Marie Thebaud-Sorger

Visiting Researcher at the Maison Française d’Oxford

Marie is Associate Professor (Research) at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), based in Paris at the ‘Centre for the History of Science and Technology–Alexandre Koyré’ at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). From September 2017, she has been overseeing the History and History of Science & Technology Programme at the Maison Française d’Oxford, where she intends to foster interdisciplinary exchanges and cross-cutting approaches, especially promoting a material approach to the sciences, focusing on sites of knowledge and the articulations between intellectual and material practices.

Marie is a cultural historian of technology. Her current research project, ‘Economies of improvement. Public sphere, micro-invention and industrial Enlightenment’ is grounded in a comparative study of inventive practices in Europe throughout the 18th century. She is particularly interested in the staging of technical inventions in various social settings and media: prints, drawing, projects, models, scientific tests and experiments, demonstrations, and performances. Before completing her PhD, she received a diploma in theatrical set design (ENSATT) and gained some background in theatre practice, set design, and stage direction. This drew her attention in her early academic research to the staging of early modern urban flight, (‘scénographie de l’envol’) in Ballooning in the Age of Enlightenment (her first monograph, L’aérostation au temps des Lumières, 2009, received the Académie française Louis Casteix Prize in 2010), as well to amateur appropriative practices that contributed to the building-up of a collective knowledge and understanding of invention (using periodicals, ephemera, how-to leaflets, treatises etc.).

Focusing on the socio-materiality of technical devices in the 18th century, she has been exploring the nature of ‘air’ and gases, pursuing more broadly a reflexion on the perception of the natural elements in the context of the beginnings of industrialisation, where European societies underwent profound changes. This shift affected their environment and their pursuit of the mastery of the nature, where performative techniques were seen as a mean to achieve impossible actions (transforming the toxic atmosphere into breathable air, mastering fire and heat, illuminating the night, overcoming gravity…)

Therefore she has been following a research path directed towards materialities and mediations, trying to articulate a material history of knowledge with the history of material knowledge, at the crossroads of technical and chemical operations. Beyond the working group initiated with Jenny Oliver, Writing technology/The technology of writing, in phase with new historiographical inputs –such as the ‘mindful hand’, artisanal epistemology and an approach to technical writings as a means to reduce arts and practices into theory since the early modern period – her research has also included critical reflections on methodologies, using material objects as well as restaging, re-enactments, and digital reconstructions, as various means to gain new understandings of historic knowledge production. She led a collective working group in Paris in 2015-2017 (Ateliers Campus Condorcet Grant): ‘La reconstitution – processus heuristique et/ou objet de médiation ?’ and, following a study day held in April 2018 in Oxford entitled ‘Performing and Knowing. Experimental and Sensory Approaches’, is convening a new seminar series with Charlotte Bigg and Rafael Mandressi at the EHESS: “Performance et savoirs : lectures, relectures, perspectives critiques.

 

 


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