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The Savant and the State

, 408 pages

16 b&w illus.

July 2012



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The Savant and the State

Science and Cultural Politics in Nineteenth-Century France

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.

Robert Fox is professor emeritus of history of science at the University of Oxford. He was awarded the History of Science Society’s 2015 Sarton Medal for lifetime scholarly achievement. He is the editor of Technological Change: Methods and Themes in the History of Technology.

"In writing a history of science and cultural politics in nineteenth-century France, Fox has achieved a formidable and admirable synthesis."

"Such a bold undertaking would flounder in the hands of anyone not possessed of superior scholarship and decades of experience. Savant and the State could have been written by no one other than Robert Fox."

"A skilful balance between speculative and thought-provoking thematic work and accounts of the specific, the confined, and the material... Brilliant and well-researched."

"This work should be of inestimable value to all historians of science, France, and European culture."

"A valuable synthesis of the variety of political and cultural roles played by the scientific enterprise in France from the end of the First Empire to the outbreak of World War I... A broad-ranging, balanced survey of the state of the field... In The Savant and the State, Fox has written what is likely to remain the definitive survey of public science in nineteenth-century France for some time to come."

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