The fifth edition of the History of Science PhD-conference in Rolduc showed that projects currently carried out under the banner ‘history of science’ are remarkably diverse in character. Chronologically, participants covered the period between the Carolingian Renaissance (eight century) to the present, while subjects of research ranged from the work of Christiaan Huygens to the first Dutch-made car and ASM International. Despite this enormous variety, several cross-cutting themes emerged from the conference that beg further discussion. In this recap, I will consider four of them: sources, stories, concepts, and socially engaged history of science. You are all cordially invited to continue the discussion via this blog.
Historians of scholarship should love hybrid works. By ‘hybrid works’ I mean works that don’t fit neatly into a specific genre or format, but that combine the characteristics of different genres and information from disparate kinds of source material, often even texts from different authors. Historians should love such hybrid works for three reasons. First, each hybrid work is hybrid in its own way. Whereas the great bulk of scholarly production from the past is highly repetitious in treating similar topics in a similar format, hybrid works have a tendency to pop up around anomalies and ruptures. Second, by virtue of integrating different approaches (and text from different authors), they are particularly good indicators of shifts in scholarly method, combining the old and the new and often commenting on the respective virtues and shortcomings of these different approaches. And third, they present lovely intertextual puzzles. This is not just brain candy for the lovers of deconstructed authorship, it also provides further insight into information management and the circulation of knowledge – more so, generally, than the great bulk of works that fall under ‘normal science’.
Dimensionality is one of those concepts which has reached a higher level of complexity after the emergence of mathematics as an institutional discipline. Until the institutional split dimensionality was perceived as it had been understood from Euclid’s time. Visualizing dimensionality from that point of view was not particularly challenging. This changed with the introduction of one-sided surfaces, higher levels of dimensionality and fractal dimensions. Since then mathematicians have found several ways to make these abstract concepts more visualizable, and thus, easier to grasp.