Professor Van Damme’s research examines the origins of early modern scientific knowledge within European Culture during a long eighteenth-century (1650-1830) by looking at essential elements overlooked by historians of science such as scientific centres (Lyon, Paris, London, Edinburgh, New York), founding fathers of the Scientific Revolution (Descartes), paradigmatic disciplines (philosophy, natural history, antiquarianism, geography), and recently, imperial projects (mainly North America and India). In 2014, he published a collection of essays on the cultural history of Enlightenment philosophy, A toutes voiles vers la vérité, which explores the role played by the (natural) philosopher in Old Regime societies. Currently, he is working on two different projects. First, he would like to draw the attention on some naturalists, natural philosophers, and traveling scholars in Europe who struggled with the dangers of missionary order of information and promoted a form of anti-globalist practices and discourses in the context of a new developement of the French Empire. The book would like to explore this sceptical culture of knowledge in France between 1650 and 1780 (to be published in 2016).
The second project deals with another foundational divide of the Enlightenment which opposed nature and city. By focusing on the emergence of a natural history of metropolises, this project would like to nuance this opposition and to better understand the development of new natural knowledge of the city (urban geology, urban mineralogy, urban botany, urban chemistry, medicine) in relation with the commodification of urban nature (collections, invention of 'green belt', new consumptions). It would like therefore to assess to what extent Enlightenment practices were crucial for an understanding of urban ecology. This project is based on the tales of three cities (Paris, London and New York).