2nd International Conference of
the European Society for the History of Science

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The Global and the Local:

The History of Science and the Cultural Integration of Europe

Cracow, Poland, September 6-9, 2006

Last modification: 25 September 2008

Online Book of Abstracts - A Thematic List:


Edited by Michal Kokowski


Symposium R-17.



Geert SOMSEN (Maastricht, The Netherlands)

Christopher CHILVERS (Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark)

Patrick PETITJEAN (Paris, France)

Vidar ENEBAKK (Oslo, Norway)


Niels Bohr's mission for an 'open world'

Finn AASERUD (Copenhagen, Denmark)

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr contributed significantly to the scientific basis for the atomic bomb, yet was isolated from the project of developing it in German-occupied Denmark until he was compelled to escape in the fall of 1943. Upon being briefed in London on the status of the project after his escape, his opinion changed immediately from disbelief in the practical possibility of developing the bomb to conviction that its realization was near at hand. At the same time as agreeing to partake in the finalization of the project, he became concerned about the postwar consequences of the existence of the bomb and started his own mission to convince Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt of the necessity, in order to avoid an uncontrolled arms race, to inform Stalin about the project before the bomb was used. This was the basis for Bohr's conception of an "open world", the realization of which he continued to promote until the end of his life in 1962.

A study of Bohr's self-appointed political mission brings out several interesting questions. To what extent can it be understood in terms of his own cultural and scientific background? Can the rationalist and individualist nature of his efforts be explained on this basis? How and why was the Dane Bohr, unlike his British and American counterparts, able to get the ear of the leaders of Great Britain and the United States with regard to the political implications of the bomb? How did his unsuccessful effort to implicate the Soviet leaders fit into his mission and affect its fate? In my talk I will outline Bohr's mission and address questions such as these.


The concept of nature and environmental projects:
UNESCO in its first Decade

Heloisa Maria BERTOL DOMINGUES (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

The concept of the nature plays a fundamental role in scientific projects about the environment and the exploration of natural resources. Through its analysis, it is possible to perceive the forms of interaction among science, State and society along history.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the first projects promoted by the recently created UNESCO's Division of Natural Sciences hinged on the evolutionary concept of nature, which considered men as part of nature. The notions of social progress and of international scientific developments had as a background such a context. When the political orientation of UNESCO changed after the replacements of Julian Huxley as UNESCO's Director-General and of Joseph Needham as the head of the Division of Natural Sciences, the environmental projects of UNESCO started to view men and nature as extrinsic to one another. The scientific projects based on ecological studies of the environment in these two time periods thus applied different concepts of nature and hence defined the political means of exploration of natural resources and its association with the societies where they would be developed.

This work aims to analyze the concepts of nature that permeate the environmental projects promoted by UNESCO in the period running from the end of the 40s to the 60s, e.g., Arid Zones, Humid Tropics, and the International Union for the Protection of Nature, comparing them with the notion of nature that guided the project of the International Institute of the Hylean Amazon. It also seeks to analyze the concept of nature in the first proposal for a project on the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind in 1950. The latter's goal was to build the social history of mankind, so as to individuate the contribution of each society in the formation of today's society, by investigating the transfer of knowledge about nature and its resources among societies over time.


The rationalism beyond science:

the politic and religious activism of the "Union rationaliste"

Yannick BÉZIN (Paris, France)

In March 1930, the Union rationaliste (Rationalist Union) was born. At this particular time, french physicists, sociologists, historians, zoologists, physicians have joined together around a certain idea of reason and aimed to defend it. But why? Are the science and the reason attacked? From January 1931, the Union has obtained a body of information and large diffusion : the Cahiers rationalistes (Rationalist drafts) and we can find in their pages the root and the positions of the Union.

This monthly review proposes a clearly objective: to inform general public of the course of science and of the most contemporary scientific debates. Indeed it is in reaction to a certain interpretation (or misinterpretation) of quantum physic and evolutionism, and of science as a way for humanity to understand the world, that the Union was formed.

Whatever the editors of this review had said about it, the Cahiers rationalistes reveal ideological intentions which go well beyond a simple state education, that is philosophical and political intentions. As a matter of fact the Union rationaliste is as much a publication of mediation between the scientists and the general public, as a tool of propaganda which involves a conception of the society and the role that science must play there. This group share political, social and religious positions linked to the situation of France in the 30s. And that's why scientists try to propose a new social ethic inspired by science.

While going beyond the declarations of intent which aim at respecting political and ideological neutrality, with the rejection of any polemics, it is possible for us to read the Cahiers rationalistes as a tool which endows a group of scientists in order to defend and to spread their idea of their own activity. How the rationalism of the Union can renew society?


Illusions of political neutrality:
Science-based technocracy in interwar Western Europe and North America

Kenneth BERTRAMS (Bruxelles, Belgium)

The First World War paved the way to a formalization of the various commitments that scientists had initiated with political milieus. Obviously, the challenge was to translate in a peaceful climate the mechanisms that had been functioning during wartime under military conditions. Attracted by the discourses praising the "scientification" of civil society, some scientists were soon engaged in a nexus of political transformation affecting the (re)organization of Nation-States. One of these domains dealt with the development of a science-inspired public administration; its objective laid in the emergence of a rational social order. Its peculiarity, to some extent, was to claim the political neutrality of its agenda: the mechanisms of economic benefits and social control operating in the factory could be displayed in the society as a whole (most notably by the use of planning methods, standardized budgets, social controls, etc.). Through this, they reactivated Saint-Simon's old dream by shifting from "the government of people to the administration of things". Put briefly, the features mentioned above are the common traits of the various technocratic movements that flourished during the 1920s and 1930s in Western Europe and the United States - movements that were traditionally depicted as modernists.

The questions this paper seeks to address are, on the one hand, the political origins of science-inspired technocracy in spite of its constant pushback and, on the other, the implications of these activities on the reordering of national public management cultures but also on the transformations of social sciences and their recognition as fully-fledged academy-legitimated scientific disciplines. This paper is part of a work in progress, which aims to seek the origins of rational public systems in Europe and North America through the identification of "technocratic" movements.


Einstein, Bergson, and the experiment that failed:
Intellectual cooperation at the League of Nations

Jimena CANALES (Harvard, USA)

In 1922 Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein met in Paris to discuss the meaning of relativity. In the years that followed, the philosopher and physicist became engaged in a bitter dispute. The results of the confrontation are well known: Bergson, having made a technical mistake in his understanding of Einstein's science, lost to the young physicist. This paper reassesses the Bergson-Einstein dispute by showing that their disagreement hinged on more than the technical interpretation of relativity. It was a debate over the role of common sense, expertise, public intellectuals, the place of philosophy vis-a-vis science, and ultimately, about politics. It occurred simultaneously with a debate between Bergson and Einstein taking place at the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation within the League of Nations, presided by Bergson and with Einstein as a member. This paper establishes the League of Nations as a laboratory of time and relativity and offers a new model for rethinking the boundaries between science, society and politics.


These twisted times:
The Russian delegation to the 1931 Congress and the battle for Russian science in the 1930s

C. A. J. CHILVERS (Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark)

There exists a limited but resourceful historiography of the antecedence of the Russian delegation to the 1931 Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology. Notably, Loren Graham, Paul Josephson, Pablo Huerga Malcon and Gary Werskey have developed various formative themes for the delegation that indicate the plurality of interpretations possible when considering the Russian contributions to the congress. Perhaps the most important feature is the recognition that a heterodoxy existed in conceptions of Marxism, dialectics and the role of politics in science and the history of science.

The delegation represented much of the genuine leadership of Russian science in 1931, alongside those who were to wield an important influence on the future of Russian science in the 1930s. While engaging the congress, subtle fault lines appeared in the Russian delegation's approach and political perspective. This paper traces these fault lines into the period subsequent to the congress and the social environment of Russia on the eve of the Great Terror. During this period, a sequence of ebbs and flows occurred in the attempts to control and repress Russian science, revealing a pattern of deliberate but careful political activity among the various members of the Russian delegation.

This political activity was conducted in the extraordinarily dangerous environment of the attempt to consolidate Stalinist rule and the delegation, mirroring Russian science as a whole, fragmented and entered political combat against each other. There was also important alliances, born during or shortly before the 1931 congress, that sought to defend the relative autonomy of Russian science from Stalinist philosophers, ideologues and the nomenclatura.

This paper outlines some of the these alliances, the fault lines of the congress and the continuities and shifts in the political perspectives of those involved. The result is a radically different comprehension of the meaning and significance of the delegation to the 1931 congress.


The second generation of historians of the social relations of science

Vidar ENEBAKK (Oslo, Norway)

The Second International Congress of the History of Science, at the Science Museum in London in 1931, is usually regarded as the origin of so-called externalism primarily due to the Russian delegation - Boris Hessen in particular - promoting the study of the social relations of science.

Today, as we commemorate the 75th anniversary for the 1931-conference, there is a remarkable and renewed interest in these historiographical issues recently described by Gary Werskey as a 'third' wave or movement addressing both science and its social relations and the social relations of the history of science.

My talk will be an exercise in reflexive historiography focusing on a particular group of historians of science (Mendelsohn, MacLeod and Werskey) which during the late 1960s and early 1970s contributed to the revival of the discourse from the 1930s. Some of the major contributions, apart from Werskey's Visible College (1978), was the republishing of Science at the Cross Roads (1971) and the establishing in 1975 of a Commission on Science Policy Studies under the aegis of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science. As we today find ourselves standing on the shoulders of these giants it might be useful to reflect on how these predecessors, back then, connected to the previous generation of historians of the social relations of science.


Biology and war - American biology and international science

Heiner FANGERAU (Duesseldorf, Germany)

"Biology and War" was the title of a short essay the German-American scientist Jacques Loeb (1859-1924) published in "Science" 1917. This paper summarised the npleasant feelings Jacques Loeb had about the First World War and America' entry in the War. He was deeply disappointed that the international scientific community ad been destructed by bellicose politicians. He himself had always been a promoter of international exchange in science. Born in Germany he emigrated to the USA in 1891 here he became one of the most famous scientists of his times. Being in America he stayed in close contact with his European colleagues and he was desperate when is scientific contacts broke down because of the War.

The aim of the paper is to reconstruct Jacques Loeb's work for the benefit of maintaining an international scientific community before, during and after the War. Loeb for example tried to negotiate the publication of German authors in American Journals during the War, at a time when the publishers categorically rejected it. After the War he at once tried to help his European colleagues with financial aids as well as he tried to establish new publication series with an international focus. His correspondence with eminent scientists from all over the world (amongst them Albert Einstein, Richard Goldschmidt, Otto Meyerhof, Otto Warburg, Paul Ehrlich, Wolfgang Ostwald, Wilhelm Roux, Ross Harrison and many more) will serve as a source for the analysis.

Special emphasis will be put on Loeb's efforts to overcome nationalistic, racist and social-darwinist views that he considered responsible for the outbreak of the War. His scientific work was directed towards reducing the processes of life to their physical and chemical components. As a consequence, he provocatively interpreted racist views from a physico-chemical viewpoint, an approach heavily criticised and ridiculed by racist protagonists like H. S. Chamberlain.


The periphery principle:
UNESCO and the international commitment of scientists after World War II

Patrick PETITJEAN (Paris, France)

Before World War II, international science was mainly European and Eurocentric. The International Council of Scientific Unions and the International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation paid very little attention to science and scientists beyond Europe, which were mostly confined to colonial science institutions. Non-Western scientific achievements were ignored.

When joining the new international scientific bodies after WWII, the politically engaged scientists tried to implement new principles rooted in the pre-war "social relations of science" movements.

Joseph Needham developed his ideas in three memos during the war, and tried to put them into practice as the first head of UNESCO science division (1946-1948). According to what he called "the periphery principle", UNESCO had to support voluntarily the scientists and the scientific activities outside "the bright zone". Western scientists did not need such a support.

My paper will present the various projects realized, or initiated, by Needham: the field scientific co-operation offices, international laboratories outside Europe such as the Amazon Institute, the promotion of national science organization, the popularization of science, the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind, etc.

I will confront Needham's initial aims with the results, to analyse the limitations and the contradictions of his projects in the political context (the growing Cold war), in the social context of the scientific milieu (mainly hostile to the periphery principle - Needham spoke later of the "parochial mind" of his colleagues) and in his own intellectual context (Needham kept some Eurocentric features and practices).

Nevertheless, the issues raised by Needham marked UNESCO for more than the two years he headed the science division, and revealed to be pertinent even now, in the present globalized world.


"The lack of scientific liaison":
A.V. Hill and science research in Colonial India

Jahnavi PHALKEY (Atlanta, USA; Trondheim, Norway)

Archibald Vivian Hill, the British Nobel Laureate in Physiology was actively enrolled in British employment of "science" as a tool for imagining a decolonised India during WWII. Hill first initiated a proposal for an "Empire Scientific Conference" in the Royal Society - UK's national academy of science. After a series of meetings beginning in 1941, attended by representatives from India as well, the Royal Society first appointed a "British Commonwealth Science Committee" which recommended in 1943 that a meeting be held as soon as possible after the war. The conference began on June17, 1946 - little more than a year before Indian independence. A debate in the British Parliament led to Hill's deputation to India for a period of five months in order to survey scientific research establishments in India (1943). His trip resulted in the organisation of study trips for two groups, one of Indian scientists and another of industrialists to visit scientific and industrial research facilities in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada. This effort on part of the British government was a commitment made in times of post-war reconstruction and scarcity in Britain, motivated by the desire to build a post-imperial network where Britain would continue to have significance in the post-war world order - an effort in which Hill was enrolled and a willing participant. It is my intention to delineate imperial politics and science in the colonies through Hills' efforts as cultural ambassador in a turbulent local and international context.


Science is not national, but scientists are

Simon Olling REBSDORF (Aarhus, Denmark)

Pasteur's well known 1984 quote runs through this talk, which is based on part of a completed PhD study. The aim of my talk will be a discussion of the Strömgren's roles as political scientists or just internationalists. Two cases will be presented.

Firstly, I will portray and discuss the case of the Danish professor of astronomy, Elis Strömgren (1870-1947). E. Strömgren worked whole-heartedly for international communication, despite "external' political factors. The Central Bureau of astronomical communication was centred in Copenhagen. Its function was to safeguard most astronomical research institutions to receive the latest results of celestial body observations. The bureau was organized under the International Astronomical Union, being created by the International Research Council right after the Great War. I will discuss E. Strömgren's stubborn ideal of science as a strictly international enterprise. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for international communication and cooperation, but never became a laureate.

Secondly, I will examine the case of Bengt Strömgren (1908-1987). Succeeding his father's professorship in 1940, B. Strömgren had followed his father's footsteps thereby introducing him to international science from a very early age. His first international scientific contributions came in the 1930s, and then came the war, isolating him to national research. In the talk, I will examine B. Strömgren's active involvement in arranging and participating in a famous 1941 scientific working week. The meeting has been highlighted since M. Frayn's play Copenhagen was produced in 1998, the discussion of which provoked the release of new documents by the Bohr family concerning the meeting between Heisenberg and Bohr. I will present both Strömgren's participation and discuss their motivation for partaking in a meeting initialized by Nazi Germany.


The Nobel laureate CV Raman FRS and his contacts with the European men of science in political context

Rajinder SINGH (Oldenburg, Germany)

India's only Nobel Laureate in the field of natural sciences, C.V. Raman (1888-1970) interacted with the wide scientific community for about half a century. Some of the important physicists who corresponded with Raman were Niels Bohr (Denmark), Kai Manne Siegbahn (Sweden), Arnold Sommerfeld (Germany) and Ernest Rutherford (England). First, I scantly discuss Raman's interaction with these physicists. My second point deals with the visit of one of the secretaries of the Royal Society of London, AV Hill to India in 1941. He came to India to organise the scientists for war efforts. I show that this visit preshaped the role of not only Raman but also others physicists, they had to play after India's independence in 1947.


Cold War ideology and international science politics: Rosenfeld versus Bohr

Anja Skaar JACOBSEN (Roskilde, Denmark)

The Belgian physicist Léon Rosenfeld (1904-74) was Niels Bohr's close assistant and collaborator from 1930. They collaborated on the epistemology of quantum electrodynamics, and Rosenfeld is also known as a fierce defender of the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. Soon after the Second World War, Rosenfeld took up a position in Manchester, from where he continued his close collaboration with Bohr in Copenhagen. The following years Rosenfeld's Marxist political engagement led him to incited outbursts against Bohr's political activities, a behaviour that was quite untypical for their collaboration. In my paper I wish to explore the tension between the two physicists as regards Cold War science politics, a tension which is revealed in their exchange of viewpoints and activities in connection with Bohr's idea of an open world, Einstein's idea of a world government, the Stockholm Appeal in 1950, activities of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, etc.


Committing to internationalism:
Mediating activities of Dutch scientists between 1900 and 1950

Geert SOMSEN (Maastricht, The Netherlands)

One of the best known political commitments of scientists is their (alleged) internationalism. From the early modern Republic of Letters to the World Federation of Scientific Workers, men of learning have often considered and presented themselves as a global community, raised above national antagonisms and hence more peaceful and cooperative than nations and their politics. Yet the meaning of this cosmopolitanism has considerably changed over the ages and so have the ways that it has expressed itself.

In this paper I want to look at the internationalism of Dutch scientists from about 1900 to the beginning of the Cold War. During this period, the Dutch were remarkably active in positioning themselves as neutral mediators between the great powers and preservers of the true spirit of scientific internationalism. They proposed to locate the headquarters of the International Association of Academies in a 'World Capital' near The Hague in 1913. They tried to re-establish international cooperation in science after the Great War. And they called for global scientific government when atomic politics seemed to split the world. Throughout this time they almost constantly held high offices in international scientific organisations. I will investigate why the Dutch were so extraordinarily active and how their expressions of internationalism changed with the circumstances and shifting convictions. I am particularly interested in how their internationalism was enacted - in meetings, in organisations, in personal correspondence, and in buildings.


J.D. Bernal as historian of science

Mikulas TEICH (Cambridge, The Great Britain)

J.D. Bernal (1901-1971) published three books on straightforward historical themes: Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century (1953), Science in History (1954), which went through several editions, and the posthumous The Extension of Man (1972). Curiously, this element of Bernal's many-sided activities received little attention and, inasmuch as it did from historians of science, it was critical if not hostile and derogatory.

Being a Marxist, Bernal placed history firmly at the centre of his analysis of what science is about. "To see the function of science as a whole", he wrote in he concluding chapter of his seminal Social Function of Science (1939), "it is necessary to look at it against the widest possible background of history". He continued by identifying three major changes which mankind has experienced since its relative late emergence on earth. The first and second change, the foundation of human society and civilization respectively, occurred before the dawn of recorded history. As to the third change, Bernal associated with it, as he put it, "that scientific transformation of society which is now taking place and for which we have as yet no name" Bernal traced its origin to the related processes of the rise of capitalism and the birth of modern science in the middle of the fifteenth century. In discussing this two-way relationship Bernal argued, though capitalism as essential to the early development of science, giving it for the first time a practical value, the human importance of science transcends in every way that of capitalism, and, indeed, the full development of science in the service of humanity is incompatible with the continuance of capitalism.

In effect what Bernal did in the concluding chapter of the Social Function of Science was to divide world history into three stages of humanity whereby he stressed that the third stage had still to be achieved. The following formulation in the concluding chapter of the book published 67 years ago, may help to bring out the author's significance as one of the twentieth-century creative thinkers about society, man and nature:

We must realize that we are in the middle of one of the major transition periods of human history. Our most immediate problem is to ensure that the transition is accomplished as rapidly as possible, with the minimum of material, human and cultural destruction ... belonging to an age of transition we are primarily concerned with its task, and here science is but one factor in a complex of economic and political forces.

But he had no doubt that once the third stage of humanity has been definitely established science will constitute its characteristic feature. Drawing on and expanding the ideas set down in The Social Functions of Science, Bernal seems to have been the first to use the term 'Scientific-Technical Revolution'. He introduced it, in 1957, in the second edition of his Science in History stressing that the new revolutionary character of the twentieth century could not be confined to science. It resided even more in. the fact that science had come to dominate industry and agriculture. The concept as such has virtually not attracted attention. Certainly in comparison to abundant literature devoted to the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, the Scientific-Technical Revolution has not invited debate and controversy over its nature and place in the history of the twentieth century.

Take the consequences of the twentieth-century emblematic breakthroughs and their ramifications: the penetration to the nucleus of the atom and the penetration to the nucleus of the cell. Never before in history, when it came to assimilate fruits of scientific research, had humanity had to face more profoundly troubling social and ethical issues. While the nucleus of the atom and the nucleus of the cell are variously present in historiography of contemporary science and technology, they have not been addressed as two major products and factors of the Scientific-Technical Revolution in the context of a specific historic phase of social evolution.

The need to do just that may well be the most important bequest to us by J. D. Bernal the historian.


Norbert Wiener's politics and the history of cybernetics

Mathieu TRICLOT (Lyon, France)

The American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) is widely known as the father of cybernetics, the interdisciplinary scientific movement that tried to unify the engineering cultures of control and communication in a common language at the end of the Second World War. Less known is that Wiener has been politically engaged on three post-war major issues: the nuclear arms race, the new politics of science and the danger of factory-work automation. Through his numerous papers and books intended for a large audience, Wiener assumed the stance of a public intellectual trying to warn against the information age's new dangers. This commitment played a decisive role in the history of cybernetics.

The Norbert Wiener case is remarkable because it gives the opportunity to isolate the different levels of interaction between political commitment and constitution of a scientific discipline. On a first level, Wiener used in a quite original way the cybernetics concepts in order to justify his political views. Most of his major political arguments are "encoded" in the syntax of information theory. On a second level, the political commitment against what Wiener saw as a militarization of the American science at the dawn of the Cold War profoundly shaped the orientation of cybernetics. Cybernetics developed as the civilian side of the control and information technologies which possess high military applications. Wiener tried to secure an alliance with the life and social sciences that influenced the whole scientific style of the discipline.


The International Conferences on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy
and Cold War confrontation: Scientific internationalism in the 1950s and 1960s

Ulrike WUNDERLE (Tübingen, Germany)

How did nuclear physicists react to the political problems which were brought about by the combination of the Cold War and the Atomic Age?

In the period between the Atoms for Peace Conference 1955 and the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 1963 nuclear scientists favoring international cooperation and control got increasingly relevant to the political decision-making process by opening up new ways of communication to governments, between scientists and to a national and international public. In this paper I focus on the contribution of American and Western European nuclear physicists to the transformation of the Cold War from confrontation to cooperation as two opposing modes of conflict management in the period from 1955 to 1963.

I argue that many of these physicists saw scientific internationalism both as a way towards and as an aim within a peaceful international system. I investigate how their perceptions, interpretations and actions in the political sphere were influenced by the specific scientific background, given their socialization, set of values, and scientific practices which were influenced by the experience of a changing scientific system and social function of science since the Second World War. The American "Atoms for Peace" initiative 1953 and the subsequent "Conferences on the peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy" 1955, 1958 and 1964 are to be seen in their strategic, political and ideological context in order to be analyzed in their function towards scientific internationalism as envisioned by nuclear physicists and promoted on various levels of the scientific-political sphere.

This paper includes some major results of my PhD project on transnational elites "between 'total war' and international peace-keeping" which is part of a special research project (SFB) on "Society and War. War experience in Modern History" located at the University of Tübingen. The SFB project evolves a new concept of "experience of war" based on the social construction of reality as presented by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, thus integrating socialogical and anthropological approaches into historical research. With a focus on an international scientific community my study integrates the culturalist approach of the SFB into the history of international relations, working with a transnational outlook recently put forward from different perspectives by Thomas Bender, Winfried Loth and Ursula Lehmkuhl. This study is intended to contribute to the ongoing discussion on new approaches in the field of international history.





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