CfP: The crisis of the traditional structure of knowledge: teaching and learning mathematical sciences in the 18th century

Even though historians agree that physical and mathematical sciences became academic disciplines from the early 19th century on, it was during the previous century that these sciences moved at the centre of European culture. A veritable “revolution in science teaching”, as L. Brockliss put it ("Science, the Universities, and Other Public Spaces: Teaching Science in Europe and the Americas", in R. Porter, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 4) took place in the 18th century and changed the content of the curricula in the philosophical faculties, by bringing into university education new subjects such as experimental philosophy, mathematical physics, chemistry, mining, and renegotiating the traditional boundaries between natural philosophy, logic, mathematics and medicine. This process was multifaceted as the two spheres in which teaching occurred, the public spaces of universities and academies and the space of private tutoring and exchanges often superimposed creating a mosaic of cases whose investigation is still ongoing. In this process, moreover, university teachers and scholars, public and private instructors and students, practitioners and amateurs played, alongside with "great thinkers", an active role not only in prompting the circulation of new ideas in natural philosophy and mathematics, but also in framing new ways of knowing, and in modifying the content of the transmitted knowledge. 

In this conference, we intend to chart the crisis of the traditional structure of knowledge and the emergence of new scientific disciplines in a period included between the beginning of the 18th century to the turn of the next one. We aim to address this issue from various angles and starting from different questions, such as the following ones: How were new mathematical theories, such as Euler's analysis, his mechanics, Lagrange's theory of functions transmitted and learned, in the European context and beyond? How and to what extent did Newtonianism supplant the teaching of Aristotelian and Cartesian physics at universities? Which role played the private teaching of mathematical sciences, and how can their audiences be characterized? What were the concrete practices of teaching and their related sources (textbooks, notes, examinations)? What was the role of religious orders, such as the Jesuits in the circulation or suppression of new ideas in physics and mathematics? How was physical and mathematical knowledge constructed through the exchanges between so-called “centres” and “peripheries”?


  • Vincenzo De Risi (CNRS-SPHere, Université Paris Cité; MPIWG, Berlin)
  • Brendan Dooley (University College Cork)
  • Steffen Ducheyne (Vrije Universiteit, Brussels)
  • Sofia Talas (Università degli Studi di Padova)

In addition to the invited speakers, we welcome a few contributions from junior scholars presenting work that, broadly speaking, is in line with the goal of the workshop. Abstracts should not exceed 500 words, and should be written in English (conference language). Please send your submission and inquiries to Davide Crippa.

Deadline for submissions: 20 February 2023

This conference is organized under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101024431-LEGITIMATH.
Contact Info: 

  • Davide Crippa (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)
  • Marco Sgarbi (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)