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Fall 2019

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New in Historically Speaking
A Review of 1668: The Year of the Animal in France

In a new review in Historically Speaking, Justine Carré Miller discusses 1668: The Year of the Animal in France by Peter Sahlins. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full article. An excerpt appears below:

“What do the animals in the Menagerie of Versailles have to do with the rise to power of Louis XIV in seventeenth-century France? Answering this question is the task, which Peter Sahlins has set to achieve in 1668: The Year of the Animal in France. Even though Louis XIV accessed the French throne in 1643, according to Sahlins, the year 1668 marked his metaphorical rise to power. It coincidentally was the year when the construction of the Menagerie at Versailles began: a new collection of live exotic animals, birds in majority. Built in 1664 and populated in 1668, the Royal Menagerie was designed by Louis Le Vau, the royal architect, and inspired by Nicolas Fouquet’s Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which Louis XIV coveted. Through his analysis of the representation of animals following the construction of the Menagerie, Sahlins argues that the animal-human relationship, as portrayed in the Royal Menagerie of Versailles, illustrates the construction of Louis XIV’s absolutism as well as the diffusion and resistance to Descartes’ mechanistic philosophy.

The originality of Sahlins’ project resides in the fact that the animals are at the forefront of his argument. As he remarks, in recent works on the environmental history of Versailles, the animals and the Menagerie have been left out of the narrative. Although the menagerie and the animals have been the subjects of research in order to reconstitute its location and layout, the cultural importance of the animals has been disregarded. Using the available official documents regarding the Royal Menagerie, Sahlins focuses his analysis on the accounts of visits to the menagerie, mentions of it in literature, and the representation of its animals in art or in scientific reports.”