Research Stream


Paul Gibbard
The University of Western Australia

Exploration, Empiricism and Sensibility: The Scientific Journals of the Baudin Expedition

This project examines the role sensibility played in the way French naturalists observed Australia when they visited the continent in the early 1800s.

Exploration, empiricism and sensibility: the scientific journals of the Baudin expedition

Recent studies of objectivity and impartiality in the practice of science have highlighted the differences between the way modern scientists and those operating before the mid-nineteenth century understood the relation between the scientific observer and the object observed. The modern characterisation of the scientific method as a ‘rigorous, impersonal mode dictated by the demands of logic and objective procedure’ (C. Kothari, Scientific Methodology, 2004, p. 10) was not a definition that scientists of the Enlightenment would have recognised. The personality, experience and sensibility of the scientist were considered important elements during that era, and in this project Paul Gibbard examines the role that sensibility played in the writings of a number of French naturalists, and the links that can be drawn between empiricism and emotion, observation and sensibility.

By focusing on the journals, histories and letters of several scientists who travelled on the French voyage of discovery to Australia in 1800-1804 (including the zoologist François Péron and the botanist Théodore Leschenault de la Tour), Paul aims to shed light on the role that emotion and sensibility played in natural history during the Enlightenment, and hopes to enable us to understand better the early emotional and natural history of European encounters with Australia.