Edme Mentelle's Geographies and the French Revolution

Michael Heffernan

in Geography and Revolution

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780226487335
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226487359 | DOI:
Edme Mentelle's Geographies and the French Revolution

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This chapter examines the life and works of Edme Mentelle (1730–1815), a prominent French geographer of the revolutionary era. Despite his impressive output, most of his geographical writings seem to have been ignored by subsequent generations. The chapter aims to understand how a geographer as limited as Mentelle was able to chart a successful route, despite the all-too-apparent weaknesses of his work, through the minefield of the French political landscape as the country lurched from monarchy to republic to empire. At one level, the story it recounts can be read as a commentary on the politics of scientific survival during the French Revolution. However, the underlying argument of the chapter is that historians of geography can gain fresh insights into the changing nature of their subject by looking beyond its more obviously distinguished representatives. The life and work of a geographer as intellectually undistinguished as Mentelle, whose fame was nevertheless as great as any of his contemporaries, arguably tells us more about the place of geography in French political and intellectual life during the Revolution than the career of more illustrious figures whose achievements transcended their historical context.

Keywords: Edme Mentelle; French Revolution; political landscape; linguistic figures; empire; scientific survival

Chapter.  13410 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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