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Napoleon's Campaigns: Models for "French" Revolutionary Science Abroad and at Home?

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Abstract

This chapter rethinks Napoléon’s major scientific legacies as the direct outcome of his military, Imperial and institutional nation-building. While such frameworks support official narratives for the unrivalled status of French science at the Paris ‘Muséum National d’Histoire naturelle’ and its daughter institutions in the early decades of the nineteenth-century in Europe, they occlude important German counter-models and inspirations for French Revolutionary science, including major non-military scientific practitioners at work within and outside Napoleonic France. The first part of the essay therefore reconsiders the roles played by international Scottish-German precursors, such as the Forsters on Cook’s Voyages of discovery that directly inspire Napoléon’s inclusion of 167 ‘scientists’ (savants) on his Expédition d’Egypte in 1798-99, and Joséphine Bonaparte’s collections of Australiana at Malmaison. The second part of the essay then investigates two ‘French’ savants trained in Germany who did not join Napoléon’s Expédition, Georges Cuvier and Alexander von Humboldt. Their transplanting of ‘German’ science – Cuvier develops comparative anatomy in the Paris laboratories, Humboldt pioneers ‘plant geography’ on his Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New World (1799-1804) – then allows comparison of their multi-disciplinary scientific work with Napoléon’s Expédition d’Egypte abroad and at home. His Egyptology collections at the Louvre also share their site with the first major ‘world fair’ in 1801, the ‘exposition des produits de l’industrie française’. It features in 1806 the important discoveries in food preserving for military and civilian use by M. Appert, whose work was translated into German to sustain those living under Napoleonic Occupation. By advocating from its evidence for more transnationally-framed models for Napoléon’s avowedly ‘national’ models for French science, the essay encourages the rediscovery of other German inspirations and contributions because also at the same time ‘French’.
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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNapoleonic Occupation and German Culture:
Subtitle of host publicationInspiration Bonaparte?
EditorsSean Allan, Jeffrey High
PublisherBoydell and Brewer
Chapter10
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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