Boris Noguès

Over-use, vacuity and archaism? Thesis writing in university cursus in Eighteenth-century France

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In the France of the ancien régime, the theses presented by students to conclude their studies at various academic levels covered the entire university cursus, starting from the baccalaureate: courses in medicine and law numbered at least four and theology eight. The theses were not works of original research but rather stereotypical treatises of certain areas of learning relating to individual disciplines. The written theses are today preserved on folios containing positions defended during candidates' oral examinations, in which they were asked to respond, over the course of several hours, to counter-arguments made by both the examination panel and other students according to oral examination procedures of the Middle Ages. This form of discussion, above all for doctorate degrees, assumed a formal nature and was structured as an authentic rite of corporate integration and social screening. Such characteristics led to the procedure being discredited from the mid eighteenth century and its disappearance during the Revolution. Followers of the Enlightenment preferred traditional examination practices, criticizing the practice in use in that it did not enable an accurate assessment of candidates' skills or contribute to the progress of the sciences.

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