Armel Cornu: PhD Dissertation Defence

Armel Cornu, Enlightening Water: Science, market & regulation of mineral waters in eighteenth-century France.

Abstract
My thesis investigates the process through which French mineral waters were conceptually and materially transformed by the forces of market, regulation, and science during the Enlightenment. Tracing this process deepens current understandings of eighteenth-century societies, and presents a novel image of the development of medicine and chemistry.
Eighteenth-century mineral waters were no longer confined to discrete spa towns. Instead, their use had become a kingdom-wide phenomenon, thanks to developments in bottling. Increased access to mineral waters caught the interest of medical and chemical practitioners who wanted to explain the striking properties of the waters and ensure they were sold fairly and safely. This culminated in the 1776 creation of a dedicated regulatory institution, the Société de Médecine, which attempted to legislate the market of mineral waters.
By examining the extensive records of the Société, my work brings into focus the unsuspected reach of the mineral water market, and explores the history of the institutions that attempted to control it. In parallel, I highlight the active resistance to the centralising force of the state coming from the vast, eclectic and inherently decentred world of mineral water handlers. Mineral water knowledge, likewise, was created within a decentred network of analysts, who nevertheless produced an increasingly standardised method for the chemical examination of mineral waters. Access to this intricate process of knowledge creation is provided by hundreds of treatises, reports, and letters concerning the analysis of mineral waters produced and circulated throughout the French kingdom. This substantial array of hitherto understudied primary material, interpreted via a combination of quantitative methods and social history from below, makes a case for mineral waters as a lens to both illustrate and challenge established narratives of the period. My work thus demonstrates the significance of the Enlightenment period in the longer history of spas and healing waters.

External examiner: Jakob Vogel
Examination board: Matthew Daniel Eddy, Gustav Holmberg, Charlotta Wolff

Book cover