Mobile objects: the space of shells in eighteenth-century France.
In: The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 39, No. 3: pp. 363-382
The frequent distinction made between scientific and purely amateur collections
misrepresents the specificity of the field of eighteenth-century natural history. This paper argues
that the extent and the boundaries of a scientific field can be determined only within the
framework of concrete historical constellations of institutions, protagonists, practices and
objects. By tracing the circulation of shells in eighteenth-century France, Paris in particular,
between about 1735 and 1780, it becomes evident which individuals or groups actually came
into contact with these shells ; in what practices of collecting, describing and classification they
were involved; and in what spaces they were displayed. Thus the contours of a constellation
emerge which differ considerably from those drawn hitherto.