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France & French Collections at the Library of Congress

Digital & Special Collections

The Library of Congress has 20 centers that provide research space and guidance about collection items based on subject and format. These materials are held in various Reading Rooms (e.g. Geography & Maps, Prints & Photographs). Librarians in the European Reading Room provide access to materials from the General Collections and point researchers to relevant items in other reading rooms. The sections below contain highlights from the French collections available in each Reading Room. It is helpful to use the Library of Congress Finding Aids to locate unique collections that may not be in the online catalog or in the Digital Collections. Searching can be done by Subject, Collection, Date, Name or LC Location (Research Center).

France-Amérique. 1917. Library of Congress Digital Collections.

Digitized Collections

The majority of the Library's Collections have not been digitized. An on-site visit, or use of Inter Library Loan is the only way to see the complete collections at the Library of Congress. However, a growing percentage of the Library's collections have been digitized. When searching the Library's digital collections for French materials try using the following key word searches. You can further narrow your results by selecting the desired format to the left (Book, Map, Photo, Manuscript etc.). Attention to the Headings list is another way to weed out false hits and narrow the search results.

For more specific searches, use personal names.

Highlights of the French Digital Collection

Henry Horenstein, photographer. LeFoyer picnic (French Canadians), Cumberland, Rhode Island. 1979. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Folklife, Ethnographic Materials

The American Folklife Center collections include ethnographic documentation, principally audio recordings, from more than 150 countries, including Francophone parts of North America as well as areas in Africa and the Caribbean. There are geographical guides in the American Folklife Center (AFC) that cover the French-speaking regions of the world. There is also a finding aid to France Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture, created by AFC specialists and a introduction to AFC Collections: Louisiana. To locate French material in the Folklife Center you can use a filter in an advanced search of the Library's catalog. For example, use the search terms, "French", "France","Acadian" or "Creole" and limit your location to the AFC.

The following concert features the French music, language, stories, and culture. Once hidden away in the Missouri Ozarks, it now has a voice in the wider world. As they say in the hills: "On est toujours icitte: We are still here!" (Event date: June 21, 2012)

The harbor, Caen, France. [between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Prints, Photographs, Visual Materials

The Library's Prints and Photographs Division is the repository for a rich collection of prints, photographs, and other visual materials on and about France from significant artists and photographers. Many of these items have been digitized and are available to researchers on the Prints and Photographs online catalog (PPOC). These visual materials are available to researchers in the Library's Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

A major resource for the study of French and American artistic, political, and cultural relations lies in the print, poster, and photograph collections. The collections include items produced by French artists in all formats as well as by Americans featuring French subjects or working in Europe. Major strengths of the collections include illustrated books and serials; fine prints by French masters from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century (search by name); and French posters from the Belle Époque to World War I. There is a large collection of British Cartoon Prints that span the era from the French Revolution through the nineteenth century and feature such talents as caricaturist, George Cruikshank. There is also a collection of Cartoons about the Franco-Prussian War and Miscellaneous French satirical prints. There are documentary photographs including views of French cities and towns. This collection has over 500 breath-taking images of France, including the image above and is part of the larger Photochrom Prints Collection. There are also images recorded by the U.S. Quarter Master Corps during World War I. One of the most impressive collections on World War II are the sketches of architect and soldier Victor Alfred Lundy. The Tissandier Collection contains approximately 975 items documenting the early history of aeronautics with an emphasis on balloon flight in France. There are many unique finds that symbolize the bonds between France and America, such as an image of the large mural painted by artist Cameron Burnside, member of the American Red Cross. For images of satirical takes on the French Revolution as well as images of many of the women who played important roles in the Revolution see the guide, Women of the French Revolution.

Calendrier royal indiquant le cours du soleil. 1706. French Political Cartoon Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Law, Legal Materials

The Law Library of Congress includes a vast collection on foreign legal materials, such as Constitutions, Codes, Session Laws, Commentaries and Indexes to laws, Rules and Regulations, Judicial Court Decisions and Reports, and Legal Bibliographies. Access to legal materials related to France is provided by the Law Library, including:

  • Guide to Law Online: France, addressing France’s constitutional law as well as information on the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of France's government.
  • Global Legal Monitor: France, an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. The Global Legal Monitor is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources.

The responsibilities of the Law Library to provide analyses to Congress and government agencies require a comprehensive collection of current legal resources from all French-speaking countries. The historical collections reflect the importance of French sources for developments in American and international law. They also provide valuable resources for historical research on many subjects. The French Coutume Collection (French customary law) constitutes the largest collection outside of France and includes a magnificent fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript copy of the Grand coutumier de Normandie, from about 1440-70. The Library also holds full runs of French official gazettes, from Le Moniteur to Le Journal officiel.

The below presentation is by the Library of Congress Foreign Legal Specialist Nicolas Boring. He discusses the Napoleonic Code's history, evolution, and legacy. This presentation touches not only on French law, but also the Civil Code's impact on other countries around the world, from Belgium to Haiti.

Jean Humbert, author. Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, 1815. Andrew Jackson papers, 1775-1874. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Manuscripts, Archival Materials

The Manuscript Division holds approximately sixty million items in eleven thousand separate collections, including some of the greatest manuscript treasures of European history and culture, supporting scholarly research in many aspects of political, cultural, and scientific history. The Library's Manuscript Reading Room provides access to archival materials on and about France, including primary sources from cultural figures, authors, and politicians. Finding aids describe manuscript collections and can be particularly useful when assessing the full contents of a manuscript collection. Locate additional manuscript materials from or about France by searching Library of Congress Finding Aids by using keywords like "France" or "French".

Consult the websites of individual French archives and libraries for online full-text guides to their collections. The Bibliothèque nationale de France's archive and manuscript catalog describes some of the manuscripts and archives held in their Manuscripts Department and Department of Performing Arts (Arts du Spectacle) and all the manuscripts preserved in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal External .

French historical material held by the Library falls into two categories: collections of manuscripts proper (which are French either in origin or subject) and reproductions of manuscripts (which have been copied from the originals in a French repository). With primary focus on source materials for American history, French holdings are most comprehensive for topics or periods where the histories of France and America overlap. The Library holds, for example, the Papers of the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French army sent to aid the Americans during the Revolutionary War, and the Digges-L'Enfant-Morgan Collection, which documents the life and work of Pierre L'Enfant as the designer of the Federal City. French-American international relations are documented in the Confederate States of America Collection, as well as presidential, diplomatic, and military archives from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. The Janet Flanner-Solita Solano Collection depicts the literary and intellectual society and life of Paris during the fifty-year period (1925-75) during which Flanner wrote the column "Letter from Paris" for The New Yorker magazine. The Library's Foreign Copying Program, begun in 1914, has reproduced material from French archives and libraries dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries related primarily to French exploration of the New World to French participation in the American Revolution. The Library microfilmed the Papers of the Marquis de Lafayette still held at Lafayette's chateau outside of Paris, the Château de la Grange-Bléneau. Available digitally is Lafayette in America: a selective list of reading materials in English External.

United States. Army. Corps of Engineers. D-day Normandy:the invasion and the first 48 days of action with the 743rd tank battalion in France. Geography and Map Division Library of Congress.

Cartographic Materials

The Library's Geography and Map Division has custody of the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world with collections numbering over 5 million maps, 100,000 atlases, 8,000 reference works, over 5000 globes and globe gores, 3,000 raised relief models, over 130,000 microfiche/film, and a large number of cartographic materials in other formats. Many of these materials have been digitized and are available online. Materials that have not been digitized are available from the Geography and Map Reading Room.

The rich French cartographic resources reflect the long tradition of French international prominence in the field as as well as the overlapping of French and American history. The Library holds important French sixteenth- and seventeenth-century atlases and printed maps, a notably strong collection of eighteenth-century French materials—reflecting a time when France was preeminent in the development of scientific cartography—and a major collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French hydrographic charts. Among the many rich holdings are the map of Lorraine in the Strasbourg 1513 edition of Ptolemy—the earliest example of printing in three colors—Samuel de Champlain's 1606-7 vellum manuscript map of northeastern America, the Cassini topographic maps series covering all of France based on eighteenth-century scientific surveys, Louis Brethez's 1739 multi-sheet perspective drawings of Paris, manuscript maps prepared by Rochambeau's army during the American Revolution, and the French maps used for the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy. Often there are finding aids for such collections such as this one for Maps showing entrenchments in France during World War I.The collection consists of 477 maps from World War I created by American and French forces that show trenches and related military information in France and Belgium. Data taken from aerial photography ("tranchées d'après photos ... ") and observation ("Schématique d'apres renseignements").

Film, Video, Television

The Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division holds one of the largest collections of motion pictures in the world, spanning the entire history of cinema. The Library has several hundred French films, many of which have been distributed in the United States. These range from the early silent films by Lumières and Pathé Frères, to theatrical features of the sound era, including works by directors such as Jean Renoir, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, and Alain Resnais. One of the strengths of the French film collections is a group of silent shorts produced in 1903-04 by the innovative George Méliès, included in the Paper Print Collection of films registered for U.S. copyright protection between 1894 and 1915. Documentary recordings feature French personalities such as Sarah Bernhardt and Charles de Gaulle. French settlement in North America is preserved in recordings of North American French speakers and performers. For example, in 1992 the American Folklife Center documented the Acadian community in northern Maine. Access to these collection items, if not digitized, can be obtained with research assistance from the Moving Image Research Center.

The following concert features Patrick Ross and Jean Theroux present a program of fiddle tunes and songs drawn from their French-Canadian heritage. They are joined by Dalton Binette and Bow Thayer. All four musicians hail from the northernmost area of New Hampshire, adjacent to the Canadian border, across which people and cultural influences have flowed steadily over the last hundred years or more. (Event date: August 8, 2012)

Mlle. Marthe Chenal, a French opera singer, noted for her rendition of "La Marseillaise." 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Performing Arts

The Performing Arts Reading Room (part of the Library's Music Division) provides access to classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance. To hear recordings or interact with audio materials such as interviews and dramatic audio presentations by such famous authors as Maryse Condé and Joseph Zobel (traditional music and chants from the Antilles) browse the Library's collections in the Recorded Sound Research Center which is part of the Library's Moving Image Research Center.

The Music Division holds materials on all aspects of French music, from music typographic manuals, published music and books, to manuscript letters and scores. Among the French items held by the division are Laborde's Chansonnier, a beautifully illustrated 1470 vellum manuscript of secular part songs, the 1898 manuscript of Claude Debussy's Trois Nocturnes, and autograph manuscripts of music by contemporary composers Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, and Henri Dutilleux, commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Serge Koussevitsky Foundations. For resources on contemporary French music search the Library catalog under LCSH Popular music--France--2001-2010.

As mentioned in the section on Moving Images, the Library has several hundred French films, many of which have been distributed in the United States. These range from the early silent films by Lumières and Pathé Frères, to theatrical features of the sound era, including works by directors such as Jean Renoir, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, and Alain Resnais. One of the strengths of the French film collections is a group of silent shorts produced in 1903-04 by the innovative George Méliès, included in the Paper Print Collection of films registered for U.S. copyright protection between 1894 and 1915. Documentary recordings feature French personalities such as Sarah Bernhardt and Charles de Gaulle. French settlement in North America is preserved in recordings of North American French speakers and performers. For example, in 1992 the American Folklife Center documented the Acadian community in northern Maine. The Bibliothèque nationale de France's archive and manuscript catalog describes some of the manuscripts and archives held in their Manuscripts Department, Department of Performing Arts (Arts du Spectacle), Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal and Département de la Musique. External

Alphonse de Lamartine, Author. Les laboureurs : poême tiré de Jocelyn : reproduit en caractères tissés, avec licence des propriétaires éditeurs. 1883. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

Rare Books, Special Collections

The Library of Congress holds thousands of rare books related to France, dating from the fifteenth through the twentieth century. Researchers should visit the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room to learn more about rare materials available online as well as special collections that contain significant resources on France.

In the second half of the nineteenth century Library and Congressional leadership sought to enhance the Library's usefulness for the American government and its citizens and to make it equal in reputation to the national libraries of Britain and France. This led to the deliberate inclusion of rare books in the Library's collections. French books figured prominently. French-language publishing has provided not only a major Western intellectual and creative history, but also major traditions and achievements important for the history of Western printing and book arts, many of which are documented in the Library's collections. The emblem of the sixteenth-century French printer Geoffroy Tory, who introduced accents, apostrophes, and other typographical innovations into French printing and was responsible for the spread of Roman script throughout France, decorates the bronze doors of the Rare Book Reading Room.

The Library holds a significant collection of French incunabula and rare editions dating from the fifteenth through the twentieth century. The subject range of rare French material fully reflects that of the general collections, from the arts to the sciences and technology. Special Collections focus on subjects as varied as cooking (Katherine Golden Bitting Collection), law (Law Library Rare Book Collections), aeronautics (Gaston and Albert Tissandier Collection), Jules Verne (Jules Verne Collection), the French Revolution (John Boyd Thacher Collection), anarchism (Paul Avrich Collection, Anarchism Collection), and bibles (Bible Collection).

The very rich French tradition of illustrated books is well represented, from medieval and sixteenth-century livres d'heures to nineteenth- and twentieth-century livres d'artiste (a genre which was developed in France during the first quarter of the twentieth century and then spread throughout Europe). The gift of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection gave the Library many fine examples and exceptional copies of books in which the high quality of French printing, illustration, papermaking, and book binding are evident. A small portion of the Rosenwald Collection has been digitized. Many of the volumes include various states of the plates, added drawings, and special bindings. Noteworthy are neoclassical eighteenth- century French illustrated books. For example, the 1751 French edition of Erasmus's L'Eloge de la folie illustrated by Charles Eisen includes seventeen original drawings by the illustrator bound in. Another highlight of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection is the livre d'artiste, offerings of modern illustration, typography, and binding. Here one comes across works by Bonnard, Braque, Chagall, Clair, Cocteau, Derain, Duchamp, Dufy, Matisse, Picasso, Rouault, Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo, and de Vlaminck. Jazz, the only publication of which Matisse was both author and illustrator, embodies the tradition of the artist's book, as does the stunning translation of Edgar Allan Poe's, The Raven by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé and French artist Édouard Manet. Other rare items include the first book to have been entirely woven in silk. In 1883 Joseph Alphonse Henry published this work using a new and incredibly sophisticated invention, the Jacquard loom. He chose to publish a poem, Les Laboureurs, an excerpt from Jocelyn, a book of poetry by prolific French poet, writer and politician Alphonse de Lamartine.

There are also more political collections such as the Serials and miscellaneous publications of the underground movements in Europe during World War II, 1936-1945. This work is divided into 28 series of serials and miscellaneous publications for the following countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, French Territories, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Netherland Territories, Norway, Poland and Yugoslavia. The serials are periodicals with dates, and sometimes issue numbering, while the miscellaneous publications embraces a wide field of political tracts, single handout sheets, private letters, newspaper clippings, posters, etc.... Fourteen countries are represented with each having a section and an additional section for French Territories.

On the topic of gastronomy and vintners, there are some gems in the Rare Book collection. A book published in 1801 by C. Chaptal was distilled into pamphlet form at the request of Napoleon (who had an interest in perfecting and advancing French wine-making). This pamphlet is available in the Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room. L'Art de faire, gouverner, et perfectionner les vins par le citoyen Chaptal, is available in the general collections as it was published in 1801.

European Reading Room, Reference Collection, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

European Reading Room 

The European Reading Room should be the starting point for readers and researchers whose interests relate to France, Belgium and French-speaking areas of Europe. The European Reading Room is staffed by multilingual reference librarians who can direct you to the materials you need and answer reference questions related to the European collections.

The Reference Collection: The European Reading Room contains a French reference collection of approximately one thousand volumes. This collection includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographical, historical, and genealogical works, guides, directories, statistical yearbooks, atlases, and specialized catalogs and guides.

The General Collections: The great majority of French books are located in the general collections. Readers may search for these books using the online catalog of the Library of Congress. They may order and have books and bound periodicals delivered to the European Reading Room for their use. These books may also be ordered from other reading rooms including the Main Reading Room if desired.

Periodicals: Current French-language newspapers and periodicals are held in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room and bound volumes are in the general collections. Many titles can also be found online on our subscription databases. There is a collection of uncataloged French pamphlets and other ephemera collections upon request from the staff in the European Reading Room.

Selected Works from the Reference Collection