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The Consumption of Science and Technology, from print culture to public spectacle (Marie Thebaud-Sorger)

We will consider the rise of consumption for sciences and technology in France and Britain. In the wake of the success of natural philosophy, a wider audience turned into new markets, not only for prints (books, leaflets, periodicals and pictures) but also lectures and any kind of objects (scientific instruments, globes, maps, balloons...).

Our aim is to explain precisely these new markets, as well as examine the places where these disseminations occur: lectures, shops, salon, clubs, and coffee shop. Furthermore this question needs to be connected to the issue of the transformation of the public: from aristocratic audiences to a mixed audience, in relation to urban expansion. The seminar will extend the study of this issue into the different chronological and cultural frameworks of pre-revolutionary France. We will deal with two main points: first, the question of curiosity, the pleasure given by spectacular entertainment, and new forms of interest in utility and improvements; and second, we will consider raise the question of the relation between this consumption and the emergence of a public sphere.


  • How was cultural consumption turned into business for natural philosophy?
  • What were the similarities and differences between France and England?
  • How and where did new forms of consumption occur?
  • How were customers convinced they were not dealing with charlatans?
  • What kind of knowledge is disseminated through these new markets?
  • What changes over time do we discern?

Primary Reading

Jones, Colin, “The great chain of buying: medical advertisement, the bourgeois public sphere and the origins of the French Revolution”, American Historical Review, (1996): pp.13-40.

Perez, Liliane, “Technology, Curiosity and Utility in France and in England in the Eighteenth Century” in Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Christine Blondel (eds), Science and Spectacle in the European Enlightenment, (Aldershot, 2008) pp.25-41.

Stewart Larry, The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric, Technology, and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660-1750, Cambridge University Press, 1992

Seminar Reading

Bennett, Jim A, “Shopping for instruments in Paris and London”, Smith Pamela and Findlen Paula (eds.), Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe, Routledge, 2001, pp.370-395.

Fara, Patricia, “'A Treasure of Hidden Vertues': The Attraction of Magnetic Marketing” The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 28, No. 1, (Mar., 1995): 5-35, Cambridge University Press

Keen, Paul «The 'Balloonomania': Science and Spectacle in 1780s England. » Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.4 (2006) : 507-535.

Lynn, Michael, ‘Enlightenment and the Public Sphere: The Musée de Monsieur and Scientific Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Paris’, in Eighteenth Century Studies 32 (1999): 463-476.

Schaffer, Simon, ‘The Consuming Flame: Electrical Showmen and Public Spectacle in Eighteenth-Century England’, in Consumption and the World of Gods, ed. by John Brewer and Roy Porter (London, 1993), pp.489-526.

Further Reading

Benedict, Maria M., Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Curiosity (Chicago,2001)

Bertucci, Paola, “domestic spectacles: electrical instruments between business and conversation” in Science and Spectacle in the European Enlightenment, ed. by (Aldershot, 2008), pp.75-88

Gascoigne, John, Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture (Cambridge, 1994).

Golinski, Jan, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820 (Cambridge, 1992).

Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography : making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England , ( Chicago- London, University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Schaffer, Simon, ‘Natural Philosophy and Public Spectacle in the Eighteenth Century’, in History of Science 21 (1983): 1-43.

Sutton, G.V., Science for a Polite Society: Gender, Culture and the Demonstration of Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 1995)

Stewart Larry « Other centres of calculation, or, where the Royal Society didn't count: commerce, coffee-houses and natural philosophy in early modern London », The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 32, No. 2, (Jun., 1999): 133-153.