and then smuggled section by section back to Paris. The 28th and final volume appeared in 1772. The Encyclopédie was revolutionary in its elevation of craft alongside science and the arts, while also serving as the most famous document of the French Enlightenment. It served as a catalyst for resistance to the monarchy, and ultimately the unfolding of the revolution in France.
Inspired by Diderot and D’Alembert’s courageous challenge to suppressed knowledge and scientific understanding, we present contemporary articles and musings that touch on the three facets of Diderot’s seminal work: arts, crafts and sciences.