The Society Theater Project

Maria Teodora Comsa

The society theater database project aims to reconstruct the practice of théâtre de société of eighteenth-century France.

Théâtre de société or society theater designates the practice of dramatic arts initiated by various members of the 18th-century French elites within their private residences. Princes, aristocrats, and other wealthy individuals organized and often acted in theatrical productions before an audience of invited peers. As its name suggests, private theater was an intimate and exclusive phenomenon. Depending on the zeal of the organizers and participants, some of these private troupes could attain a semi-professional level of performance.

Data for this project started as a list of curious overlaps between names in the Voltaire correspondents network and names of individuals involved in society theater. To the list of people, we added a corresponding list of theaters (or places where society plays were staged) with the intent of mapping them. An annotated inventory of society theaters created by Marie-Emmanuelle Plagnol-Diéval, Dominque Quéro, and David Trott already existed, but mapping all the theaters on that list proved complicated, as exact locations are not available for all of them. Our focus shifted to the organizers and participants of the practice, and gradually the data grew to include lists of plays, characters, and performances. The goal is to learn about the participants through the actual texts. Did the network of participants resemble the “network” of characters presented in the plays? In other words, how closely does this type of private theater depict the people who were so enthusiastic in creating and staging it?

Project Index

Note: Each item below should be cited separately. Follow the link to each page for citation information. The data are available for download from the Stanford Digital Repository. The data schema and interactive visualizations are viewable at this site.




Mapping the Republic of Letters Project

Mapping the Republic of Letters has been an exciting collaboration for us, as well as an ongoing experiment in how to conduct collaborative, interactive historical research in a digital age. To learn more about that project, visit