Jean-Olivier Richard

Jean-Olivier Richard grew up in a suburb of Montreal, received his B.A. from Concordia University in 2009, and completed his Ph.D in the history of science and technology department at the Johns Hopkins University in 2015-16. In 2016-17, he conducted research as a Cain Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now Science History Institute) in Philadelphia. Professor Richard’s academic interests include the relationship of natural philosophy with Christian theology in the early modern era, Jesuit history, environmental history, and the history of alchemy, astrology, and magic. What ties these subjects together is his fascination with the polymathic endeavours and universal systems of ecclesiastical thinkers, as well as the ways in which the past — real or imagined — inspired early modern discoveries. His current research focuses on the life and world of the French Jesuit Louis-Bertrand Castel (1688-1757), with a particular emphasis on his theory of the action of man on nature. He is revising his dissertation, “The Art of Making Rain and Fair Weather,” into an intellectual biography that will foreground Castel’s intellectual contribution — including his famous color harpsichord — to the Enlightenment.

Professor Richard’s other interests include New France’s intellectual and military history, as well as cognitive sciences. In his spare time, he draws, practices and teaches martial arts, and volunteers for Action Haiti, a Quebec-based organization working with Haitian schools.

  • Areas of Expertise
    • Christianity and science
    • History of science (from the late middle ages to the modern era)
    • History of magic, alchemy, and astrology
    • Jesuit history
    • Early modern and Enlightenment France
  • Links
  • Publications

    Peer-reviewed Articles

    “What Père Lafitau Learned from the American Diviner,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 12, no. 3 (Winter 2017): 331–361.

    “The Jesuit Who Wanted to Control the Climate: Père Castel and the Religious Roots of the Anthropocene,” Modern Language Notes 132, no. 4 (September 2017): 932–952.

    “Bougainville à la lumière de ses lectures: Les références classiques dans les Écrits sur le Canada.” Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique Française 64, 2 (2010 [2011]): 5–31.


    Peer-reviewed Book Chapter

    “Le système de la légèreté universelle du Père Castel.” Chapter for a collective entitled Le Siècle de la légèreté: Emergence d’un paradigme au XVIIIe siècle français. Edited by Marine Ganosky and Jean-Alexandre Perras (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2019), 147–162.


    Book reviews

    “Book Review of Mark A. Waddell, Jesuit Science and the End of Nature’s Secrets,” Journal of Jesuit Studies 4, 1 (2017): 137–140.

    “Book Review of Didier Kahn, Le fixe et le volatile,” Early Science and Medicine 21, 4 (2016). 382–384.

    “Book Review of Bernard Barthet, Science, histoire et thématiques ésotériques chez les jésuites en France (1680–1764).Archivium Historicum Societatis Jesu LXXXII (2013 I): 283–285.

    “Review of Éditer la Nouvelle-France,” ed. Andreas Motsch and Gregoire Holtz, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique Française 64, 3–4 (Winter-Spring 2011): 197–200.


    Outreach/Academic Blog

    “How to Prevent the Cooling of the Earth: A Page from God’s Cookbook,” The Recipe Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine, 11 December 2018


    Publications in Preparation

    “Thales and Tales of Origins in the Early Enlightenment.” Intended for Early Science and Medicine. In preparation.

    The Art of Making Rain and Fair Weather: Life and World System of Louis-Bertrand Castel (1688-1757). Book manuscript. In preparation.

  • Presentations

    “Justifying Trickery in North America: Jean-Bernard Bossu against the Jongleurs,” Canadian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Quebec City, Quebec (CAN), October 2019.

    “Thales, Moses, and Tales of Origins in the Early Enlightenment,” Intersection of Earth Sciences and Theology, Lichtenberg Kolleg, Göttingen (Germany), July 2019.

    “The Storm and and Rainbow: New Perspectives on Père Castel’s Color Organ,” as part of the panel Wonder and the Senses at the Juncture of the Sciences and the Arts, Canadian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Niagara Falls, Ontario (CAN), October 2018.

    “What Were These Guys Snuffing: Père Daniel’s Tobacco and the Transmigration of Souls,” Missionary Orbits: Science and Medicine in the Early Modern World, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (USA), April 2018.

    “How to Become a Curiosity: Life and Afterlife of Père Castel,” Curiosity in the Early Modern Era, Center for Renaissance and Reformation Studies, University of Toronto (CAN), April 2018.

    “Enjoyable Geometry: Père Castel’s Pedagogical Flair and Legacy,” 2017 Annual meeting of the History of Society Society, Toronto (CAN), November 2017.

    “Climat, cosmos et cosmopolitisme: L’action planétaire de l’homme selon le père Castel,” Des cosmopolites aux cosmopolitismes, Canadian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Toronto (CAN), October 2017.

    “The Jesuit Who Wanted to Control the Climate: Père Castel and the Religious Roots of the Anthropocene,” Journée d’étude sur le climat/Climates Past and Present, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (USA), March 2017.

    “Père Castel and the Cogs of Chemistry,” Brown Bag Lecture Series, Chemical Heritage Foundation (internal), Philadelphia (USA), November 2016.

    “Louis-Bertrand Castel, Anti-Newtonian Natural Philosopher?” at “‘Feeding on the Nectar of the Gods’: Appropriations of Newton’s Thought 1700–1750,” International Conference by Center for Logic and Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Brussels (Belgium), July 2016.

    “The Mémoires de Trévoux on the Marquise: What Père Castel had to say about Emilie du Châtelet’s Works,” at the Emilie Du Châtelet: Philosopher and Encyclopédiste TORCH Workshop, Oxford (UK), April 2015.

    “The Art of Avoiding Catastrophes: Man, God and Disasters in Père Castel’s Natural Philosophy,” at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the History of Science Society, Chicago, November 2014. (This presentation was part of a panel I organized entitled “The Latter Day Lyceum: Pushing the Boundaries of Catholic Aristotelianism 1500–1750.”)

    “Louis-Bertrand Castel: La dignité de l’homme, l’intégrité de l’oeuvre,” at Les Jésuites de l’Académie de Lyon, Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts de Lyon Workshop, Lyon (France), June 2014.

    “Lafitau and Charlevoix: Problems of American Indian Origins,” at Enlightenment Constellation, Canadian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, London, On (Canada), October 2013.

    “Minding American Magic: What Père Lafitau Learned from the Amerindian Diviner,” at Epistemic Exchange in the Early Modern World, Singleton Center / European University Institute Worshop, Fiesole (Italy), June 2012.



    “What the History of Science Has to Say about AI,” Kintore College, Toronto, Ontario (CAN) January 2019.

    “The Castelian World System,” Jesuit History Research Group, Regis College, Toronto, Ontario (CAN), October 2018.


    Conference Organization

    “Reading Frankenstein: Then, Now, Next,” USMC, University of Toronto, Ontario (CAN). October 26–31, 2018.

  • Education

    PhD, History of science, medicine and technology (2016) — Johns Hopkins University, USA

    BA (Hons), Western Society and Culture, and Linguistics (2009) — Concordia University, Canada