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This chapter introduces the key theme of the book, which is to challenge the dominant agenda in the history of science which concentrates on developments in the West since the seventeenth century. Once we focus on aims and methods rather than on results, the explorations of the members of ancient societies and of modern indigenous groups can be given due attention. Their different approaches offer us the opportunity to revise our own assumptions and so expand the horizons of the history of science.
This book challenges the common assumption that the predominant focus of the history of science should be the achievements of Western scientists since the so-called Scientific Revolution. The conceptual frameworks within which the members of earlier societies and of modern indigenous groups worked admittedly pose severe problems for our understanding. But rather than dismiss them on the grounds that they are incommensurable with our own and to that extent unintelligible, we should see them as offering opportunities for us to revise many of our own preconceptions. We should accept that the realities to be accounted for are multi-dimensional and that all such accounts are to some extent value-laden. In the process insights from current anthropology and the study of ancient Greece and China especially are brought to bear to suggest how the remit of the history of science can be expanded to achieve a cross-cultural perspective on the problems.
Despite the evidence advanced in this book, its main historiographical contributions will fail to be effective it we cannot rethink our understandings of intellectual vibrancy and engagement with the natural sciences, both of which continued beyond the seventeenth century into the eighteenth century.
Thomas Kuhn's Structures of Scientific Revolutions provides a way to think of the development of the natural sciences in the Muslim world as differing from the path taken in Europe while also reflecting broad engagement with the sciences. This excursus argues for a weak version of Kuhn's paradigm to better understand the divergent fate of the natural sciences in the Muslim world.
Historians of the early modern witch-hunt often begin histories of their field with the theories propounded by Margaret Murray and Montague Summers in the 1920s. They overlook the lasting impact of nineteenth-century scholarship, in particular the contributions by two American historians, Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) and George Lincoln Burr (1857–1938). Study of their work and scholarly personae contributes to our understanding of the deeply embedded popular understanding of the witch-hunt as representing an irrational past in opposition to an enlightened present. Yet the men's relationship with each other, and with witchcraft sceptics – the heroes of their studies – also demonstrates how their writings were part of a larger war against 'unreason'. This Element thus lays bare the ways scholarly masculinity helped shape witchcraft historiography, a field of study often seen as dominated by feminist scholarship. Such meditation on past practice may foster reflection on contemporary models of history writing.
The opening chapter introduces the reader to the ongoing genome-editing revolution, which is spearheaded by the discovery of CRISPR. To set the appropriate context for the book, the chapter discusses human ingenuity, its presence throughout the history of civilization, and the power it holds to transform the world. The chapter lays out a foundation on which to argue that transformative technologies—such as the printing press, the Internet, nuclear weapons, and other technological feats that induced massive cultural and social change—share a common modus operandi. This exposition aims to help the audience grasp the significance of having access to the specialized tools required to rationally manipulate the genetic composition of living organisms. The chapter provides a high-level overview of the book’s contributions to the literature and discusses the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry to bridge gaps between science, law, and policy.
The introduction’s core purpose is to emphasize to the reader that the potential impact of genome editing is likely to be on par with—if not greater than—the discovery of nuclear fission, which led to the development of nuclear weapons, or the advent of modern computing, which spawned the era of worldwide communications via the Internet.
Scientists have long recognized the value of developing methods to induce modifications in DNA sequences. Although the wave of recent breakthroughs concerning gene editing has propelled the field to the forefront of science, the concept itself is not new. This chapter explains how genome editing became a reality and argues that the concept of genetic manipulation is rooted in popular culture. The chapter begins by introducing readers to Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking pea-plant experiments in the mid-1800s, which gave rise to modern genetics. The chapter then provides a concise overview of the origins of the concept of genetic manipulation, and how the discovery of two critical elements—restriction enzymes and DNA-repair mechanisms—in the second half of the twentieth century marked the genesis of modern molecular biology and biotechnology. Importantly, this chapter acquaints readers with fundamental concepts in molecular biology and genetics—including gene expression, DNA replication, RNA transcription, protein translation, DNA repair, the structure of DNA, the rise of genetic mutations, the flow of genetic information through the central dogma of molecular biology, and more—and explains important scientific terminology in a clear and accessible format with the aid of illustrations.
This paper uses the decade-long collaboration between the Indian paleobotanist Birbal Sahni (1891–1949) and his Chinese doctoral student Hsü Jen (Xu Ren 徐仁, 1910–1992) to offer a connected history of mid-twentieth century scientific activity in China and India. Possibly the first Chinese scientist to earn a PhD from an Indian university (Lucknow, 1946), Hsü was certainly the first to be appointed to a faculty position in India. Sahni and Hsü's attempts to build Asian networks of scientific activity, characterized by the circulation of experts, scientific knowledge, and specimens, provide the grounds for considering a practice of Pan-Asianism. Such a formulation adds to existing work on the Pan-Asianist articulations of intellectual and political figures and urges for an expansion of how we understand scientific activity across China and India from the 1930s to the 1960s. In so doing, the paper makes two historiographical interventions. In the first instance, the collaboration presents an opportunity to move beyond the two dominant frames through which histories of science in China and India are studied: the nation state and Non-West/West binaries. Second, a focus on science widens the scope of China–India history, a field dominated by research on cultural, intellectual, and diplomatic topics.
South Africa was a regional rather than a world power; it was not a global centre for invention or new scientific ideas. Yet its geographic position on the African continent made it a staging post for Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism and part of a global imaginary. Colonisation by Britain brought the region into connection with a technologically advanced world empire. South Africa was at key moments an incubator and testing ground of innovation, which had profound social and economic effects on the country: agricultural technology underpinned exports of wool and ostrich feathers; new rifles changed the balance of power in favour of colonial regimes; the mineral revolution necessitated developments in applied geology and gold extraction. Key advances were often a response to urgent economic requirements, but the scientific imagination was also more exploratory with respect to astronomy, palaeontology, and wildlife conservation. And as a crucible of racial politics in the twentieth century, South Africa has long been seen as a social laboratory for the study of 'race relations'. We aim to illustrate the scientific imagination as an expression of human curiosity and ingenuity, to discuss the politics of science and to examine its imbrication with white political power.
Scientific societies played a crucial role in the emergence of a professional culture of science in Britain in the mid- to late-19th Century. At first sight, James Croll's membership of a limited number of scientific associations may be assumed to be the result of his lack of social credit and scientific connections. In this article, by examining Croll's correspondence, I demonstrate that Croll's select participation in scientific clubs and associations reflected his strategic pursuit of a vision of science set apart from party or societal affiliation. I focus on the contrasting histories of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Geological Survey, as well as the institutional history of the Philosophical Magazine. Situating the institutions in their respective social and cultural contexts, I argue that the more meritocratic, inclusive social structure of the Survey and Magazine helps explain Croll's choice to avoid affiliation with the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
South Africa provides a unique vantage point from which to examine the scientific imagination over the last three centuries, when its position on the African continent made it a staging post for Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonialism. In the eighteenth century, South African plants and animals caught the imagination of visiting Europeans. In the nineteenth century, science became central to imperial conquest, devastating wars, agricultural intensification and the exploitation of rich mineral resources. Scientific work both facilitated, and offered alternatives to, the imposition of segregation and apartheid in the twentieth century. William Beinart and Saul Dubow offer an innovative exploration of science and technology in this complex, divided society. Bridging a range of disciplines from astronomy to zoology, they demonstrate how scientific knowledge shaped South Africa's peculiar path to modernity. In so doing, they examine the work of remarkable individual scientists and institutions, as well as the contributions of leading politicians from Jan Smuts to Thabo Mbeki.
The queer femme disrupts the legibility of queerness and politics since the feminine is scapegoated for its subjugation as false and inferior. This essay explores the cultural genealogy of queer femme invisibility by reading white women physician characters in late nineteenth-century New Woman novels in relation to the science of sexology and feminist dress reform as contrapuntal forces that informed the viability of gender expression. Henry James’s The Bostonians, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s Doctor Zay, Sarah Orne Jewett’s A Country Doctor, and William Dean Howells’s Dr. Breen’s Practice present variations on the cultural dichotomy between femme and science framed by the marriage plot. Through the politics of dress the possibility of the queer femme is both acknowledged and erased as a legitimate expression and valid identity. These novels trace an incipient femme sensibility bound to whiteness that disrupts assumptions about the coherence of representation required for viability of minoritarian gender identities.
This final chapter addresses the concreteness of fictional experiences on which Brontë’s, Trollope’s, and Thackeray’s various uses of the novel depend. I examine nineteenth-century medical responses to Coleridge’s paracosmic play, in particular their cautions against imagined environments as precursors to hallucination, and the continuity of this discourse with more general anxieties about fictional or poetic experience; for instance, George Henry Lewes singled out Dickens as an author who shared his pseudo-hallucinations through novels. This view of novel-reading as imaginative sensory participation has since been overshadowed by the cinematic and the digital, but represents an important precedent for the everyday presence of non-material things and spaces. In a reading of Little Dorrit, where multiple characters form their unrealised hopes and plans into fantasised environments, I argue that play, hallucination, and fiction provided nineteenth-century critics with tools to conceptualise a phenomenology of the virtual, or even its reparative value.
This chapter explores Ernst Mach’s philosophy of scientific knowledge as an original form of pragmatism. Mach recognised science as a deeply historical phenomenon and scientific knowledge as path-dependent, thoroughly fallible, and far from ever closed. Conceptual perplexities, he held, can only be resolved by historical-comparative investigations. What merits thinking of Mach as a pragmatist, I will argue, is his insistence, as a philosopher, on the ultimately practical orientation of all thought as a matter both of fact and norm, and, as a historian of science, on the need to investigate the specific problem situations out of and in response to which concepts and theories developed. Last but not least, the practical orientation of his philosophy found expression in his allegiance to the ideal of enlightenment.
I analyse the relation of two important doctrines of Ernst Mach’s epistemology – namely the theory of the elements, exposed in The Analysis of Sensations, and the economy of thought, mainly explored in Knowledge and Error and elsewhere – to his historical-critical approach. After discussing Erwin Hiebert’s seminal work on Mach’s philosophical use of the history of science, I defend the thesis that there is a more profound, structural relationship between Mach’s conception of history and the anti-metaphysical remarks which open The Analysis of Sensations and introduce his theory of the elements. Finally, I contend that this can provide novel insights into the doctrine of the economy of thought.
We are living in a time when the line between “climate” and “weather,” and our understanding of what these terms mean, is changing. This chapter shows that such significations were never stable, and our understanding of these terms has changed over time. In fact, our understanding of climate – as the expected weather in a region over a particular period of time – is a relatively recent one, emerging only about 150 years ago. This chapter argues that the evolution of our thinking about climate was catalyzed and assimilated by Europeans’ colonization of the Americas. These trans- and multinational efforts initiated and sustained scientific inquiry into what exactly climate is and how it functions on a planetary scale. In tracing climate theories from the early colonial period to the present, this chapter shows how earlier theories laid the groundwork for modern meteorology and climatology. And, ultimately, it argues that our current understanding of climate – including our coping with global and local climate changes – shares with earlier epistemologies an enmeshment of nature and culture that might productively point us toward creative and crucial solutions for our climate crises.
In this compelling history of the co-ordinated, transnational defence of medical experimentation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Rob Boddice explores the experience of vivisection as humanitarian practice. He captures the rise of the professional and specialist medical scientist, whose métier was animal experimentation, and whose guiding principle was 'humanity' or the reduction of the aggregate of suffering in the world. He also highlights the rhetorical rehearsal of scientific practices as humane and humanitarian, and connects these often defensive professions to meaningful changes in the experience of doing science. Humane Professions examines the strategies employed by the medical establishment to try to cement an idea in the public consciousness: that the blood spilt in medical laboratories served a far-reaching human good.
The third chapter studies the religious, scientific and artistic dialogue between the Dutch Republic and the various civilisations with which it engaged through its overseas empire. After discussing some sporadic instances of religious dialogue through the relatively feeble Dutch missionary effort, it is shown how the Japanese mirrored European orientalism by using their own version of Dutch science to emancipate themselves from Chinese and other more traditional worldviews. Another rare but fascinating case of cross-cultural dialogue is provided by Dutch painters who were able to connect the Dutch Republic to the imperial courts of Iran and India in catering for a common appreciation of naturalism.
In this ambitious new study, Sophie Brockmann argues that interactions with landscape and environment were central to the construction of Central American identities in the Age of Enlightenment. She argues that new intellectual connections and novel ways of understanding landscapes had a transformative impact on political culture, as patriotic reformers sought to improve the region's fortunes by applying scientific and 'useful' knowledge gathered from local and global networks to the land. These reformers established networks that extended into the countryside and far beyond Central America's borders. Tracing these networks and following the bureaucrats, priests, labourers, merchants and scholars within them, Brockmann shows how they made a lasting impact by defining a new place for the natural world in narratives of nation and progress.
This article discusses the American Compañía Stanford’s efforts to drill an oil well on the outskirts of the archaeological site of El Tajín, Mexico, during the 1930s. Drawing on recent scholarly efforts to think beyond archaeology and the nation state, this article problematizes the notion of a unitary state behind the concept of nationalist archaeology, the constitution of archaeology and extractive industry as separate spheres, and their apparent mutual exclusivity. Exploring the negotiations between site guards, archaeologists, inspectors, oil company officials and labourers shows that different state actors worked at cross-purposes, and that the nominally separate spheres of nationalist archaeology and foreign oil extraction were in fact characterized by the sharing of infrastructure, equipment, expertise and labour. Consequently, this article advocates for close attention to the administration and management of archaeology in specific historical contexts, demonstrating that it is more reasonable to assume archaeology’s imbrications with the nation state and extractive industries.