Before 1850

Long the exclusive domain of scientists, the field of science gradually began to open to a wider public. This slow change began in the 16th century, particularly when texts began to be written in French rather than Latin. It went on, first with the development of science fairs and the founding of academies, then the appearance of “curiosity cabinets,” which initiated the gentry into all sorts of sciences. By the 18th century, the experimenting and invention craze began to trickle down to the common people in the shape of entertainment and spectacle: electrical experiments, automatons, the first hot-air balloon flights, and more.

1686 : Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds): scientific dialogue becomes a new literary genre.

1743 : Nollet publishes his Leçons de physique expérimentale (Lessons in Experimental Physics), based on experiments performed in public in his laboratory.

1769 : Guyot, Nouvelles récréations physiques et mathématiques (New Physical and Mathematical Recreations): the 18th century saw the birth of the idea that science could be entertaining.

1783 : First hot-air-balloon flights in France (Montgolfier, Pilâtre de Rozier, et al.)

1830 et 1848 : Founding of poly-technical and philo-technical organizations that offer educational courses to the general public (hygiene, astronomy, etc.).

1844 : Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism, publishes a Traité philosophique d’astronomie populaire (Philosophical Treatise on Popular Astronomy).