Organized Session

Science Popularization as Cultural Diplomacy: UNESCO (1946-1958)

Organizers

Jaume Sastre-Juan

Center for the History of Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Andrée Bergeron

Universcience - Centre Alexandre Koyré (EHESS-CNRS-MNHN)

Chair

Elena Aronova

University of California at Santa Barbara

Metadata

Session Abstract

From its creation after World War II, UNESCO became a political battleground in which different visions of science and the world order fought for hegemony. As it is well known, Julian Huxley (1887-1975) and Joseph Needham (1900-1995) were the first General Director and the first Director of the Natural Sciences Division. Their administration stressed the "social implications of science" -through the influence of Bernalist Marxism- and the "periphery principle" in international relations. They also included science popularization in its priorities, but UNESCO's popularization program would only start once the Cold War increased in intensity and Huxley and Needham's policies were substituted by the leadership of the physicist Pierre Auger (1899-1993) as new head of the Natural Sciences Division.
The goal of this session is to explore the history of international science popularization policies and practices at UNESCO as tools for governance and cultural diplomacy from the Huxley-Needham administration to the end of Auger's leadership in 1958. Who were the main actors behind the global science popularization program at UNESCO? What were their political agendas? What were their specific approaches to science, internationalism, diplomacy and popularization? How were UNESCO's popularization policies actually implemented around the world in different national and local contexts? What was the role of science popularization in the global reconfiguration of international relations? Historiographically, the session engages with the literature that has focused on the politics of science popularization, the literature which is reassessing scientific internationalism as a historically and ideologically situated practice and the renovated interest in science and diplomacy.

Presenter 1

Science Popularization from the League of Nations to UNESCO: Continuities and Discontinuities in International Policies (1938-1948)

Andrée Bergeron

Universcience - Centre Alexandre Koyré (EHESS-CNRS-MNHN)

Abstract

Created in the aftermath of World War II, UNESCO's action didn't start from scratch. It also took over older projects initiated before the war under the auspices of the League of Nations. This is the case of the actions relating to the attempts at an international structuring of science popularization.
The first attempt was coordinated by the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC), the French-driven executive body of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations. Considering that popularization of science through the mass media could be a useful tool to maintain international peace, the IIICI decided to establish an international expert committee that would have the task to issue recommendations. The committee met in Paris in 1939 and brought together scientists, science administrators, radio personalities as well as representatives of the Rockefeller Foundation.
The outbreak of World War II prevented any practical implementation of the committee conclusions, but the idea of an international structuring of science popularization persisted. A second attempt was made in the framework of the early UNESCO, created in 1946. UNESCO's first General Director was precisely one of the members of the 19939 committee: the British biologist Julian Huxley. This first UNESCO administration showed a clear interest for science popularization. Two panels were called in 1947, one of European experts and another one of North American experts, with the goal of preparing recommendations for the session of the Mexico General Conference concerning the incorporation of science popularization in the UNESCO program for 1948.
This paper will analyze what agendas, both national and international, were behind these meetings and how they shaped the debates, allowing to discuss continuities and discontinuities between prewar and postwar germs of international science popularization policies.

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Presenter 2

The Battle over the "Social Implications of Science": UNESCO, Science Service and the Shaping of Cold War Science Popularization (1947-1952)

Jaume Sastre-Juan

Center for the History of Science, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Abstract

In this paper, I analyze the role of the U.S. news syndicate Science Service in shaping the policies and practices of science popularization in the early years of UNESCO. The first UNESCO administration, with Julian Huxley as General Director and Joseph Needham as Director of the Natural Sciences Division, called two panels of experts in 1947 to make recommendations on the science popularization policies to be adopted. The European panel emphasized the popularization of the 'social implications of science', in line with the approach of the British 'social relations of science' movement. The North American experts favored the popularization of the 'scientific method' and its links to democracy. While Huxley and Needham were in office, the first approach prevailed within the newly created Division for Science & Its Popularization. But this shifted as the Cold War escalated and they were replaced by Jaime Torres Bodet and Pierre Auger in 1948. That year, the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO designated Science Service as the liaison with UNESCO regarding its popularization program. The analysis of Science Service's agenda and how it was embedded in actual practices illuminates the ways in which science popularization served as a tool for U.S. cultural diplomacy in the context of what Audra Wolfe has called the Cold War 'struggle for the soul of science'. This battle, I argue, was waged with weapons forged before World War II. I follow Watson Davis, the Director of Science Service, from his participation in two confidential conferences on popularization organized by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1938 and 1939, through the efforts by the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations in 1939, to his active collaboration with UNESCO. And I conclude that the U.S. cultural diplomatic approach to science popularization at UNESCO was shaped by the prewar conceptualizations of science popularization as a tool for liberal governance.

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Presenter 3

Man Measures the Universe: UNESCO Scientific Itinerant Exhibitions in the Early 1950s

Agustí Nieto-Galan

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Abstract

In the early 1950s, science popularization was part of the UNESCO programme of scientific diplomacy to promote peace and collaboration among nations. However, behind a rhetoric of cosmopolitanism and international solidarity, the kind of Western-oriented scientific culture that UNESCO spread worldwide was framed on the assumption that important parts of the population were illiterate in scientific terms and needed to be enlightened to strengthen its rationality. The Western "scientific method" was a key issue to fight against the so called "pseudoscience", and the supposed irrationality that had brought some countries into fascism. Public rhetoric referred to Lord Kelvin's thought: "To measure is to know". In fact, through measurements, observations, ciphers and logic, the material culture of itinerant exhibitions -scientific instruments, posters, textbooks, and experiments- intended to be particularly useful in countries perceived as lacking scientific culture, with a scarce scientific education, even illiteracy.
This paper analyses the politics of UNESCO itinerant scientific exhibitions in the early 1950s, under Pierre Auger's direction of the Natural Sciences Department. It devotes particular attention to "Man Measures the Universe" (MMU), an exhibit beginning with the "human scale" to then cover the smaller lengths and the larger distances, from atomic nucleus to galactic archipelagos. Inaugurated in Paris in 1954, MMU went later to Oslo, The Hague, Madrid, Ghent, Brussels, Liège, Warsaw and Cracow. Crossing the Cold War borders, MMU travelled through capitalist and communist countries, and even fascist dictatorships such as Franco's Spain, as a depoliticized, unproblematic black box. It deserves further investigation from the perspective of the international agenda of UNESCO, but also from the varied reactions of local elites and general visitors in the different countries in which it was displayed.

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Presenter 4

Hans Nachtsheim, the UNESCO Declarations on Race and the Reintegration of West German Science after 1945

Matthis Krischel

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Abstract

In 1950, UNESCO published an 11-page consensus paper titled "The Race
Question", in large part in response to racism and genocide in Nazi
Germany. Three more statements were published in 1951, 1967 and 1978.
Only the "Statement on the nature of races and race differences" (1951)
explicitly denounced the idea that "races" have dissimilar intellectual
and emotional capacities. International groups of scholars - cultural
diplomats - formulated the statements.
Among the signatories of the first and second declarations was only one
person residing in Germany: Hans Nachtsheim (1890-1979), former
department head at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human
Heredity and Eugenics and at the time professor of biology and chair of
the genetics department at the newly founded Free University in West
Berlin. Nachtsheim had been one of the very few leading German life
scientists who had not been a member of the Nazi party. This made it
possible for him to become the face of human genetics in Germany after
the war and contribute to the UNESCO declarations. Also from 1950,
Nachtsheim became active with the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The
organization was formed to defend science and culture against
totalitarianism and became a vehicle against Stalinism.
In this contribution, I will reconstruct the formulation of the first
two UNESCO declarations on race and investigate how they relate to
UNESCO's founding principles and documents. Specifically, how were the
statements understood to further the "education of humanity for justice
and liberty and peace"? I also will ask who the audience for the
statements were: scientists or the public? Finally, I will analyze the
role that Hans Nachtsheim played in the formulation of the second
declaration and what this and his activities with the Congress for
Cultural Freedom can tell us about the reintegration of West German
Science at the beginning of the Cold War.

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