La Presse et les périodiques techniques en Europe, 1750–1950 (review)
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La Presse et les périodiques techniques en Europe, 1750–1950. Edited by Patrice Bret, Konstantinos Chatzis, and Liliane Pérez. Paris: Éditions L'Harmattan, 2008. Pp. 324. €25.

Sixteen authors and their institutions, twelve chapters, and references to some three hundred periodicals in Europe—this range presents the reviewer's challenges. This book is the product of five years of research and discussions in working groups at the editors' institutions: Centre A. Koyré (Patrice Bret); Université Paris-Est (Konstantinos Chatzis), and Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (Liliane Pérez). In their five-page introduction, the editors summarize their broad vision of technology (technique), longue durée, and comparative approach. The longue durée is reflected in the title (1750 to 1950) and the long runs of many of the periodicals.

Readers will not find in this short introduction a rich analysis or synthesis, as might be expected from such experienced historians of technology. The editors acknowledge the embryonic state of research on the technical press and state their intent to promote international research. They list common working themes such as the material means of production and distribution; leadership, authors, and readership; effects on disciplines or specialties; and the nature of the information and the forms or styles of the periodicals. But they do not describe a well-developed framework conducive to an integrated study of technical periodicals, nor do they analyze relationships among the chapters, periodicals, and contexts treated in the book. As a result, we learn much about selected periodicals and their individual contexts, but little about the overall context (e.g., social, technological, and economic change) and dynamics of the world of periodicals publishing over the given time period.

Despite the reference to Europe in the title, the editors acknowledge that France dominates the geographic landscape of the book. England, Spain, and Russia each have a role in one of the chapters. Since the authors focus on selected periodicals, the following list of titles suggests the range of coverage: Almanach sous-verre, Collection, for Improvement of Husbandry and Trade (England), Memorias de agricultura y artes (Spain), Annales des mines, Journal des voies de communication/Zhurnal putej soobshchenija (Russia), Nouvelles annales de la construction, L'Enseignement professional, Annales du conservatoire des arts et métiers, Journal des géomètres, Journal [End Page 763] des géomètres-experts, Revue de métallurgie, Commerce et Industrie, and Annales (of electrical communications technology).

For historians of technology interested in French technical periodicals, this book is an important reference. Even though each of the approximately three hundred titles in the index appear on only one or two pages of the text, the index is a useful reference. Nine of the twelve chapters are monographic in approach, but three are synthetic and develop larger perspectives. For example, Liliane Pérez and Marie Thébaud-Sorger examine the development of technical culture in France and England through the commercial press in the eighteenth century. Their study highlights the tensions between promoters of inventions through advertising and their rhetoric of public welfare. Konstantinos Chatzis and Georges Ribeill study the evolution of the technical press in the nineteenth century by and for engineers.

Martine Mille analyzes the contributions of technical periodicals to the history of inventions and inventors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As part of her analysis, Mille introduces the reader to an online database under construction called the Dictionnaire prosopographique des inventeurs, hosted by the Centre d'histoire des techniques et de l'environnement at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers in Paris, in association with the Archives Nationales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre de Recherche en Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques, and Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle. (To access the dictionary, search for its title; when you reach the site, click on the "Consultation" tab for an alphabetical list of inventors and inventions.) Mille is particularly interested in the statistical distribution of inventions among industrial sectors (e.g., ceramics, machine tools, industrial chemistry) as represented in the Bulletin de la Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale and Annales de l'industrie nationale et étrang...