Project (2014-2015)

Enlightening Insects: Insects and the Formation of the French Enlightenment 1700–1789

Elisabeth Wallmann's research explores the complex ways in which the eighteenth-century study of nature and the development of French Enlightenment political economy (in particular physiocracy) intersected, and sought to analyze how the two fields grappled with and developed a new, physiologically oriented, understanding of the "self." In order to so, she focused on the intense interest on the part of eighteenth-century natural historians with insects, looking at how the study of insects enabled naturalists to ask questions that were also crucial for eighteenth-century theories of political economy and how the methods they developed to answer them inspired the practices of political economists. These creatures, made visible by new technologies such as the microscope and the evolving practices of the empirical sciences, were at the heart of eighteenth-century thinking about the difference between animals, humans, and machines, and thus crucial to conceptions of the "self."

Elisabeth Wallmann's attempt to outline the intersections between French natural history and political economy shed new light on the importance of debates on the nature of animals as a basis for understanding the self, which in turn became crucial for elaborating liberalist economico-political theories.