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The Essays of Michel de Montaigne Online

About HyperEssays

HyperEssays is a project to create a modern and accessible online edition of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne.

Montaigne’s Essays online

Finding a paper copy of the Essays is easy. There are two excellent modern translations in print and new translations of selected chapters are published regularly. By now, Penguin Random House has printed enough of its classic complete edition that a copy, new or used, can be purchased at a reasonable price.

Online editions are available too, often for free. But they tend to be either scholarly editions or “cut-and-paste” editions, both of which make reading the Essays challenging.

Scholarly editions, prepared by research groups or libraries, are usually edited with care but are seldom designed for reading. They present the Essays as a textual object of historical or literary analysis, with apparatus and tools that disrupt the flow of the text.

What’s worse, as institutional funding for these groups diminishes and as the career of their members evolve, their websites often go un­main­tained and quickly become outdated and hard to use.

“Cut-and-paste” editions are scanned and OCR’d versions of Cotton and Hazlitt’s translation dropped into web or e-book templates. They are often made available alongside other out-of-copyright works with little to no thought given to introducing the Essays or providing context to Montaigne’s work specifically.

Their text is rarely copyedited, and their translation never updated, resulting in editions full of typographical errors and marred by outdated readings.

HyperEssays seeks to address the issues of these two approaches. It aims to create a good, free edition of the Essays, accessible to all and properly edited, an edition that incorporates the work of Montaigne scholars and attracts a new generation of readers, non French speaking readers in particular.

Arbitrary stupid goals and the independent web

HyperEssays is also a project born of the belief that independent websites make the web vibrant and interesting.

Personal sites are the cultural foundation of the public, independent web, the web that hosted early online communities, defined new modes of interaction, and shaped a new design language for a new medium. They sustained the creation of a new culture and a new economy by taking advantage of the simple and open nature of the technologies behind them.

This version of the web, which HyperEssays champions, is built with basic tools: HTML, CSS, and cheap hardware running little more than web server software. Its technical and financial barrier to entry is fairly low. It invites participation and experimentation.

Today, many only experience the web through a handful of websites and web-based applications, the majority of which are social media platforms designed for engagement and advertising.

While communities can develop and thrive on these platforms, their long-term existence and the availability of what they share are never in their control. What’s more, these sites propose modes of interaction bound by the priorities of their owners and forever built into their design.

HyperEssays aspires to keep alive the spirit of the independent web — what some now call the people’s web, the indie web, or the weird web. It is a web project that embraces hypertextuality, a publishing experiment that prioritizes reading, an arbitrary stupid goal, an expression of love for an amazing book, and, hopefully, a valuable resource to some.

Behind the scenes

HyperEssays is produced—coded, edited, written—by Sebastian Biot 👋 in Athens, Ohio. Sebastian is a designer, a software developer, and a longtime Montaigne reader.

Each chapter of the Essays is encoded in TEI, an XML format commonly used in the digital humanities to represent electronic texts. These TEI files are managed and indexed by custom software written in Swift. HyperEssays’s growing bibliography is managed by Citato.

Hugo generates all HTML files for the website and more custom software takes care of the PDFs. Both are set in Alegreya and Alegreya Sans, typefaces designed by Juan Pablo del Peral for Huerta Tipográfica.

HyperEssays uses no trackers and no ads but it could use your support.