- Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains, and: When Geologists were Historians, 1665–1750, and: The Mammoth and the Mouse: Microhistory and Morphology
It is inherently difficult to characterize a flotilla of eleven essays on disparate topics, even when they all sail under the flag of articulating the Enlightenment’s project to make the human being an object of science, as is the case in the collection Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains. Though the reader will tend to select those articles that relate to his or her area of interest, a patient and thorough reading of all the essays pays high dividends, thanks to the complementary insights the articles provide to the world of eighteenth-century science. Particularly worthy of forays beyond one’s discipline are Roy Porter’s lively essay on Enlightenment medical science and the late Gloria Flaherty’s informative article on non-normal sciences such as astrology.
In response to what it sees as disciplinary fragmentation, this volume seeks to refocus attention on the eighteenth century as the origin of the science of man—the indispensable prelude to the birth of a New Man—itself a response to the progress made in the early-modern mathematical sciences of nature. In addition to the contributions by Porter and Flaherty, the book contains essays on conjectural history (Robert Wokler), human nature (Roger Smith), natural history (Phillip Sloan), sex and gender (Ludmilla Jordanova), psychology (Gary Hatfield), the science of society (David Carrithers), political economy (Sylvana Tomaselli), and political theory (Robert Wokler). On the whole, the articles are thoughtful comparative analyses that bring great conceptual clarity to canonical texts and make a convincing case for the centrality of the science of man during the Enlightenment. They share two limitations. The introduction’s reference to the Enlightenment’s “extraordinary diversity” notwithstanding, these are manifestly essays about Great Books (works by Diderot, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Smith are referred to many times), a restriction that is felt especially keenly in Jordanova’s article on sex and gender, which bases its argument on a handful of primary texts. The contributions are also less than up-to-date theoretically and are frequently in dialogue with figures such as Peter Gay and Michel Foucault, whose relevant publications are three decades old. But such limitations are perhaps understandable in a volume more devoted to a historical obstetrics of ideas—locating and describing the birth of the science of man—than to deploying a new interpretive paradigm or casting light on lesser-known works.
What sets Rhoda Rappaport’s monograph on early-modern geology between 1665 and 1750 apart from studies such as Gabriel Gohau’s Science de la terre aux XVIIe et XVIIe siècles (1990) and David Oldroyd’s Thinking about the Earth (1996) is first its more narrow focus [End Page 579] (by not accepting entries postmarked after 1750, it necessarily omits texts by the likes of Hutton and Werner), but more importantly its effort to read geological writings within the context of the Republic of Letters—the institutions and practices of intellectual exchange associated with the burgeoning of learned journals and societies beginning in the mid-seventeenth century. After introductory chapters on the main organs of publication (the Journal des savants, the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, and the Jesuit Mémoires de Trévoux), the centers of international exchange (Paris, London, Geneva, and Bologna), and on coeval epistemologies and theories of history, the remaining chapters are devoted to a treatment of the dominant issues of early modern geology: fossils, diluvialism, volcanoes, sedimentation, subterranean heat, and so on. In the eighteenth century, geology’s cynosure was marine fossil remains. In 1778, Jean-André de Luc referred to them as the “bone of contention among scientists,” adding that “this phenomenon alone has caused theologians and natural...