Final Public Oral Exam: Patrick Luiz Sullivan de Oliveira

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
December 6, 2017 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Ascending Republic: Aeronautical Culture in France, 1860-1914


Philip Nord, adviser
Michael Gordin
David Bell
Venita Datta, Wellesley College


Focusing on the history of mobility and of technology, “The Ascending Republic: Aeronautical Culture in France, 1860-1908” traces how the French made sense of their standing in a nineteenth-century world undergoing profound sociocultural transformations. It analyzes how aeronauts navigated the interstices of politics, culture, and technology to rehabilitate the balloon (an artifact that became discredited soon after its invention in 1783), and shows how French civil society cultivated popular enthusiasm for flight (what historians of flight call “airmindedness”) decades before the advent of the airplane. At the core of the study are three chapters that unpack the distinct cultural strands that made up modern French airmindedness: beginning with how scientific ascents after the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War fostered an ideology of “sacrificial patriotism”; moving to how elite men appropriated the re-legitimized balloon and used it to cultivate an “aristocratic modernity”; and culminating with how the spectacle of Paris around the Atlantic and the celebrity of the aeronaut Alberto Santo-Dumont promoted a vision of “technological cosmopolitanism”, thus solidifying Paris’s status as the aeronautical capital of the world. This dissertation refutes the common perception that during the nineteenth century France fell behind Germany and the United States in innovation, and pushes back against the narrative of French fin-de-siècle decadence that historians have all too easily reproduced. To the contrary, the history of ballooning shows that Third Republic France adroitly advertised its modernity through technological spectacles engendered by a dynamic civil society. At the turn of the century, aeronautics was, to a degree scholars have not previously suspected, a central element to France’s self-understanding as a modern nation. Ballooning became a patriotic endeavor that people from all political stripes could get behind, and helped shape the image of France as a nation in which advanced technology, quality, and style came together in a single package.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.