THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OP THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Download THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OP THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Post on 05-Oct-2016

214 views

Category:

Documents

1 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

  • THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF THE HIS- TORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

    THE second international congress of the history of science and technology, which was held in London from 29th June to 4th July, demonstrated the maturity of this department of historical studies, and, by the non-technioal interest which the president, Dr. Charles Singer, deliberately introduced into the discussions, made an important contribution towards achieving for the history of science the poaition in general historical teach- ing and study which its hlghly specidbed chrtraoter has denied it in the past. A brief account of the organisation of this branch of history, and of the proceedings of the congress will therefore be of interest to the readers of HISTORY; a full set of abstracts of the congress proceedings has been deposited in the library of the Historical Association, and the proceedings themselves will be published in a future number of the journal ArcheiOn.

    The congress was the second of the triennial congresses organised by the CmitC i n t e r n a t i d d'histoire des sciences ; the first was held in Paris in 1929, and plam have been made for the third congress in 1934 in Berlin, while the Cam& haa arranged to take an active part in the general historical congress at Warsaw in 1933. This international committee, founded at Oslo in 1928, is an offspring of the Comite' intendional des science0 h&imiques, and derives its origin ultimately from a permanent commission established by this parent body at Rome in 1903.$ For the second international congress the committee enlisted the co-operation not only of its parent body, but also of two other organisations, the Newcornen Society for the study of the history of engineefiw and technology: which was founded in London in 1921, and the History of Science Society in the United States.

    As important as these institutions me the publications dealing with the subject. Apart from periodicals occupied entirely with the history of mediciqe, Germany led the way with the bl&ttei- lungen zur geschichte der Medizin und der NaturWissmchaften, first published in 1902, and still indispensable for bibliographical

    1 Permanent secretary, M. Aldo Mieli. 12 Rue Colbert, Park. 2.. 1 See Bulletin of the Interndionol C m m W of Hiatorieal S c k m , 11. 605-8. 8 Secretary, H. W. Dickinson, Science Museum, South Kensington, S.W. 7. 4 Comwponding secretary, Dr. F. E. Bramh, Lib- of Congress, Washing-

    Membership is open ta all nationalities; the subscription is $6 a year. ton, D.C.

  • om. 19311 THE INTERNA!L'IONAL CONOBESS 203

    purposes. An equally valuable periodical with a record of con- tinuous publication since 1908, except for a brief interruption during the War, is edited by Dr. Julius Schuster under the title Archiv far die geschichte der Natvrwissenscha.. und der Technik (Vogel : Berlin). Two other journals, of international reputation, began as private ventures; Isis, first published in Belgium in 1913 by Dr. George Sarton, who is still editor, was adopted in 1924 as the official journal of publication for the American Elistosy- of Science Society; Archeion, privately published at Rome in 1919 by M. Aldo Mieli, who remains editor, is now the official organ of the Comite' internatiOna1 d'histoire dea sciences. Among English publications there is no counterpart to these journals, but mention must be made of the handsome journal which the Newcomen Society has published from its foundation in I921 under the editorship of M i . H. W. Dickinson ; of the Studies in the History and Method of Science (Oxford), edited by Dr. Charles Singer, two volumes of which have appeared; and of the often unsuspected amount of historical material published in various trade journals, in particular by the pharmaceutical chemiets' weekly paper, C h i a t and Druggist (28 Essex St., W.C. 2), which issues two finely illustrated supplements each year of special interest to studente of history and very useful for classroom purposes.

    These organisations and publications had long borne Witness to the number of students interested in the development of science, but the London congress was the first occasion on which there had been an opportunity for them to meet. Nearly four hundred delegates and members from twenty-five countries attended, and an elaborate programme of social functions made possible that informal intercourse which is the major purpose of an international congress. At the British Museum, a special exhibition of books illustrating the development of experimental science in the seventeenth century, for which the president of the congress had prepared an explanatory guide,l waa visited by congress members. In a brief description, Dr. Singer drew atten- tion particularly to the works of Giordano Bruno through which Copernican theories reached England; of John Napier, the in- ventor of logarithms and of the first calculating machine, known as " Napier's Bones " ; of William Harvey, whose De motu cordis marked the beginning of modern physiology; of the prodigy, Jeremiah Horrocks, who, though dying at the age of twenty- three, made scientific contributions sufficient to establish his

    printed). 1 Chmlen Singer, The jrat century of acience in Englund, 1584-1687 (privately

  • 204 HISTORY [ O m .

    fame aa unquestionably one of the greatest predecessors of New- ton ; of William Petty, who was the first consistently to employ scientific methods in the study of social problems; of Robert Boyle, who laid the foundation of modern chemistry; of Chris- topher Wren, whose fame as an architect has unfortunately obscured his equally important scientific work in other fields ; of Leeuwenhoeck, who for the &st time saw bacteria, not observed again for more than a century ; of Robert Hooke, the founder of modern microscopy, a genius who has been overshadowed by the greater fame of his contemporary Newton ; and of John Flamsteed, whose catalogue of stars forms the basis of modern astronomy.

    The sessions of the congress held at the Science Museum, South Kensington, avoided discussions of technicalities by rejecting the method of special papers and occupying themselves with debates on four general themes- The sciences aa an integral part of general historical study, The teaching of the history of science, The historical and contemporary inter-relationship of the physical and biological sciences, and The interdependence of pure and apphed science. The arrangement of the discus- sions on this basis was in itself a disclosure of some of the assump- tions underlying the conception of the history of science in the minds of those responsible for the organisation. Clearly science was regarded as a unity, and interest was therefore to centre round the history of organised knowledge as such, rather than round the individual developments of particular sciences, the conventional divisiom between which me frequently administra- tive accidents; the history of science was essentially the record of a particular state of mind, a mood, and therefore of the origins and effects of that attitude among other historical developments. Further, the hietory of science waa not merely a narrative of biographical and bibliographical incidents, or the discovery of the exact sequences and priorities of inventions; nor was it claiming a place in general history merely because an account of the effects of scientific developments could not bc omitted from any satisfactory description of the past; nor was it just a particularly convenient method of t e a c h the natural sciences, or a hobby for the leisure of scientists, or a mere appeal to family pride. It waa these, but in addition it wm essentially concerned with general problems and therefore had an indispensable con- tribution to make to the solution of contemporary general problems. Appeal to history would help to provide a guide to present action.

    These unarticulated assumptions, implicit in the organisation

  • 19311 THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS 205

    of the sessions, meant that the congress had to concern itself primarily with the history of science, rather than with the history of sciences, and that historical discussion was continuously focussed on general, and therefore contemporary, problems. This insistence on general problems meant that the issues that emerged were vital and significant. The fact, however, that the assumptions were not formulated and the full implications of them not consciously realised, meant that the discussions a~ a whole left the general impression of an issue between two groups of opinion, the unco-ordinat& conceptions of most of the speakers and the elaborately systematised theories of the Marxists, of whom the most prominent were the nine delegates from Russia led by Professor Nicholai Bukharin .

    The first task waa de6nition. The President of the Board of Education, Mr. H. B. Lees-Smith, in opening the proceedings, spoke of the increading rapidity of scientific discovery and technical invention, illustrated the determining force of science aa a factor in the modern world, and pointed out that as a social fact science raised an ethical problem, whether morality could ensure that scientific progress should be controlled in the interest of the good. Science as a social fact raises not only an ethical but an historical problem, and with this the president of the congress, Dr. Charles Singer, dealt in his inaugural address.l

    Roughly defining science aa tho systematic proceso of recording nature happenings with the object of discerning aome relation between them, he attempted to anawer the question When did science begin 0 Beginnings in the psychological or anthropological ~1188 are vague, but historically a more satisfactory anawer has recently become possible. The scientific tradition among the Greeks can be traced back

Recommended

View more >