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The Enlightenment in Practice

Academic Prize Contests and Intellectual Culture in France, 1670–1794

by Jeremy L. Caradonna

Publication Year: 2012

Public academic prize contests-the concours académique-played a significant role in the intellectual life of Enlightenment France, with aspirants formulating positions on such matters as slavery, poverty, the education of women, tax reform, and urban renewal and submitting the resulting essays for scrutiny by panels of judges. In The Enlightenment in Practice, Jeremy L. Caradonna draws on archives both in Paris and the provinces to show that thousands of individuals-ranging from elite men and women of letters artisans, and peasants-participated in these intellectual competitions, a far broader range of people than has been previously assumed.

Caradonna contends that the Enlightenment in France can no longer be seen as a cultural movement restricted to a small coterie of philosophers or a limited number of printed texts. Moreover, Caradonna demonstrates that the French monarchy took academic competitions quite seriously, sponsoring numerous contests on such practical matters as deforestation, the quality of drinking water, and the nighttime illumination of cities. In some cases, the contests served as an early mechanism for technology transfer: the state used submissions to identify technical experts to whom it could turn for advice. Finally, the author shows how this unique intellectual exercise declined during the upheavals of the French Revolution, when voicing moderate public criticism became a rather dangerous act.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book could not have been written without the generous support of granting agencies, institutions, colleagues, friends, and family. On the material side, I wish to acknowledge the support I received from The Johns Hopkins University, which provided me with several travel and research grants, including the J. Brien Key Fellowship. ...

Note on Abbreviations and Translation, Map of France

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-13

In a sense, the story of prize contests in France begins on a balmy afternoon in October of 1749, on a dusty road connecting Paris to the nearby royal dungeons at Vincennes. On that day, a thirty-seven-year-old music teacher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau set out on foot to visit his friend Denis Diderot in prison. ...

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Chapter 1. The Rebirth of the Concours Académique: Cultural Politics and the Domestication of Letters in the Age of Louis XIV

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pp. 14-39

Literate Frenchmen in the age of Louis XIV could not graduate from collège, attend a university, or participate in a literary society without at some point encountering an intellectual battle of wits. Indeed, France possessed what we might reasonably term a “concours culture”; competitive examinations, prize contests, and award ceremonies protruded from every corner of the cultural map. ...

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Chapter 2. À la Recherche du Concours Académique

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pp. 40-87

Prix, prix littéraire, couronnes, combats, concours académique—the academies of the Old Regime designated public prize competitions with a variety of terms. The multiplicity of labels is a strong indication of the diversity of the practice. Poetry and essay contests were the most common form of structured academic concours, ...

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Chapter 3. The Participatory Enlightenment

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pp. 88-117

Like the cunning, guileful, recurring ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Louis XIV haunted the concours académique. Although the Sun King died in 1715, he continued to appear and reappear in academic contests throughout the first half of the eighteenth century. ...

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Chapter 4. Dijon Revisited: Rousseau’s First Discourse from the Perspective of the Concours Académique

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pp. 118-142

Countless historians have considered what the concours académique—and particularly the prize contest of 1749–1750 at the Academy of Dijon—meant to the intellectual development of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.1 Yet virtually no one has ever inverted the question to consider what Rousseau might have meant to the concours académique. ...

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Chapter 5. The Concours Académique, Political Culture, and the Critical Public Sphere

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pp. 143-179

In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere—still the most influential interpretation of the public sphere in Enlightenment Europe—Jürgen Habermas argued that the liberal public of the eighteenth century, grounded in the intimacy of the conjugal family and facilitated by the rise of bourgeois consumerism, broke off from court society ...

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Chapter 6. The Practical Enlightenment: The Concours Académique, the State, and the Pursuit of Expertise

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pp. 180-201

The bureaucratic expert is an offspring of the nineteenth century. From Napoléon’s reign through the end of the century, a paid legion of professional technocrats slowly came to replace the polymathic, semiautonomous “men of letters” who doubled as governmental consultants during the Old Regime. ...

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Chapter 7. Prize Contests in the Revolutionary Crucible: Decline and Regeneration

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pp. 202-219

What happened to the concours académique in the French Revolution? Did prize competitions keep pace with the evolving political culture? Did the practice remain a site of critical intellectual exchange, as it had been in the last decades of the Old Regime? ...

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Conclusion: The Enlightenment in Question

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pp. 220-226

Bruised and battered, the concours académique reappeared shortly after the bloody paroxysms of the Terror. In 1795, only two years after the abolition of scholarly societies, the Revolutionary government reestablished the academies in the form of a centralized body known as the Institut de France, and this new heterogeneous body immediately began organizing prize contests.1 ...

Appendix A. Academies and Societies in France That Held Public Prize Contests from the Fourteenth Century to 1794

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pp. 227-228

Appendix B. Female Laureates of the Concours Académique, 1671–1790

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pp. 229-232

Appendix C. Contests founded by the Abbé Raynal

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pp. 233-236

Appendix D. Contests on Poverty, Begging, and Poor Relief

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pp. 237-238

Appendix E. Contests Related to Urban Drinking Water

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pp. 239-240


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pp. 241-296

Works Cited

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pp. 297-324


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pp. 325-334

Appendix F. List of Prize Contests Offered by Academies, Scholarly Societies, and Agricultural Societies in Continental France from 1670 to 1794

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pp. 335-516

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463907
E-ISBN-10: 0801463904
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450600
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450608

Page Count: 333
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 781378105
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Enlightenment in Practice

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Subject Headings

  • France -- Intellectual life -- 17th century.
  • France -- Intellectual life -- 18th century.
  • Literature -- Competitions -- France -- History -- 17th century.
  • Literature -- Competitions -- France -- History -- 18th century.
  • Literary prizes -- France -- History -- 17th century.
  • Literary prizes -- France -- History -- 18th century.
  • Enlightenment -- France.
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