Should Historians of Science Know the Contents of Science?


Somaditya Banerjee

Austin Peay State University


Matthew Stanley

New York University


Session Abstract

This round table asks a classic question in history of science: Should historians of science know science and master its contents? The history of science has long been plagued by debates between ""internalists"" and ""externalists."" Broadly speaking, internalists concerned themselves with the technical and conceptual development of science while externalists were motivated by culture, politics, and the sociology of science. Thomas Kuhn writing in the International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences in 1968 remarked ""Until very recently most of those who wrote the history of science were practicing scientists, sometimes eminent ones."" More recently in 1998, Alan Shapiro writing in the The Chronicle of Higher Education argued that ""By neglecting internal history and disregarding content, scholars are turning their backs on a large audience of scientists and students."" One important caveat for the cultural history of science was that the cultural values that were prevalent spatially and temporally exerted influences on scientific research, including the content of science, as revealed in the history of modern physics. Hence this panel will problematize the ""internalist"" and ""externalist"" approaches and will engage in a discussion about whether it is productive for historians to understand the sciences, thereby building 'bridges' between history and science.

Presenter 1

Somaditya Banerjee

Austin Peay State University

Presenter 2

Mohandas Towne

Arizona State University

Presenter 3

Deepanwita Dasgupta

University of Texas

Presenter 4

Animesh Chatterjee

Leeds Trinity University

Presenter 5

Joseph Martin

Durham University

Presenter 6

Agnes Bolinska

University of Cambridge