Educational Reform and the Birth of a Mathematical Community in Revolutionary France, 1790–1815


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Abstract

Resulting from of a communal practice, scientific development is to some extent shaped by the particular conceptions of the problems, aims and methods of a field that are shared by the members of the scientific community concerned. Regrouping of scientists and the formation of a new community of practitioners reflect differentiation of the said conceptions of methods, aims and problems. In this connection, educational reform may be a key factor in the formation and consolidation of a new socio-cognitive constellation that may decisively affect the development of a discipline.A case in point is provided by the French Revolution, when radically changed social conditions gave birth to a new community of mathematical practitioners–ingénieurs savants–who shared a common education at the newly founded Ecole Polytechnique. This entirely new type of scientific institute was created in 1794 by the revolutionary Comité de Salut Public, on the instigation of its prominent member Lazare Carnot and a lobby of scientists led by Gaspard Monge, who was largely responsible for the teaching programme of the School.I intend to show how Carnot's and Monge's mathematical endeavours responded to social, political and technological developments in French society, how these concerns were reflected in the educational reforms that they carried through, and how absolutely essential the new educational arrangements were for the reception and transmission of the conceptual changes involved. As a whole, this is a historical case study about education as a mediator between social and intellectual innovation.

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