About the Project

The Esternay Project

Based upon resources provided by Catherine Hennequin-Libert  (Resource Associate) and research conducted by Carl Weiner, The Esternay Project is directed by Professors Carl Weiner and Scott Carpenter (Carleton College)  Professor Daniel Ringrose (Minot State University) and Associate Professor Lynn Sharp (Whitman College) with the programming assistance of Aaron Miller and Bruce Duffy. The site is available for use by students, teachers and researchers.

The archive currently contains 870 transcribed letters  of which 335 have their scanned in originals. English translations have been provided for 185 of the letters. Additional transcripts, scans and translations are constantly being added to the site.  The core of the collection is the familial, business, political and patronage correspondence of  three generations of Poirrier notaries and landowners who lived in the town of Esternay (Marne) about 100 km from Paris.  Jean François Poirrier, Louis François Poirrier and Alfred Poirrier  consecutively held office at the municipal, cantonal, departmental and  national level from the time of the French Revolution down to the death in 1898 of Alfred Poirrier.  Apart from the letters of  these men and the Poirrier women (Louise Eulalie Poirrier, Sophie Guillemain Poirrier and Denise Poirrier) and their friends and kin, the archive contains a selection from a much larger mass of notarial documents including the correspondence of  various clients of the notarial office of Alfred, his father and his grand-father . We have also included a small sample of items from  the documentary remains of Alfred's political and administrative career (at his death,  he was vice-president of the conseil départemental of the Marne and a sitting senator) which provide insights into the everyday workings of power and politics in the first three decades of the III Republic. Aside from the personal letters of the family, our site now offers only a sample of what could be included in a much expanded version of the Esternay Project (roughly four thousand more letters, drafts and administrative correspondence could be added to the site) but even so we believe the site can serve as a  window into the lives of French men and women as they lived through what was certainly one of the most tumultuous periods in their nation's history.

The goals behind the project are multiple:

  • to make available to students and researchers a unique archive of personal and professional letters spanning nearly the entire nineteenth century.
  • to test the concept of a virtual archive, in which databases and hyperlinks are harnessed to create a vast and potentially infinitely cross-referenced resource.
  • to provide insights into private and professional life in provincial France, as well as oblique looks at so-called "big event" history, as viewed by minor players and spectators -- for example, in series of letters dealing with the revolutions of  1830 and 1848, or war, invasion and flight in 1814 as the first Bonaparte's empire crumbles or in 1870-71 as these catastrophes recur, this time with the siege of Paris, when the empire of  Napoleon III  suffers the same fate.
  • to attempt to create a unique cooperative of students and researchers. Many of the letters were transcribed and translated by undergraduates at Carleton College. It is our hope that other students and researchers will not just use the archive, but that they will want to participate in improving and expanding it. Hundreds of letters remain to be entered, and many translations require editing and annotation. (If you would like to request editorial access to the archive, please contact us.