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Blumenthal lectures

World of Learning, Sociability and City  in early Eighteenth Century France

Stéphane Van Damme

Notes de la rédaction

Cornell University, Blumenthal lectures, 29 octobre 2002

Texte intégral

1In this last paper, I wish to present the research project I am currently working on, which is about the connection between the world of learning and scholars and the emergence of urban identities in Europe in the first half of the 18th century. To speak in broader terms, what I would like to grasp is how the circulation of knowledge shaped the making of the great cultural metropolises in the period between the 17th and the 18th century, mainly in a few sites : Paris, Lyon, London, Edinburgh, Rome and Naples. This being a work-in-progress, I chose to focus on the case of Lyons: the city ranked as a major economic metropolis, but did not qualify as a European political capital.

2This paper examines several aspects of this question: first, I would like to present the guidelines of my review of the historiography through this case study, and my intellectual framework. Secondly, why the story of the places in which exchange and scholarly sociability developed needs a reappraisal. And third, what were the effects of the circulation of knowledge on the constitution of the "symbolic capital" of the 18th century city.

Mesuring the “ capital ” effect

3Actually, several recent works in history of science or urban studies paid more attention on the role played by the centers in the diffusion of knowledge1 and information in Europe2. They criticised the functionnalist metaphor of capital

[...] which served only as surrogate for the rational instrumentalism of the capital market and the bureaucratization of the lifeworld3

4and which still presents in the recent conference in Paris in 1998 about cultural capitals leading by the historian Christophe Charle.

Capitals in the history of capitalism

5For Charle, capital’superior global command over cultural resources reorganize time and space. In the wake of Pierre Bourdieu, the process of accumulation is the basis of the cultural dynamics of capital circulation. In this grand narrative, from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century, capitalist economic dynamics continues to dominate localities and to didact the innovations’ agenda. The inventory of equipments (libraries, laboratories, etc.) of intellectual and educational institutions and other forms of sociability which serve as structures to welcome foreigners also provide a prosopography of scholars by signaling clearly the new distribution of knowledge and of scientists that emerges during the Enlightenment. But this alone cannot suffice, because it supposes that the criteria of a “ capital ” are stable from the 17th to the 20th centuries. To break with this teleological approach which encloses the construction of European capitals in a frozen and finalist perspective, it is useful to extend the methodology by a study of the invention of an intellectual functionality of the modern city.  The conversion of knowledge into “ symbolic capital ” in the Bourdieu’s tradition does not result in a simple accumulation of datas and of equipments. If, the global networks of wealth and power accumulate and exchange information instantaneously as a central source of institutional power, the economies of knowledge in Paris, Rome or London are different and do not contribute in the same way to the creation of these “ places. ” We must therefore reinterpret the notion of symbolic capital in this context by giving it a dymanic and conflictual dimension.

The ethnographical turn and the question of learning capitals

6In seeking to displace the reliance of social history of science on grand narratives of macro-social development, such as the analysis of “ colonial machine ”, some historians of science embracing the label “ post-modern ”, have posited a grand theory of local knowledge which privileges the ethnographic conversation, the local interaction, and the tacit knowledges built by indigenous people (we can mention several works on history on cartography). But, they contributed also to dissolve the question of Capitals as a center of knowledge by privileging short circles of diffusion against the long-distance networks.

From capital to capitalization 

7Understanding the social construction of knowledge in the city should not simply shift our attention from macropolitics to a micropolitics dicernible by ethnographic inquiry, nor are deducible from purely macro-structural logics or mechanisms as in the Charle’s interpretation. According to Bruno Latour,

[...]we could of course talk of ‘capital’ that is something (money, knowledge, credit, power) that has no other function but to be instantly reinvested into another cycle of accumulation. This would not be a bad word, especially since it comes from caput, the head, the master, the centre, the capital of a country, and this is indeed a characterisation of Lisbon, Versailles, of all the places able to join the beginning and the end of such a cycle. Howewer, using this expression would be begging the question : what is capitalised is necessarily turned into capital, it does not tell us what it is- besides, the word’capitalism’ has had too confusing a career…4.

8For example, during the eighteenth century, London and Paris had become the commercial entrepôt for the world’s commodities in which the means of exchange and payment were made. Mapping, classifying and making visible a new terrain was central to Britain’s foreign and domestic policy. The work of leading men of science played an important role5. States mobilized citizens, missionnaries, military officers, doctors and loyal indigenous people. To be useful these observations had to be taken according to certain criteria, reduced to standardized techniques, classified and carefully stored. This was the raw material necessary for calculated decisions and making possible action at a distance. Information from around Britain and the world was relayed back, classified, and stored in accessible filing cabinets housed in government departmental offices. Items were put on display in cabinets in institutions such as the British Museum, and entombed in the memoirs of various scientific societies. Thence developed the imperial and metropolitan storehouses6. For the urban theorist Michael Peter Smith,

[...] this way of envisioning the process of localization thus locates “ globalization ” in the realm of social pratice and situates the global-local interplay in historically specific milieus. It extends the meaning of the global-local nexus to encompass not just the social actions of “ global capitalists ” interacting with “ local comunnities ” but of the far more complex interplay of cultural, economic, political, and religious networks that operate at local, translocal and transnational scales but which intersect in particular places at particular times 7.

9By studying the circulation of knowledge in specific urban sites, it is possible to develop a differential, cultural cartography and to measure the unequal distribution of knowledge and of sites of knowledge in the construction of urban Europe in the 18th century. By working not merely on one capital but on the dynamic among capitals, we can emphasize the role played by knowledge and intellectual circuits in the production of these national differences, and address the traditional problem of center and periphery. Beyond national spaces, there are collectivities characterized by local regimes of knowledge, notably by the circulation of men, the multiplication of equipments and instruments, the standardisation of practices and attitudes, all of which can be studied. For example, London or Rome correspond to two different experiences in the universalicization of knowledge in Europe, because one is oriented towards the recognition of experimental knowledge and the valorisation of public spaces for science, and the other in the orbit of cardinals and foreign princes, in which universalisation proceeds through religious vectors such as religious orders and Church censorship.

10To begin, the research must necessarily develop a precise cartography of urban cultures already studied, which will also underline the distribution of networks of exchange woven through these cities. The geographical enlargement, thus, does not hold illustrative value, but it is necessary for a comparative approach that can lead to a European typography of localisms and of the various forms of universalisation. This practical orientation, certainly, leads me to retain the ordinary criteria of an intellectual capital : editorial center, university, point of exchange in the Republic of Letters. But it also requires me to consider the capacity of an urban milieu to exploit and diversity its forms of knowledge.

11Developing a notion of a capital as a function requires us to measure the effects of the threshold we establish between an ordinary city and a site of importance. Our research thus must be oriented towards a more precise examination of the “ tools of scale ” [outils de la grandeur], understand as the instruments of the conversion of a city into a universal ; this involves the recognition of an expertise, the attraction and centralization of information, the multiplication of locations for analyzing information, the establishment of frameworks for publicity, etc.) This idea must also take seriously the “ tests of scale ” [épreuves de la grandeur ] that the actors and institutions elaborate, from city to city8. An entire written corpus, in print and manuscript, broadly diffused (such as travel guides9) has left us the traces of these procedures of comparison. In this framework, I am particularly interested in scientific controversies, in the polemical gears that turn around scientific knowledge, or even more, the controversies (including lawsuits) in which knowledge is evaluated and which establish links from the scientific world to the urban community.

12Taking into account the politics of large cities (urban corporations and communities, guilds, religious congregations, universities, etc.) in this history will ultimately situate the interactions of savants and political authorities, not simply in an instrumentalist vision of technical knowledge, but by showing how educated elites think about the city and of their own sites ; by the same token, it will underline the necessary implication of power in the establishment of scientific research projects. It is this interpenetration, this “ translation ” of interests of one group and the other, which is the object of this study. In this way, we can hope to establish a description of a common world between these different spheres. In the second part of this paper, I would like to present a brief discussion of the formation of the urban academic scene, or “ lieu ” académique in French, a notion that I define both as a reference of the local political discourse and as a concrete entity, the space of the meeting place. By paying more attention to the inscriptions of knowledge, to the practices of circulation of information, we can reassess the social construction of a center of calculation.

From the long networks to the short network

13From the end of Louis XIV's reign to the creation of the Academy of Lyons under letters of patent in 1724, provincial urban identity asserted itself through the designation of new spokesmen for Lyons' intellectuals. The social elites spearheaded the combination of the “ long networks ” of the Republic of Letters (correspondences, great academies, scholarly journals) with the “ short networks ” of Lyons' cultural space, and thereby they mobilized and activated circuits of correspondence at the provincial level, promoting exchanges along untrodden paths, and extending both indirect and discreet encouragement to the founding of academies, and to expressions of curiosity for the local past. Thus with this rerouting of information from the long networks of the Republic of Letters to local circuits, they authorized the conversion of various fields of knowledge (archeology, numismatics, philology, experimental physics, theology) into symbolic capital.

14These exchanges of correspondence first exhibited a remarkable change in the scale and nature of the relations between scholars. In the first half of the xviith century, Lyons had been able to achieve integration in the long networks of the Republic of Letters through the joint action of the physicians and of the Jesuits of the collège de la Trinité, the latter being well represented in scholarly correspondences like those of the Royal Society of London, of Leibnitz, or in Italy. In the early xviiith century, however, the correspondence was now anchored in the concerns of scholars whose horizons were essentially limited to Lyons and its surroundings. With the academic “ creation ” of 1700, the practices of communication in-writing no longer revolved exclusively around an intellectual project, they no longer aimed only at the circulation of knowledge or at the integration and recognition of people who represented Lyons on the international scene. The practice of letter-writing now concerned circles of intimate friends and came within the scope of society living and friendly intercourse. The first academic circles established progressively in the city between 1700 and 1724 owed their strength to this densification of epistolary relations, backed by social intercourse. Admittedly, only a small proportion of the whole population of learned men who filled the meetings of the first academic circles in this period kept a correspondence, but the practice appeared to be spreading. Traces of such keen ties between various learned men living in Lyons exist, as in the case of Laurent Dugas, the marquis de St Fonds, Cholier, Anthème Tricaud, Brossette, François Gacon. The collective identity that appeared through these letters was no longer merely based on an exchange of information, but it was attached to a specific place.

15A central figure in this process of polarization was Claude Brossette, a lawyer who appeared from the start as the spokesman for the first groups formed after 1700, thanks to his far-reaching connections, both in geographic and in social terms. Claude Brossette, seigneur de Varennes d'Appetour, was born in Theizé, a parish in the Lyonnais, on November 7, 1671. He attended the collège de la Trinité in Lyons, and was a novice with the Jesuits before he became a lawyer. As a matter of fact, his letters reached beyond his connections in Lyons, and he exchanged letters with members of the Dijon academy, especially with president Bouhier and abbot Olivet. News sent from Toulouse acquainted him with the erudite work of Jesuit Father Vanière. As far as Paris was concerned, besides a close relationship with Boileau, there were also letters sent to François de Lamoignon or to Bernard de La Monnoye from the Académie française, or to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, with whom he exchanged more than a hundred letters. Brossette built up steady relations with the main provincial capitals of the world of learning, and also maintained substantial exchanges with Paris. Relatively limited before 1729, his network nevertheless clearly diversified from then on and until 1740. With Voltaire, Louis Racine, abbot Lenglet-Dufresnoy, Déon, Father Brumoy, it became national in scope, which shows that Brossette also took advantage of his position as secretary of the academy of Lyons to expand his connections. Besides, he continued to be influential in Lyons, and remained close to the Jesuits. His older brother Pierre Brossette, who taught theology and resided at the collège de la Trinité, was a personal friend of M. de Saint-Fonds. And his younger brother Nicolas was a Jesuit as well.

16A third development should finally be mentioned, a trend already perceptible in Brossette's action: the strengthening of the Paris-Lyons axis indicated that Lyons' influence tended to withdraw into the boundaries of the kingdom and gave rise to a new, problematic relation between Lyons and the French capital. Of course Lyons' cultural lexicon had long been shaped by the comparison with Paris. But in the early 18th century, in the context of the tensions between the municipality and the representatives of the king or the cours souveraines, this comparison assumed a more confrontational dimension. And besides the discourse of the first academic circles, and the claims to independence voiced by their renowned leader Brossette, other networks of intellectual and literary exchanges with Paris were much more likely to qualify statements on Lyons' originality , and even to criticize the academy. Thus the exchanges and network of nouvelles à la main established by Father Leonard, Dom Delamare, and abbot Anselme Tricaud, or the régiment de la calotte that the poet Gacon maintained with various learned men in Lyons, both exemplify a continuing dialogue with Paris, which even seemed to intensify in the first three decades of the 18th century. Such competing strategies hampered the recognition of academies for a while, and yet they also took over the efforts of the first circles to centralize and capitalize various fields of knowledge.

The making of the academic scene (1700-1724)

17Far from being taken for granted, the durability of the first circles and the letters of patent signifying recognition by the king in 1724 long remained highly uncertain. Legitimating both the academy and the political greatness of Lyons was not self-evident at first, but rather a matter of constant work and repeated efforts to build and mobilize alliances. Indeed these first circles demonstrated a robustness and a plasticity that enabled them to last apart from any legal recognition. And they did not only owe them to the speeches and representations publicized by Lyons' historians writing about the city as an “ assembly of scholars ” and mobilizing the rhetoric of the constituent bodies. In more important ways, the first circles also relied on alliances, on the action of these networks, their composition, and the material and intellectual practices that they established. Material sources make it possible to follow the course of these practices through a ten-year period, and to locate the stages of this stabilization. Three indicators may be useful here : the invention of a practice of record-keeping; the formalization of the meeting; and the construction of an intellectual and civic space.

18The keeping of a minute-book for the meetings of the academy from 1724 onward, and the designation of a permanent secretary in charge of updating this journal and writing the minutes of meetings represented in many respects an important landmark in the organization of these intellectual encounters. As far as the presentation of this journal is concerned, it first showed a lack of codification, being written in a nervous hand and taking the form of separate notebooks, but as early as 1715 a more formal material aspect suggested a more systematic use of the register by the academicians. The minutes started with a brief mention of the place of the meeting, followed by a list of the persons who attended, and then the secretary recorded and summed up the speeches delivered, as well as the ensuing discussions. Through this precise inventory of the places, the actors and the contents of the meetings, a recording of practices was evolved, which tended to maintain continuity between the meetings. Thus, in spite of fluctuations in the respective importance of the various components of the meetings, the journal kept in the hand of Claude Brossette served as the memory of the academy. The effects of this record-keeping on the consolidation of a community of scholars and on the actors' perception of changes in their intellectual practices may have been underestimated in the historiography. Nevertheless this process only brought about a partial reordering and restructuring of the group's activities. Indeed after a series of sheets devoted to 1715, the journal goes back to the meetings of 1714, and then turns again to the rest of the year 1715. This going backward in the chronological arrangement of the accounts of the meetings occurred repeatedly in 1714-1715. Reading through these minutes, one gathers that meetings were recorded in an haphazard manner and on an irregular basis. Likewise, entries followed by blank spaces indicating the absence of the secretary are sometimes inverted. A marginal note informs us on possible reading errors :

This meeting was mistakenly placed here instead of under Monday, April first, which was left blank, because the secretary was in the country.

19Real standards for keeping the journal were established only in 1716. With the appearance of an archive of the academy, which the first circles lacked, a first stage in a process of formalization of the assembly was reached. Thus this journal is significant mostly in retrospect: through the accumulation and stabilization of these documents, their constitution into a series set apart from other documents, this circle was brought into a clear focus and was invested with the status of original founder.

20Dealing with this stage in the history of the academy of Lyons, Roger Chartier and Daniel Roche greatly emphasized an increasing conformity with the academic models. Indeed several indicators conjoin to verify this assertion. First, the composition of the assemblies, as presented in the documents, clearly displays an evolution: early in 1714, only the Jesuits appeared as distinct from the rest of the people in attendance, while the date of August 4, 1714 marks the beginning of a long-lasting division into three categories, the director, the Jesuits, and the others. The emphasis on the presence of the Jesuits confirms the peculiar standing of the keeper of the journal within the group. The ranking of academicians by seniority occurred later. Such a list was first established on January 9, 1725, after the reception of the letters of patent. This consideration for long-lasting ties with the group rewarded enduring practices and underlined the role of time and collective memory. Thus the structure of the academy reads as a stratification laying out the temporal dimension of the scholarly community. In this list, the Jesuits occupied the third rank, with F. de Colonia, then the sixteenth, with F. Lombart, and finally the twenty-third (out of 24 in the list) with F. Folart. The mention of the Jesuits' affiliation with a religious order was not a unique favor. Institutional affiliations were systematically mentioned on the reception of new members, which also enhanced the special consideration given to institutional bodies and communities. Among the professions represented, three major components of Lyons' urban society stand out. Besides the Jesuits, two other urban bodies met in the assembly, one the one hand the Présidial, with three members in 1700, and on the other hand the Sénéchaussée. In 1709-1710, officers of the Cour des Monnaies, of the Sénéchaussée, of the Présidial and consular offices carried more weight within the organization, since they represented 35% of the total. To some extent the presence of the Jesuits faded, as the secular clergy became more prominent. But it remained an important factor of stability.

21Various practices testify to significant changes in the very organization of the meetings. An order of the speeches, an agenda was thus set up. For the first time on Monday, May 15 1715, the assembly agreed to “ an order according to which the academiciens must proceed with their discourses ”, and then in January 1718 the order of the speeches was decided by drawing lots. Likewise, the rule of unanimity for elections was replaced by a practice of “ ballots ” (billets), also in January 1718. Both modifications were decided on the same meeting. Finally, a status hierarchy was evolved within the academy. Only the president and the permanent secretary were originally marked out as distinct positions. However, a decision of April 4, 1714 specified that the president would be thereafter elected for three months. And then, following in the footsteps of the parisian academies, intermediary statuses were created. Thus M. Mahudel, who lived in Paris but attended the meetings from time to time, was designated in May 1715 as an “ associate of this Academy, to which he reports on the proceedings of the Academy of medals and inscriptions ”. A status of vice-president appeared in January 1718, and then honorary academicians were appointed, a status created for three new members : president Valbonnay, the marquis d'Halincourt, and the Jesuit Father de Vitry. And on the following week, the son of Dugas was allowed to attend the assemblies, “ without ranking as an academician ”. This note pointed to a status stratification within the academy, and also to its opening onto the outside society, as well as to its recognition of provincial and parisian connections.

22However, this conformity with the parisian academic structures did not suffice to put the coterie on a solid footing and to endowe it with the kind of time-honored experience that would save it from possible extinction.

23Thus, a study of the frequency of the meetings between 1714 and 1724 brings to the fore important discrepancies from one year to the next, as well as a progressive decline in the number of the meetings. This shows that the 1724 royal recognition did not follow an intensification of the meetings, but on the contrary, that it was part of a strategy to inscribe them in the law in order to put an end to a structural instability. Likewise, changes in the places of the meetings repeatedly disrupted the composition of the groups. The story of the creation of an academy in 1700 is a case in point: it first took place in the library of the physician Camille Falconnet, “ in the midst of five or six thousand volumes ”. Falconnet being inconveniently called back to Paris, where he became a consulting physician for the king and a member of the Academy of the Inscriptions, he had to give up the idea of being host to these conferences of learned men. So M. de Trudaine, the newly-appointed intendant of Lyons' government, took over as early as 1704. Then in 1710, the assembly moved to be housed by M. de la Vallette and by president Dugas until 1717, when archbishop François-Paul de Neufville provided asylum in his palace. As it appears at first glance, these meetings continued to assume the spontaneous and private character that they had in the 17th century. However, the place of the meeting with M. de Trudaine was no longer entirely neutral ground. Trudaine had only just arrived in Lyons and he intended to found an academy. But he actually only reconstituted the defunct academy of 1700, incidently reshaping the composition of its members and providing it with a meeting-place in his residence. Besides, the mansion of the intendant was also known to the scholars of Lyons as a meeting point in the circulation of literary and political news, especially for banned books. Thus Dom Delamare wrote to F. Léonard de Sainte-Catherine on May 29, 1707 :

I had heard of the book authored by Mr le Maréchal de Vauban, in this city this piece only appeared at the house of Mr l'Intendant, through a military officer who passed by and lent it to him for a few hours only. This Intendant promised me on Annunciation day to move heaven and earth to get a copy of it, which he will let me copy at my leisure.

24Undeniably, the arrival of Trudaine turned the headquarters of the academy into a stage. This occurred as the intendants' action took on new forms in the généralité. Trudaine was the son of a Trésorier de France working at the Finance Bureau in Amiens. He became ordinaire en la Chambre des Comptes de Paris, was then appointed intendant of Burgundy in 1710, and conseiller d'Etat on August 20, 1711, maître de requêtes in 1715, and finally conseiller d'Etat ordinaire in 1720. Méliand, who succeeded him, was admitted in the academy in 1714:

M. Méliand, intendant of Lyons, honored the assembly with his presence. […] Monsieur l'Intendant dealt with much clarity and precision with various common practices regarding the governing rules of the parlement de Paris.

25All the intendants of the Généralité who followed requested admittance into the academy of Lyons, as well as the prévôts des marchands. And a little later, as it enjoyed the protection of the archbishop, the academy soon obtained the letters of patent. Although we do not know much about the spatial arrangements of the first meetings, the meeting-registers disclose more details on the moving of the academy in the palace of the archbishop on April 7, 1717:

"Monseigneur the archbishop kindly consented to provide the academy with an asylum, his greatness assigned the location of the sessions in his own apartment in the archbishop's palace. The academy assembled around a long desk and approved . Monseigneur sat in an armchair at the upper end of the table, the academicians on chairs around it, and the secretary at the lower end of the table, facing Mgr. Mr de Serre, the director, sitting on the right-hand side of Monseigneur and gave a speech to thank Monseigneur for honoring the academy with a session in his palace.

26The staging of patronage is the most noteworthy feature of this description. There is nothing unusual about the layout of the furniture, which could also be found at the residence of the abbé de La Roque, for example, but the scenography highlights the exalted position of the archbishop and the submission of the academicians. There was no continuity in the gatherings at the archbishop's palace, however. Between 1720 and 1722, the sessions took place at Dugas' again. Eventually, on December 12, 1724, the secretary wrote down: "first public and general assembly". Thus the dynamics of the meeting-places proceeded apace with the development of patronage and the formalization of practices. And its significance was enhanced by the institution of a “ cultural ceremonial ”.

27Finally, in addition to this use of patronage to strengthen the internal structure of the gatherings, public recognition also mattered to the academies. And on Lyons' cultural scene, this public recognition was tied up with the definition of a hierarchy in the various assemblies which started calling themselves “ academies ” in the city. Thus on August 6, 1714, the music academie, heretofore named concert, asked the Academy to give it regulations, a name, and a motto. The journey between the intellectual and domestic space of Falconnet's library and the archbishop's palace reads like the story of a capture, traces a process of harnessing the cultural representations of Lyons' intellectual scene to political and civic institutions.

A local economy of academic knowledge?

28Let us turn now to the last question I wish to discuss here: to what extent did these groups with loose connections set up a local economy of knowledge ? This notion should not be understood as a mere transfer of the parisian academic culture, but also as a translation of general knowledge from the standpoint of local practices. Two examples illustrate these traductions lyonnaises.

29First, let us consider the attempt to mobilize this academic circle to edit a commentary and a translation of Cicero's De Natura Deorum, a project adopted on January 12, 1717. The project was proposed by the archbishop for “ the purpose of avoiding the sort of disarray that the assemblies have fallen into lately ”.

30Even though the edition failed to be completed, this undertaking is remarkable in several respects. With this project, the academy of Lyons joined a large-scale academic and scholarly movement. A translation of the same text had indeed been already initiated by abbot d'Olivet, a former Jesuit, and by president Bouhier, of Dijon. This testifies to the promotion of provincial emulation, of a competitive spirit even, which the correspondence between Brossette and M. de Saint-Fonds discloses on several occurrences.

31The editing work undertaken by the young assembly also demonstrated its capacity for structuring itself around a project (with the organization of various committees). The abilities of everyone could thus be spotted, as well as his intellectual position on the academic scene. The translation required work at the juncture of several fields of knowledge (linguistic, antiquarian, and religious), and thus mobilized the main centers of interest of the circle. And finally, it was also significant for the way it turned the archbishop, formerly a political Maecenas, into a true literary patron, since he was involved in proofreading and corrections.

32Beyond the particulars of this episode, what was at stake was the display of a literary bent and the celebration of the practice of the commentary. This was confirmed in 1720 by the choice of the title to be used to refer to the assembly in the register, which appeared as “ Académie de littérature ”. At the same time, Brossette was entrusted with the task of annotating the complete works of Molière; Louis Racine joined the coterie soon afterwards. This undertaking paralleled the literary strategy of Claude Brossette, whose credit rested in part on his edition of commentaries of Boileau's Satyres, on his edition of the poems of Mathurin Régnier, as well as on his Histoire Abrégée ou éloge historique de la ville de Lyon, published in 1711. Following this example, other academicians tried to illustrate themselves in the scholarly exercise of the commentary. Thus M. de Saint-Fonds set about to write a commentary of Racine's works, which was never published. Chauvelin, a maître de requêtes in charge of the library, went so far as calling upon Brossette for his notes on one of Molière's plays:

Monsieur, an in-4° edition of the Molière is proposed here. I know you have notes written down on this piece. If you would like to transmit them to me, I will have them used in this edition, since I am convinced that they will be received with pleasure by the public, as they come from a person whose learning is already known to them in several respects.

33The second example to be examined here deals with the way the new “ academicians ” committed the circulation of knowledge to relatively stable and polarized procedures. Stereotypes marked an inversion of the terms of the search for identity. Lyons' identity was no longer shaped merely by antiquarian research, it no longer depended only on the recognition of an object of study at an international level. It became the mainspring of a polarization process and tended to absorb multifaceted forms of outside knowledge. Thus local history was no longer called upon to unify or mobilize from the outside a loose association of scholars with mixed geographical origins, but it concurred with the efforts of Lyons' consulate to found privileges on the past. The projective dimension of learning yielded to an affirmative gesture, to the sense of belonging to an urban community. Of course, the academicians continued to maintain relations with outside scholars, but the flow of knowledge in circulation changed direction. The stakes of learning were now subordinate to issues of identity and politics. What mattered was to have expert authorities ratify Lyons' knowledge.

34The following example sheds light on this transformation : in the journal of the meetings held from 1714 onward, the entry for the first meeting mentions a discussion on a marble table with an engraved latin inscription. After the intervention of Valbonnais, F. Ménestrier and his Histoire de Lyon were cited. And on the next meetings, Laisné proposed his interpretation. Then Chorier and Spon were cited. M. Aubert also read a paper on the same subject, proposing a “ new conjecture about this formula ”, and evoking Spon in his Antiquités de Lyon. Interventions from Dugas and Laisné followed. And eventually the issue was put into the hands of two expert authorities, M. de la Vallette and B. de Montfaucon, whose opinion only concurred with the official interpretation of the assembly.

35The journals reporting on the academicians'activities opened with this anecdote, which seems to epitomize an evolution in the circulation of scholarly materials. Correspondence was no longer used to mobilize a field of studies, on the contrary it assumed a retroactive dimension, it was used to bring outside knowledge back to the academic center, in order to ratify Lyons' expertise and to strengthen the position of the academic "short network". Thus taking the floor within the circle, the orators brought to the fore an on-going dialogue with the works of F. Ménestrier or Jacob Spon. However, although such works sketched a circle of local authorities, they were not confronted with other, outside research. Starting from the inventory and the commenary of these local archeological inscriptions and attempting to reach a global knowledge of the Roman empire was like trying to square the circle. Given this impossibility, discussions did not go anywhere, and lost their way into a mere localism. Lacking new discoveries, they were doomed to repetition. Nevertheless, this sterility also had its positive side, since it helped integrate academic practices into an antiquarian tradition which defended the city's privileges and political order. This integration gave the scholarly gatherings a sense of purpose and an agenda. As the academicians undertook to criss-cross time and space in this way, they managed to get a firm grounding in an unprescriptible logic, by vesting the circle with concerns that revolved around the permanence of city's identity.

36The publication of the two volumes of the Histoire littéraire de la ville de Lyon, by the Jesuit Dominique de Colonia marks the end of this evolution, insofar as several stories intersected in this book: the history and the founding of the Jesuit college, the history of the city, and the history of the academic movement. This enabled the new community of scholars, recently recognized by the letters of patent of 1724, to earn a historical dimension, a time-honored distinction, which their predecessors had missed. With this conjunction of three institutional histories, the academy acquired a memory that could reach almost as far back as the founding of the city. Thus the black box of academic and civic pride finally closed up. From then on, the celebration of academic institutions and civic greatness appeared hand in hand in the mythical foundation of collective identities.

Conclusion : City, Circulation and innovation, the paths to capitalization

37To conclude my paper, I wish to broaden the scope of this analysis and the period covered here, in order to reach a better understanding of how a city can rely on the circulation of knowledge to become a metropolis. The formation of Lyons' cultural space has long been an object of study, with the pioneering works of Louis Trénard in 1958 or Maurice Garden in 1970.However, the cultural history of Lyons has been profoundly revisited in the last ten years. Taking into account the results that have been added up, I propose to define the role and the status of knowledge in this process. The example of Lyons let us observe three main stages.

38First, it should be noted that the city committed itself to a cycle of accumulation of knowledge and of institutionalization, which went along with the setting up of routes and storage areas. Lyons benefited from its position at the crossroads of different information networks: religious or denominational networks (those of the Protestants or the Jesuit missions outside of Europe); the networks of trade with the Levant and the West Indies (with the experience of entrepreneur Flachat in the Ottoman empire) ; the network of medicine, connecting the centers of medical training (Geneva, Montpellier, Strasbourg); the networks of local scholars and antique dealers (Esprit Calvet in Avignon). The second remarkable element is the increase in the number of public libraries in the city (Jesuits, Augustins, Dominicans, Oratorians), as well as of private collections. With respect to these private collections, the catalogues that have been preserved denote a significant intellectual openness on the part of Lyons' elites. Through its connections with various remote peripheries, Lyons became a real center of exchanges, as well as a center for the treatment of information. The figure of bibliographer Adamoli epitomizes these new possibilities.

39The structuration of this rise to the rank of “ cultural capital ” rested on a second factor: namely, the capacity of Lyons' elites for generalizing local questions. They displayed this capacity in the technical fields of the silk industry, which exported many devices. The emergence of a certain form of local expertise played a significant part in the popular academic competitions of the second half of the 18th century. The city's success in these competitions showed in the way the questions sent from Lyons drew many answers. The research of Liliane Hilaire-Perez on technological transfers, as well as the work of Marie Thébaut-Sorger on aerostatic experiments both emphasize the rallying power of Lyons' institutions throughout the kingdom.

40Finally, the third peculiar feature of Lyons' cultural scene lies in the interconnection of various networks of sociability, which favored both a capitalization of knowledge and its translation into universal terms, for the use of other places in Europe. As this structure depended on a single network, it was possible for the “ capital ” function to work on a permanent basis. Lyons thus became an attractive place for new cultural movements in Europe, movements that throve on extra-national principles and on cosmopolitan values: the city became a great center for the freemasonry, as well as a crossroads in the Protestant diaspora. The significance of these various elements has recently been reassessed in a European context, and they point to an interpenetration of the fields of cultural experience in the city, the fields of commerce, masonic or religious activities. They also show a shift in the definition of urban identity on the eve of the Revolution. Urban identity no longer rested on a withdrawal into a common space, but on the contrary on this ability to function as a center in the circulatory system of innovation.

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1 Voir le numéro sur “ Rome scientifica ”, Roma moderna et contemporena, 2001.
2 François Regourd et McClellan III (James), “ French Science and Colonization in the Ancien régime : the ‘Machine coloniale’ ”, Osiris (2000), vol. 15, p. 31-50.

James E. McClellan III, Colonialism and Science : Saint-Domingue in the Old Regime, Baltimore-Londres, The John Hopkins University Pres, 1992.

3 See Michael Peter Smith, “ Power in Place : Retheorizing the Local and the Global ”, Understanding the City. Contemporary and future perspectives, ed. by John Eade and Christopher Mele, London, Blackwell Publishers, 2001.
4 B. Latour, Science in action. How to follow scientists and engineers through society, Cambridge, Havard University Press, 1987, p. 223.
5 We follow, Ashworth (William J.), “ John Herschel, George Airy, and the Roaming eye of the state ”, History of Science, XXXVI, 1998, p. 152.
6 Ashworth (William J.), “ John Herschel, George Airy, and the Roaming eye of the state ”, History of Science, XXXVI, 1998, p. 151-172.
7 Michael Peter Smith, “ Power in Place : Retheorizing the Local and the Global ”, Understanding the City. Contemporary and future perspectives, ed. by John Eade and Christopher Mele, London, Blackwell Publishers, 2001, p. 118.
8 See the works of Luc Boltanski, Endless disputes from intimate injuries to public denunciation, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1996, 32 p. ; Sociology of critical capacity, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1996, 32 p.
9 D. Roche, ed., Almanach parisien : en faveur des étrangers et des personnes curieuses, Saint-étienne, Publications de l’Université de Saint-étienne, 2001.
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Stéphane Van Damme, « World of Learning, Sociability and City  in early Eighteenth Century France », Les Dossiers du Grihl [En ligne], Les dossiers de Stéphane Van Damme, Blumenthal lectures, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2007, consulté le 27 septembre 2021. URL :

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Stéphane Van Damme

Stéphane Van Damme est chargé de recherche au CNRS, affecté depuis 2003 à la Maison Française d’Oxford où il est responsable du programme d’histoire des sciences. à partir de septembre 2007, il sera Associate Professor in French Modern History au département d’histoire de l’université de Warwick (Grande-Bretagne). Il anime le groupe de recherche sur Savoirs et capitales européennes. Il a publié trois livres : Descartes. Essai d’histoire culturelle d’une grandeur philosophique (2002) ; Paris, capitale philosophique de la Fronde à la Révolution (2005) ; Le temple de la sagesse. Savoirs, écriture et sociabilité urbaine (Lyon, 17-18e siècles) (2005). Il vient d’éditer en collaboration avec Nicolas Offenstadt, Luc Boltanski, Elisabeth Claverie une enquête collective sur la forme affaire, Affaires, scandales et grandes causes. De Socrate à Pinochet, Paris, éditions Stock, 2007.

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Les Dossiers du Grihl est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 3.0 France.

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