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The project explores the lives and social networks of individuals in the town of Angoulême in the eighteenth century.



    The Angoulême project uses parish records, as well as notarial, judicial, and tax records, in an historical inquiry into different connections between individuals and families. It includes individuals who entered into the historical record only fleetingly, in the birth, marriage and death registers of the small parishes of the town. Angoulême was, in Honoré de Balzac's description, a place of "the most fatal immobility." To become unprovincial, in Les illusions perdues, was to "se désangoulêmer," or to "de-Angoulêmize oneself." The scenes of provincial life that are shown on this website are the depiction of a different and less enclosed universe, and of a society on the move; of individuals and their social relationships.

    The project explores information about individuals in Angoulême in two ways. First, it provides an overview of everyone who appears in the records of the central parishes of the town in a single year, 1764. This overview, which can be found under the heading "1764," makes it possible to investigate some longstanding questions in social and demographic history from new perspectives. In particular, it seeks to place individuals within their own social networks as well as within demographic categories. Second, the project presents a number of micro-histories about individuals and groups in the town, and about the occasions for exchanges of information by which they constituted their social lives. The micro-histories are located under the heading "Scenes." The site seeks to connect these stories or scenes to the large-scale information about Angoulême in 1764, a connection made most explicitly in the final graph of the site entitled "Micro-histories in Context." It is an attempt to connect the micro and the macro, by exploring the continuing relations between individuals and the changing society that they comprised.

    Honoré de Balzac, Les illusions perdues (Paris, 1974), 56, 176.


    The most important sources for the project are the GG series of registers for the fourteen Catholic parishes of Angoulême, over the period 1571-1792, and the état civil registers for the period beginning 1793. These records are available at the Archives Municipales d'Angoulême (AM-A), 33 Avenue Jules Ferry, 16000 Angoulême. Almost all the registers are available online. In a few cases, we have also consulted the duplicate registers available in the 3E series at the Archives Départementales of the Charente (AD-C), 24, Avenue Gambetta, 16000 Angoulême. Some of the Angoulême registers, together with registers for other towns and villages in the department, are available here.

    The very extensive notarial records for Angoulême, on which the project also draws – there are records of eighty-one different notaries in the town over the course of the eighteenth century – are available in the 2E series at the AD-C. Judicial records for the period ending 1792 are in the B1 series in the AD-C, and records for the revolutionary period in series L. There are detailed tax rolls for 1763 and 1765 available in the AM-A, CC42 and CC62.

    Parish registers have been an inspiration to start counting; in Pierre Goubert's expression, "nous mettre à compter furieusement, interminablement." They are the basis of historical demography, with its extraordinary insight into a collective entity, the "population," or the "people" (the demos), and how it changes over time.  They are full of names, which are used in the reconstitution of families, and which then vanish in the anonymity of the history of social structure. But parish registers are also full of stories. They are "structurally quantitative," and at the same time structurally narrative. The objective of the Angoulême project is to tell some of these stories, among the multiple micro-histories of eighteenth-century Angoulême.

    On the riches and difficulties of parish registers, see Pierre Goubert, "Une richesse historique en cours d'exploitation: Les registres paroissiaux," Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 9, no. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1954): 83-93. On kinship relations and quantitative history, see Peter Laslett, "La parenté en chiffres," Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 43, no. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 1988): 5-24 and François Furet, "Quantitative History," Daedalus 100, no. 1 (Winter, 1971): 151-167. On the name as the red thread in the archives, and the possibilities of prosopography from below, see Carlo Ginzburg and Carlo Poni, "Il nome e il come: scambio ineguale e mercato storiografico," Quaderni Storici 40 (Jan.-Apr. 1979): 181-190.

    There are historical studies of Angoulême in the publications of the Société Archéologique et Historique de la Charente, and in particular in the Bulletins et mémoires de la société archéologique et historique de la Charente (BSAHC),  which has been published since 1845, and of which multiple issues are available on Gallica. Histoire d'Angoulême et de ses alentours, ed. Pierre Dubourg-Noves (Toulouse, 1989) includes a bibliography. Laurent Raynaud, La population d'Angoulême au XVIIIe siècle (1700-1791): Essai démographique (Université de Poitiers, maitrise d'histoire moderne, 1992) provides an extensive overview and analysis of eighteenth-century parish registers in Angoulême.



    The social networks which are so omnipresent in modern times have inspired multiple historical inquiries and visualizations, especially of family networks, correspondence, and the diffusion of ideas. The Angoulême project explores the networks of individuals and families who entered only occasionally into the historical record. It uses the parish registers which are the only almost universal source of information about events in the lives of the Catholic population of Angoulême to identify connections between individuals, and occasions for exchange. Baptisms, marriages, and funerals were all opportunities for exchange between individuals and "those close to them, relatives and friends" (in the expression of the parish clerk of St André; AM-A, GG45/128.) The registers sometimes tell stories. They can be the basis for histories of change over time; of the changing occupations of individuals and families, for example. They are also complementary to other historical sources of information about social and economic connections, including tax registers, notarial records, and the records of criminal jurisdictions.

    The Angoulême project is inspired by historical inquiries and by economic theories of information and social networks. It draws, in particular, on the microeconomics of development, with its objective of "understanding the economic lives of the poor," and its openness to "many… kinds of evidence," qualitative and quantitative.

    See, on exchange networks in Indian villages, Matthew O. Jackson, Tomas Rodriguez-Barraquer, and Xu Tan, "Social Capital and Social Quilts: Network Patterns of Favor Exchange," American Economic Review 102, no. 5 (August 2012): 1857-1897 and Abhijit Banerjee, Arun G. Chandrasekhar, Esther Duflo, and Matthew O. Jackson, "The Diffusion of Microfinance," National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper w17743 (2012); and on the diffusion of information, Benjamin Golub and Matthew O. Jackson, "Naïve Learning in Social Networks and the Wisdom of Crowds," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics 2, no. 1 (2010): 112–149 and Benjamin Golub and Matthew O. Jackson, "How Homophily Affects the Speed of Learning and Best-Response Dynamics," Quarterly Journal of Economics 127, no. 3 (August 2012): 1287-1338.


    A history seen "from below," Georges Lefebvre wrote in 1932, would be concerned with "the needs, the interests, the sentiments and above all the mental content of the popular classes." "If, as seems to me likely, the historians of the future give a larger and larger place to the economic and social study of the Revolution, if they decide to look at events from below and no longer only from above, which is the very condition of social history," Lefebvre wrote, then the early twentieth-century history of assemblies and parties would be seen, eventually, as a transition to a new kind of political history. Lefebvre's classic statement came in an evaluation of the historian of the French Revolution Albert Mathiez. But it is the echo of much older and revolutionary expectations. Until the late eighteenth century, M.J.A.N. Condorcet wrote in his Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain, published posthumously in 1795, political history, like the history of philosophy and of the sciences, had been no more than the history of a few men. The history of the ideas and opinions of the mass of families -- "the most obscure, the most neglected, and for which monuments offer us so little material" -- was more difficult to write. Its neglect could not be ascribed only to the shortcomings of historians. It required quantitative information, or observations. But it was the true object of philosophy.

    History from below, since Condorcet and Lefebvre, has been for the most part a quantitative inquiry, or an inquiry into classes and masses. It was only history from above, for Lefebvre, or the history of political facts, of which the "dramatic and contingent character touches the imagination and passions." The Angoulême project is only from time to time an inquiry into dramatic events. But it is a history from below of individuals and their social networks, rather than of social classes. It is a history of interests and even of sentiments and imagination.

    Georges Lefebvre, "L'oeuvre historique d'Albert Mathiez," Annales historiques de la révolution française 51 (May-Jun. 1932): 193-210. M.J.A.N. Condorcet, Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain, in Œuvres de Condorcet, ed. Arago and O'Connor (Paris, 1847-1849) 6: 232-234.


    The Angoulême project is a history of families, friendships, and economic connections. It uses the parish records which were for so long the sources of demographic history, and which are now used, above all, by family historians. Individuals interested in the history of their own families are by far the most dedicated users of local and departmental archives in France and elsewhere, and family history websites are an increasingly important source for other sorts of historians. Over the 27 months that the project has been haunting the online records on the website of the Archives Municipales d'Angoulême, a public-spirited family historian, Hubert Marchadier, has uploaded transcripts of the parish registers of St Jean and St Paul in Angoulême for the period 1680-1791/1792, as well as partial transcripts of other registers. There are multiple differences between the family histories of genealogists and the family histories or prosopographies of historians. They are not perhaps so many as historians imagine, even in respect of the critique of sources and the practice of footnotes.

    But there is one respect, all the same, in which the two inquiries are very different. The family history of genealogists is essentially vertical. It is about trees, or roots; the descent from forebears to the individual, living in the present, or the ascent from the individual to the forebears. The family stories in the Angoulême project are horizontal. They are about relationships of family, friendship, or proximity between individuals who were living at the same time and in the same place. They have space for individuals, like Rose Rezé, in one of the Angoulême scenes, who appears in the parish registers and in other historical records, but who was never more than a godmother; from whom no one has descended.  There are stories in the project which are vertical, in the sense that they are about change over time. But this is the vertical of historical time, which is not the same as the vertical of genealogy. It is about how the occupations of individuals within an extended family changed over time, for example, or about the sojourners from Africa who appear in the parish registers of Angoulême, starting in the 1740s, or about individuals who experienced revolutionary changes in the 1780s and 90s, from municipal committees to the new institution of divorce. 


    The Angoulême project has been made possible by the availability, online, of images of the parish registers of the town. The procedure of reading the records is not all that different from the procedures of reading in the 1950s (or the 1890s.) But it is possible to read at any time and in almost any place. Pierre Goubert, in his evocation of the "disturbing demographic solitude of the parish register," listed the limitations – the "many causes of error" -- of the records. Eight times out of ten, at the end of the eighteenth century, the summaries did not correspond to the detailed records. The deaths of adults were noted, but not the deaths of children; engagements, bans, and marriages were confounded. The new images of the registers have introduced comparatively few additional errors. But there are omissions, all the same. One of the figures who recurs in these scenes, Gabriel Ferrand, the son of an itinerant joiner who was born in Angoulême in 1738 and became the first archivist of the department of the Charente, does not appear at all in the online records (or in the transcription of parish records by Hubert Marchadier). The page on which Gabriel Ferrand's birth was recorded, page 36r in the register for St Paul for 1732-1765, GG89, is omitted between views 32 (34v and 35r) and 33 (36v and 37r.)

    The feel and the look of parish registers, and especially of the "original copies" which are deposited in the municipal archives, are entirely distinctive. So is the paper, particularly in Angoulême, a town of paper-makers.  Some of the texture and watermarks of the paper can be seen even in the images. A part of the register for the parish of St Antonin for 1731-1733, for example, is written on stamped paper, marked "Limoges seize denie"; it is wrapped in a parchment, dated 1680, enjoining the mothers, fathers and masters of the town to restrain their children and servants from throwing mud and stones at persons of "the supposed reformed religion," coming and going to their places of worship.

    The parish registers of Angoulême are digitized, in the sense that images of (almost all) the pages of the registers are available online. The images are not digital, in the sense that they can be searched "optically," or mechanically, for particular names or characters. There are indexes or tables of some of the registers; these were usually compiled years later and are not as complete as the registers. Other registers include lists of names. Some parish registers have been transcribed, either fully or in abbreviated form. Hubert Marchadier has transcribed the records of the parish of St Jean for 1680-1791, St Paul for 1680-1792, St-Antonin for 1683-1737, Petit St-Cybard for 1717-1738, and St Andre for 1604-1613 and 1625-1635.

    The notarial records for Angoulême, available in the Archives départementales of the Charente, in the 2E series for the period prior to 1790, are a remarkable source for the history of social relationships in Angoulême, and are complementary to the parish registers. The records are arranged chronologically, and are not indexed. But several of the series of minutes were the subject of detailed inventories in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth- centuries, which were published and are searchable online; the archivists of the department wrote in the preface to the last inventory, published in 1906, that "an alphabetical index of people, places and subjects will be published, but only once the inventory of all the notarial cabinets of Angoulême has been completed." The inventories are selective, even for the series of which inventories were completed. They reflect the curiosity of the archivist-inventorist of the time; in the 2E series folders, the acts which are included in the inventory are marked with a faint pencil cross. . 

    Declaration of Louis Bernard, February 1, 1680, between entries for October 14, 1731 and July 10, 1735, parish register of St Antonin, GG52, views 164-165, 178-179.

    J. De la Martinière, "Avant-Propos," in Inventaire sommaire des archives départementales antérieures à 1790, Charente, archives civiles -- série E (Art. 1736-3040), ed P. De Fleury and J. De La Martinière (Angoulême, 1906), i.

    Pierre Goubert, "Une richesse historique en cours d'exploitation: Les registres paroissiaux," Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 9, no. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1954): 83-93.


    The Angoulême project imposes an enduring, even an assertive, acceptance of incompleteness. The scenes have no evident ending. The name is the red thread in the archives, in many of the episodes. But to read and reread a page of a parish register is to see different names at different times. Even the most systematic part of the project – the list of everyone who is mentioned in the registers of the central parishes of Angoulême in 1764 – is unfinished. There are names which are illegible, and names which are spelled in wildly different ways on different occasions. The parish clerks made errors; the people involved in the Angoulême project make errors; there are pages with ink blots and pages which were omitted when the registers were digitized. In the micro-stories, about individuals and families, there is always more information to be found. It is irresistible, in some of the stories, to look at earlier and later generations; at where the individuals came from, and what happened to their children. Even identifying individuals requires circuitous journeys. There were four different people called Rose Rezé, for example, in Angoulême in 1764, who were born in 1703, 1715, 1730 and 1735 (and of whom one was the plaintiff in a criminal case in 1769, about an afternoon when she was walking with her sister-in-law, and the son of a neighbour insulted her, called her "garce," "putain," "chienne," and tried to break her thumb.) So the project continues to change over time, as a finite picture of a potentially infinite web of connections.

    On additions and corrections to the Angoulême project, see under 1764. On the name as the red thread in the archives, see Carlo Ginzburg and Carlo Poni, "Il nome e il come: scambio ineguale e mercato storiografico," Quaderni Storici 40 (Jan.-Apr. 1979): 181-190. On assertive incompleteness, see Amartya Sen, Rationality and Freedom (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 182.


    Le projet Angoulême souhaiterait remercier chaleureusement M. Florent Gaillard, Mme Catherine Portelli et l'équipe des Archives municipales d'Angoulême, à la fois pour leur aide irremplaçable à l'occasion des nombreuses visites effectuées aux archives, et pour le remarquable site internet des Archives municipales, qui a constitué la base du projet Angoulême. Nous sommes également très reconnaissants envers l'équipe des Archives départementales de la Charente et l'équipe des Archives nationales à Paris. Le projet a par ailleurs requis des prodiges de transcription, pour lesquels nous voudrions remercier Jessica Crown, Madeleine Schwartz et Eva Bitran. Pour la traduction du site, ainsi que pour ses commentaires, nous remercions Nicolas Todd.

    The Angoulême project is deeply grateful to M. Florent Gaillard, Mme Catherine Portelli and the staff of the Archives Municipales d'Angoulême, both for their exceptional assistance during frequent visits to the archives, and for the remarkable website of the Archives Municipales, which has been the foundation of the Angoulême project. We are most grateful, too, to the staff of the Archives Départementales de la Charente and of the Archives Nationales in Paris. The project has involved prodigies of transcription, for which we would like to thank Jessica Crown, Madeleine Schwartz and Eva Bitran. We are grateful to Nicolas Todd for comments and for the translation of the site.

    Emma Rothschild and Ian Kumekawa