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Politics and art are never far from French minds, but it is in the sciences that this culture truly excels, producing world-leading chemists, bacteriologists, and physicists.

In the second half of the 18th century, a succession of revolutions on either side of the Atlantic resulted in the implementation of political theories developed during the Enlightenment. The French revolutionaries, inspired by political texts circulating in Europe (as well as Swiss and American precedents), dreamed of building a new form of society led by citizens educated in the arts, literature, and science.

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Beginning in 1789 and ending with Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état in 1799, the French Revolution was a fertile period for political experimentation. Over ten years, various political regimes based on different philosophical ideas were developed and put into practice, though none of these would last. Fundamental ideological disputes inherited from this period would lead to further violent clashes during the course of the 19th century between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary parties. When the Third Republic was finally proclaimed in 1870, it represented a lasting victory for the Republicans. The universal idea of the rights of man, which formed the basis of the Republican citizen, combined with Republican regimes established in occupied provinces by the French army after 1791, helped spread revolutionary ideas to the far ends of the continent. In the 19th century, Paris became a refuge for exiled foreign politicians (liberals, Chartists, constitutionalists, nationalists, Marxists, and anarchists). As a result, the Parisian revolts of of 1848 caused aftershocks that were felt all over Europe during the Spring of Nations. The institutions established during the revolutionary period became the site of new scientific research in the 19th century and were at the cutting edge of their time. This was a period of much scientific observation that saw many theories and hypotheses developed and tested in biology (Cuvier and Lamarck), physics (Becquerel and Poincaré), medicine (Pasteur), social sciences (Comte, Durkheim, and Bergson), and linguistics (Champollion). Much of this research was groundbreaking in Europe and led to extensive further research.

Did you know?

Marie Skłodowska-Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and in Chemistry in 1911 for her work on polonium, an element she named after her birth country. She was the first woman to win an award from the Nobel Academy and the first female professor at the Sorbonne.