My research project focuses on the concept of sound in early nineteenth-century French mental medicine. It aims at showing the philosophical roots of the medical knowledge about sounds: French eighteenth-century philosophers, such as Condillac and Rousseau, took initial steps towards a distinction between noise, sound and music, and elaborated on the subject of auditory perception. My research also analyses the clinical, therapeutic and experimental uses that were made of those concepts. Jean-Etienne Esquirol, one of the founding fathers of French psychiatry, indeed advocated for the minimisation and spatial distribution of noise (then considered as a factor in the development of mental illness) in the newly created facilities for the insane. Music was instead regarded as a pharmaceutical tool by François-Emmanuel Fodéré, and a series of texts were written to assess its therapeutic efficacy through experimental devices. Furthermore, the sound properties of human voices (such as accentuation, melodic features, or sympathetic qualities) were examined in order to give an explanatory model for the alleged clinical - and almost magical - efficacy of a conversation with a Chief Physicist of the insane.
Could you please tell us a bit more about your scholarship/exchange programme?
This three-month research stay is part of an exchange programme between the MFO and the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) de Lyon, where I will submit my thesis proposal (IHRIM).
First impressions of Oxford/the University?
The MFO, its library, its garden and its neighbourhood are a calm and beautiful working environment. The quantity of resources in the Bodleian libraries and online is considerable. The statutory researchers are very welcoming, and the residents quickly get a sense of a warm flat-sharing. Even the University is quite approachable, provided that you request it in order to attend seminars or lectures. And for all music lovers, a Steinway grand piano is accessible to the residents in the reception room