An incarnation of Diderot appeared in the form of Andy Ferrell, chief of the architecture and engineering program at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, which is housed on the NSU campus. Costumed as the controversial French intellectual, Ferrell addressed guests in French and English explaining Diderot’s motives in gathering and publishing knowledge, thereby democratizing it for all people, not just the elite.
L’Encyclopedie is a 28-volume collection of large illustrated books first published in France between 1751 and 1772 that addresses everything from tanning leather and building carriages to crop cultivation. Diderot/Ferrell said the editors tried to gather protected information from trades associations of the day and make their informationpublic.
Forty-three hundred editions of the set were originally printed, an impressive undertaking at the time. The books were banned because of their contents and later reentered circulation.
Diderot’s Enlightenment philosophies, which challenged the authority of the French monarchy and the Catholic church, may have had some influence that led to the French revolution.
Northwestern State will host an exhibit dedicated to Diderot and some of the volumes in the Cammie G. Henry Research Center through the end of 2014 in conjunction with the city of Natchitoches Tricentennial celebration. Through the year, other volumes and objects that enhance the perspective of the historic books will rotate in and out of the exhibit, said Laura Gates, superintendent of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.
The books are part of the artifacts at Oakland Plantation, established by the Prudhomme family who settled the area in the 1970s, now part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.
Members of the Prudhomme family who attended Diderot’s fete remembered entertaining themselves with the books as children. Kathy Prudhomme Guin said she didn’t know how her ancestors acquired the books, if they brought them when they emigrated from France in the late 18th century of if they purchased them after they settled and began farming along present-day Cane River. Of the 28 volumes in the Prudhomme collection, only one is missing.
Diderot/Ferrell expressed interest in exploring the grounds at Oakland Plantation to see if any information had been directly implemented from L’Encyclopedie. Paging through one volume, Guin commented on illustrations of locks and keys that seemed familiar and noted that many tools, such as drills used to drill for water, were made on the plantation.
The event was presented by Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and the Cammie G. Henry Research Center. Diderot’s actual birthday is Oct. 5, but the celebration was postponed due to the U.S. government shutdown, organizers said.