As might be expected in a state with a strong and longstanding connection to all things French, LSU Libraries Special Collections in Hill Memorial Library houses a wide range of French-language materials, dating from the 16th century to the present. Louisiana’s French heritage is amply represented in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, the largest accumulation of Louisiana-related materials in existence. Books, manuscripts, newspapers, maps, and pre-1865 state documents reflect Louisiana’s historical ties to France and other French-speaking areas in the Americas, as well as the use of the French language in Louisiana through hundreds of years. Beyond the Louisiana context, significant French materials are also found in the Rare Book Collection, the McIlhenny Natural History Collection, and the Laughlin Collection, in subjects including literature, history, science and technology, and the visual arts.
LSU students and faculty in French Studies make use of Special Collections materials to enrich course experiences, as well as for research. Louisiana-related French holdings, particularly manuscripts, also attract scholars from throughout the United States and abroad. French materials are regularly featured in Special Collections exhibits and smaller displays prepared for conference groups and other visitors. Family and personal papers, business records, and records of various organizations document the lives and activities of French speakers in Louisiana from the 18th century to modern times. Some of these manuscripts have been digitized and made available online to a worldwide audience via the Louisiana Digital Library and the award-winning Free People of Color project site. In 2009, presenters from several countries who participated in a symposium organized by LSU’s Center for French and Francophone Studies were able to study French manuscript letters from multiple collections housed in Hill Memorial Library entirely via the digital site before coming to Baton Rouge for the symposium.
A wide variety of subjects can be explored among published French materials in Special Collections. There are facsimiles of medieval manuscripts held in French libraries or produced in France; early French dictionaries printed in the 16th century; French accounts of voyages of discovery in the Americas and other parts of the world; 18th-century cookbooks; Denis Diderot’s revolutionary Encyclopédie; works on French history; the monumental Description de l’Égypte published after Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt; 19th-century French periodicals; and works of 20th-century French surrealist writers and artists. Literary works by 19th-century Louisiana Francophone writers are here, as well as modern poetry by authors associated with the Cajun French revival of recent times, and even children’s books featuring Clovis Écrevisse (Clovis Crawfish). The world of French is always accessible at LSU Libraries Special Collections. Venez voir!