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Littérature et science des lacs : Jean-Jacques Rousseau et Deluc au bord du Léman, ou la limnologie d’avant la limnologie

Abstract : The cultural and scientific conditions existing on the shores of Lake Geneva in the 18th century had built a good environment for the creation of limnology a century later by François-Alphonse Forel. This paper attempts to assess the influence of the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the emergence of a science of lakes before the birth of limnology, through the links and connections he had forged with the Deluc brothers, geologists and climatologists of the Lake Geneva. Geography has largely contributed to this development. On the one hand, there was a continuity of the place of Lake Geneva, which is the water body where the main limnological discoveries in the world were made for several centuries. On the other hand, limnology was epistemologically first of all a geography of lakes, which remains in certain practices of the contemporary approach of the scientific study of lakes. More generally, the paper attempts to rehabilitate the role of social sciences in limnology, by showing that, from the 18th century to the present, working hypotheses, including in “hard sciences”, are provided by society. The first part studies the “battle zone” of the River Rhône at the entrance to Lake Geneva in the epistolary novel The new Heloise, to show its epistemological importance in hydrological sciences for the discovery of turbidity currents. The second part approaches nature and the landscape in Rousseau's work from the perspective of limnogeography, and lays the groundwork for the imagination of great immeasurable depths. The third part presents the literary and epistolary sources of this research: the published work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his travel diary, his letters, as well as Guillaume-Antoine Deluc’s family diary. The fourth part compares the depth measurements made by Rousseau and Deluc in 1754 with those of the bathymetric map of Horace Benedict de Saussure, to refute the generally accepted hypothesis according to which the Saussure’s mistake would have been caused by a simple inadvertently. The author of this paper thinks that the geography of the shores, the steep landscape of Meillerie and popular belief provided eighteenth-century scientists with their hypotheses for scientific work and that, as is often still today, it was difficult to admit or to consider that they may be refuted.
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Laurent Touchart. Littérature et science des lacs : Jean-Jacques Rousseau et Deluc au bord du Léman, ou la limnologie d’avant la limnologie. Zones humides et littérature - Actes des 7e journées du Groupe d’Histoire des Zones Humides, Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Nature et du Paysage; Groupe d’Histoire des Zones Humides, Dec 2011, Blois, France. pp.31-38. ⟨hal-02096715⟩

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