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CfP: Animal Magnetism in Motion: Reconfigurations and Circulations, 1776-1848

10.12.2021 Add to calendar
Call for papers

International conference, University of Fribourg (Switzerland), 20-21.10.2022

The European, and later global, circulation of theories and practices of animal magnetism, which covers a large part of the ‘long 19th century’, is a phenomenon that is significant but little studied in its complexity. The theory of the universal fluid and the magnetic therapies developed by Franz Anton Mesmer in Vienna flourished in Paris, where he moved at the end of 1778. Around 1784, they spread not only all over France, but also to the colonies, to Malta with the network of Harmony societies, and throughout Europe following the trajectories of learned, Masonic, mystical and esoteric societies, and of artistic and musical creation. The texts of the disputes to which they gave rise to were read, translated, commented on and re-elaborated throughout Europe and beyond. While the presence of the “traces” of magnetism in all times and in all peoples became a topos in the writings of its supporters and opponents, the mesmeric fluid became a term capable of bringing together distant worlds, from Chinese culture in Jesuit correspondence to Haitian voodoo or, later, Indian faquirs. This phenomenon of diffusion continued and was extended, particularly after the Revolution, in a double dynamic of claimed continuity with Mesmer’s discoveries, and of re-elaboration in the direction of the practices of somnambulism and hypnosis. It is in this form that animal magnetism, with its ambiguous status, suspended between science and belief, between physical and moral knowledge, makes its contribution to the development of Romantic culture, to philosophical medicine and German Naturphilosophie, as well as to the French and English novel. Its effects are exhibited in clinics and theatres, successively constitute the ground for the global affirmation of spiritualism and, at the end of the century, a source of inspiration for psychoanalysis. The very condemnations by the scientific academies, particularly in France, and, in a religious context, by the Court of Rome, contributed to this reconfiguration, giving the debate on magnetism an international circulation. In these perspectives, the study of magnetism makes it possible to revisit the history of disciplinary boundaries (or encyclopaedisms), the analysis of the political uses of knowledge and the forms and methods of popularisation at work between the 18th and 19th centuries.

This phenomenon of interweaving and circulation, which is extensive, complex and multi-layered, deserves to be studied from different sources, perspectives and disciplinary approaches. Animal magnetism itself offers a theory of circulation: in elaborating his conception of the universal fluid, Mesmer founds on it his own vision of the cosmos and of man, drawing attention to circulatory phenomena that crossed different fields of knowledge, from physics to astronomy, from physiology to politics, from economics to literature. This is one aspect  that of symbolic representations  under which the evolution of mesmerism dialogues with the theme of circulation during the 19th century. At the same time, this evolution is reflected and manifested in a great variety of practices: therapeutic practices first, but also social, political, religious, literary and artistic ones. The question of practices forcefully raises the issue of the heterogeneity of the actors and institutions involved in the often controversial debates on magnetism. This presence of magnetism in many fields justifies the attacks and the multiform oppositions that it arouses and which participate in the complex dynamics at work in the political, intellectual and cultural spaces between the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a longer-term perspective in which the study of animal magnetism lends itself to an understanding of the global reconfiguration of knowledge and techniques in the decades between the rise of the Atlantic revolutions and those of 1848.

The processes of circulation, transfer and hybridization of knowledges and practices between the late 18th and the mid-19th century are the focus of the international conference on animal magnetism which will be held in Fribourg (Switzerland) on October 20th and 21st, 2022, organized by the University of Fribourg, the Institut d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne), the Research Center of Gotha (University of Erfurt) and the Institute for the history of philosophy and science in modern age (CNR, Italy), in collaboration with the Harmonia Universalis project (Labex-Hastec).

If this theme intersects with your research, you can send an abstract of about 450 words, in English or French, and a few lines summarising your curriculum vitae. Applications from doctoral and post-doctoral students are particularly welcome.

The deadline for applications is 10 December 2021. Please send them as a PDF file to

Organised by: 
David Armando (ISPF-CNR, Naples; CéSor-EHESS/CNRS), Bruno Belhoste (Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne), Jean-Luc Chappey (Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne), Claire Gantet (Université de Fribourg, Switzerland), Markus Meumann (Forschungszentrum Goth


University Fribourg

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0.00 CHF