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Les auditeurs aux cours de Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Project presentation

At the initiative of Pietro Corsi, professor of the History of Sciences (Paris-I Sorbonne, EHESS), and with the support of the Espace Mendès-France at Poitiers, a collective, international research project has been launched in 1994 in order to study an exceptional document deposited a few years ago in the Archives Nationales : it is the register of attendance to the zoology lectures given by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle from 1795 to 1820, and from 1821 to 1823 by Pierre-André Latreille, his assistant and successor.

Attendants come from a variety of locations and situations : Parisians were in the minority when compared to the sons of provincial notables ; the presence of a strong group of foreigners (nearly a fifth of the effective), from roughly twenty countries, is also to be noted. Enlightened amateurs and young students sat side by side to already established figures of the scientific world. Politicians, military officers, engineers, lawyers, merchants, churchmen, writers and artists met medical practitioners, pharmacists, chemists, geologists, botanists, zoologists... Among many eminent contemporaries, the names of Villermé, Prévost, Flourens, Deshayes, d'Omalius d'Halloy, Bonelli, Gimbernat, Eichwald, von Sckell, Bruce, Hodgkin, Andrew Combe deserve to be singled out.

The Document

The document, a register of about 150 pages, has been preserved at the Archives of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (AJ*/15/144), then at the National Archives. Unavailable during the 1970s and 1980s, it has been returned to the Archives nationales in 1993.

Opened in the year III ( Spring 1795) and in use until 1823, the register lists over 1200 names, which appear to correspond to 973 different participants to the lecture courses (some of them having signed more than once). Unfortunately, there are a few gaps, caused by the greed of autograph hunters: lines were cut off, depriving us of the signatures of some well-known attendant, such as Balzac or Sainte-Beuve, who left accounts of the lectures given by the naturalist. The biographical information provided in the register is varied and hardly consistent. Some of the participants indicated not only their name and surname, but also their age, town, department or country of origin, even their profession, whereas others only penned down their names in hurried strokes.

The autographs have been scanned and can be consulted on this on-line database.

Update on the project.

© 2006 CNRS/CSI/MNHN/EHESS. Auteurs : RaphaŽl Bange, Pietro Corsi.