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Academic Mathematics in France before 1699

Academic Mathematics in France before 1699

The Administrative Turn at the Académie Royale des Sciences

(p.76) Chapter 3 Academic Mathematics in France before 1699
Before Voltaire
J.B. Shank
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 completes Part I's assessment of the culture of French academic mathematics begun in Chapter 2. It focuses on the institutional and social developments that turned the Académie Royale des Sciences from a site of gentlemanly courtly mathematics into one pulling instead toward utilitarian work that served the interests of royal state administration. The changing nature of Louis XIV's monarchy after the mid-point of his reign in the 1680s, and the ascent of the Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain family as a ministerial clan pushing the state in this administrative direction plays a crucial role in this story. Jean-Paul Bignon, a member of the Pontchartrain clan, was especially instrumental in applying this new ministerial spirit toward the ordinary operating procedures of the royal academy. The chapter looks in detail at the beginning of Bignon's four decade career as minister in charge of the royal academies in 1692, and at the new values he and his ministry placed on mathematical work in the academy and the changing practices of academic science it fostered. The chapter concludes by offering brief prosopographies of the key academic mathematicians that shaped the new analytical mechanics created in this climate.

Keywords:   the Marquis de Louvois, Louis and Jerome de Pontchartrain, the abbé Jean-Paul Bignon, administrative monarchy, the French Royal Observatory, utilitarian and applied mathematics, Pierre Varignon

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