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Dr Emma Spary

Reader in the History of Modern European Knowledge

Corpus Christi College
Cambridge CB2 1RH
Office Phone: 01223 3 38013


Dr Emma Spary's interests address the history of knowledge, material culture and politics in the European 'long eighteenth century'. Her monographs include Utopia's Garden (2000), a study of natural history in the period of the French Revolution; Eating the Enlightenment (2012), which considered debates over the Enlightenment through the lens of contestation over consumption, health and sites of sociability like the coffee house; and Feeding France (2014), which addressed the emergence of industrial food production in France between 1760 and 1815. Her current research projects include Translations of Potency, a book exploring the trade and consumption of exotic plant drugs in France in the age of Louis XIV, and Collecting Revolution, which investigates the transformation of private natural history collections into public and national spaces after 1760. She welcomes approaches from students interested in eighteenth-century French, European and colonial history, as well as the history of science, medicine and print.

Termination details:

I am an historian of knowledge in the 'long eighteenth century', specialising in French and European history. Having worked on collecting and natural history in the French Revolutionary period, the subject of my first book Utopia's Garden (2000), I then researched the history of forms of knowledge about food and drink in Enlightened Paris over the period 1675-1815, which resulted in two monographs, Eating the Enlightenment (2012) and Feeding France (2014). Currently, I am involved in a joint project on the history of drug-taking in Paris and Versailles between 1670 and 1730 which explores the relationship between political and pharmacological efficacy. Along the way, I have also interested myself in the history of agriculture, chemistry and the arts in eighteenth-century Europe and its colonies--everything from rat-eating and breadfruit to distillation and unicorn horns! I teach on a range of topics within this area and welcome applications from prospective graduate students.

Departments and Institutes

Corpus Christi College:

Research Interests

Modern European history, especially intellectual history, history of science, history of medicine, history of material culture, collecting and print; history of food, drink and intoxication.

Research Supervision

PhD supervision:

“Governing Public Bodies: Reconsidering the Relationship Between Statecraft and Healthcare in England, 1650-1730” (Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, awarded summer 2011)

“Industrial Health Foods and Culture during Britain’s Decadent Era (1880-1920)” (University of Cambridge, in progress)

“An Investigation into the Introduction and Use of Coal-tar derived Dyes to colour Victorian Food” (University of Cambridge, awarded December 2016)

“Music and the New Sensibility in Eighteenth-Century France” (University of Cambridge, in progress)

“Food and the Sciences in the Enlightenment” (University of Cambridge, in progress)

“Georg Joseph Kamel SJ (1661-1706): Negotiating the Identity of a Jesuit Missionary-Naturalist at the Frontiers of Colonial Empire” (University of Cambridge, in progress)

“Polish Émigrés in 19th-Century Paris” (University of Cambridge, in progress)


MPhil dissertation supervision on the musical amateur in 18th-century Paris, Polish travellers in 18th-century France, the correspondence between gens de lettres and monarchs 1769-1790, patent medicines in Britain 1815-1841.


Contributions to Part I, Papers 16 and 17, Part II, paper 14; convenor of Themes and Sources option iv and of Part II, paper 11.

Other Professional Activities

Academic Secretary, Faculty of History


  • Early Modern History

Key Publications

Utopia's Garden: French Natural History from Old Regime to Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

Eating the Enlightenment: French Food and the Sciences, 1670-1760 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012)

Feeding France: New Sciences of Food, 1760-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Joint editor of Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge University Press, 1996), with Nicholas Jardine and James A. Secord

Joint editor of Sammeln als Wissen (Goettingen: Ruprecht & Vanderhoek, 2000), with Anke te Heesen

Joint editor of Between Market and Laboratory: Materials and Expertise in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), with Ursula Klein

Joint editor of the special issue “Assimilating Knowledge: Food and Nutrition in Early Modern Physiologies”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43.2 (2012), with B. Orland

Editor of the special issue "Centre and Periphery in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg ‘Medical Empire’", Studies in History and Philosophy of Science part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43.3 (2012)

Other Publications

“Making a Science of Taste: The Revolution, the Learned Life, and the Invention of Gastronomie”, in Consumers and Luxury: Consumer Culture in Europe, 1650-1850, ed. M. Berg and H. Clifford,Manchester:ManchesterUniversity Press, 1999, pp. 170-182.

“The ‘Nature’ of Enlightenment”, in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, ed.W. Clark,S. Schaffer and J. Golinski.Chicago:University ofChicago Press, 1999, pp. 272-304.

“Codes of Passion: Natural History Specimens as a Polite Language in Late Eighteenth-Century France”, in Wissenschaft als kulturelle Praxis, 1750-1900, ed. P. H. Reill and J. Schlumbohm, Göttingen: Vanderhoek & Ruprecht, 1999, pp. 105-135.

“Forging Nature at the Republican Muséum”, in The Faces of Nature in Enlightenment Europe, ed. L. Daston and G. Pomata.Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2003, pp. 163-180.

“Scientific Symmetries”, History of Science 62 (2004): 1-46.

“‘Peaches which the Patriarchs Lacked’: Natural History, Natural Resources, and the Natural Economy in Eighteenth-Century France”, in History of Political Economy, supplement to vol. 35, ed. N. De Marchi and M. Schabas.Durham: Duke University Press, 2004, pp. 14-41.

“Of Nutmegs and Botanists: The Colonial Cultivation of Botanical Identity”, in Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, ed. L. Schiebinger and C. Swan.Philadelphia:University ofPennsylvania Press, 2005, pp. 187-203.

“Pierre Pomet’s Parisian Cabinet: Revisiting the Visible and the Invisible in Early Modern Collections”, in From Private to Public: Natural Collections and Museums, ed. M. Beretta. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2005, pp. 59-80.

“Botanical Networks Revisited”, in Wissen im Netz: Botanik und Pflanzentransfer in europäischen Korrespondenznetzen des 18. Jahrhunderts, ed. R. Dauser,S. Hächler and M. Kempe.Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 2008, pp. 1-18.

“Self Preservation: French Travels Between Cuisine and Industrie”, in The Brokered World, ed. J. Delbourgo, K. Raj, L. Roberts and S. Schaffer.Canton,Mass.: Science History Publications, 2009, pp. 355-386.

“Experten, Laien und die neue Wissenschaft”, in Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Geschichte des Wissens im Dialog, ed. K. von Greyerz et al. Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2013, pp. 35-60.