Dr Emma Spary
Tuesday 10 February, 18.00-19.30
S8.08, History Department, King's College London
We are very pleased to welcome Dr Emma Spary from the University of Cambridge to speak on ‘Poisons and Providence in Old Regime Paris’ as part of the short seminar series on ‘Innovation, Utility, and Expertise in Early Modern Science’ hosted by the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine and the Department of History.
This paper addresses the way in which making, controlling and writing about poisons in Paris between 1670 and 1789 created both opportunities and crises for scientific and medical claimants to public expertise. The capacity of poisons to evade detection, to work invisibly in undermining the health of the individual or public body, and to subvert existing power relations made them unreliable proxies for groups and individuals seeking to constitute themselves as knowledge experts. Those who did lay claim to knowledge about poisons risked public censure; the subtleties of the apothecaries’, distillers’ and cooks’ arts, their claims to expertise over the distinction between poisons, medicaments and foods, and their skills in manipulating and re-producing these categories, made them prime targets for charges of poisoning in the late Old Regime. Physicians and botanists, by contrast, ‘neutralised’ poison by presenting it as a problem of wrong conduct and ignorance among consumers, one which public enlightenment in matters of health and natural history would resolve. Poisons, both literal and figurative, particularly preoccupied those critics of French courtly politics who, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, were deeply invested in constructing Nature as the sole authentic foundation and guarantrix of moral, social and political order. For such reformers, the existence of naturally venomous plants such as fungi posed a particular problem, especially in the face of theologically heterodox works which used them as evidence of divine malevolence.
More details on the series can be found here: https://earlymodernexperts.wordpress.com.