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Penser l'amélioration animale au XVIIe siècle : les brochures de Gabriel Calloet-Kerbrat

Nicolas DESSAUX

fr Anthropozoologica 39 (1) - Pages 123-132

Published on 30 July 2004

Thinking about animal improvement in the 17th century : the pamphlets of Gabriel Calloet-Kerbrat

Gabriel Calloet-Kerbrat is one of those authors frequently cited as "precursors" in their particular field, but whose ideas are often accorded little more than anecdotal value in historical discourse. In three simple pamphlets devoted to the improvement of livestock, Calloet-Kerbrat set down the basis of the whole of zootechnical theory as embraced by the francophone school of agronomy. In spite of its succinctness, Calloet-Kerbrat's method was characterized by J.-A. Bourle as representing a complete agronomic system. In an intellectual culture nourished by biblical and classical texts, medical publications and practical experimentation, the quest for a solution for poverty was a fundamental concern of Calloet-Kerbrat, who was probably protestant at the time but later became an ardent propagator of a Franciscan-inspired catholicism. In his texts, widely copied or reprinted in the following century, he not only lays out the recommended procedures for the improvement of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) and horses but also delivers his opinions on the opposing views that were currently ranged against him. These are valuable texts, since the opinions expressed against improvement shed light on the ideological arguments that were raised against human improvement of animal breeds. The difficulties of reconciling a conception of animals as natural beings, forming part of an integrated environment, with the view that the improvement of animals could be considered in a manner distinct from the social immobility which characterized human society, constituted the principal obstacle to the development of husbandry. In contradiction to the ideological foundations of social hierarchy, improvement was presented as part of a biopolitical order that passed itself off as a natural order. Indirectly, the contradictions raised by Calloet-Kerbrat held significant implications for the failure of progress in the matter of animal improvement under Colbert.

Keywords :

Calloet-Kerbrat, “Colbertism”, history of ideas (17th century), breeds, improvement of animals.

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