Publication : E. C. Spary « Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670-1760 » (University of Chicago Press, 2012)

41SOwM60YoL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_By focusing on food and eating from the dinner table to the laboratory, E. C. Spary‘s new book shows how an increasingly public culture of knowledge shaped the daily lives of literate Parisians in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Spary’s work is at the same time a rich and embodied history of food, diet, and digestion in French Enlightenment science, and an account of how social and epistemological authority were produced amid the emergence of new Enlightenment publics. In Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670-1760 (University of Chicago Press, 2012), controversies over digestion provided a space for the working out of power struggles between political, religious, medical, and culinary thinkers. Faced with a cuisine bursting with new materials and flavors, French society debated various ways of negotiating the opposing poles of indulgence and sobriety, luxury and reform. This is illustrated in several detailed case studies that include coffee and its implication in networks of expertise; cafes as social leveling-grounds, performance spaces, and chemical laboratories; and the production of new liqueurs. Spary’s work urges us to reconsider the way we write commodity histories, and is well worth reading.

Eating the Enlightenment offers a new perspective on the history of food, looking at writings about cuisine, diet, and food chemistry as a key to larger debates over the state of the nation in Old Regime France. Embracing a wide range of authors and scientific or medical practitioners—from physicians and poets to philosophes and playwrights—E. C. Spary demonstrates how public discussions of eating and drinking were used to articulate concerns about the state of civilization versus that of nature, about the effects of consumption upon the identities of individuals and nations, and about the proper form and practice of scholarship. En route, Spary devotes extensive attention to the manufacture, trade, and eating of foods, focusing upon coffee and liqueurs in particular, and also considers controversies over specific issues such as the chemistry of digestion and the nature of alcohol. Familiar figures such as Fontenelle, Diderot, and Rousseau appear alongside little-known individuals from the margins of the world of letters: the draughts-playing café owner Charles Manoury, the “Turkish envoy” Soliman Aga, and the natural philosopher Jacques Gautier d’Agoty. Equally entertaining and enlightening, Eating the Enlightenment will be an original contribution to discussions of the dissemination of knowledge and the nature of scientific authority.



  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1st ed edition (November 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226768864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226768861
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches


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