On 25-26 January, several members of the Longitude Project team were in California for our conference at the Huntington Library, Oceanic Enterprise: Location, Longitude, and Maritime Cultures 1770-1830. It was an extremely enjoyable and interesting meeting, which I attempted to summarise in a post over on the Longitude Project blog. (It’s worth clicking on the link to see Simon Werrett’s appropriately themed fantasy conference dinner menu, if not my ramblings.)
Cross-posted from The H Word.
This Friday sees the deadline for submissions to what will be the largest ever meeting of historians of science in the UK, and almost certainly the largest for at least a generation to come.
Last Friday already saw the closing date for organised symposiums within the International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the organisers tweeted:
With the individual submissions still to come in, this promises to be huge for the history of science, which usually counts conference delegates in the 10s or 100s.
The event is taking place next year, 22-28 July 2013, in Manchester. It is officially hosted by the British Society for the History of Science, and is being co-ordinated locally by members of the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.
As well as an extremely full academic programme, the website promises to show off the history of science, technology and medicine in Manchester, “the original ‘shock city’ of the Industrial Revolution” withdisplays, events and tours, including to Jodrell Bank, the radio telescope of which has been appropriated to the event’s logo.
There will also be a “fringe” that will include films, music, theatre and performance, aimed at the public as well as delegates. Importantly, there may [edit - this is unconfirmed as yet!] also be an entire pub, the Jabez Clegg, handed over for the conference, selling, I’ve been promised, unique and appropriately-named cask beers. (It helps that the Manchester department includes a postgrad with experience of organising beer festivals and a historian of brewing.)
As well as being large, the Congress, an activity of the Division of History of Science and Technology of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, will, of course, be very international. It will be an important opportunity for scholars working within very different contexts to get together. This is the 24th such Congress – they take place every four years, with recent meetings having been held in Mexico City (2001), Beijing (2005) and Budapest (2009). It has not been in the UK since Edinburgh in 1977.
Probably the most famous of all the International Congresses of the History of Science was the second, in London in 1931. It was here thatBoris Hessen delivered his paper, “The Soci-Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia“.
As the title suggests, this presented science as something that did not stand aloof from its social and economic context. It has been considered foundational for research into the relationship between science and society, or “external” rather than “internal” history of science. Certainly, it was remarkable at the time, being a full-blown Marxist account, which concluded:
The great historical significance of the method created by Marx lies in the fact that knowledge is not regarded as the passive, contemplative perception of reality, but as the means for actively reconstructing it. For the proletariat science is a means and instrument for this reconstruction. That is why we are not afraid to expose the “terrestrial origin” of science, its close connection to the mode of production of material existence. Only such a conception of science can truly liberate it from those fetters in which it is inevitably trapped in bourgeois class society.
Such international gatherings have often been stages on which politics can be performed. It was not just Hessen, but a whole set of Soviet delegates who took the audience by surprise in 1931. Their papers were gathered together and published as Science at the Crossroads, by Nikolai Bukharin. It was to provoke heated debate, touching a nerve in a time of crisis of capitalism in the west.
I am told by old hands that Cold War politics coloured the Congresses of the 70s and 80s. Things have changed again, but I suspect that there will be lively interest in the diversity that continues to exist when the field is seen at its broadest. The British organisers, naturally, are interested in showcasing the wealth of resources and scholarship that can be found in Manchester and the UK. Beyond that, it would be great if the size of the event can help raise awareness of the discipline.
I will be there, as one of the co-organisers of a symposium on current history of science research taking place in, or in partnership with, museums. There is plenty to choose from: Arabic science, paleontological specimens, radio communication, Chinese natural knowledge, science at war, theology and science, ancient astronomy, east-west encounters, gender and knowledge, mathematical institutions, and much, much more – including the history of the sauna and new insights into bicycle history.
I have now reached Philadelphia, continuing research on Lewis and Clark (see previous post) and awaiting the Three Societies meeting, which starts on Wednesday. I am part of a session relating to the Longitude Project, called ‘Defining the Instrumental: Navigation, Longitude and Science at Sea in the 18th Century’. The full programme of the meeting can be found here, and I have posted the session and paper abstracts over on the Longitude Project Blog.
The Three Societies meeting is a quadrennial joint meeting of the History of Science Society, British Society for the History of Science and Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, hosted by each society in turn. There is a St Louis Cardinals baseball bat that is ceremonially handed over from one society president to the next, which must have started life at the HSS-hosted event of 2000, at the Hyatt Union Station, St Louis (it was hot then, too – the British delegates found it tough going!).
This was not, however, the first of these meetings. You’ll see from the list here that a joint HSS-BSHS meeting was held in Manchester in 1988 and that the three societies have met up since then in Toronto (1992), Edinburgh (1996), St Louis (2000), Halifax, Nova Scotia (2004), Oxford (2008) and now Philadelphia (2012).
I have been in this business long enough to have been to three of these meetings, which is a sobering thought. The previous two mark important junctures in my life. At Halifax (a lovely place, if you haven’t been, full of pubs, book shops and maritime history) I was in possession of a brand new doctorate and, although unemployed, happy to be presenting on new, spin-off research.
Before the Oxford meeting I got my postdoc job in Edinburgh, but by summer 2008 I was a (relatively) new mother and starting a brand new career as a curator. Apart from a talk at the NMM, this was my come-back gig. On the back of my research on the history of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, I joined a session organised by Aileen Fyfe on ‘Science and Victorian Tourism’.
Aileen was a much newer mother than I was at that meeting. There is a photograph in the relevant issue of Viewpoint, the BSHS newsletter, recording the fact that three of us (me, Aileen and Emily Winterburn) were there at the meeting with babies. We were all recipients of the BSHS’s Care Grants, which allowed us to pay for childcare during the sessions themselves. Kudos to Emily, though, who gave her talk with her baby in a sling!
Not sure that this 2012 meeting marks such a transition point, unless it is the large amount of time I’ve been away sans little one. I’m certainly looking forward to the talks, tours and sociability. More anon.
Last week saw the annual conference of the British Society for the History of Science, held at the University of Exeter. I have been going to these conferences for the last nine years and have always enjoyed them as convivial and intellectually stimulating occasions. As with all large(ish) general conferences with several parallel sessions there can be negatives: it’s hard work, there are usually a few annoing clashes in scheduling, and there is too little time for discussion during the sessions. However, historians of science are a friendly bunch and it is very easy to catch the person whose paper you had to miss to find out more, and to have discussions over lunch, dinner, drinks and into the night. All the better this year that the backdrop to such conversations was this glorious: