The knowing world: A new global history of science

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Abstract

This article proposes a new global approach to the history of science centered on questions of geopolitics, historical consciousness, and cultural identity. Arguing that the field is now at a crossroads between its longstanding focus on the history of the natural sciences in the Western world, and the prospect of some form of worldwide history of science, the article describes a new undergraduate lecture course, designed by the author and taught at Rutgers and Harvard since 2015, which neither begins in Western Europe nor culminates with the United States. It aims to articulate an original vision for the field on this basis. Histories of science can and should offer deep histories of the global present, it is argued, by rethinking how historical narratives involve geographical decisions about where to focus analytical attention (and where not) and tackling narrative and geography together as linked issues. The approach proposed here is neither science in context nor knowledge in transit but engages the notion of a knowing world: one made up of multiple scientific cultures and long historical memory, and requiring dialectical movement back and forth across both space and time on a worldwide scale to grasp the scientific past’s importance for the present, as well as the present’s impact on how we perceive the past. Explicitly addressing polemics of identity, culture, race, and nationhood can help us to construct a more civic-minded and geopolitically informed history of science of use in the changing circumstances of the twenty-first century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-399
Number of pages27
JournalHistory of Science
Volume57
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science

Keywords

  • Geopolitics
  • Global history
  • Historiography
  • History of science
  • Imperialism
  • Methodology
  • Modernity
  • Narrative
  • Nationalism
  • Teaching

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