Making modern science: a historical survey. By Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. viii+528. ISBN 0-226-06861-7. $25.00.
The morals of measurement: accuracy, irony and trust in late Victorian electrical practice. By Graeme J. N. Gooday. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xxv+285. ISBN 0-521-43098-4. L40.
Victorian relativity: radical thought and scientific discovery. By Christopher Herbert. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Pp. xv+302. ISBN 0-226-32733-7. $21.00.
Engineering empires: a cultural history of technology in nineteenth-century Britain. By Ben Marsden and Crosbie Smith. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave and Macmillan, 2005. Pp. xi+351. ISBN 0-333-77278-4. L58.
The electric vehicle: technology and expectations in the automobile age. By Gijs Mom. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. xiii+423. $54.95.
When physics became king. By Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pp. xii+303. ISBN 0-226-54202-5. $25.00.
Masters of theory: Cambridge and the rise of mathematical physics. By Andrew Warwick. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Pp. xiv+572. ISBN 0-226-87374-9. $95.00.
Over the past three decades, a growing number of historians of science and (to a lesser extent) historians of technology have offered compelling cultural histories that depict the inextricable links between the content of scientific and technological knowledge and the context in which it was created. Rather than assuming at face value that science is a trans-temporal body of knowledge, these historians describe the scientific enterprise as being culturally contingent. Most of the socio-cultural histories of science of the 1980s and 1990s were synchronic, focusing on various aspects of science and culture during a relatively short span of time. As important and successful as those studies were, a number of historians feared that the discipline was losing sight of the longue durée. Precisely because scientific theories and practices can be successful over long periods of time and throughout different cultures, micro-histories with a penchant for contextualizing, while necessary, seemed insufficient. The question was then raised: could the analytical tools and historiographies offered by these earlier microanalyses be applied diachronically? A number of recent works discussed in this review article have answered this question with a resounding ‘yes.’ By focusing on macro-historical themes, such as pedagogy, standardization, imperialism, credibility, and trustworthiness, these works detail the importance of science and technology to Victorian society, and illustrate how the social relations typical of the period shaped physical and technical knowledge.