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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 586-587

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Book Review

Le fonds d'archives Seguin: Aux origines de la révolution industrielle en France 1790-1860

Le fonds d'archives Seguin: Aux origines de la révolution industrielle en France 1790-1860. By Michel Cotte. Privas, France: Archives départementales de l'Ardèche, 1995. Pp. 191; illustrations, figures, notes/references, appendixes, bibliography. Fr 159.

This sumptuously fashioned book is a delight both to the eye and to the mind. It offers a sampling of the Seguin family papers, uncovered about twenty years ago by Charles C. Gillispie and Maurice Daumas and now open to researchers at the departmental archives of the Ardèche. Beginning as mere cloth merchants in the provincial town of Annonay, an important [End Page 586] papermaking center, the Seguin family branched out into manufacture after 1815 and by the 1820s had became a major force in the early phases of the French industrial revolution. Under the technical direction of Marc Seguin (Seguin l'âiné, eldest of five brothers), the family built the first steam railroad in France, constructed the first long-span iron-cable suspension bridges in the world, and introduced efficient fire-tube boilers, initially for use in towboats on the Rhône, but then applied to railway locomotives. The Seguin family archive illustrates in microcosm the rise of modern industry as a subtle and complex interplay of scientific, technological, and capitalist innovation, with international technology interchange as a crucial element.

The documents--reproductions of key letters and manuscripts, photographs, technical drawings, maps, family portraits, engravings, and lithographs--that constitute the bulk of this volume have been lovingly chosen by the author, Michel Cotte. A professor of the history of technology at the Université de technologie de Belfort-Montbéliard, Cotte has recently published his doctoral thesis, Innovation et transfert de technologie, le cas des entreprises de Marc Seguin, France 1815-1835 (Lille: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1998), and this present volume is a résumé of his research, intended primarily for a general audience. In clear, precise, elegant prose, Cotte provides appropriate historical context for the Seguin documents reproduced here. In addition to the brief but invaluable interpretive essays that introduce each chapter, transcriptions of hard-to-read manuscripts and lucid explanations of documents and illustrations appear in the margins, supplemented by charts and diagrams depicting such important matters as the travels in England of the Seguin family and its business associates, family genealogy, chronologies of family activities, and the socioeconomic and geographical origins of investors in the Seguin family's several enterprises.

Given the richness of its illustrations (many of them in color) and the delightfully informative nature of its text, this book, at about twenty-five dollars, is an exceptional bargain. It will be useful and edifying to scholars, teachers, students, and general readers interested in the early phases of the industrial revolution.

J. B. Gough

Dr. Gough teaches the history of science and the history of technology at Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington.



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