‘Enlightenment science in Surat? Interpreting the collections of Anquetil de Briancourt and family (1773-1779)’

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Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith (University of St Andrews)

This paper examines the personal collection of books and scientific instruments formed by Étienne Jean Anquetil de Briancourt (1727-1793) during his residence in Surat, Gujarat. De Briancourt, younger brother of the more famous French orientalist Anquetil Duperron, was French consul at the comptoir from 1773 until 1779. Like all consuls, his official duties were concerned with the management of mercantile matters. He also interceded – somewhat dramatically – within local politics. However, an inventory of de Briancourt’s personal effects tells a very different story: Together with his family, De Briancourt compiled a scholarly collection that was more characteristic of a Parisian intellectual than of a merchant living on the north-east coast of India. Working with the evidence contained in the inventory, this paper asks what it meant for a French family to compose a ‘European’ scholarly collection in a trading post such as Surat, and it examines the relationship between the de Briancourt collecting activities and the scientific aspirations of the Absolutist French state.

The seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology is convened by Rod Bailey (University of Oxford), Erica Charters (Wolfson College), Rob Iliffe Linacre College), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College) and John Lidwell-Durnin (Linacre College). 

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