Monsters, Machine-Men, Magicians

in The Romantic Machine

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226812205
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226812229 | DOI:
Monsters, Machine-Men, Magicians

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  • History of Science and Technology


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During the late nineteenth century, two important Parisian locales allowed the public to come into contact with innovations in science and technology on an expanded scale: The Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History) and the recurring Exposition Nationale des Produits de l'Industrie Française (Expositions of the Products of National Industry). Visitors in both places had face-to-face encounters with orderly displays of nonhumans such as exotic animals and new machines; such displays prompted reflections about human nature, its powers of transformation, and its relation to the rest of the universe. This chapter examines issues raised by the museum and the expositions, focusing on debates about the fixity or mutability of species that were inseparable from metaphysical and theological debates over materialism, vitalism, and the existence of the soul. These controversies also surrounded images of machine-humans, or automata. The chapter furthermore looks at Robert-Houdin's magic shows and Jean-Jacques Grandville's Another World (Un autre monde), fantastic entertainments whose serious play superimposed technology and life, and where biological metamorphosis intersected with demiurgic engineering.

Keywords: Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle; l'Industrie Française; machines; machine-humans; automata; Robert-Houdin; magic shows; demiurgic engineering; Jean-Jacques Grandville; Another World

Chapter.  12999 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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