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The Savant and the State

Science and Cultural Politics in Nineteenth-Century France

Robert Fox

Publication Year: 2012

There has been a tendency to view science in nineteenth-century France as the exclusive territory of the nation’s leading academic centers and the powerful Paris-based administrators who controlled them. Ministries and the great savants and institutions of the capital seem to have defined the field, while historians have ignored or glossed over traditions on the periphery of science. In The Savant and the State, Robert Fox charts new historiographical territory by synthesizing the practices and thought of state-sanctioned scientists and those of independent communities of savants and commentators with very different political, religious, and cultural priorities. Fox provides a comprehensive history of the public face of French science from the Bourbon Restoration to the outbreak of the Great War. Following the Enlightenment, many different interests competed to define the role of science and technology in French society. Political and religious conservatives tended to blame the scientific community for upsetting traditional values and, implicitly, delivering France into the hands of revolutionary extremists and Napoleonic bureaucrats. Scientists, for their part, embraced the belief that observation and experimentation offered the surest way to the knowledge and wisdom on which the welfare of society depended. This debate, Fox argues, became a contest for the hearts and minds of the French citizenry.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

This is a book with distant roots. My idea of writing a broadly cast cultural history of nineteenth-century French science originated in the mid-1980s, when a British Academy Readership in the Humanities allowed me three years of leave from normal duties at the University of Lancaster. Since then, work on the book has had to compete with...

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pp. 1-8

Throughout the long nineteenth century that separated the Revolution of 1789 from the cataclysm of the First World War, science occupied a central place in French society and culture. In this, France resembled many other countries of Western and Central Europe and North America. But science and ways of thinking inspired by science mattered...

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1. Science and the New Order

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pp. 9-51

When the Bourbon line was restored in the spring of 1814, in the bloated person of Louis XVIII, it was inevitable that the new regime should scrutinize with special care institutions and practices of every kind that had emerged or expanded in the preceding quarter century. Faced with this scrutiny, the scientific community had reason to be apprehensive...

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2. Voices on the Periphery

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pp. 52-93

Parallels with other countries lend an air of familiarity to the experience of French devotees who did their science, usually without formal qualifications, outside the designated institutions of research and teaching. The early marginalization of independent contributors to the mathematical and physical sciences and a continued strength in...

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3. Science, Bureaucracy, and the Empire

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pp. 94-137

The Second Empire has had a bad press as a period in French intellectual history. Its dominant culture has generally been regarded as superficial and lacking seriousness; its treatment of the professoriate of the University has been seen as repressive; and its values have been characterized as shot through with the unadventurous bourgeois...

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4. Science, Philosophy, and the Culture of Secularism

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pp. 138-183

Recent scholarship has made it difficult to see science as the main cause of the tide of secularization that traversed western Europe during the mid and later nineteenth century. Notions bred of the works of J. W. Draper and A. D. White, who interpreted the relations between science and religion in terms of relentless warfare or conflict...

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5. Science for All

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pp. 184-226

During the nineteenth century, the creation of forms of science for consumption by the general public became a matter of escalating concern, sophistication, and, for some, economic profitability. Initially, the dominant style was deferential, encapsulated in a tradition of didactic poetry with roots going back to the eighteenth century and in...

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6. The Public Face of Republican Science

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pp. 227-273

The despair that followed the defeat of France at Sedan and the capture of the emperor in the late summer of 1870 proved to be fertile ground for the new departures in French science that had begun to take root in Victor Duruy’s fruitful but difficult years at the Ministry of Public Instruction. One reason for this and for the subsequent...

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pp. 274-284

The core of my argument is that science mattered, across the board of French society and throughout my slightly displaced nineteenth century. It would require detailed comparative studies to confirm that, as I suggest in the introduction, it mattered more in France than elsewhere. But the argument does not stand or fall by the truth...

Image Plates

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Appendix A: The French System of Education and Research

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pp. 285-290

Appendix B: Exchange Rates and Incomes in Nineteenth-Century France

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pp. 291-292


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pp. 293-295


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pp. 297-363

Bibliographical Note

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pp. 365-375


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pp. 377-394

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408781
E-ISBN-10: 1421408783
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421405223
Print-ISBN-10: 1421405229

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science