Autrement Mêmes

This guest post, written by Roger Little (Quondam Professor of French (1776), Trinity College, Dublin) describes a collection that he directs: Autrement Mêmes, published by L’Harmattan in Paris. The University Library has purchased many volumes in this collection, in recognition of the fact that the Library previously held very few, if any, of the texts.

Many a project stems from the recognition of a gap, and so it was with the series ‘Autrement Mêmes’, devoted to the publication in French of books representing Blacks or, more generally, the Other. Once an explanation about the title had been given to the director of the Paris publishing house L’Harmattan, Denis Pryen, suggesting that beyond the surface differences between people there was a common humanity which writers had explored, and would continue to explore, in the light of their personal experience and vision, and the attitudes of their time, the series published its first volumes in 2001. At the time of writing, April 2015, 108 volumes have appeared (pdf), some in two tomes.

A selection of covers from the Autrement Mêmes collection

The main purpose is to put in circulation for a new readership texts which are difficult to find, often available only in specialised libraries, sometimes indeed extremely rare (in one case only two copies of the first and only edition are known to exist in public archives) or, occasionally, unpublished. The published list shows that all genres and all relevant periods are covered, mainly prose texts, however, from the 18th century to the latter part of French colonialism, since in most instances texts need, for practical reasons, to be out of copyright. Several volumes are commented anthologies on specific issues relating, for example, to slavery or colonial literature. Others reprint major critical works with the new critical apparatus imposed by developments in scholarship and attitudes.

Many a major library – and that includes the Cambridge University Library – has found that it holds the original or earlier editions of only a few of the titles. The best – and that includes the Cambridge University Library – have purchased such volumes as complete its collections. But since, in every case, each volume carries the added value of a substantial introductory essay by an appropriate expert, giving relevant information as well as a modern slant on the text concerned, several libraries subscribe systematically to the whole series.

That is of particular value as encouragement to continue producing such a specialised series with its inevitably limited appeal. Although the presenters of the volumes, with admirable altruism, give freely of their work and time, receiving a few copies of their book rather than royalties, it is entirely normal that the general editor and the publisher should, for their different reasons, keep an eye on sales. The economic situation is different, for example, in Africa and the French West Indies, the latter population, despite its small numbers by comparison with French-speaking Africa, benefiting from being French départements, with the educational and financial advantages that brings.

The volumes of the series have, whenever noticed, been given a warm reception, but the succès d’estime has not, except in a few cases, been matched by a succès de vente. Does every scholar not wish that his or her enthusiasm should be shared by thousands of others? In this case, the new availability of texts which deal in a myriad ways with human relations should, in theory, interest everyone.

Guest author: Roger Little

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