All are invited to join the third (online) meeting of the History of Knowledge Seminar Series @ Utrecht University, with a lecture by prof. Jim Secord (University of Cambridge) on Thursday 26 November 2020.
Bringing together leading scholars of both older and younger generations with different backgrounds and approaches, this bimonthly seminar series explores the past, present and future of the promising new scholarly field of the history of knowledge. More than just an overview of state-of-the-art research, it offers an opportunity to join the process of historiography in the making. The series is organized by Lukas Verburgt and Elske de Waal, with the support of the Descartes Centre, Utrecht. See www.historyofknowledge.nl for more information and the full 2020-2021 program.
Prof. Jim Secord (University of Cambridge): “Against Revolutions”
Thursday 26 November 2020
Despite cogent critiques, the long-durée history of science continues to be understood in public discussion largely as a sequence of conceptual revolutions. The Scientific Revolution, which has had something of a revival during the past decade, is seen to have been followed by Chemical, Darwinian, Einsteinian, Plate Tectonics and other dramatic upheavals. The durability of revolutionary assumptions is not surprising, for the ‘Scientific Revolution’ originated not in the Cold War era as is usually assumed, but in American school and university textbooks in the wake of the First World War. The ambiguous attitude of historians towards this legacy is summed up by Steve Shapin’s famous opening to his 1996 survey, ‘There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.’ This compromise, which advertises science as ‘revolutionary’ while simultaneously disavowing the implications of such a view, is no longer sustainable. A focus on revolutionary changes within science involves a displacement, in which epistemic violence occurs within scientific communities rather than through the colonial and imperial encounters in which knowledge was forged. This is damaging both to the reputation of contemporary science (which is currently under attack anyway) and to understandings of the place of science in history. It has only gradually become possible, for example, to see the conquest of the Americas in the 1500s and the emergence of colonial empires in the 1800s as key episodes in the simultaneous emergence of Western power and scientific forms of enquiry. The narratives of resistance, exchange and subjugation involved in these new stories are rapidly providing an alternative—important for engaging audiences and suggesting new research questions—but they cannot be maintained simply by adapting the old historiography.
15:30-15:35 Introduction by dr. Lukas Verburgt (Utrecht University)
15:35-16:10 Lecture by prof. Jim Secord (University of Cambridge)
16:10-16:15 Short break
Link to the meeting: Microsoft Teams meeting
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