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The Enlightenment in Crisis: Diderot's Encyclopédie in a Parisian Salon, 1750-?

by David Eick and Gretchen Galbraith

The Enlightenment in Crisis

The Encyclopédie has been called “a founding document and event of modern Western culture,” its publication “one of the great victories for the human spirit and the printed word.” The first volume is to be published shortly in 1751 and its editors, Diderot and D’Alembert, promise many more to follow as they seek out contributions from famous and up-and-coming intellectuals and leading scientists of the day. For promoting free inquiry into all areas of knowledge, its editors risk notoriety and the scrutiny of king and pope.

The story of the Encyclopédie is one of epic struggle, with colorful characters both famous and obscure. Will the Monarchy and/or the Church condemn it? Will members of the Church speak with one voice on this subject? Will the editors and contributors resolve disputes over existing and future entries? Can the major philosophes reconcile their differences? What role will the burgeoning civil society in Paris—as represented by salons and cafes and salonnières like Madame Geoffrin—play in championing or rejecting this project and its players? The game will play out over multiple meetings. Participants will have to immerse themselves in salon culture, figure out who potential allies are, do written and oral work toward victory objectives, and build toward making ultimate decisions about their relationship to the Enlightenment as a whole and the Encyclopédie in particular.

This is a Level 3 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.

Available in French Translation



European History; Cultural History; Women’s and Gender History; Intellectual History; (French) Literature; Eighteenth-Century Studies

18th Century; Early Modern Period; Late Modern Period

In a Few Words
Enlightenment, Encyclopédie, salon, sociability, Diderot, Geoffrin


Themes and Issues  
Civil discourse; human rights; natural rights; equality; gender; freedom of expression; social critique and reform; religious tolerance; scientific inquiry; public health, the pursuit of happiness; class; sexuality; colonialism

Sample Class Titles

Human Rights in History; Honors Freshman Sequence; French Senior Capstone

Level 3 game (what's that mean?

Divided spaces, rolling dice, differentiated voting, resurrection roles

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is moderately chaotic and moderately demanding on the instructor.

Primary Source Highlights

Diderot, d’Alembert, Jaucourt et al. Encyclopédie (1751-72); Bossuet, Politics Drawn From the Very Words of Holy Scripture (1709)

Notable Roles
Diderot, Mme Geoffrin, Rousseau

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability
This game is recommended for classes with 11-33 students.

Class Time  
8-11 class sessions are recommended for this game (1 to 2 setup sessions, 5 to 8 gameplay, and 1 debrief session) are recommended.

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive.  The Enlightenment in Crisis may pair well with:


You can adjust the assignments to fit the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game may include traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing, journalism, letter writing, and criticism. All roles are required to give formal speeches.


Reacting Consortium members can download all game materials below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using Enlightenment in Crisis in Your Class!


All students need a Gamebook, which includes resources and historical content. Members can download the Gamebook, and provide it to students for free or at cost.

VERSION 3.0. Updated January 2020

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.

Role Sheets and Additional Materials

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, suggestions for further reading, and role-specific info or assignments.  


Reacting Consortium members can download all game materials below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  

Livre du Joueur 

Download the French Gamebook

Translation of Version 3.0 (2020). Translated 2021. Word document.

 Student Gamebook, translated into French by Vincent Thibeault.  

All French Materials 

Download All French Materials

Translated 2021. Zipped Word Documents.  

This includes the Student Gamebook, Role Sheets, and Ancillary Materials (quiz and handouts). All materials were translated into French by Vincent Thibeault.  


David Eick

David Eick grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He received a B.A. in English and French at Central College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in French at the University of Iowa. Having lived in France and Spain, he now resides with his family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is professor of French and a fellow of the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center at Grand Valley State University.

Related Titles

  • Encyclopédie (anthology co-edited w/Scott St. Louis. Newark: Molière & Co., 2020)

  • “Games as ‘Defining Moments’ of the College Experience: The Impact of Reacting to the Past in French.” French Review, 93(2), 159–173 (w/Janel Pettes Guikema)

Gretchen Galbraith

Gretchen Galbraith is dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Potsdam. She received her Ph.D. in European and Women’s history at Rutgers University, teaches British, European, world, women and gender history, and is an active contributor to the Reacting Consortium Board and community.

Reacting and Related Titles


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


"The credit system is brilliant, the stakes are high, the texts rich and controversial, the characters are fantastic, and the pace is fast. I love the whole game structure. This is a very well-structured and exciting game that I think will enjoy enormous popularity in RTTP classrooms."

"First, this game is extremely easy to manage. The instructions for each class period are so clear. This game would be an ideal first game for an instructor new to reacting -- the authors have done an excellent job making this an accessible game. Second, the game features are fantastic. My students particularly loved the credit concept and they were enthralled by how quickly their fortunes could rise or fall. The credit table really kept things lively! Overall, this is a superb game: thoughtfully designed, easy to play, and very engaging. It is an excellent addition to the Reacting to the Past collection.
I recommend it highly."

"Besides the inherently interesting topic, this game has immense flexibility and can be adapted to a variety of course types, institutions and even topics. The game 'feels' different from others and that is a benefit. The authors clearly have put much thought into creating and organizing the materials—critical for the use of the game by new GMs. I also think there are places/courses where this game will dovetail well with the French Revolution game and give students a deeper understanding of the time period."


Birth of the Public Sphere
Politics, Religion, and the Birth of the Public Sphere: England, 1685-1688

French Revolution
Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791

The Trial of Galileo: Aristotelianism, the "New Cosmology," and the Catholic Church, 1616-1633


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