Voltaire Project

Exhibition and conference in Sherbrooke

How did a treasure trove of unpublished manuscripts by Voltaire end up in the Eastern Townships? The story is fascinating and provides an opportunity for Sherbrooke college and university students to reflect on the contemporary impact of the thought of this great philosopher, an emblematic thinker of the Age of Enlightenment.


Photo: Stéphanie Lanthier

Voltaire in Sherbrooke

The story began with the discovery of unpublished original texts by Voltaire in the Eastern Townships. These rare archival documents, of great intellectual and historical value, are in the possession of historian Peter Southam, a retired professor from the Université de Sherbrooke.

The archives come from the Château de Ferney in France, which belonged to Voltaire in the 18th century and then, for 150 years, to Professor Southam’s family. Upon the death of his mother, Professor Southam became the heir to this treasure trove, collected by his family over four generations. Thanks to a collaboration between the Université de Sherbrooke and the Voltaire Foundation of Oxford University in England, the retired historian has undertaken a project to digitize these unpublished documents in order to make them available to researchers around the world.

An exhibition and a conference

The astonishing discovery of these unpublished manuscripts inspired Professor emeritus Pierre Hébert, a specialist in Quebec literature and censorship, to create an exhibition and symposium on Voltaire’s influence in Quebec.

The exhibition, which features Professor Southam’s collection, as well as material from Professor Hébert’s personal collection, runned from 13 January to 23 June 2022 at the Centre d’archives Mgr-Antoine-Racine à Sherbrooke.

The conference » Voltaire et les Lumières au Québec : histoire ancienne ou nécessité présente? » was held at the Centre d’archives Mgr-Antoine-Racine and the Séminaire de Sherbrooke on April 7 and 8, 2022.

A college-university collaboration

Thanks to the financial support of the PRESE, a collaboration between the University of Sherbrooke and the Collégial du Séminaire de Sherbrooke has taken shape around this exhibition and conference to make college and university students reflect on the current scope of Voltaire’s thought. Indeed, social and democratic issues (tolerance, freedom of speech, academic freedom, etc.) are at the heart of the reflections of this precursor who paid the price of his progressivism through prison and exile.

The exhibition was open to the general public, but targeted the college and university community through general education (literature, philosophy). Sherbrooke teachers who wished to visit the exhibition with their classes were offered a free guided tour linked to the content covered in class.

College and university students were also invited to attend the conference organized by the Association québécoise pour l’étude de l’imprimé (AQÉI) under the following theme: «Voltaire and the Enlightenment in Quebec: Ancient History or Present Need?» The conference was held at the Centre d’archives Mgr-Antoine-Racine and at the Séminaire de Sherbrooke on April 7 and 8, 2022. A dozen speakers presented scientific papers that will be published in the Revue Voltaire.



For more information


Équipe de projet

This project was made possible thanks to $5 550 of PRESE financial support, as part of the 2021 call for research proposals.

We talk about the project