Several years ago the position was taken that Napoleon's patronage of the sciences when weighed against the provisions for the teaching of science in the schools seems to be in the nature of propaganda. According to the research on the subject, science, under the Napoleonic aegis, was defined in a narrow, utilitarian manner and "any attempt to institutionalize a concept of science which went beyond this utilitarianism was immediately thwarted." Hence, Napoleon's contribution was merely to continue the close link between science and the military which the Revolution introduced. In fact, in Napoleon's regime "the pursuit of a scientific education was ... tantamount to enlisting .... " Napoleon's reforms, it was further concluded, paradoxically brought about the reduction of science and thereby contributed to the continuous gap in France between the pure scientist and the skilled worker that has never been adequately filled.
An investigation of the sources at the French archives and national library forces me to an entirely different conclusion. My thesis claims that Napoleon's educational structure, despite the pressures of reconstruction, war, and imperial expansion attempted to resolve the gap or disparity between the "two cultures"; in other words, the world of science and experimentation, including applied science, was approaching a position in Western culture that could not be retained in the traditionally inferior status; the accumulated evidence and successes of science abetted by a growing belief in progress and happiness during the past three centuries confronted a society (1789-1815) undergoing radical change. Thus the problem was posed and answered about the relationship and relative utility of the traditional studies in the humanities and education in the materially beneficent sciences along with their application. The National Convention (1792-95) was unable to deal satisfactorily with the problem; being faced with practical exigencies, it perforce emphasized the sciences, especially applied science, in its educational institutions. The following discussion and explication convince me of the credibility of my thesis.
Maras, Raymond J.
"Napoleon I and Education in the Sciences: One Aspect of the Two Cultures in Conflict,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 12:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol12/iss3/3