Starting a new project – Discovering its source material

At the beginning of this month, I started to work at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) where I have been hired to work on the DAHN project. The project, that I have already mentioned in my previous post, has two corpora: Letters and texts (already encoded and in need of an update) and the correspondence of Paul d’Estournelles de Constant (barely studied, apart from a book that I will talk about later).

Before starting any elaborate task or complicate work, I logically decided that the first thing I should do is discover the source material I will have to work with for the following year and learn more about the person who decided to document the events of the war for five years in a regular and precise correspondence.

This correspondence has already been a subject of interest from historians. In 2018, Stéphane Tison, a French lecturer in contemporary history specialised in the 1870-1871 and 1914-1918 wars1, and Nadine Akhund, a history doctor and researcher, specialised in international relations in modern and contemporary times, published together a book, En guerre pour la paix, Correspondance de Paul d’Estournelles de Constant et Nicholas Murray-Butler. It contains several letters from d’Estournelles to Murray and vice versa and through it, the two historians present another vision of the war, the one from the two correspondents. This work is valuable to us because it does not only provide us an already established content analysis about some of the correspondence but also several letters already transcribed, which is useful in two ways: for a later task of transcribing other letters and for the discovery of part of my corpus.

Then, for the first two weeks at my job, I read all the letters at my disposal2 and I did some research about their author, Paul d’Estournelles de Constant, and their recipient, Nicholas Murray Butler. I will develop that in this post, first by providing some context about who were these two men, then I will mention what I learn and retain from my readings.

If I could only use one word to describe the lives of d’Estournelles and Murray Butler, it would be “peace”. The work they have done all their life is always marked by a search for peace, first by themselves and then together, which is best proven by the fact that they are both Nobel Peace Prize laureates: in 1909 d’Estournelles, for his work during the Hague conference of 1899 and 1907 and the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and in 1931 Murray Butler for his action of several decades in favour of peace at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Paul d’Estournelles de Constant first worked as a diplomat, executing missions in Tunis, London or the Hague. In 1895, he was elected at the Chamber of Deputies and in 1904, he became Senator, a function he will hold until his death in 1924. During all his times as a representative, he worked for peace and conciliation between countries with England and with Germany, successfully for the first but not for the second, even though he defended it ardently, to the point of becoming suspicious for the French government. He helped create the Association for International Conciliation in 1905 that then developed divisions in USA, England, Italy, Japan and Germany. He also instigated the extension of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in France and Europe and became president of the European bureau in 1911. It’s through those relations that he worked for the enlistment of the USA in the war. It’s also the reason for his meeting with Nicholas Murray Butler, which then turned into a friendship, as well as an intense correspondence from 1914 to his death in 1924.

Nicholas Murray Butler was also a diplomat and a politician, as well as an educational administrator. He was president of Columbia University, from 1902 to 1945 and he helped it become a major university. He also worked in other education projects such as the foundation of the Educational Review journal. As a politician, he was a member of the Republican party and tried to secure the Republican presidential nomination for Elihu Root (friend of him and future Nobel Peace Prize laureate) in 1916, and in 1920 and 1928 for himself. Those three attempts, however, were unsuccessful. Like d’Estournelles, he dedicated his life to peace. He was president of the American branch of the Association for International Conciliation founded by d’Estournelles and was mostly engaged in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was influential of its creation, notably by giving $10M to Andrew Carnegie, he was head of the international education and communication section, he founded the European division and he held the presidency from 1925 to 1945.

Both men shared a dedication for peace and international conciliation and this prompted a correspondence. It started in 1902 and continued for years but it is with the beginning of the war that it escalates to become some sort of a war report, regular and detailed, to expose it to Murray Butler, but also to all Americans (numerous letters of d’Estournelles were published in the press, mostly the New York Times, as it was sometimes intended). As I already mentioned it, this was a long and important correspondence : the letter numbered as first by d’Estournelles is dated August 15, 1914 and the last one for this war correspondence: it is the 579th letter, dated October 24, 1919. It marks the end of the war with the peace treaty signature and the official cease-fire.

The corpus to be considered in this project step only contains the letters sent by Paul d’Estournelles de Constant, so that we have no element of reply from Murray Butler (however, more information about this are available in En guerre pour la paix) and it provides a rather unique point of view on the war because Paul d’Estournelles has multiple and diverse roles in this war. As a French man, he is a patriot and it can be felt in some letters. As a representative of Peace from the different committees he belongs to, he defends peace, a rightful peace, during and after the war, mostly when he discusses the future peace treaty that will have to be established and where he hopes that no abuse will take place (which, however, happens, much to his dismay). As a 62-year-old man, he is too old to be at war, so he acts as a spokesperson for the rear and he describes their life, from several perspectives because he sometimes goes to Paris, where the rear life is different from the one in his region. As a senator, some of his letters indicates a political role, like when he visits the front to go see the soldiers.  Moreover, since he is not directly involved in the war and continues his actions as a Senator, some letters have sometimes no correlation with the war, because he keeps on giving information to Murray Butler about affairs that started before the war and that still keep going during it, like trials of political figures whom he is close to. Finally, as a person, he also expresses different ideas that are close to his heart, like his love for aviation, which he mentions in numerous occasions, or his views on the valuable role of women, notably during the war effort or the consequences of war on his own family (one of his sons enlisted and he lost nephews to the war).

Thus, with all those characteristics combined together in some letters or present individually on others, this dense and detailed correspondence really provides us with a unique perspective on the war. Furthermore, I managed to gather those data by reading only 150 letters, which represent about a quarter of the war correspondence, meaning that it can still store some surprises, which we will be able to explore and share by continuing our work on the project, transcribing, annotating and encoding letters.



Paul Henri d’Estournelles de Constant – Biographical. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 26 Mar 2020. <>

Nicholas Murray Butler – Biographical. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 26 Mar 2020. <>

Archives départementales de la Sarthe, 12J, Fonds d’Estournelles de Constant, Répertoire numérique détaillé, 1981 :

AKHUND Nadine, TISON Stéphane, En guerre pour la paix, Correspondance de Paul d’Estournelles de Constant et Nicholas Murray-Butler, Paris, Alma, 2018, 546 p.



Photo credits:

French politician and Nobel laureate Paul Henri Balluet d’Estournelles de Constant (1852-1924) © Agence de presse Meurisse, 1909, Bibliothèque nationale de France :

Photograph of Nicholas Murray Butler © W. M. Hollinger, Unknown date, The World’s Work, 1902 :

Cite this blog post
Floriane Chiffoleau (2020, March 31). Starting a new project – Discovering its source material. Digital Intellectuals. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from

  1. Stéphane Tison also published some other works about d’Estournelles himself []
  2. 151 letters transcribed []

Floriane Chiffoleau

I am a PhD candidate in digital humanities in the ALMAnaCH team at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) and in the 3.LAM at Le Mans Université.

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