1st ESHS Conference, Maastricht 2004

Science in Europe and Europe in Science: 1500-2000

Maastricht, 4-6 November 2004

From 4-6 November 2004, an international conference “Science in Europe and Europe in Science: 1500-2000†will be held in Maastricht (the Netherlands), exploring new European perspectives on the history and historiography of science. The conference is jointly organized by Gewina (Dutch Society for the History of Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Technology) and the European Society for the History of Science.

Why looking for a European perspective?

During the last decades, the growing political and economic integration of European countries has led to a major shift in the way we think and feel about our national identity and our position as European citizens. The arrival of the euro, the deregulation of European markets and the integration of East and West have created a general awareness of the uniting factors at work on the European level, extending even beyond the boundaries of the European Union. Europe is not just a geographical matter-of-fact anymore; it reflects a psychological and political reality, characterized by its own distinct cultural space and historical destiny.

This new dimension of Europe is bound to have a profound impact on our perception of political entities, social differences and local traditions. As national frontiers recede into the background, new structural determinants come into focus. The ways of international communication and commerce, the continuous migration of people, knowledge and goods, as well as the cultural radiance of metropolitan centres towards peripheral regions will become important elements in our understanding of what constitutes the peculiar identity of this multilingual and multicultural continent.

This emerging European perspective will undoubtedly have important implications for the historiography of science. Europe was the cradle of modern science, originating in the dynamic world of the late Middle Ages, soon to become a prominent feature of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. During the nineteenth and the twentieth century, Europe maintained a leading role in science, medicine and technology, which became deeply integrated in European culture. Although throughout its history Europe was continuously influenced by civilizations from other continents, it managed to impress a distinctive flavour on what has become our global scientific heritage. In this perspective, research into the European roots of modern science is all the more desirable.

Three areas of reflection

1. Science in Europe

The history of Europe is intertwined with the history of the sciences. The exchange of ideas and technology contributed substantially to the history of Europe. Scholars and students, as well as texts and instruments travelled widely across national borders. Texts, however, were not only translated, but also adapted, assimilated and supplemented. Ideas and research practices were taken out of their original contexts, appropriated and adopted into new practices and theories.

Science in Europe aims at discussing themes dealing with the mobility, transmission, and the appropriation of knowledge, e.g.

  1. Scholars’ and students’ travels
  2. Book and print culture
  3. Translation practices
  4. Travelling instruments, research technology and laboratory materials
  5. National societies and their international contacts and ambitions
  6. International conferences
  7. Networks in Europe: Centre / periphery; interactions between different metropolises; relations between cities and countryside

2. Europe in Science

Considering Europe not as a mere natural fact, but rather as a historical construction, it may be asked how science has contributed to this process. How was Europe defined and referred to, in for instance eighteenth-century encyclopaedias or nineteenth century schoolbooks? How did the cultural space of Europe contribute to or conflict with the notion of internationalism in science? How did scientific explorers react to the otherness of overseas civilizations, and how would they juxtapose these experiences with their perception of Europe as the budding ground of science and civilization? European research networks and standardization of measures and weights confirmed the image of a growing European unity. Co-operation (and rivalry) in science may have been a venue towards political co-operation, a harmonisation of social and cultural values and a better mutual understanding.

Europe in Science tackles the following issues:

  1. The scientific construction of Europe (geography, anthropology)
  2. The normalisation and standardisation of measures
  3. European research-networks and research institutions
  4. European scientific prizes
  5. Internationalism as an historical construct

3. The History of Science and the self consciousness of Europe

As any historical narrative, the history of science builds a vision of common heritage and continuous development. The birth of modern science is often considered to be one of the most distinctive achievements of European culture. What is the relationship between the identity of Europe and science’s historical development? What, if any, cultural impact does the history of science have on the self-consciousness of Europe? How does the history of science relate to other constituent historical narratives such as the history of Christianity and humanism or the history of various roads to democracy?

The history of science can be seen as a contributor to the homogenization of European culture. The proclaimed universalism of science transcends the national context and brings national cultures closer to each other. Still, national identity often reappears in so-called national styles, which provide an opportunity for historians to disentangle the closely knit picture of European culture. A (rhetorical) analysis of science and the accounts of its historical development could broaden our views on the role of science in the (dis)uniting of Europe.

Topics may include:

  1. The comparative analysis of the meaning of ‘Europe’ for different European countries
  2. Historical reflection on and contextual analysis of national and international oriented histories of science and their relationship to a broader European perspective
  3. The problematic issue of national styles