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Tools and Practices of Self-Empowerment: Men of Science and Letters as Political Agents in the Ancient Régime

Donnerstag, 9. Juni
09:15 bis 10:45 Uhr
Raum 3148

During the early modern period, the relationship between the sciences and governments, men of letters and men of power underwent a massive transformation. This transformation can be described as a paradoxical process: on the one hand, political elites instrumentalised or even exploited scholars and scientists as never before in order to increase the power and wealth of their territories; on the other hand men of science and letters gained a new degree of political autonomy and power by making themselves indispensable to government. They did so by turning relatively young institutions such as royal academies into «powerhouses» of research and consulting and by using print communication to propagate their findings and pressurise the political elites. The transformation was also reflected in the semantic change of the term «men of letters» itself, as can be seen form Voltaire’s article «gens de lettres» in Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie: it understands eighteenth-century philosophers and literati as forces of criticism and improvement for the sake of the whole nation.

The panel proposed by Christelle Rabier and Caspar Hirschi will concentrate on the tools, practices and procedures developed and applied by European scholars and scientists in order to make their knowledge attractive and applicable to political purposes and to empower themselves in the process. It will cover the period from the Age of Enlightenment to the French Revolution and focus on fields of scientific and scholarly enquiry that changed profoundly during this period – such as the emerging social sciences (social and economic statistics, quantitative cartography etc.), sanitary and forensic administration or social anthropology. It will offer insights into the circulation of enlightened knowledge on a global scale by including exchanges between European and Chinese scholars and scientists and by analysing the political impact of these exchanges in both China and France. Also, it will examine the interrelation between the roles of scientists in legal and political matters, in law courts and princely courts in order to exemplify how the tools and practices of scientific and scholarly self-empowerment were crafted and implemented. Finally, the panel will include the impact of new forms of public communication in science and scholarship within these particular fields of enquiry and thereby offer insights into the complementary roles of official expertise and public criticism in the Ancien Régime. With this framework, the panel will raise questions that are of relevance well beyond the early modern period and still have a great significance today.

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Tagungsorganisation: Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Historische Institute der Universität Lausanne | Kontakt