Every generation gets the self-help book it deserves. From the nineteenth-century Marriage Manual to the more recent The 4-hour Work Week (2007), books have been telling us how to cope with life. The promises of these books were—and still are—based on new or recycled knowledge about psychology, health, and business, and on common sense advice cloaked in the rhetoric of revolutionary personal change. The writers of these books were also eager to jump on the bandwagon of new tools to organise information. Or so it seems from a book that I found with the intriguing title Kartothek des Ich: A card index of the self.
In case of an emergency you call the emergency hotline, and help arrives quickly. This seems so straightforward that one almost forgets it requires a lot of coordination and organization. At the turn of the twentieth century the organizational structure behind emergency medicine developed significantly. Especially fundamental was the introduction of triage during the First World War, which decided the order of treatment on the basis of the urgency of the wound. This medical decision-model replaced the traditional way of working that relied on the rank of the patient, and is still at the core of emergency medicine today. How emergency medicine was organized before this change came about, I will elucidate through a unique historical source: a census, published shortly before the triage was introduced. This will shed light on the very muddy and opaque organizational structure of emergency medicine of early twentieth century
5211 miles. In the distance that runs roughly from London to Karachi, Pakistan, I spent the summer of 2016 driving across the western half of the United States to visit six atomic sites. Each site was integral in the production of the US nuclear arsenal during World War II and the Cold War. While I was in search of local archives, each local atomic museum proved much more captivating. After long, solitary drives through wide open desert and mountains, I came to look forward to the stimulation of poking through their exhibits. At the beginning of the trip, I did not know what to expect from each museum, though I suspected that each would lean heavily on ideas of objectivity in their portrayals of local atomic histories. I did encounter exhibits that made unalloyed claims about objective scientific and historical truths. But, I found so much more at the museums. Three themes leap to the fore on the trip. The museums instill awe by displaying the sublime and grandiose aspects of the bomb. They invoke objectivity by using heroic scientists as exemplars for truth. Finally, they exude opportunity by pointing to possible atomic futures. I argue that the museums rely on affect and desire more than they rely on objectivity to tell the US’ atomic story.
“There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist. There is only good art and bad art,” said the French Painter Paul Cézanne, tipping his hat to his amateur colleagues. Such an attitude might appear to be on the rise in the world of science as well. In recent years, participatory models of science communication are starting to become ever more popular. But, as historian Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent points out, the overt implementation of participatory models by research institutes and technology developers does not necessarily mean that we have moved beyond a view of an impressionable public that is essentially innocent of science. In the same vein, the increased presence of amateurs in the world of science does not mean that a distance between amateurs and professionals is not being maintained. I was eager to get a sense of where we, as a society, stand on scientific amateurs. To that end I went to the place where I came across the modern-day scientific amateur in the first place: Three recent articles from reputable Anglophone print-media sources. In this text, I aim to explore the theme of amateur science as it is brought to us by the media.
The History of Science PhD-Conference at De Glind is the successor of the biennial conferences at Rolduc. Two years ago, Hans Schouwenburg noticed a remarkable diversity of topics in his report of the Rolduc gathering. A great variety again characterized this year’s meeting. This was clearly reflected in the different backgrounds of the participants. Though a fair share of them were historians, other disciplines were well represented as well. There were representatives of both faculties of science and social sciences, while the representatives of the humanities included even art historians and philosophers.
With such a diverse group of attendees it was not surprising that the participants aimed to go beyond traditional efforts to sketch the history of a particular field of scholarship in a number of ways.
Thinking about nineteenth-century scholars we tend to picture well-behaved members of polite society. The paintings and pictures of old faculty members that still adorn so many contemporary university halls and lecture rooms show earnest and erudite men who seem to be miles above ordinary pettiness. Some of these men have indeed made extraordinary contributions to their fields of research. Few of them, however, were above an ubiquitous practice that is often seen as hopelessly petty: gossiping.
As historians, we historicize. Indeed, it is our firm belief that everything in our world is open to historical analysis and that, in the case of a job well done, the result will invariably be a deeper understanding of the object of our study. In fact, the more timeless and placeless this object appears to be, and therefore the more immune to historical analysis, the more interesting the outcome has often proved to be. We now have histories of ‘the modern fact’, ‘objectivity’, and of ‘truth’, that is to say precisely those aspects of science that one tends to see as universal and timeless. In this essay I would like to advocate a similar approach with regard to another notion that most scientists tend to take for granted, that of the ‘laws of nature’. To be more precise, I want to suggest three possible lines of attack that may deepen our understanding of this crucial concept, and therefore of science itself. The first aims at a conceptual history of the term, akin to what the Germans call ‘Begriffsgeschichte’; the second is a study of the ‘biography’ of specific laws, and the third looks at the distribution of such laws across the various disciplines. Strangely enough, many of these topics have so far barely been addressed by historians of science.
A fresh bag of Brussels sand had just been opened while six academics stood behind a workbench, feeling and touching the sand as if it had just arrived from Mars. In fact, I was about to start my first historical reconstruction of early modern gold- and silversmithing techniques. First step in the process was to prepare the sand that is used to make molds for casting. Still a bit uncomfortable, I added a splash of water while all of a sudden we became aware of a specific odor that had been notably absent in the clean and white environment of the building. We smelled mud!
To nineteenth-century colonial Britons, the elephant was of great importance. Not only were these giants widely used in colonial enterprises such as the army and timber industry. The animal also figured prominently in the visual and literary culture of that time. In the British Raj, the theme of human domination over other animals served to ratify colonial hierarchies. By presenting native attitudes towards animals as lazy, cowardly, and effeminate, and by juxtaposing these attitudes with the moral superiority of India’s colonizers, stories and pictures produced in the Raj provided a rational and legitimization for Britain’s colonial rule.
In 1919, with the experimental verification of general relativity by the English astronomer, physicist and mathematician Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, Albert Einstein’s theory came to be celebrated worldwide. Newspapers across the globe hailed Eddington’s observations as definitive proof of Einstein’s postulates on gravitation.