Onlangs verwierf Museum Boerhaave een collectie tekeningen van de Leidse kunstenaar Harm Kamerlingh Onnes (1893-1985), gemaakt rond 1920 in het natuurkundig laboratorium van zijn Nobelprijswinnende oom Heike. Voor het museum zijn deze tekeningen een welkome aanvulling op de verzameling: aantrekkelijke artistieke impressies van Heike Kamerlingh Onnes’ onderzoeksapparatuur uit het begin van de twintigste eeuw, die voor de gemiddelde museumbezoeker toch nogal esoterisch is.
A big-budget film about dinosaurs will always make the headlines, particularly if it is the follow-up of Steven Spielberg’s wildly successful Jurassic Park, from 1991. Dinosaurs, at least those visible to us on cinema and TV screens, were never the same after that. But not all is well in the land of blockbuster dinosaurs. Paleontologists, science bloggers and JP fans have been riled by the filmmakers’ decision to leave the dinosaurs in the upcoming sequel – Jurassic World (2015) – without feathers.
As the dust settles in the aftermath of the economic crisis, we are left to contemplate the nature of the shock that hit us in 2008. Much of the initial debate concerned the ethics of the financial sector: many of the world’s most powerful institutions had been at best naïve and at worst thoroughly perverted by greed, cultivating an incentive system that stimulated risk-seeking behavior in general and the development of increasingly complex and intractable financial products in particular. It was during the public trial of the Wolf of Wall Street, by pundits and politicians alike, that the scope of the public debate gradually broadened to include other suspects. One of those suspects has proven to be particularly elusive: the science of economics itself.
Over the last few decades there have been several calls for a ‘big picture’ of the history of science. The gradual fragmentation – or even dismissal – of older grand narratives, accelerated by the cultural turn, is increasingly seen as problematic. There is a general need for a concise overview of the rise of modern science, with a clear structure allowing for a rough division in periods. Here I would like to propose such a scheme, one that is both elementary and comprehensive. It focuses on particular technical artefacts or machines, which mediated between science and society during successive periods of time. Each of these machines was used as a powerful resource for the understanding of both inorganic and organic nature. More specifically, their metaphorical use helped to construe and refine some key concepts that would play a prominent role in such understanding.