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Seminario: Historicizing the Universal: Writing the History of International Science after Sarton



Seminario impartido por Geert Somsen

History Department/STS Program

Maastricht University

Fecha: Miércoles15 de enero de 2020 a las 16:00 horas

Lugar: Salón de actos. Palacio Cerveró. Instituto Interuniversitario López Piñero

Ciclo organizado por Josep Simon (IILP)

Ciclo de seminarios: Enric Novella (IILP)

RETRANSMISIÓN ON LINE: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/505c19f0200e45a78eb9b4b9f2aa1

Resumen del ciclo: ¿Es la ciencia local, es global, o es universal? ¿Son contradictorias esas cualidades o se pueden conjugar? ¿Cómo son diferentes una historia local, una historia nacional, una historia global y una historia universal? ¿Tienen objetos, aproximaciones, fuentes o técnicas diferentes? ¿Son las historias de la ciencia distintas al resto de historias locales o globales? Este ciclo de coloquios presenta una reflexión situada sobre el problema de las escalas en la historia de la ciencia que pone el énfasis en su definición teórica y práctica, así como sus retos metodológicos, profesionales y cívicos.


The notion that science is international has long been at the heart of historians’ fascinations with it. Already for George Sarton, one of first organizers of the field, it was precisely its capacity to transcend national differences that made science a worthy object of historical study. Ordinary historians might focus on wars and conflicts, historians of science revealed what brought humanity together, “the only heritage that it entirely holds in common”. Science knew no borders, its truths could be discovered anywhere and were valid everywhere; science was “la grande pacificatrice”, leading the world to international cooperation.

Over the last two decades, historians of science have become fascinated with their subject’s global dimensions again, but now on entirely different grounds. Rather than claiming its transcendence, scholars following Kapil Raj and Jim Secord are interested in how science is molded by the different contexts that it travels through. When knowledge circulates, subsequent settings affect its meaning, its practices of production, evaluation, etc. This perspective has grown out of the field’s “local turn” in the 1990s, whose stress on contextuality was meant as a direct challenge to, and alternative for, Sartonian universalism.

Yet there is still another way in which the international character of science can be studied, and that is not by debunking universalism but by historicizing it. If science transcends nations and creeds, as has often been claimed, what precisely does that mean and imply? Why has it been claimed, in what specific instances, to whom, with what purpose, and in which form? These are the kinds of questions that I have been working on for a number of years, and in this paper I will share some examples of that work as well as reflect on the challenges and opportunities that this approach brings. One such benefit is that it relates science directly to geopolitics: Sarton’s internationalism grew out of the First World War; Italian fascists promoted “scienza universale” in a bid to share in Hitler’s hegemony. Another advantage is that it brings texture to an otherwise shapeless universalism: H.G. Wells’ view of a world united by science was modeled on the British Empire; Bertha von Suttner envisioned the pacifying effects of science within an international order in the image of the Habsburg empire. One disadvantage is studying international imaginaries tells us little about the practice of science. But then again it provides us with all the more insight into why that practice was deemed important and meaningful in its larger contexts.

Geert Somsen es profesor de historia de la ciencia en la universidad de Maastricht y editor del Journal for the History of Knowledge. Ha desarrollado proyectos de investigación en la Uppsala universitat, Columbia University y el Max Planck Institute y es uno de los coordinadores del proyecto europeo “The Scientific Conference: A Social, Cultural, and Political History”. Ha dedicado la mayor parte de su investigación a estudiar el internacionalismo científico, siendo autor entre otros muchos, de un artículo de revisión ejemplar sobre el tema: “A History of Universalism: Conceptions of the Internationality of Science from the Enlightenment to the Cold War” (Minerva, 2008).

Más información: https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/g.somsen

DURACIÓN: 93 min