An Exhibit: Diderot at 300, Making Knowledge Happen in the 18th Century

How did Diderot’s Encyclopédie “tree of knowledge” impact the making and the meaning of knowledge in the Enlightenment?

Project Abstract

The exhibit celebrated the tricentenary of Diderot's birth. Homme de lettres extraordinaire, Diderot (1713-1784) was featured in the January 24, 2013 New York Times article, Diderot, An American Exemplar? Bien sûr, to remind us that "thumbing one's nose at the establishment has been central to our own cultural and political traditions since, well, [his] time. After all, that's how we became Americans in the first place." Diderot co-edited with d'Alembert on the most daring publishing venture of the Enlightenment: the Encyclopédie, with a view to revolutionize the way people commonly thought. At the center of the exhibit, the Encyclopédie’s schematic tree of knowledge, inspired by Bacon’s own, displays the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of knowledge making in the 18th-century. Branching out into Memory, Reason, and Imagination, human understanding, orentendement is featured as the subversive key to accessing, critiquing, and creating knowledge through the disciplines emerging from these faculties – including philosophy, history, and the literary and creative arts. Arising from a cross-referencing dynamics, knowledge also comes out as a creative process bearing on the sciences as well as on the humanities.

More about this project

The above image: Encyclopedie’s frontispiece, full version. Engraving by Benoît Louis Prévost.

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