Technology and Enlightenment: The Mechanical Arts in Diderot’s Encyclopédie

February 2010 – July 2010, Maihaugen Gallery
Curated by Jeffrey S. Ravel, MIT Professor of History, and Kristel Smentek, MIT Assistant Professor, History, Theory and Criticism
Diderot Bibliography (pdf)

Click on any image for a description and higher resolution version

About the Exhibit

This exhibit explored one of the most important and controversial publications of the eighteenth century, the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. This massive work became infamous in its day as an enlightened attack on French and European religious dogmatism and monarchical inefficiency and injustice. Containing over 2,500 elaborately engraved plates, it documented the mechanical arts and technology, giving them equal billing alongside the arts and sciences. The exhibit featured fascinating images chosen from the 33 original folio volumes owned by the MIT Libraries, as well as multimedia components illustrating the Encylopédie‘s significance.

Weaving braid

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit:

Kristel Smentek, MIT Assistant Professor, History, Theory and Criticism, reveals how extensive illustrations in the Encyclopédie challenged long held biases against manual labor by showing the role of the mind, as well as the hand, in the mechanical arts.

See also the interview with Jeffrey Ravel, MIT Professor of History.

Fishing: making nets