University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Expertise, endorsement and enlightenment: the trials and tribulations of health foods in late eighteenth-century Paris

Expertise, endorsement and enlightenment: the trials and tribulations of health foods in late eighteenth-century Paris

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In this paper I will extend a discussion over expertise that has recently engaged both historians and sociologists of knowledge to a slightly unlikely topic: health foods. Drawing upon the institutional trials of food products marketed in eighteenth-century Paris for their health-giving properties, I will consider how and why producers of these specialised foods laid claim to scientific and medical enlightenment on their own behalf, and why they courted endorsements from the royal, scientific and medical institutions in the French capital. Considering Paris’s Société Royale de Médecine (1776–1793) in particular, the paper will explore the ways in which the endorsement process affirmed, but also potentially compromised, the public authority of such institutions. As the Société laid claim to the role of neutral arbiter of natural knowledge, it increasingly needed to distance its official pronouncements about food products from established practices of endorsement. The views of entrepreneurs about the public role of this and other royal institutions, on the other hand, were very different. The construction of scientific and medical expertise within the public domain was thus, as Thomas Broman has shown, a complex process involving several different categories of actors, each of which produced its own configuration of the relationships between institutions, experts, producers and consumers.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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