Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution

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MIT Press, 2004 - History - 532 pages
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A study of French military engineers at a crucial point in the evolution of modern engineering.

The origins of the modern science of engineering can be traced to France's Royal Corps of Engineering in the eighteenth century. In Conserving the Enlightenment, Janis Langins gives us a history of this prototypical technical bureaucracy, using as his point of entry a pivotal dispute on the respective merits of two methods of engineering military fortifications. The story he tells of the tribulations of military engineers at the end of the Old Regime sheds light not only on the evolution of modern engineering but also on the difficulty of innovation in a technical bureaucracy.

From the days of Louis XIV and his great military engineer Vauban, engineers in France had a reputation for competence and intellectual superiority. (This respect for engineers survived the Revolution; two engineers sat on the new Republic's ruling Committee of Public Safety with Robespierre.) Langins argues that French engineers saw themselves as men of the Enlightenment, with a steadfast faith in science and its positive effects on society; they believed that their profession could improve and civilize even warfare. When Marc-Rene, marquis de Montalembert, a cavalry officer and an amateur engineer, challenged the prevailing wisdom with a new method of fortification, the subsequent factional struggle became a crucible of self-definition for the profession. In the end, Langins shows, Vauban's science won out over Montalembert's inspiration, reinforcing and predicting the essentially conservative nature of French engineering.


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The Setting
French Fortification in the Age of Vauban
Toward a Corps Royal du Genie
Life And Death in the Corps
Desk Jobs
Soldiers Nobles and Engineers
Thinking Wars
The Early Career of MarcRene Marquis de Montalembert
The Challenge of Montalembert
The Response to Montalembert
Engineers and Revolution
The Conservative Art of Military Engineering in Old Regime France

Science and Military Engineering

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Page 507 - An Essay on the Modern System of Fortification adopted for the defence of the Rhine frontier...
Page 493 - Journal d'un observateur, contenant les analyses des pièces de théâtre qui ont paru durant cet intervalle ; les relations des assemblées littéraires, les notices des livres nouveaux , clandestins , prohibés ; les pièces fugitives, rares ou manuscrites , en prose...
Page 497 - Mémoire présenté au conseil de la guerre au sujet des places fortes qui doivent être démolies ou abandonnées...
Page 502 - Rapport sur les mesures prises par le comité de salut public pour l'établissement de...
Page 503 - Traité élémentaire d'art militaire et de fortification à l'usage des élèves de l'École polytechnique et des élèves des écoles militaires , par M. Gay de Vernon, ... — Paris, Allais, i8o5. a vol. in-4% pi. [V. 9450-9451 (Un autre ex. auquel manque une planche.) [R. 6512-6513 GAYA (Louis de), s

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About the author (2004)

Janis Langins is a professor at the University of Toronto, affiliated with the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

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