Arxiu de la categoria: General

Col·loquis 2011-2012. Simon Schaffer

E l professor Simon Schaffer del Departament d’Història i Filosofia de la Ciència de la Universitat de Cambridge va inaugurar els col·loquis del curs 2011-2012 el passat dia 22 de setembre.

La conferència, organitzada amb col·laboració amb el Centre d’Estudis d’Història de la Ciència de la UAB, va titular-se:

Easily Cracked: Instruments in a State of Disrepair

Podeu veure el vídeo del col·loqui al següent enllaç:

Interview to Paola Govoni by Miquel Carandell Baruzzi

Paola Govoni is a historian of science at the University of Bologna with a long experience in the study of science popularization, education and communication. She is the author of Un pubblico per la scienza: La divulgazione scientifica nell’Italia in formazione (Carocci 2002, reprint 2011), a path-breaking study of science popularization in nineteenth-century Italy. She came to Barcelona, in the context of the seminar series “Communicating science: pleasures and pitfalls of historical narrative” to talk about the making of Che cos’è la storia della scienza (Carocci 2004) an introduction to history of science which has had already seven reprints. Miquel Carandell[1] interviewed her in Barcelona, at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans where her talk was held.

How did the idea for this book arise? How was the creative process?

Well, the idea was not mine. The publisher of my first book suggested me to write a short introduction to the history of science for undergraduates. It was 2002 and Italian – and European – universities were undergoing the so-called Bologna process. Teachers needed new textbooks for the new short courses.  So, after having been an historian of popular science, I accepted the challenge of being a popularizer of my own field, the history of science. Writing that little book was – both – much harder and much more fun than I had thought at the beginning.

What audiences did you expect to reach with your book? Did you reach any unexpected readerships?

The main goal was to target undergraduates, but since the beginning my ambition was to reach historians of science too, and possibly, of course, the so so-called general reader. Who really read the book is difficult to say. I know that I reached students because I could check that several university teachers are using the book in their courses. So, at least in part, the goal of reaching colleagues was fulfilled too. I think that science journalists also liked the book, and that was an unexpected readership. I think that happened because the book starts in the present; several science journalists wrote encouraging reviews. If there were other types of readerships it is difficult to know.

Did you get any feedback from readers?

Well, I had feedback from my own students, of course, but I have not received letters from readers! I can say that undergraduate students usually like the beginning and the end of the book, but chapters three and four are quite difficult to them. These parts of the book consider historiographical issues, and undergraduates typically think about those two chapters as a boring list of authors. On the contrary, graduate students seem to prefer exactly the historiographical chapters, because I speak about social studies, a field not much loved by elder historians of science in Italy.

And what about reviews and other type of media responses?

The book was reviewed in popular science magazines and in newspapers. I had been interviewed several times by radio and TV journalists but, as far as I know, the book had just one review by a scholar. It was by historian of science and philosophy Paolo Rossi, in a major Italian newspaper. His review was very positive indeed – in part a criticism on gender studies, of course! I was very proud of that review, although I do not think it brought a lot of readers to the book.

Do you think that you managed to fulfill the aims of the book, as they are exposed in its introduction? (History of Science as a way of understanding how we get to modern science and society, to present a history of the History of Science and a reading guide for History of Science).

I think it would be nice to ask this to the readers! Anyway, yes, I think that undergraduate students liked mainly the first of those goals: using the history of science as a tool to understand recent science, and our societies. Concerning the part on historiography, I do hope I could bring some new young readers to social studies.

How did you tackle the writing of the book? Was it hard to find a balance between historical scholarship and the aim of appealing to more general readerships?

It was very hard. Mainly because I didn’t have any pattern. The pattern for the editor was an already well established French series – Que sais je? – which has a rigid format: 126 pages, 4-6 chapters. So the format was defined, but I could write about anything! I was totally free to choose the organization of the content and it was difficult to decide the structure of the book. At the same time that was a very fun challenge, as usual a mix of lucid planning and chance. For example, in a sense, it was the place where I wrote the book, that determined the authors who appear in its second chapter. George Sarton, James Conant, Marc Bloch, Gaetano Salvemini… I “encountered” them in the Widener library, while I was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and was writing the book.

I decided to provide a view on the present and then a view on the building of history of science as a discipline. I tried to explain why it can be so exciting to read and research on the history of science. Then I wrote an overview of – just a few! – of the most important authors and themes. I tried to intercalate authors with themes: authors working on the history of evolution, history of technology, history of medicine… I also alternated two types of chapters on science historiography: one displaying a more traditional history of science approach, and the other one on science as culture. I tried to diversify.

Did you have to give up any idea that you had right at the start of conceiving the book?

Complicate to say. In a sense, no, because, as I said, I was totally free to choose the themes and authors I preferred. But, on the other hand, I had to leave out a lot of stuff I researched on, because of the book length: as I said, just one hundred and twenty six pages. Of course, writing a popular book involves a lot of research, not only on sources, but on language and timing. I had problems with the bibliography, indeed. I had many exchanges with the series’ editor because I needed to include more reference to sources, and this was practically impossible because of the established book format. Besides, no footnotes! You know, for an historian, writing without footnotes can be psychologically destabilizing… So, yes I had to cut lots of interesting topics and adapt my historical writing to the established publishing format. At the end that was extremely interesting, and important in knowing how a trade book is built. As I wrote as an historian of science publishing, it is true that a trade book is really the collective work of the author, with the publisher, and the editor! Besides the result of a dialogue with usual interlocutors, of course: colleagues, beloved ones, and… the ideal reader.

What about the title?

The title is not mine, of course. The book got this title because by that time the publisher started to publish in the series books with titles like Che cos’è… la psicologia (What is… Psychology) and so on. I pleaded for a question mark at the end of the title. As it is, without, it seems as if I am going to tell you (authoritatively) what the history of science is. This is not at all the aim of the book. On the contrary, I was trying to give readers orientation tools, so that they could find their own way. Although it is easy to understand what I think since the first page of that little book, I do not feel I have to fight for this or that historiographical approach.

And the little “bussole” inside the book? (The bussole are little boxes with descriptions of major concepts which are integrated in the main text of the book.)

Bussole” is the name of the series; it means “brúixola” in Catalan or “compass” in English. These boxes highlight certain concepts and their number was fixed too. I had a list of things to do from the editor. I had to introduce at least one of these “bussole” per chapter, as well as extremely concise summaries at the end of each chapter. It was not easy, and it took a lot of work! And no pictures, no drawings… I insisted to have the one about the two cultures (p.12) because I liked it very much, but it was not possible to introduce other pictures.

This seminar series is subtitled Pleasures and Pitfalls of Historical Narrative, can you tell us what were the pleasures in the making of this book and if there were any pitfalls?

Well, the pleasure is that I really learned a lot. I did a real work of craft and, in the final stages, in close collaboration with the editors. You have to find consensus between your ideas and those of the publisher and the staff of the series. And it was so fascinating to go back to the origins of history of science. It was very interesting to work on Sarton’s papers, for example, one of the so-called “founding fathers”, so far away from my current approach as an historian of science!

There were some problems, as I have told you, but not so many. Well, a major problem was that after publishing this, my second book, which required a lot of work, I thought I would be able to get a stable job and … in fact, that was not the case. But, of course, that is another story!

Your book is in its seventh edition. It’s a great success.

Just two weeks ago the publisher told me that they have printed a total of 4,300 copies. But this sounds strange with seven reprints. Anyway, they say that in Italian universities only 30 per cent of the textbooks are purchased, the rest is photocopied. This means that maybe a lot of people have photocopied my book! Actually, the only autograph I have been asked for was on a photocopied copy!

Do you know if there will be any translations of the book?

No, I don’t think so. The publisher should be active in this sense, but clearly he earns enough with the Italian edition. I don’t have an agent, and I am quite indifferent to that. I know, it’s a mistake, I should be more ambitious, and I should learn from the science popularizers I study. I am not trying to be a “beautiful soul”; I am just saying that part of an author’s duties should be to promote her or his own book.

Your book is the only book in this seminar series devoted to popularizing the discipline of history of science itself. Do you think that this should be more common among historians of science? Do you think that it is important for the making of history of science as a discipline?

Concerning Italy I do think it would be important to be able to tell about our researches to a wider public, in particular to our colleagues in other disciplines. For example, we should speak more clearly to general historians, economic historians, sociologists and, above all, to scientists. The lack of audience is a real problem for the history of science in Italy, where the field is not growing enough. This is related with the lack of authors able to write interesting books and articles for a wider audience: tipically, Italian historians of science write for their own little community. A dog chasing its tail. On an international level, in the last years I think that the so-called “Sobel effect” has pushed scholars to divulge their work. Of course great examples are the books of colleagues who gave talks in this series. Or just think about the recent The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder. Indeed a very fun book, a great example of how to be able to write about your own, specialist academic research for a wide audience, of scholars too.

Do you think that there is too much academicism in history of science writing?

Yes, of course. There is this hyper specialization that Jaume and Josep talk about in the introduction to the series. But this is normal; this is common in any discipline. This is the way research works, in science as in its history. It is important to find sometimes in your career the time to write for a wider audience. In the English speaking world this is a well established tradition, but not in Italy. As I am going to say later, in my talk at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, well… I do fear that the discipline called History of Science risks to disappear in Italy! The Italian community has had big problems in the last twenty or thirty years in remaining open to the news coming from abroad, consequently, apart from the usual few exceptions, it has not been able to contribute to the international debate.

Maybe there is a lack of a serious focus on narrative and writing among historians of science?

Certainly there was in Italy, but not in the English speaking world. As you know, in the last years several historians of science have written about that. Me too, actually.

What do you think about the current state of science popularization? What role should history of science play in science popularization?

In my opinion history of science is a perfect tool for science popularization, and I think that science popularization is in good health, it has a rich publishing market, in Italy too. In Italy there are publishers and authors to produce high-level science books, publishers and authors who are – as they have also been in the past – crucial in translating into Italian the best publications coming from the edge of science. South of the Alps the problem is not the production of good science popularization. The problem is the public. In Italy readerships are very low; in 2010 only 44% of the population read one book! It’s one of the lowest rates in Europe. But if the problem is the public, the solution is not popularization; in my opinion the solution is education, formal education, at school.

Concerning the history of science as a tool to introduce people to science, yes, I think it can work. But I think it can work if you start from the present, where we live, where non experts live, and then you can go back to the past. In other words, exactly the contrary of the classic Conant’s project.

Well, I was going to ask you about the role that history of science should play in science education. Do you think that there is a lack of history of science in science education?

Again, in my opinion this remains a problem in Italy. Traditionally, history of science is in Philosophy departments.  Recently, in occasion of a new university reform, for many, complicate reasons, of course, not necessarily scientific reasons, the community of Italian historians of science decided to aggregate with logicians and science philosophers. On an international level historians of science, besides philosophers and general historians, are trying a dialogue with scientists, sociologists, ITC experts, and so on. I personally think that this is an interesting way. Just think about new research areas such as Culturomics. That new research field has been possible thanks to the collaboration between people working in different fields, scientific and humanistic fields. Yes, as an historian of science publishing I am very much interested in the digital flux of culture… And as an historian of popular science produced by professional scientists, of course, I think that STS departments and centers are rather interesting institutional experiments which are worth trying.

[1] I would like to thank Agustí Nieto-Galan for his help in the preparation of this interview and Pep Simon for his commentaries and guidance. Miquel Carandell Baruzzi has a BA in Biology (Universitat de Girona) and an MA in History of Science (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). His research deals with paleoanthropology and the public sphere.

Interview to Peter Bowler by Clara Florensa

Peter Bowler visited Barcelona to talk about the making of the textbook Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) written in collaboration with Iwan Morus. Before his talk for the series Communicating Science: Pleasures and Pitfalls of Historical Narrative, we interviewed him in “La Granja de Gavà”, Barcelona.

Interview to Peter Bowler, by Clara Florensa*

Peter J. Bowler is Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at Queen’s University Belfast, elected Fellow of the British Academy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and corresponding member of the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences. He was President of the British Society for the History of Science during the period 2004-2006 and has written extensively on the history of evolutionary thought, the environmental sciences, and genetics. Making Modern Science (written in collaboration with Iwan Morus) has become a standard textbook in history of science courses over the world. His current research is on the production of popular science literature in early twentieth-century Britain, with particular emphasis on the role played by professional scientists.


“History of science has a role to play in challenging misunderstandings that people have about the effects of science.”

In the preface of your book you declare that your aim was to write a history of science textbook for novices. How did the idea arise and what were the reasons to get involved in this project?

The origins of the book go back to a specific change in the way we taught history of science at the university in Belfast. For a long time we had taught quite specialized courses. Originally, there were three people in the department and our main job was teaching large numbers of first year science students mostly. But because they all had different timetables we had to fill many slots in order to target as many students as possible. We had three rather more specialized courses; one of them was in evolutionism, for instance.

But then, eventually, there were only two people in the department, Iwan Morus and myself, and the number of science students was diminishing, so it was no longer quite so profitable to cover multiple timetable slots. Hence, we decided we would just have a single course. In that case what made sense was a general History of Science course, not a specialized one.

Iwan Morus and I had two complementary interests, so we decided we would try to divide the work and develop a structure which would allow us to distribute our teaching commitment. We had a twelve week semester. There would be a two week introduction to help students understand what the subjects were about, and then a series of two week blocks. And this is where the chapters of the book come from: each chapter was used as the text for one specific teaching block. And because we were both teaching two weeks on, two weeks off, they had to be quite self-contained blocks. That’s why the book makes no attempt to be a sort of continuous narrative of history of science; it is very much more compartmentalized. The original chapters written were the ones we needed to teach, the particular topics we had chosen for the course.

“The structure of the book is an expanded version of the structure of the first two courses we taught, and the idea that anyone teaching history of science could find in it what they wanted”

But when we decided to turn it into a book, it was obvious that other teachers in other universities would not necessarily want exactly the same lessons that we used, so we doubled or more than doubled the number of topics. We tried to cover a broader range, so that we felt that most people who wanted to teach a general survey of history of science could find, if not everything they needed, at least a significant proportion of the topics they would need. And because we had two semesters of the long course of two week blocks, we structured it in two major parts. The first one was called “Revolutions in science” which is on particular episodes of history of science; the second was “Science and society” and is more on general themes. Finally, the structure of the book is an expanded version of the structure of the first two courses we taught, with the idea that anyone teaching history of science could find what they wanted.

Since the two teaching semesters that are now part of the book are completely different, readers can cut across one part or another. People can use the book as they like, and use cross references. For instance, if you are doing Darwinism and you want to know which problems it has with religion, you can then move to the chapter on “Science and religion”. You can give the book to the students and tell them “this is the main reading on Darwinism or on science and religion”, and they will always find links to other parts of the book.

You addressed your book to students, but also to a broader public, not only scientists. So far, we know that it has become standard in history of science teaching. But, what about other readerships, have you got any feedback?

Well, we do not have a great deal. Most of the reviews or comments that we have heard about are usually connected to teaching, and although we did want it to be read by anyone else, it is very much structured as a textbook. We did not want it to look visibly like a textbook (with all those little boxes and questions and answers at the end of each chapter…); that would have made it really off-putting for a general reader.

But at the same time, the book is what it is: it is a textbook. It is not intended to be picked up from a bookshop shelf just like that… You need to be reasonably interested about finding out how the subject, the history of science, works nowadays, to want to pick it up. So it has a limited general audience.

And that thought of not wanting to make it look as a text book…?

It cost us 5 thousand dollars to do it this way! Because there was another publisher that would have given us a bigger advances if we had done it as a real textbook. We would have had a bigger advance if we had let another publisher to do it that way.

“We did not want it to look visibly like a textbook; that would have made it really off-putting for a general reader. And it cost us 5 thousand dollars to do it this way.”

You did not want little boxes and that type of page layout or narrative, but did you think about including a chronology?

This is actually a very good idea; it didn’t occur to us. We used to hand out chronologies sometimes to the students. A chronology for the whole think like that would be quite substantial…Chronologies for the individual chapters, would work, and I suppose you could do one for each; but trying to roll them all together to make a chronology for the whole book. It would be hard. You have to be very selective or it would be dozens of pages long. This is one of the practical difficulties that you encounter when you are trying to write a book like that.

Are you happy with the feedback you have so far received?

Yes, I mean, we had one very bad review in the British Journal of History of Science. Yes! When I was president of the British Society of History of Science, my own book gets a bad review in the Societies’ journal! But never mind… All the other reviews were good and the feedback we had in conferences was from people that had used our book and told us it had been so profitable. So I think that it was clear that John Heilbron, who wrote the aforementioned review, was not writing from the perspective of someone who had to teach survey courses on the subject. He was criticising it as a rather old fashioned historian of science who was not bothered about the practicalities of teaching. But I do not think that this is a typical review.

“The book had one very bad review in the British Journal of History of Science. Yes! When I was president of the British Society of History of Science, my own book gets a bad review in the Societies’ journal!”

Which is, in your opinion, the aim of a textbook in history of science? I mean, do you think is important to communicate the discipline?

Sure, I think it is important, because science is important in the world we are living and people need to understand how it came out and how it has gained the position it has to influence our lives. And I think that history of science is a very good way of trying to introduce people to the effect that science has had; especially history of modern science. It is a little more difficult to do it with ancient science. This is why there is no ancient science in the book. But I think it is important.

History of science has a role to play in (and this is the theme of many of the chapters: dispelling popular myths) challenging misunderstandings that people have about the effects of science. Or ideas such as that science and religion are always in conflict. I think that history of Science is a very good way of trying to undermine that sort of misconceptions.

History of science has something to offer to change minds in terms of how people think about science today. If you understand how it has developed and the effects it has had, you are in a better position to grasp the sort of issues that are being raised today. So I think it is important.

And it is important to try and get across the ordinary people not just students. There is a real problem here, in the sense that this book is not very good for the man in the street, because it has not a narrative structure. But people tend to write grand narrative history of sciences and in the end I do not think they are getting across to the reader either…The important part, at least, it is much more difficult to get across.

“History of science has something to offer to change minds in terms of how people think about science today. If you understand how it has developed and the effects it has had, you are in a better position to grasp the sort of issues that are being raised today.

So what about the narrative? Did you think ahead what narrative strategies you were going to use or were more appropriate for the book?

In terms of a narrative strategy it is more a question of the structure we used in each chapter. The book itself, as I said in the epilogue (that I did afterwards because I was asked to), does not end with the triumph of modern science that solves everybody’s problems; because that is not what happened. The whole point is that science is a much more complicated thing, which is much more interesting and dangerous. This is why the last two chapters are “Science and war” and “Science and gender”, a clear indication that what is going on here is not something that can be seen as how wonderful modern science is.

So the narrative is in the individual chapters. The lack of narrative of the whole thing is the point that if you want to understand the modern history of science you probably are not going to do it through a grand narrative. It is not a triumphalist sort of narrative that we are presenting…It is still aiming in a coherent direction but the whole point is that there are different sciences doing different things, different people with different obligations…and it is just a mess, an interesting mess, but a mess. And I think the more you try to simplify or to smooth it, you do some violence to the really interesting issues that arise. But if anybody can do it and get a grand narrative…I take my hat off….! We did not think we could do it.

Moreover, our starting point was a textbook, so for pedagogical reasons we were not trying to do that. But yes, I think there is a problem. I am not sure that if you want to get the message over to the general public, it’s best done trough a grand narrative; you are much better off doing as we did: you pick up a particularly controversial topic such as evolution or bioethics, and write about that, and show to people the complexities in that one area. You can tell a bit more through a narrative history. But trying to do it with the whole science is not going to be easy, and I think that you seriously risk oversimplifying.

Patricia Fara, she is good to do this kind of thing but there is one by Jeremy Cherfas, do you know it? Hopefully it has not been translated. It came out about the same time as this, and he is a scientist and science writer. Former scientist, now science writer. And it is awful! Because it is just “oh, science is that great wonderful thing, and it goes better and better and better!”. It’s horrible! It is exactly what an academic historian of science does not do!

And did you think previously what narrative strategies could make the book more interesting?

Well, yes, the way to try and make it interesting, we thought, was to challenge myths. If students come in first year of university, they do not know any history of science, really. Or if they do, it is just common ideas that circulate around, what you can hear on the radio or in TV… Historians of science have mostly shown that these ideas do not hold up. So what you can do is try and ask directly “What do you think about Darwin or about science and religion?”. And they will start saying “Oh, well, Darwin is all materialistic” or “Science is always materialistic”, whatever. And then you say, “all right, hang on, what about this example there?”. The narrative is built in terms of saying: “Well, there is a misconception and here are a number of examples. I wish you can read them together to make a story to show you that here is that example such as in the case of Darwinism or evolutionism, which does cross over the religion, but here is this other where it does not. And this is how things change the course of a subject in time, but fifty years later things might have changed again and taken a different shape”. You can build a narrative within the topic.

“You can tell a bit more through a narrative history. But trying to do it with the whole science is not easy and I think that you seriously risk oversimplifying. But if anybody can do it and get a grand narrative…I take my hat of!”

Where all your students future scientists?

Mostly scientists and a small number of humanity students. Probably they were not historians, but from all social subjects. But the vast majority initially was from various different sciences and so they had no formal history at all. Not even very much sort of ordinary history of their own countries, for instance. They learn some history a little bit earlier on at school, but they would not have done it afterwards.

The UK educational system tends to be very specialized: the last two or three years before you go to university you basically become a science student or a humanities student and you stop doing the other side. They are trying to break that down now, but for a very long time this is the way it was. It is not a good thing but those are the sort of things students are dealing with.

Do you think that the background of the students makes any difference in challenging the idea of a triumphalist history of science?

We mentioned this probably in the introduction of the book: Strangely, it was actually easier to do it in Northern Ireland than anywhere else, because there are two traditions about Irish history, and they are completely different from each other. So if you are a Protestant, then Oliver Cromwell is a hero, but if you are a Catholic he is a villain. You have two entirely different historical narratives about exactly the same event and the point is that even if all students came from one side or the other, at least they are aware that the other side has a different story than them.

In that sense, without doing any academic history, just appealing to what they know from their everyday lives, it was easier to alert students to the fact that history is not just a series of names and dates. You have to put a meaning on the events, and there are many possible different meanings. What looks like a hero to one is a villain to the other. As exactly “is Darwin a hero or a villain?”. For biologists he is a hero, but for a fundamentalist Christians he is a villain. And you can find a lot of fundamentalist Christians in Northern Ireland…

“In Northern Ireland…it was easier to alerting students of the fact that history is not just that series of names and dates. That you have to put a meaning on the events, and there are many possible different meanings.”

Overall, one could use that tension to just introduce this sort of reasoning. If you go to that course thinking that you are going to have to memorize dates and names, forget it, that’s not going to happen! Of course we will provide some names and dates. but what we are really doing is to encourage students to think about some quite important issues in science, and realise that, because they are important and they have consequences, people can disagree.

So are you doing history of science based on controversies?

Well certainly this is one issue. We do tend to focus on revolutions. And revolution is supposed to be good all the time. But some revolutions maybe are not quite so clearly good. There is science and technology, with technology getting lots of good ideas from science. But then comes the scientist saying “what the hell, this damn thing works”, because to do science maybe he has to know how this machine works. And again you are challenging conceptions.

How did you divide the work with Morus?

Well, the division of labour was in general obvious. Here there is history of medicine, and Iwan came to teach history of medicine. There were huge amounts of money given for universities to teach history of medicine. Iwan was not a historian of medicine, but like a lot of historians of science, he realized he had to do it because there is where the jobs were. But his real interest was electricity and popular science in the nineteenth century. So all that had to do with science and technology and medicine was always dealt by him. I did science and religion because I worked on Darwin, so of course I had to do that; and the human sciences was my share too, as I was teaching anthropology students by that time.

There are one or two subjects where probably you would not guess which one wrote them: Who do you think wrote “Science and war”?

I would say you.

Yes. And who did “Science and gender”?

I would also say that you.

No, Iwan wrote that one. Because he had a minor interest in women and science.

And in the difficult chapters we said, “OK, you should do it. I will do this one, you do that one”. But we did not combine chapters. Each one is written primarily by one of us. We wrote the chapters and then we obviously showed them to each other, but we did not collaborate in the initial writing.

Your publisher is Chicago University Press. Did you contact them with the idea or did they contact you and commissioned you a book like that?

We contacted them, it is an interesting story. I had been publishing with the Chicago University Press. They had done my previous two books, I think. I fell out with John’s Hopkins University Press because they would not paperback my books so I went to Chicago, by far the most active English language press for the history of science.

Cambridge wanted to turn the book into a real textbook and Chicago let it go how it was. So we sacrificed 5 thousand dollars and the text is pretty much as we wanted it to be.

My contact was Susan Abrams, who was the history of science editor. And we sent her the chapters that we had written up first to use in our own teaching (which was like a third of the total it would be) to show her the sort of thing we were doing. She very much liked the idea and said, “yeah, carry on, write all the other chapters”. And then she died; she had cancer. So we finished the other chapters. But, you know, we had been dealing with a single editor, and then we wrote a couple of people I knew in Chicago University Press but they said, “no, we did not know anything about this”. And they kind of pushed us away. They were not interested.

Then I was dealing with the Cambridge University Press because I was editing volume 8 of The Cambridge History of Science. So I went to Cambridge and I said, “look, Chicago is not interested in this any more, are you interested in it?” and they said “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, we like this!”. And then somebody else from Chicago said, “hang on, this is a good idea…”.

We then ended up with the two: both presses wanted it! They realised there was money in it. And they started offering us advances. There started a bidding war. But Cambridge wanted to turn the book into a real textbook and Chicago let it go how it was. So we sacrificed 5 thousand dollars and the text is pretty much as we wanted it to be.

An American publisher, perhaps the major academic publisher in the world, is surely interested in their market. Did they not suggest changes in your manuscript for this reason?

No, they were pretty good. They accepted it almost as it was. So all we had to do then was to get the illustrations. I think with the illustrations they helped a bit, they found a few of them for us, we had to negotiate to get permissions to publish them, and so on.


“If you think that all is pure knowledge gained by objectiveness of the nature, it is not! If you think that all is made of the contrary…it isn’t! It is an interaction between the two. And the trick of history of science, I think, is to get that balance.”

Which were your historical and historiographical aims in this book?

In some aspects they are very basic, very primitive. As I said, undermining popular prejudices about history of science is really the main purpose. Trying to explain to students that the history of science is a much more complicated thing than they think. One way we do that in the introduction is talking about how the history of science has changed over the last 50 years or so, for different interests have come in, and we just do not do it the same way anymore, and also explaining why people have changed their models of analysis. And then you find this approach illustrated in each of the individual chapters.

What do think about the current state of the history of science? Could we say it is mature or is it still in a young stage?

I think it has matured a lot, if you compare it with the way it was when I came into the subject in the 1960s. It was when Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions was just being published. There was a long tradition still in place of the rather old fashioned, triumphalist, “science is pure, abstract knowledge”. They still thought that practical application of science was something kind of separate. “Real science” is in the head. And then if it turns out that you can apply it somehow they said “OK but this is a secondary thing and we are not terribly interested in it”. It was a very different way of doing it, and so many things have changed, too. All the perspectives of what scientists do, what are the real driving forces, and so on. So it is a much more mature field now.

In a sense, the problem is that communicating this mature perspective to scientists and to other people is not easy; they do not want to know. Just to give an illustration:

There is a biologist that teaches at Leeds, and he publishes short articles on Darwin, mostly in science journals (some science journals do these little popular pieces on history of science). He is one of these guys who think that Darwin has been overrated because there are other people who got evolution besides Darwin. And then he complains “why can I get not this published in the history of science journals?”. I e-mailed him back and answered: the reason is because historians of science do not believe all these stories! You may publish it in the science journals because they have learned this nonsense. But if you submit this to a history of science journal, of course they will throw it out and not even consider it because they know these are matters being discounted.

“Scientists prefer to stick with the nice comfortable old stories and they do not like being challenged and proved. This is our job, but getting through them is not easy.”

This is just an illustrative case but there are many. This guy is of these people that think that Darwin should be pulled off his pedestal. He has this sense of priority: who discovered natural selection? Well, not Darwin, because Pattrick Matthew in 1831 published five paragraphs describing the basis of it, and this is the first publication, so he is the real discoverer. Yes he is! He is in one sense. But not in any important one. We are not in the job of just assigning priorities the way we are doing modern science in which the first who is getting to print that is all matters.

You distinguish a lot between history of science done by historians of science and that one done by scientists. Do you think it is possible that scientists do good history of science?

Oh yeah!! There is always the example of Stephen Gould who did very good history of science. So this is certainly not impossible. But there is a big resistance in a lot of them. They prefer to stick with the nice comfortable old stories and they do not like being challenged and proved. This is our job, but getting through them is not easy.

I was under the impression that you were a defender of the new historiographies (the sociology of knowledge and the STEP and gender sensibilities)…

Up to a point!! I think Iwan Morus is probably more into the sociology of knowledge than I am. But I think both would not want to go the whole hog…

“If you are in a plane flying at 30000 feet and you are a sociologist of science saying that all that science is really imagination…why are you sitting in that plane?”

Which is exactly your position in this sea of historiographies?

I am a moderate. I think we do have to accept that what scientists do is shaped by a political, social and cultural environment. In a sense even the harder sociologists of knowledge do not think that everything is in our head, you cannot just put it all in our head, because it has to work! Richard Dawkins has illustrated this well: “if you are in a plane flying at 30000 feet and you are a sociologist of science saying that all that science is really imagination…why are you sitting in that plane? You are sitting in that plane because you trust the scientist who designed it!”. And the point is that of course they have to admit this. It has to work. Wherever the ideas come from, at a certain level, you have to be able to test them.

There are different ways of testing and different strategies, and what seems to make sense in one paradigm – to use old fashioned terms – may not in another. But at the same time you cannot go too far down a route that generates things that cannot be tested. There is a real world there that is filtering the idea and there is an interaction between the testing and it. If you think that all is pure knowledge gained by objectiveness of the nature, it is not! If you think that all is made of the contrary…it isn’t! It is an interaction between the two. And the trick of history of science, I think, is to get that balance.

But you said that Iwan Morus is a little more into the sociology of science than you are.

I think that’s probably true…

Did you have problems for that reason?

Oh no, we never found us in particular difficulties; just interested enough to be a slight tension in there but nothing serious.

“We are still dealing with many of the old issues plus new ones. You do not get rid of the old issues; you do not get rid of the big names. We may think about them differently.”

Reading your book, I had the impression, if I may, that perhaps it was not that different from other histories of science which are considered less “new”. Do you think that it is difficult to leave behind the classical way of doing history of science?

We are still dealing with many of the old issues plus new ones. You do not get rid of the old issues; you do not get rid of the big names. We may think about them differently. Historians of science are still doing Darwin but the way we interpret Darwin now is not the way we interpreted it when I came into the field. You reposition Darwin and then you realise that to understand how evolution has developed, you have to recognize – regarding the professionalisation of science and the way evolution theory was taken out by the next generation of professional scientists – that Darwin was not the professional. And this has a big impact on the way the subject develops.

But at the same time, I do not think we should lose sight of the big issues like evolution or cosmology. I suppose, this is where I am a conservative. There are some sociologically inclined historians that would say “well, we should just throw all these big theories out. That is part of our work”. Well, no, it is not!

At the same time people still care about the big issues, so I think that it is a mistake to get rid of them altogether. We may have to think about the big issues in very different terms. But particularly, if you are interested in how science works outside, in the general public, evolution is a big issue! You cannot get rid of it because it raises topics and problems that concern everybody. And I do not think we should lose sight of this.

So is this what you would pick up from the old historiographies?

Well, I would not say from the old historiographies, but from the old priorities. I think that what we should be doing is handling new priorities but not in a way that completely displaces the old work. Some of the old priorities make sense. As Iwan quotes in his chapter “Scientific revolutions”, Steven Shapin says in his book, “there was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it”. We do not think about it but it is still there. In a way, something happened there, that we care about, this is exactly the point.

Do you think then that Shapin and Schaffer are a little too radical?

I do not know Shapin very well at all. But I think the fact is that in the end, to write a book about it, he might have to believe something happened ending in the Enlightenment. The reason why it was given the name ‘scientific revolution’ is all wrong. But it still has its sense reflecting something that we care about happening there.

“I refuse to use sociological jargon. When I hear the word ‘hermeneutics’, I reach for my gun.”

Could it be possible that this kind of historians of science are emphasising too much that their way of doing history of science is new and crucial only to consolidate themselves, their profession and its need?

I think that a good way of tackling this question is the language you use. I refuse to use sociological jargon. When I hear the word ‘hermeneutics’, I reach for my gun (metaphorically, or course). I do not use those kind of words, I write in ordinary English. Because I know that if I use that jargon, scientists and other readers do not understand it. If you are not careful you end up writing for your small little select group in order to use that language. This is for instance where Donna Haraway seems to go  Haraway writes about human sciences and her books are very good. But they are impenetrable because everything is done in this sociological jargon. It annoys me, and I will not use it, because I do not want to be seen as somebody just writing for a little group of academic initiates. I want to write for ordinary people and larger audiences. I wonder sometimes if the jargon is sometimes a way of preventing you from thinking about things, because concepts are so subtle. And you say, “OK, I want a clear answer to this question”. I think it allows a weakness of thinking.

When you are writing this kind of book you cannot be vague: you have just 20 pages, whatever chapter is, to tell what Darwin really did, and you cannot go into the clouds about all this very nonsense! You need to have clear ideas to state them precisely in a few words. And I think that this kind of elaborated academic jargon is a way of not doing that. I sometimes say, “OK, well, how would you put it into a reference book like Making Modern Science?” and the answer is that they do not know how! Because they have not really thought about it that clearly and the language allows them to be ambiguous.

I actually came up with this problem at a very early stage in my career, in Cambridge, when I was an undergraduate. In my final year I did a History of Science course that was taught by Bob Young. Bob is a historian who I think does tend to do this kind of academic jargon, and I distrusted it, so my first article on Malthus and Darwin was really a response to his article on Malthus. And he said: “Oh, you completely misunderstood my article!” and I said “well, I am trying to make sense to what you said actually in words that a normal person could understand and then respond to it, and you now say that sounds too simple. I am trying to simplify it to everybody so that they are able to handle this. I think we have to make decisions about what we believe and we do not believe, and your language is preventing you doing that. You prefer to keep it flexible and vague. Well I am sorry. This is alright for your kind of very highly trained academic audience, but does not work with anybody else. And for a Marxist! I thought a Marxist had to care about common people! So why do you treat this as bloody academic elitism?!”. I think that if you say “oh well, what I am doing is so refined, complex, sophisticated”, you lose contact with the issue. I cannot do that. When I hear that endless amount of palaver, I suspect you do it because you haven’t really thought the issues through well enough.

“It is not necessarily important for history of science sounding sophisticated. Sometimes sophistication can be a cover of the lack of clarity.”

If I can tell you a story, from many many many years ago, after my text book in the history of evolution had been circulating for some years, I got a letter forwarded by the publisher, by a woman living in a small middle western town in America, where everybody else was fundamentalist Christian. And she said “You have saved my life. I thought I was the only person in the world who had any doubts about these things. And suddenly I came across your book and I realised that there where other people out there who do not believe in all this”. This is what I want to do here!

This is the first part of the story. The second part of the story is that shortly after I got this letter, I was in a conference in Edinburgh and John Henry, who teaches there, had a party at his flat. There were a number of Americans there, including a woman – I cannot remember her name now – but she was in this kind of Donna Haraway very sociological school. I told the story while she was sitting behind me. John Henry told me the next day: this woman came up to me and she said “Oh, he writes for ordinary people! This cannot be any good for the academic area”. She was disgusted that I could write at a level that could affect the life of an ordinary person. And my response was “To hell with her, then!!”, using some obscene English words. I was angry! That someone who was so sophisticated could think that to write for ordinary people language is beneath them. That makes my blood boil, really does! I don not use that kind of jargon even in my actual research monographs. If academics want to do that, I have no time.

Is it then a matter of time?

It is not just a matter of convenience, but a matter of suspicion that sometimes that kind of language hides slack thought.

Or another, Michel Foucault. Now I will tell you another story about Foucault. I read French fairly well: I wrote my thesis in French as my PhD was on French science,. I was teaching for three years in Penang (Malaysia) when I heard about this book of Foucault that was very important. A friend went to Paris and I asked him to bring me a copy. But I could not read it! Then I got back home to Canada and got an English translation. But I could not read the translation either! So it was the language: it is obtuse. There is an important message there but it is hard to get it. And I do not think you ought to make it hard to get it. In some cases I am not sure there is any message there. In Foucault there is, but with some of the others I wonder whether the message is really there, but because the language sounds so clever, you have to pretend you have understood a very important message that is obvious. I will not do that. It is not necessarily important for history of science to sound sophisticated. Sometimes sophistication can be a cover of the lack of clarity. There’s a danger in it. It certainly prevents communication to ordinary people, and I think that we do have the duty of writing so that ordinary people can understand us.

“In many cases I wonder whether the message is really there, but because the language sounds so clever, you have to pretend you have understood a very important message.”

So in this context, what do you think about PUS, the dominant view, the deficit model… ?

The scientists that went through this phase thought that if they taught science they would always be respected and understood. But that is clearly nonsense. I think even scientists have begun to realise that if you want support of people you ought to try an engagement. It is not always obvious that what scientists think is the best, will be seen as the best by the ordinary people, so there is probably a better relationship emerging slowly.

Scientists, I think, now realise that they cannot just do what they want to do, and expect ordinary people to accept it quickly and smoothly. They wanted, though, and they disguised their scientific experiments. At the same time, of course, there are clearly movements against science which, I think, are dangerous; antiscience in a prejudiced way.

Things like opposition to genetically modified food, which clearly is not a rational issue. There is no evidence that could conceivably change some people’s minds on this – they just have an emotional objection to it.  And this is very dangerous. Creationism is another example of this kind.

Of course, scientists tended to be a bit overconfident and they do need to be told to be a bit more careful. But at the same time, if you have these violent antiscience movements that do not even listen to reason, this is dangerous too, so it is a complicated situation, as always.

“I think that we do have the duty of writing so that ordinary people can understand us.”

So, do you think that there are some things in science that should not be communicated?

No, I think you have to try. If you do not communicate, then you certainly will get people opposed. You may not be able to convince them anyway but I think you have to try. And hopefully, there is a general public that is very well prepared and cannot be misled. On the other hand, I also think that it is becoming more difficult in the modern world, with the Internet and Twitter and all the rest, because it is much easier for these irrational movements to flourish.

And what is your opinion about the production of knowledge by the publics of science?

This is an interesting idea that you do see: nowadays there are many efforts to try to involve ordinary people, and it obviously works better in some areas than others. It is pretty hard to get banners in the streets for new ideas on nuclear physics. What about the colleges? Yes they do, people sometimes can get involved in different ways. It is not an impossible option in some areas. But in others it is very difficult.

But you had not had this in mind, when you did your book, I think…

No, no…

And what do you think about STEP (Science and Technology in the European Periphery) movement in history of science? Do you think your book is sensitive about this question?

Probably not. Despite living in Ireland which in course is treated like European periphery. There was a meeting in Galway last summer but I could not go, I was somewhere else. So we probably are not too sensitive to that then…Well I could imagine putting another chapter on it on central metropolis and periphery and all that kind of thing.

“I think that science and periphery would be an extra chapter that worth doing, but there would be any number of others as well.”

Do you think that a chapter on this issue would be worth?

The trouble is that there are so many chapters that if you get into that level, there would be any number of extra chapters we could write. But the publisher said that they could not take any extra chapters. If you throw it out to everyone else in the field and say, “what extra chapters do you want?”, you would get a list of hundreds and hundreds. I think that science and periphery would be one of them worth doing, but there would be any number of others as well. Maybe in a translation for a peripheral country you could put a chapter on that subject, but originally we aimed the book at a public more American or English.

But as a whole, I have seen there is much about England, France and Germany…

And America

…and America, yes. Don’t you think that there could be a bias in the history of science you present in the book, for this reason?

Well, there probably is but this is because if you are aiming at students most of whom are going to be American or British, I am not sure that those students would be interested in other national contexts. To give you an example: teaching in Ireland, I tried to introduce some Irish science, a lecture or two about Irish scientists, but they were always badly received by students. They were not interested, they did not see the point of trying to do it; it was seen by Irish students as too peripheral.

What a pity, because if they do not do research on it, who will do it?

Well, there is a lot being done, quite a lot of it by scientists who work in Ireland that do history of science as a side line, sometimes very badly, sometimes quite better…But the students did not like it at all. So I would have been reluctant to do anything like that.

“Teaching in Ireland, I tried to introduce some Irish science but it was always badly received by students. It was seen by Irish students as too peripheral.”

So do you think that ‘peripheral’ history of science has to be done in and for the periphery?

Well not necessarily. It is clearly going to be of greater interest there, but I think that it is hard to get ordinary people to realise that there are significant things that might not be done by the big names in all the textbooks. It throws light in the way science is done: it is not universal and this is probably a good lesson we could learn from this, against the universalism of science. But of course, this is also a message that you get by comparing German genetics and American genetics, in the 1920s and 1930s, they were completely different, so that message does not have to come from the periphery, although studies on the periphery could provide good illustrations.

One example, when you talk about the circulation of blood in your book, you mention Harvey but not Miquel Servet who explained minor and major pulmonary circulation in the first half of 16th Century, have you heard of him?

That was Iwan’s chapter, so I don’t know who comes in there…

Or Ramon y Cajal who first built the theory of the neuron?

You have to be careful, there. You need to be aware that the idea they promoted had some impact or influence. And I think it is the same case as people who try to say that Darwin was not the first discovering the natural selection because you can find those five paragraphs in some epilogue of a book. Unless it had a really big impact, it is an interesting point to know, but it is not going to find its way in a book like this, unless it is something that was inspirational to the next generation. So I need to know more about these individual cases.

Do you remember some Spanish thing reflected in the book?

Probably not. Maybe Italian. But this is an issue apart of the big countries. When you are writing this kind of a book I think in the end you have to miss some things…

“This is a book written primarily for English language readerships, British and American. And we tend to focus on what we think will interest those.”

My concern is that maybe historians of science with more impact were from these countries also (England, France, Germany and America) so their national contexts might be more reflected in the tradition. But maybe other countries have something to say which could contribute in relevant ways to this general view of history of science.

There is always the question of science going out to non western countries. This is another question that has been raised. There is a bit in the book about European expansion and exploration, about how other countries responded to western science, but it raises similar issues. I guess in the end I just have to say “sorry, we cannot include this”. This is a book written primarily for English language readerships, British and American. And we tend to focus on what we think will interest those. I can quite appreciate that for another audience there are other things that could be said. The only answer would be to have translators who do additional chapters of their own and then add to it. I suppose I would be happy to see that done, but we could not incorporate many of these things in the main text, because there are so many things we had to do…

The first part of the book is like a big picture. What do you think about ‘Big Pictures’?

Well, in fact I am a big pictures sort of person as I came to Evolution as my first interest. I did tend to like big controversial subjects. The framework of revolutions was very convenient to use in that part of the course and the book, so that turns to be the ‘big revolutions’. Obviously, if you don’t do revolutions, if you choose some other way of trying to get it out, then you might not have to use ‘big pictures’. I think that the second part of the book is much less focused on these general views and more on particular cases. So I think this is fair enough, you have a bit of both and this makes sense.

What question would you like to be asked about the book?

In a sense we have covered a lot of it. The question really is that we do not deal directly with the academic as a communicator and with the role of the academic as a public intellectual, which is much more common in European countries than it is in the English speaking world. And I do like to think that we have a duty to communicate, but I also think that people do not realise that there is actually a career in this context, and that there is money to be made. And many academics are so isolated people. That’s weird. I suppose, to be really cruel, that the question you should have asked me is how much money I made from the book.

“We do not deal directly with the academic as a communicator and with the role of the academic as a public intellectual.  And I do like to think that we have a duty to communicate.”

Well, then how much money did you make from the book?

The point of that gross cruel question is that, if you want to be a good communicator, you should earn money from it and you should expect to earn money from it. I was coming through the words of Samuel Johnson, the man who wrote the first English dictionary, who said “no man but a fool would write except for money”. Why would you spend all this time writing if you are not going to earn money from it?! And you earn money because people are reading it. I think that you have to think in that practical way.

But Darwin wrote a lot and he had already money…

Well yes, but the interesting point for me is that people will read about Darwin, and you would sell more books about Darwin, so it is easier to make money writing about Darwin than with anybody else.

I am always amazed by the lack of…Well, I do not see myself as a journalist, but there is a lack of any sense of practical writing, which is in fact a skill that academics ought to have. And if you got it, you can earn money from it. I am astounded that most of my colleagues do not have it and do not seem to recognize that if you did that, you can earn money. They always complain about their poor salaries. Well, it is a way to make extra money!

“There is a lack of any sense of practical writing, which is in fact a skill that academics ought to have. If the editor says, “please, send me 5000 words on this topic by the 31st of July”, the average academic would send him 10.000 words by Christmas time.”

I think most of them write for money, at least they live from it, so they already do it…

Most of them I think cannot write, they do not know how to write; not in the way that a journalist does. If the editor says, “please, send me 5000 words on this topic by the 31st of July”, the average academic would send him 10.000 words by Christmas time. I would send 4999 words for the 30th of July. And the publisher would appreciate that. And this is what I mean by being journalist: writing to specification, to word length, to audience level, to timetable, to deadline. Most academics do not. I could tell you a story about the eighth volume of The Cambridge History of Science, which came out fifteen years late!! Thanks to that kind of attitude. I think it happens. People have to learn to write. They often say, “Oh, I have to write four or five drafts to be satisfied”. No! you only have to do one draft and it’s done!! Why do you have to revise it? Learn to write, learn to write!! You learn to drive a car, why don’t you learn to write? It’s a skill you have to pick up! And most academics don’t, and they do not want to learn. But I think we should.

I was lucky, I learned it early on, I learned it at a very early stage in my career, when you were taking insecure jobs, when you did not know if the next year you would be driving a taxi cab. My job lasted one year. I did not know what was happening beyond that. I have to get this article finished now or I could never have the chance to finish it, so I learned to finish things on time. When I had a word processor for the first time, I had it for a year before I used the ‘cut and paste’ function. Why would you copy and paste? Do it right the first time! It is so much easier. Of course, I use it from time to time…but you should learn to write without it.

* Clara Florensa has a BA in Biology and a BA in Physics, and a Master in History of Science. She is co-editor of the science popularization journal UABDivulga.

Aknowledgements: I would like to thank Oliver Hochadel for his help in preparing the interview and Pep Simon for his corrections and commentaries.

Entrevista a Pepe Pardo per Gustavo Corral

Amb motiu de la seva participació al Cicle de Col·loquis Comunicar la Ciència: Plaers i Obstacles de la Narrativa Històrica amb el col·loqui Un lugar para la ciencia: Escenarios de práctica científica en la sociedad hispana del siglo XVI celebrat el dia 6 d’abril de 2011 a l’Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Pepe Pardo, investigador científic de la Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC, Barcelona), va ser entrevistat per Gustavo Corral*

Com es treballen les fonts utilitzades per elaborar un llibre que parla de la pràctica científica del segle XVI? En el seu cas, cóm procedeix en la cerca de noves fonts?

Hi ha dos processos per treballar fonts històriques directes per a un llibre com aquest. El primer són les fonts que ja estaven treballades abans per treballs de recerca més professionals i més acadèmics que ja havia fet sobre alguns d’aquests temes, i per tant aquí es tractava de tornar a revisitar aquestes fonts que ja coneixia i que ja havia treballat.

M’estic referint per exemple a fonts sobre les construccions dels teatres anatòmics a Espanya, sobre el que ja havia fet treballs de recerca amb l’Àlvar Martinez Vidal en arxius tant de Madrid, com de Barcelona, València i Saragossa.

L’altra via és a base de la bibliografia i les fonts utilitzades per altres historiadors. En algun cas era convenient tornar a la font original, en altres casos es partia del tractament de la font que ja havia fet un altre historiador. Després de rebre l’encàrrec de muntar el curs i el llibre, jo pensava que no calia plantejar-se una cerca de noves fonts. Ja hi havia suficient material de recerca directa amb les fonts acumulat, tant per la banda directa dels que jo havia treballat personalment, a soles, o en col·laboració, com dels treballs fets els darrers anys per un gran nombre d’altres historiadors.

I a banda de texts, quins altres tipus de fonts heu utilitzat?

Per abordar la qüestió dels espais, les fonts fonamentals són els texts, però naturalment no es pot deixar de banda la informació que la pròpia font arquitectònica et pot donar.

La iconografia coetània és també una font essencial, tant en gravat, com en pintura per a moltes evocacions o reconstruccions d’espais que hem perdut, o fins i tot d’espais que existeixen, però que estan tan modificats pels temps passats o per determinades polítiques de restauració o no d’aquests espais.

I després, d’altra banda hi ha tota una documentació d’arxiu necessària que no és de texts d’anatomia o d’història natural. Són texts de l’època tals com documentació que es genera de manera institucional i política a l’hora de construir o posar en peu aquests edificis. M’estic referint a fonts notarials amb contractes amb els obrers o amb els arquitectes que construeixen això, que en el cas dels teatres anatòmics ha donat molt de fruit. De fet, de molts teatres anatòmics de la península ibèrica, si no fos perquè tenim algun contracte d’aquest tipus ni sabríem de la seva existència.

Després, per exemple pel que respecta als gabinets i les col·leccions sevillanes, que és el tercer capítol del llibre, ha estat fonamental la documentació provinent de la correspondència entre els diversos col·leccionistes en la xarxa europea amb altres naturalistes per intercanviar objectes.

I novament també la documentació de tipus notarial, ja que normalment els inventaris post-mortem, o els inventaris de trasllat d’una casa a una altra i dels seus canvis de domicili (en el cas de Monardes, per exemple), i la documentació notarial que això genera és fonamental per saber, per exemple, si en la casa hi havia un gabinet dedicat a la col·lecció, si la col·lecció i els mobles estan o no estan. La documentació notarial en això és molt rica i molt precisa. El que passa és que no en tots els casos, malauradament, es pot trobar aquesta documentació.

El llibre mostra el coneixement científic com a un acte comunicatiu que integrava fins i tot diversos camps de la cultura d’aleshores, és a dir, podríem entendre la pràctica científica en aquests escenaris com un procés de difusió, recepció i apropiació de sabers tal com la idea del “knowledge  in transit” de James Secord?

En realitat, una lectura d’algunes de les històries o dels processos de comunicació que en el llibre es recullen es pot fer perfectament sota aquest marc interpretatiu, que jo crec que en els darrers anys ha donat molts fruits. Sense dubte, moltes de les històries que s’expliquen en el llibre aporten exemples molt bons per veure les condicions en les que s’elaborava i circulava el coneixement, i com també era rebut i assimilat per altres receptors que a la vegada el transformaren.

La qüestió fonamental de la tesi de Secord, i de tots els altres que l’han seguit, és no oblidar, evidentment, de posar en primer terme el moviment del coneixement científic com el moment on l’historiador pot copsar aquest coneixement en el passat. Però, no oblidar tampoc que en cadascuna de les etapes d’aquest procés comunicatiu o dels nòduls d’una xarxa per la qual aquest coneixement passava, aquest era transformat i en alguna mesura modificat. Jo crec que d’això hi ha exemples molt bons al llibre, que donen molt de sí llegits a la llum d’aquesta línia interpretativa.

Com podrien ser els artistes del primer capítol?

Clar, com els artistes que s’apropien d’aquest coneixement que rebien als teatres anatòmics, perquè tenen la seva pròpia agenda com artesans que estan en un procés d’afirmació, més enllà del que és el gremi artesà. En aquest sentit, un procés molt semblant al que tenen els cirurgians que els fan anar el teatre. Però la forma en la que el coneixement és transformat és molt diferent entre un pintor i un cirurgià.

En quin moment i de quina manera aquests escenaris de pràctica científica van deixar de ser espais públics per tornar-se llocs de poder on la divisió de tasques és clau? En altres paraules, en quin moment i amb quins mecanismes els escenaris científics passen de ser llocs com les aules, els teatres anatòmics, els patis o els gabinets a ser els laboratoris universitaris, els instituts d’investigació o els departaments de I+D d’indústries i grans companyies o fins i tot projectes tan grans com el CERN?

Això és un procés llarg molt llunyà en el temps del periode que visita aquest llibre, perquè tots aquests exemples que tu has citat són del segle XIX quan comencen a institucionalitzar-se, des de la regulació de determinats ensenyaments fins a la construcció, ja que estem, d’espais i edificis nous.

Si tu mires qualsevol història de la institució universitària al segle XIX, trobaràs no tan sols l’existència de lleis estatals reguladores d’un ensenyament reglat, sinó també les normes de construcció d’uns edificis que al segle XIX s’anomenen universitats, les quals tenen molt poc a veure tant en l’arquitectura com en la distribució d’espais amb el que eren els estudis generals del segle XVI que apareixen en aquest llibre.

És molt curiós com els historiadors de les universitats han mostrat sempre la transformació de la institució universitària en el XIX, bé amb el model humboldtià centroeuropeu, bé amb el model francès posterior a la revolució. En canvi, no s’ha escrit encara aquesta mateixa història des del punt de vista dels espais i les arquitectures en que es desenvolupen aquests models universitaris. Aprendríem molt sobre aquests processos si estudiàrem els edificis, i no tan sols les lleis que van posar en marxa o que van transformar determinades institucions.

Podria explicar en quin sentit l’escriptura científica forma part del mateix procés de construcció de la ciència, i fins a quin punt podem traçar una frontera entre texts divulgatius i especialitzats?

Comence per la segona part de la pregunta. Jo cada vegada estic més convençut de que aquesta frontera no és una frontera clara que puguem normativitzar, per establir on comença una cosa, i on comença l’altra.

Estic convençut des de fa temps d’aquesta idea tan suggeridora de la gradació de discursos, i crec que tot és una espècie de gradació de moltes etapes molt difuminades també de l’una a l’altra. És com si tinguéssim una escala de color on, en realitat, no pots traçar clarament una línia que estableix on comença el nivell divulgatiu, i on el nivell acadèmic o científic d’un altre caire.

Jo crec que sense l’escriptura, i ací vaig a la primera part de la pregunta, no hi ha construcció del coneixement científic. L’escriptura en forma part naturalment, el que passa és que l’actor que escriu incorpora un tipus d’aprenentatge per saber moure’s en aquestes diverses gradacions de nivells, de com ha d’escriure cada cosa depenent del seu interlocutor potencial, o per a qui i perquè està escrivint. És a dir, com està exposant el seu coneixement científic davant d’un determinat auditori.

I no dic tan sols en un aula, en un seminari, en un departament, en un laboratori o en un congrés científic, sinó que també són un auditori de la ciència les autoritats i el sistema que dóna el finançament. El científic també té un estil d’escriptura per adreçar-se per demanar diners, i no explica igual el seu projecte i els resultats del seu projecte en un article per a una revista científica que en un informe intern per a un ministeri o una corporació per demanar diners pel que ha de fer. Aquests nivells d’escriptura en formen part i elaboren de forma diferent el coneixement i el van transformant també.

No és estrany trobar-se com es genera un nou coneixement en el mateix procés d‘exposar a un determinat auditori el coneixement estàndard o ja conegut.

Per exemple, et trobaràs sempre en articles de la nostra disciplina el reconeixement explícit cap a la utilitat que té un seminari intern de discussió d’un departament o un seminari d’un grup restringit d’estudiants o de col·legues a l’hora d’exposar per primera vegada un treball, de retroalimentar aquest treball i de donar-li una forma o una altra. Sempre estem escrivint i situant-nos en aquest continuum de gradació d’estils d’escriptura i de comunicació.

Jo tinc clar que la seva curiositat no s’esgota llegint i escrivint sobre història de la ciència. Quines activitats considera que han complementat i enriquit la narrativa en la seva producció escrita (literatura, viatges…)?

Evidentment les dues coses fonamentals són les que acabes de dir. Jo crec que viatjar, moure’s d’un espai a un altre, no tan sols com a estímul per pensar les coses d’una manera diversa, sinó que realment moltes vegades introduir-te en un espai diferent i desconegut et dóna moltes possibilitats de reelaborar tot allò que tens entre mans.

Crec que, per tant, la mobilitat i el viatge en si mateix ja és una bona font de reflexió i d’adquisició de coneixement, de fer-te preguntes, però també el visitar o el tractar de treballar en espais  diferents.

Per suposat jo, i en això probablement sóc egoista defensant-ho, perquè m’agrada molt, sempre he considerat que cal llegir moltes altres coses. El que no es pot fer és dedicar-se íntegrament i que totes les nostres lectures siguen dins dels estrets marges de la nostra disciplina. Hi ha gent que en realitat el 80% del que llegeix és història de la ciència. Jo crec que això al final t’acaba esterilitzant una miqueta a l’hora de pensar altres coses. Pot ser que exagere; per altra banda, i hi ha col·legues que pensen que llegir una novel·la de viatges és perdre el temps, i per tant s’ha de limitar.

Jo crec que no. Sempre he defensat que la curiositat de la lectura, per definició, ha d’anar cap a fora de la nostre disciplina. Hem d’estar al dia en la nostra disciplina, hem de llegir molt de la nostra disciplina, això forma part del nostre treball i de la nostra responsabilitat com a professionals, però evidentment no ens podem quedar allà. La lectura continua és la principal font d’adquisició de coneixements per a tots els que ens dediquem a això i els que no.

Quins són els principals autors i llibres que han influït en la seva manera d’entendre i fer història de la ciència? O en l’altra direcció: hi ha algun llibre en particular que li hauria agradat escriure i per què?

Ostres!! moltíssims, al menys dues dotzenes. Sí que és veritat que és una sensació que tinc de vegades. Pots sentir-te apassionat per això que la lectura d’un llibre t’ha reportat, però pensar que és un llibre que no t’hauria agradat escriure a tu. Però en canvi, després hi ha una minoria d’aquestes lectures apassionants que dius: “aquesta si que m’hauria agradat escriure-la”. Supose que perquè l’autor aconsegueix transmetre un cert plaer o part del plaer que ha experimentat escrivint-lo.

L’últim llibre amb el que m’ha passat això és “El rinoceronte y el megaterio” de Juan Pimentel. Al marge de que l’autor siga amic meu des de fa molts anys, vull dir que ha escrit altres llibres amb els quals no he tingut aquesta sensació. En canvi, en aquest darrer llibre, que va ser publicat a finals del 2010 sí que la vaig tenir, i vaig sentir una enveja molt gran cap a l’autor. Supose que perquè és el llibre que Pimentel també més ha gaudit escrivint, perquè va tenir una certa llibertat d’escriptura que no havia tingut en altres llibres.

Això per citar-te el darrer, però també he de dir-te que hi ha alguns llibres que entren a formar part d’una lectura continuada. És una mica el que vaig dir al col·loqui sobre el llibre de Schlögel “En el espacio leemos el tiempo”, que és un llibre que durant els darrers quatre anys he tingut sempre a la mà. Igual que hi ha altres llibres clàssics que a un sempre li agradaria tindre temps per rellegir i que formen part d’aquesta prestatgeria de lectures continuades. Parle d’autors com Chartier, com Carlo Ginzburg o com Peter Mason, per citar alguns que no són estrictament d’història de la ciència, i que en canvi per a mi són molt importants.

I no voldria deixar-me, ja que estem en això, una font de l’època que va estar present quan vaig escriure aquest llibre fonamentalment dedicat al segle XVI. Em refereixo a la lectura dels assaigs de Montaigne. Per a mi, el conèixer o freqüentar l’obra de Montaigne quan treballe el segle XVI em resulta sempre gratificant, a banda de que és una excusa per llegir-lo perquè jo sempre m’ho passo bé llegint-lo. Però sobre tot, si estic treballant aquesta època tan llunyana en el temps i amb un món molt diferent del nostre, com que jo crec en la necessitat de la immersió, sempre m’ha ajudat molt llegir aquest tipus de coses per acabar de quallar bé.

Hi ha algun del que s’alegra de no haver escrit i per què?

Sí que és veritat que de vegades no tens més remei que llegir un llibre perquè és obligat i perquè estàs tractant un tema, i no pots ser un frívol i dir aquest no me’l pense llegir. Hi ha lectures que són absolutament fonamentals i s’ha de fer un esforç. Hi ha texts que encara que siguin avorrits, si són pertinents, jo crec que per pura professionalitat has de llegir-los.

Ara, alegrar-te de no haver sigut tu el que hagi hagut de escriure-los, també. I això passa amb una freqüència brutal, però també em passa amb les coses que he escrit jo. Hi ha algunes coses que he escrit que en realitat ni vaig gaudir, ni em van agradar i continuen sense agradar-me. Algunes vegades les fas per obligació, altres per compromís i altres vegades, durant molts anys, simplement perquè estàs aprenent, i la millor manera és cometre l’error de publicar o d’escriure determinades coses que ara no faries mai.

Tampoc convé matxacar-se molt mirant el propi passat, perquè és el menys interessant. Ja que et dediques a mirar el passat, perquè és la teva professió, el teu és el menys interessant.

Què espera d’un lector? Quin és el seu lector/lectora model?

Ja vaig dir ahir que jo tinc la sort de tenir dos lectors reals i existents que estan sempre disposats a llegir qualsevol cosa que jo escrigui i a expressar la seva opinió amb molta llibertat i a criticar amb rigor si cal. Per tant, no he pensat mai en aquesta qüestió del lector o la lectora ideal.

Jo crec que tinc la lectora ideal que és l’Ada Pastor i tinc el lector ideal que és l’Àlvar Martínez Vidal, i ells diuen tot el que en necessite en aquest aspecte. Probablement, si no els hagués tingut hauria buscat d’alguna manera un lector ideal abans de donar a l’ editorial o a la revista el text definitiu, però els tinc reals i llavors no cal que me’ls imagine.

Ha treballat en moltes èpoques històriques, incloent el segle XX. Quines dificultats/plaers ha trobat en passar d’una època  a una altra?

Al principi la veritat jo pensava que em trobaria més obstacles que plaers al canviar d’època. Això és una cosa que en el petit món de la nostra professió de vegades és penalitzat pels altres, perquè pensen que un ha d’especialitzar-se en determinada disciplina.

En història de la ciència tenim dos tipus d’especialitzacions, que com gairebé tots els tipus d’especialització si es duen molt estrictament acaben tornant zero a tota la resta. Una és la qüestió disciplinar, és a dir, tu què fas: història de la medicina, de la física, de la química, a més amb un presentisme absolut perquè traslladem divisions disciplinàries de la ciència del segle XX cap enrere. I l’altra és la qüestió de les fronteres temporals: és que jo sóc medievalista, llavors jo tot el que sigui després de 1500 no sabria fer-lo.

Jo he procurat saltar-me totes aquestes barreres amb el risc evident de que si renúncies a un tipus d’especialització pots convertir-te en un ignorant en tot, i no saber realment de res. Ara, jo accepto més aquest risc que no pas l’altre de convertir-te en un hiperespecialista d’un camp estret, siga cronològicament o no, amb el qual no és fàcil passar de treballar del segle XVI al XX, i a l’inrevés tampoc. Jo he procurat fer-ho amb prudència, serietat i amb tota l’honestedat possible i no renunciant a ser molt estricte.

Si te n’adones, en realitat la meva producció sobre els segles XIX i XX és molt magra, comparada, per exemple, amb la dels segles XVI, XVII o XVIII i ha estat la major part del temps en equip i en companyia perquè em sent més segur. Probablement trigaré encara temps en fer alguna cosa que jo considere que aporta alguna cosa d’interès o de qualitat, perquè són terrenys on jo em moc d’una manera menys segura que en el XVI i XVII que he treballat més. Però m’agrada aquest repte i procuraré continuar fent-lo.

Tinc entès que vostè neix com a historiador d’història moderna? Com aterra en la història de la ciència/de la medicina?

La veritat és que vaig aterrar en el món d’història de la ciència quan encara no hi havia enlairat del de moderna. No, això s’explica per un altre privilegi o per una altra sort personal que va ser la meva relació des de ben jove amb José Mª López Piñero.

Jo el vaig conèixer quan estava a l’institut, i encara que em vaig matricular en la facultat d’Història, i vaig triar Història moderna com a especialitat (no existia l’especialitat d’Història de la Ciència), des del meu ingrés a la facultat ja treballava amb cosetes en el departament al que pertanyia llavors la càtedra d’història de la medicina de València que dirigia López Piñero. A més ja treballava per a aquest grup que en aquest moment era un col·lectiu nombrós i nosaltres érem uns estudiants que arribàvem allà, però vam tenir sempre l’oportunitat de trobar-hi les portes obertes i treball per fer.

Per tant, en realitat es pot dir que jo ja estava abocat a dedicar-me a la història de la ciència. La prova la tens en que el meu primer treball que és la tesina de llicenciatura ja estava dedicada a la història de la ciència i es va fer sota la direcció de López Piñero. Per tant en aquest aspecte no va ser un moment de caiguda del cavall ni de conversió a la història de la ciència perquè va ser des del principi.

De no haver estat historiador, què li hauria agradat ser?

Durant molts anys la resposta a aquesta pregunta era arquitecte, i la veritat és que aquesta és una professió que em resulta fascinant. De part meva hi ha una incapacitat, és a dir una ignorància sobre això, que em resulta l’estímul fonamental per entrar en temes com aquests. La intersecció aquesta d’arquitectura i ciència ha aconseguit acostar-me cap a l’arquitectura sense el complex de ser un ignorant absolut i sense la necessitat de dedicar-me a aquestes alçades a estudiar arquitectura i a professionalitzar-me com arquitecte. Però, la veritat es que probablement el que m’hauria agradat ser és arquitecte.

Per a què serveix la història de la ciència? Si és que ha de servir d’alguna cosa. I els historiadors de la ciència quina, quines sortides tenen?

La resposta cínica és que serveix per a que gent com jo mengem de calent cada dia. No, jo vull pensar que la història de la ciència és una eina fonamental i imprescindible en el temps en que vivim, perquè la ciència i la tecnologia ocupen un espai tan bàsic de la nostra societat. Bona part de la nostra cultura està impregnada de les nostres relacions amb la tecnologia i la ciència, i no diguem ja a l’hora de la geopolítica del planeta i el paper que estan jugant la ciència i la tecnologia en això.

Em sembla absolutament raonable que, no només els professionals sinó qualsevol persona que viu en aquesta societat i en aquest món d’alguna manera ha de reflexionar i pensar què passa amb allò de la ciència i la tecnologia.

Naturalment, la perspectiva històrica de qualsevol fenomen present, jo crec que és fonamental per entendre’l. Tu no pots entendre res del teu present si en algun moment no introdueixis la clau històrica que et permet saber com has arribat a aquesta situació que tu coneixes en el present, però també et permet reflexionar sobre com era allò en un altre moment del passat.

Per tant, si la ciència i la tecnologia ocupen aquesta part tan important de la nostra cultura contemporània i de la nostra societat contemporània, em sembla que la història de la ciència i la tecnologia per pur sil·logisme hauria d’ocupar un paper molt important en això i hauria d’interessar a tothom.

Probablement la primera responsabilitat de que els nostres públics no siguin més nombrosos la tenim nosaltres mateixos que ens dediquem a la història de la ciència i no aconseguim que això siga suficientment visible o almenys que tinga un públic creixent.

De tota manera, a mi em fa l’efecte de que sí que hi ha un públic creixent. Gent en busca, no dic de respostes messiàniques, però sí claus que integrar en la seva pròpia visió del món, i això sí que el tenim tots. En aquest món, tenir opinió i coneixements sobre la història de la ciència i la tecnologia crec que és imprescindible.

En quant a les sortides professionals, jo crec que la gent interessada per la història de la ciència no necessàriament ha de dedicar-se després a això. La disciplina ha sigut sempre per definició transdisciplinar, i naturalment hi ha professionals d’altres matèries, com per exemple de la comunicació científica, de periodisme científic o museòlegs per als quals seria exigible que tinguessin una bona formació històrica en ciència i tecnologia, i no la tenen. Institucionalment, la nostra disciplina està absent en bona part dels processos de formació d’aquests professionals, i en canvi aquestes serien les borses més interessants on la història de la ciència i la tecnologia hauria de tenir una presència.

A l’inrevés, la gent que s’acosta a la nostra disciplina ha de pensar que a banda de professionalitzar-se en història de la ciència -que això sempre serà magre i continuarà sent dur i difícil perquè no hi ha institucionalment molt d’espai- sí que ha de tenir clar que això l’ha de permetre accedir a aquestes altres professions amb un valor afegit respecte als que no tenen aquesta formació històrica.

Parlant d’això, quina creu que sigui la raó de que els museus de ciència interactius i science centers d’ara no vulguin conservar en el seu discurs cap rastre del model tradicional de museu, ni en el disseny ni en el contingut de les exposicions?

Bé, jo crec que això està canviant també de tota manera, però històricament els science centers van sorgir en una conjuntura en la qual hem d’admetre que els museus científics que sí que incorporaven aquest discurs científic estaven absolutament obsolets, i això ja era una cosa carrinclona que no aguantava ni Déu.

En l’origen de la reivindicació de la necessitat d’inventar un nou museu de ciència, amb els pressupostos que puguen tenir els science centers a partir de finals dels setanta i sobre tot en els anys vuitanta, hem de reconèixer que en aquests moments la museologia tradicional dels museus de ciència, els museus de col·leccions estaven en franca, no ja decadència, sinó que en molts casos ja havien tancat fins i tot, perquè allò era completament obsolet.

Una altra cosa, són les tensions i la poca permeabilitat als discursos històrics que els science centers tenien i han tingut fins fa uns anys que han entrat en crisi. La superació de la crisi dels science centers jo crec que és normal, per un moviment gairebé pendular que fa que ara s’adrecen a aquesta perspectiva, a aquest gust per la història de la ciència, per la reivindicació del patrimoni científic, per la revaloració de les col·leccions i d’un patrimoni material de la ciència que havia estat invisible, o fins i tot menyspreat o llançat al reciclatge per part del model dels science centers més clàssics dels anys vuitanta i noranta.

Em sembla immoral que una vegada que aquest model ha entrat en crisi al primer món, diguem al món occidental desenvolupat que el va inventar, aquest l’estiguen exportant al tercer món. A mi em sembla immoral que determinats science centers que arquitectònicament poden ser molt del segle XXI, però mentalment molt dels anys vuitanta s’estiguin obrint en països com Brasil o Xile amb participació activa de persones que als vuitanta havien muntat science centers en Europa i que són conscients de que aquest model ja no respon al que caldria fer, i el que estan fent és exportar-lo al tercer món.

Diguem que és una tecnologia de la comunicació obsoleta en el primer món, però que venem, i si pot ser embolicada amb un arquitecte de prestigi, per una milionada a un país en vies de desenvolupament. Això sí que és una qüestió políticament indignant.

Llavors vostè creu que es pugui arribar a fer conviure les col·leccions d’objectes i els dispositius interactius?

Sí, jo crec que sí, i a més crec que en els darrers 3 o 4 anys hi ha models que demostren que això és possible. I és creant equips multidisciplinaris, on els historiadors de la ciència també tinguem un lloc, segur que es poden aconseguir aquests nous discursos.

També és veritat que els historiadors de la ciència han d’acostumar-se a treballar en equip amb museòlegs i amb altra gent. Moltes vegades no estem acostumats i pensem: ací qui és l’expert i qui ha de fer el que l’altre diu? I no és això, vull dir, el treball en equip vol dir que és en el conjunt de l’equip d’on han de sorgir les coses, i per tant s’han d’afrontar les tensions i els problemes i anar fins al fons.

Jo crec que hi ha coses que s’estan fent en aquests moments que tenen molt d’interès i que són fruit d’aquestes discussions, moltes vegades prou dures. Però, han sigut equips multidisciplinaris que estan treballant en determinats museus o en determinades institucions, els que estan pensant en aquest tipus de plantejaments museogràfics.

Podria donar un exemple concret d’aquests tipus de museus?

Sí, clar. Jo crec que les noves coses que s’han fet a Londres, tant en el Science Museum com en el Natural History Museum, sobre tot a partir de la inauguració de l’ala pel centenari de Darwin, són un exemple d’això. I també, amb pressupostos molt més baixos i amb llocs no tan absolutament megalòmans com Londres, però en Europa per exemple en el Museu d’Història Natural de Ginebra, en el Museu d’Antropologia de Neuchâtel o en el Museu de Ciències Naturals de Toulouse.

En alguns museus més petits s’han ajuntat equips multidisciplinaris que estan fent propostes noves i que estan renovant molt, i en alguns casos molt bé, aquests tipus de museografia i la relació i reflexió sobre el paper dels professionals en muntar una exposició permanent, a més d’estar en continu contrast crític amb el públic i amb els visitants del museu.

Més enllà de la ingenuïtat potser dels primers anys d’aquests moviments, on el que es pretenia d’una manera molt ingènua era una mena de pedagogia del públic. Jo crec, que des de fa temps els museòlegs han comprés que no es tracta de fer pedagogia amb el públic, sinó de debatre i discutir amb ell. Crec també, que la ciència en això té un atractiu i una capacitat molt gran de crear discussió i debat, que caldria, enlloc de bandejar, afrontar de cara amb el públic.

Finalment, podria explicar una mica en què ha consistit el projecte del museu Martorell?

Bé, de moment això està en la fase pre-projecte, però esperem que tot vaja bé i es puga muntar. El projecte tractava d’aprofitar que tot l’edifici del museu es quedava buit perquè se’n anava tot a la nova exposició en l’Espai Blau al Triangle del Fòrum i per tant, l’encàrrec era fer o construir una exposició permanent que parlés de la història del museu.

Una secció del museu, que a més tenia l’avantatge que ocupava l’edifici històric que està íntimament lligat al parc de la Ciutadella on està construït. Segons l’encàrrec, aquesta seria la secció on el museu hauria de contar la seva pròpia història. La meva proposta va ser anar més enllà d’això, no tan sols contar la pròpia història del museu utilitzant algunes de les peces de la seva col·lecció, sinó aprofitant això, reflexionar sobre el cas de Barcelona, perquè el que tenim davant és Barcelona.

La idea és utilitzar això com a un punt de reflexió global de com s’ha construït coneixement en allò que en el segle XIX anomenaven ciències naturals, i que podrien ser les disciplines tradicionals de biologia, botànica, zoologia i geologia en un període que jo considerava suficientment llarg i en el qual el model Barcelona podria funcionar, és a dir des del Renaixement fins a l’actualitat. Però no en un pla exclusiu de construcció de coneixement, sinó posant l’accent en com els públics de les ciències naturals han participat en aquest procés i cóm han anat canviant les relacions i els propis públics de les ciències naturals. Això permetia entendre quan i per què sorgeix el museu, quin tipus de públics són els públics del museu del segle XIX, però també els públics absents o presents a principis del segle XX i en la segona meitat del segle XX i com supera o tracta de superar aquella enorme crisi en que aquest model de museu entra a partir dels anys quaranta i cinquanta del segle XX.

Aquest era el propòsit, des del Renaixement fins al segle XXI, i després, tractant de plantejar ja com instal·lar la narració, em vaig adonar de que probablement la millor manera era explicar-lo a l’inrevés i anar des del segle XXI cap enrere. Arribar a on fos, però partint del segle XXI, perquè el museu està allà i jo vaig pensar que el visitant entra des del segle XXI, i per tant el més lògic és presentar-li primer el segle XXI i després convidar-lo a que faci aquest recorregut i clar, necessàriament en un determinat moment de la història el museu desapareix, no apareix.

Aquest és un dels problemes de la narrativa històrica, el risc de que com que tots la contem amb consecució de causes i efectes, i amb un recorregut cronològic cap endavant correm el risc de presentar les coses com inevitables. Això que en una narrativa més teleològica de la història ha estat molt present, avui en dia està en crisi, i és bona part de la insatisfacció que el discurs històric dóna ara en el segle XXI. Si el continuem fent com es feia en el segle XIX o XX, per a les nacions que indefectiblement guanyaven, indefectiblement apareixien i triomfaven com Estats, fenòmens que succeïen necessàriament. De vegades aquesta narració a l’inrevés pot ajudar.

La veritat jo espere que això funcione, ara ho hauríem d’acabar d’articular i hauríem d’acabar de mirar sobre tot amb quins materials expliquem aquesta història. Això, com que està una miqueta pendent de que acabin de fixar-se els continguts de l’Espai Blau i quines coses de les col·leccions del museu aniran allà, per pura estratègia de coses materials no podem passar a la següent fase del nostre projecte que és ja una concreció més museogràfica de amb quines coses i amb quins elements anem a contar per poder narrar aquesta història, perquè bona part d’aquests materials estaran exhibits en l’altre espai i per tant no la podem fer servir nosaltres.

* Vull donar les gràcies  a l’Emma Sallent del Colombo per la seva ajuda i orientació durant la elaboració d’aquesta entrevista i al Pepe Pardo per la seva paciència, simpatia i atenció. Gustavo Corral va estudiar Ciències de la Computació a Mèxic. Ha fet un màster i actualment està fent el doctorat en Història de la Ciència al CEHIC, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Interview to Patricia Fara by Amparo Bruño and Pedro Ruiz-Castell

Amb motiu de la seva participació al cicle de col·loquis Comunicar la Ciència: Plaers i Obstacles de la Narrativa Històrica, després de la seva xerrada a l’Institut d’Història de la Medicina i de la Ciència a València, Patricia Fara va ser entrevista per Amparo Bruño sota la supervisió de Pedro Ruiz-Castell.

Interview to Patricia Fara by Amparo Bruño[1] and Pedro Ruiz-Castell[2]

Patricia Fara is Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science at Clare College, and Affiliated Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of Cambridge. Some of her main publications are Pandora’s breeches: women, science and power (London: Pimlico, 2004), Sex, botany and empire: the stories of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks (Duxford: Icon Books, 2003) and Newton: the making of genius (London: Macmillan, 2002). We talked with her about the history of science and her latest book Science : A  four thousand year history (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

You currently teach history of science at Cambridge University, but you were trained as a physicist. As far as we know, you owned a computer education company for several years. How did you end up interested and devoted to the history and philosophy of science?

My first degree was in physics and after a couple of years I decided that it was a terrible mistake. I think what happened was that when I was at school it was a time when teachers and everybody wanted to encourage women to do science; because I was a girl and I was very good at doing science, everybody immediately said: “OK, she’s got to go to University and do science”. It never occurred to me or to anyone else to think whether that was what I really wanted to do. Just because I could do it, everybody assumed that I should, and I was pushed in to that way strongly.

I ran a company that made tape slides. We were the first people in England and America to provide visual training material about computers at an elementary level. Therefore, we had no competitors. At first it was just the two of us, my husband and me. We were literally doing it on the kitchen table. Because nobody else was doing it, we were very successful. We sold the product to a lot of universities and technical colleges. Then we went to San Francisco and we did exactly the same thing in America. We did it for about 15 or 16 years, but then video started to be introduced and there was less money in education. We had to choose between stopping or becoming a big company. The whole point of doing it in the first place was that we were idealistic children of the sixties and the seventies who did not believe in big business. To set up a big company would have been completely contradictory.

While at university studying physics, despite hating all the practical work, I was really interested in the bigger ideas and the theory. When I decided to do a Masters in History and Philosophy of Science, I wanted to study philosophy, but after few months, I realized that I was more interested in history. Thus, I did a PhD in History.

Did you find any obstacles to entering such a world, both as an adult student or as a woman?

Certainly not as a woman. Neither as an adult student. History of Science is something that was largely done as postgraduate level. I chose not to think about my age too much. The only time I found a problem was when I became very friendly with some of the people on the course. There was a young woman and she was complaining to me about her mother. She said to me: “You know, these mothers are so awful…” and I thought: “I’m on the side of the mother in this case, I think the mother is right!” But I went very quiet and finally said: “Oh, mothers are absolutely awful”.

You manage to summarize in your last book a four thousand year history into four hundred pages. How did such a project come to your mind and how was it shaped?

I think it first came into my mind when I was a student doing my PhD. There was a big conference in 1991 in London called “The Big Picture problem” that Jim Secord organized. with a lot of eminent speakers. I was in the audience and I became really interested in it. I think that was when I first had the idea that I would do something like that. I didn’t know then that I would start in Babylon, but the idea of doing a sort of big history did appeal to me. It was obvious as a student (and also now that I teach other students) that there were not any books like that. When I was studying there was Charles Gillispie’s book The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (1960), which went from Copernicus up to modern days. I found it very interesting to read, but it contradicted all the other things I was being told as a historian of science.

In fact, your book presents a big picture different from the big pictures written by other historians of science. Is it because of the influences of the social and cultural history and of the science and technology studies?

Absolutely. That was what I wanted to get across very strongly: all the research that has been done during the last 30-40 years over new ways of thinking about history. There is a view of history that publishers like to present; it is a very old fashioned world. And it is very difficult to persuade them to change their minds and do something new, because they think that people like to read and to hear what they already know. They like nice stories celebrating how we’ve reached our current understanding because that is unthreatening, entertaining and interesting.

The title of your last book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History, has been translated into Spanish as A Brief History of Science, which slightly changes the original meaning. What do you think about it?

A Brief History of Science was the title I originally intended to have. I’m not sure in Spanish, but it is a joke in English referring to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The one science book that everybody has bought but nobody has read is A Brief History of Time. It sits on bookshelves as a symbol of learning, rather like Newton’s Principia in the 18th century. It is such a famous book that I wanted to call mine A Brief History of Science. I liked it as well because it emphasizes that it is a book about history. With the title Science: A four thousand year history it has been converted into a science book. That is what publishers like. They want books about science more than about history. But it is very interesting that in Spain the title has been changed.

When you consider a book like this, where easy reading is combined with academic rigor… what readers do you have in mind?

Students are very important, but I also wanted to write a book for wider audiences. It seems to me that science, politics, government and commerce are very closely linked, so every decision that is made about science is, in fact, a political and a financial decision. Science is not separated from politics in any way. In England, there is a big programme encouraging people to learn more about science. I believe it focuses far too much on the content of science and it seems to me a complete waste of time to try to teach people all the complicated theories of science.: we can leave that to specialists As educated citizens in a scientific democracy, we should have some knowledge about how scientific decisions are made and about how science is conducted. I think ordinary people should have some knowledge about the political and financial forces that are affecting scientific decisions. That was a large goal I had in writing the book. And there is also a more immediate goal of enabling students who are coming in to the history of science for the first time to have some way of understanding what it is the modern historians of science are talking about at an introductory level, which I think has been completely missing. There are a few books doing it, but none of them cover the range that I do, and are all different from mine and from each other.

In the first chapter of your book you deal with the peculiarities of the number seven. The book is organized in seven sections, seven chapters each. Why did you choose such an arrangement?

I found it difficult deciding how I was going to organize the book and how I was going to break the past up into chapters. I like the seven x seven structure because it is symmetrical and it implicitly sends a message: it is completely arbitrary to impose a pattern on the past. There is no relationship between this structure and any ideological way of thinking about the past. I like the fact that it was arbitrary, because we think in centuries or in terms of great Kings, Queens and great governments, but there are objections to all of them. Mine is a neutral system but it was very helpful for me to have that in order to think how I could organize the book or where I would put different things. When the sun was known to go around the earth, there were seven planets: the sun, the moon and five others. Therefore, it makes sense scientifically. The number seven is also interesting mathematically: if you have a torus (like a tyre’s inner tube) and you want to draw a map on the surface so that no two regions have the same colour, seven is the minimum number of colours you need (on a flat surface it would be four). Seven is also a magic number, and I intended to implicitly reinforce the idea that magic and science are quite closely related. Scientists would like to say magic has got nothing to do with science. However, I intended to combine those two ideas, that the structure was arbitrary and that science and magic are more closely linked than one might think.

In your book you reinforce the links between science, magic and a different way of understanding science. Do you think that science should be taught in schools in that sense, underlining the links with magic, or do you think that the teaching of science in schools should be completely different? What do you think about formal teaching of science?

In a way, if you want to captivate the audience, if you are a scientist doing a television show, something for young children or any other sort of audience, then you emphasize the magic things that science can do. You make things happen mysteriously and then you explain them. That would be a very good way because you could present under magic something that nobody could understand and then have the children trying to rationalize and understand it. I think it would be good because it would emphasize the process of discovery. Too often one is presented with scientific results as if they were absolute facts and something you have to learn.

Related to this, authors such as Richard Dawkins feel strongly that science and religion have completely nothing to do with each other. I think Dawkins is tending towards scientific fundamentalism. He is rather like a religious fundamentalist: he stands in his laboratory and says, basically: “I am a scientist. You, ordinary people out there cannot understand what I say. Believe me, trust me. I am a scientist, therefore I am right”. And that is exactly what religious fundamentalists say: “You have got to believe me because I am right”. I think there are important ways in which science and religion play similar roles in society. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are not just people who were very clever; they are seen as people who were extraordinary, only born once in five generations. People go back to the places where they lived, the places where they were born. It seems that the aura of genius is very like the aura of sanctity, so culturally is fulfilling the same function. I am not saying that a saint is a genius, nor that Einstein and Newton are geniuses, but it seems that some humans need to have these higher beings. Now we visit the house where Isaac Newton was born, or we go to the Royal Society and look at the telescope that he owned… and it seems to me that this is exactly like a saint’s relic. Again, genius and sanctity are fulfilling similar social functions, so you can think of Isaac Newton as a secular saint. In the 19th century people used to talk in English about scientists as the “priests” of science. If you go somewhere like the Natural History Museum in London or the Science Museum in Oxford, they are both built in the gothic style; they are gothic cathedrals.

In your book, you attempt avoiding a rhetoric based on great heroes and heroines. In fact you present the main actors as normal people that have to work to survive, that sometimes fail and that may even fight with some rivals. But to what extent do we need those big names in a story like the one you have written?

I think that it ties up with what I was saying about the need of figureheads such as Newton and Einstein. They are rather like saints and we do need models to look up to and admire… and it has became part of the ideology of scientific progress, as they are very appealing. I am not saying that they were not important; they were very important and clever and did a lot of things, but the history of science is about far more than just these great names. We need to look around them as well. Why is it that we usually write history in that other way? Could we write a different type of history? Could we become interested in the history of big organizations?

You are an expert in the role of women in science. In fact you wrote a book on 18th-century women who played a relevant role in science, Pandora’s Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment. How is that your book Science: A Four Thousand Year History deals mostly with men and only few women scientists?

I wrote one book about women in science in the 18th century, but I do not want to be characterized as a feminist historian who only writes about women. Gender is something I am very interested in, but I would rather treat it along with class and ethnicity. I felt slightly uneasy about writing a book about women because I do not want to be seen as a gender historian. Second, I am not an expert. Women and science is now something that people are very interested in, and I am often asked to give talks on it. I am interested in the role of women in science, but when I wrote the book about women in science in the 18th century I wanted to think about what it meant for the history of science more generally: Do we just want to write about big heroes like Newton, Darwin or Galileo? Or do we want to think about all the people who were teaching, who were translating or classifying specimens and those behind the scenes working as invisible assistants? All of them contributed to science. If one goes further back, one finds people who used to make pottery or jewellery and developed a lot of knowledge which later came into science — as the science of mineralogy. Or farmers who knew what the weather was going to be and their expertise became part of meteorology. Or sailors whose skills became part of astronomy. There were huge numbers of people whose knowledge contributed to what we now call science, but there is no way that one would call them scientists. By writing about women I was also trying to re-think how we think about history, using women as an example of how we might re-do the history of science. But there are not so many in this latest book because it seemed to me that to include a lot of women would distort the past. I do mention women, more than a lot of people would do, but I did not want to be overloaded with women.

Do you have any future projects related to some of the aspects that have been necessarily left out from your last book? Would you perhaps think about writing another book dealing with some of these elements?

I am very happy to go back to the 18th century. It has been quite few years since I did research into it. All the research I was doing about China and Islamic science for this book was not real research; it was all in secondary sources and I did not make any original contribution. I enjoyed writing Science: A Four Thousand Year History, but it is also very nice going back into archives and manuscripts. I am back into being a real historian and doing original research of my own.

I am working at the moment on a book about Erasmus Darwin, involving myself in the narrative in a new way. It is a different sort of project. There is a poem called “The loves of the triangles” that is a satire on Darwin’s poem “The love of the plants”. Instead of having semi-erotic plants, there are slinky triangles and parallelograms. It is a joke, but also it is a very political poem because it was printed in the journal The Anti-Jacobin, very much opposed to the French Revolution. Lots of people have mentioned the poem but no one has tried to analyze it. The basic question I am asking is: why is it that what seems to be a rather silly satirical poem was printed in the leading political journal of the day? Why is it that so many people referred to it? It must be more than just a simply parody; it must have lots of political meanings. I have read and re-read it trying to work out what those political meanings are.

Moving to the present, we have learnt that you recently had a meeting with the Prime Minister, David Cameron…

How did you find that out? [Laughs] I was invited to a dinner party to talk about how the government could support science. There were David Attenborough [natural history film-maker], Tim Berners-Lee [inventor of the World Wide Web], Steven Cowley [director of the leading nuclear fusion research centre in Britain], Mark Walport [director of the Wellcome Trust]… There were twenty-two people around an enormous table. After dinner we were asked to suggest one way in which we could improve science in Britain and one whinge. I thought I had to justify my existence as a historian, so I said: “Think about Crick, Watson and the discovery of DNA. That would be impossible now, because everybody is forced to do a PhD in three years. There is no time to think around a subject. The meaning of research is that some projects just won’t work. You can do research and set up the answer in advance, but you also have to have room for research projects that do not produce an answer.

[1] Amparo Bruño has a BA  (Universitat de València) andi s currently taking an MA in History of Science and Science Communication at the Institut d’Història de la Medicina i de la Ciència “López Piñero” (Universitat de València-CSIC).

[2] Pedro Ruiz-Castell is assistant lecturer at the Institut d’Història de la Medicina i de la Ciència “López Piñero” (Universitat de València-CSIC).

Interview with Professor David Edgerton by Jaume Valentines Álvarez and Jaume Sastre Juan

Amb motiu de la participació del Professor David Egerton en el Col·loqui The shock of the old: Technology and Global History form 1900, celebrat el 20 de desembre de 2010, mitjançant videoconferència des de Londres a la Seu de l’IEC, dins del cicle Comunicar la Ciència: Plaers i Obstacles de la Narrativa Històrica ,  va ser entrevistat per Jaume Valentines Álvarez i Jaume Sastre Juan, entrevista que transcrivim a continuació.

Interview with Professor David Edgerton, ChOSTM (Imperial College London)

by Jaume Valentines Álvarez (UPC) and Jaume Sastre Juan (UAB)

David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, at Imperial College, London. Edgerton is one of today’s most original and well-known historians of technology, and his work challenges both the standard views on technology and the history of technology. His most famous book is The Shock of the Old (Profile Books, 2006), which was translated into Spanish as Innovación y tradición. Historia de la tecnología moderna (Crítica, 2007). In this book, he gives a new narrative for the history of technology in the twentieth century that stresses the need to differentiate technology-in-use from innovation. The picture we obtain if we look at the material composition of the twentieth century from this point of view is one that will have to include as crucial elements the poor world, women, maintenance and recycling, old technologies, etc.[1] Apart from The Shock of the Old, David Edgerton has written other books that reassess twentieth-century British history in terms of the material, such as Warfare State (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and Britain’s War Machine (Allen Lane, 2011).

This interview has been done in connection with David Edgerton’s participation in the seminar series “Communicating Science: Pleasures and Pitfalls of Historical Narrative” organized by the Societat Catalana d’Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica ( The talk took place on December 20th 2010 through videolink due to the snow storms that collapsed British airports. The interview has been done via email in April 2011. This interview is conceived as having many voices, not only because there are two interviewers, but most importantly because each topic is dealt with through a question that in fact turns out to be two questions, different but harmonically interdependent. Just like the different voices in a musical counterpoint. Aldous Huxley used this musical metaphor in his 1928 novel Point Counter Point, in which he abandoned the narrative strategy of a single plot and chose to deploy a handful of interwoven storylines. Although in a much humbler way, of course, we have also tried to be a bit musical by practicing the textual counterpoint.


POINT. What was the biggest pleasure in writing “The Shock of the Old”?

It was learning about the histories of lots of things in many different countries, and feeling a big story emerge. Ships, Fray Bentos, rickshaws, delving into literatures I didn’t know – textbooks on maritime economics, studies of Dhaka…

COUNTERPOINT. What was the biggest pitfall in writing “The Shock of the Old”?

Being overwhelmed with cases, the tension between thematic and chronological development, in short, nothing special…


POINT. What is new in “The Shock of the Old”?

It would take more than a few sentences to give a convincing answer, but I would say much more than meets the eye. I am often assumed to be claiming novelty for this I don’t consider original about the book, while what I do consider original is ignored. There are many different kinds of novelties in the book. Some things are novel in some disciplines and not in others; some things are novel in the fact that I was the first to stop the problem, to note the significance for what we know. Also there are lots of novel arguments about lots of historical episodes, that is to say particular historian claims. Overall the big novel claims are that in a wide range of literatures the material is treated in systematically unsatisfactory ways, relying not on historical evidence but a general understanding handed down from the past. I claim that we need to understand this literature, and its influence on professional historical writing.

COUNTERPOINT. Are historiographic appropriation, maintenance, and recycling, ways of innovating?

Yes, most definitely, but especially because conditions of academic production have encouraged approaches which systematically downplay what should be standard methods for generating novelty in particular cases. We have much history writing which claims great ruptures from past understanding, claims which are dependent on the authors’ and readers’ ignorance of past understanding, and of the understanding in other areas.

“Historians are experts on the future; they know the most important thing about it, that it hasn’t happened yet, that no one is ahead of their time (or behind it) and that what will happen is highly uncertain. Forgetting this is a serious offence”


POINT. “The Shock of the Old” has shocked historians because of its project on global history. Does global history go far beyond from the sum of local histories and from the traditional “big pictures”?

Really? Why should historians be shocked by a global history?

I can’t answer in general, but in my case I can be very clear: “The Shock of the Old” is not a sum of local histories of technology, nor a traditional big picture. For two reasons. First, local histories are usually embedded in big pictures, often old-fashioned ones: big pictures of history and big pictures of the disciplines in which they arise. Secondly, the book was an attack on standard big pictures of the twentieth century – whether focused on the economy, war, production, or science or technology.

COUNTERPOINT. What is the place of the individual, and that of social minorities, in global history?

It obviously depends on the history and the historian –there are any number of global histories. I don’t see why the question would be any different if it were about national or regional or local histories. Where the issue can become relevant is in this: at global level the important individuals and social minorities are different from those in European national histories. In global histories whites should be treated as a social minority, for example.


POINT. And what is the place of the poor countries in global history?

Again it depends what you mean. Do you mean what the place is in actual global histories, or what should it be in ideal global histories? Global is sometimes used as an euphemism for poor countries.

In my view too many accounts of global world history of the twentieth century ignore the significance of the point that most of the world’s population is poor, and that the history of these poor regions has not replicated that of rich regions. The second half of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of a new poor world.

COUNTERPOINT. And the place of historians of the poor countries in global history? Other ways of knowing and doing history are possible from there?

Yes of course, but there are dangers of conflating historians of poor countries with historians from poor countries, and of where the history is being written. We need to recognise that there are all sorts of histories being written in all sorts of places already. But we need to recognise the extraordinary dominance of models of history generated in elite universities in the rich world, and that includes innovations which have led to very new ways of writing history, including provincialising Europe, and so on. These ironies are not lost on historians from the poor world.

Having said that I do think that our accounts of the rich world are very unsatisfactory, and that we would get a better account by starting with parts of the poor world – for many of the practices which we highlight in the poor world (imitation, maintenance, dependence, transfer), are also hugely significant in the rich world, if much less visible.


POINT. You have stated that you intend to do a history of things, not a history of technology. Why do you think it is better to speak about things instead of technology?

I am not interested in either the history of things or the history of technology – in fact I have no idea what such beasts would look like. My interest is in thinking about the material in history, which involves the history of the material of course. I don’t know what technology is, but I do know thanks to the work of scholars like Eric Schatzberg, that it is a concept with radically changing and complex and misunderstood meanings. ‘Technology’ today means something very limited while appearing to be something very general, it is also associated with general, often moralistic arguments of a very unhelpful sort. My point is that when we think of ‘things’ we think of them in a more intelligent, reflective and empirical way than when we think of ‘technology’. To think of things is to get at the history of the material in a much more effective way than to think of ‘technology’.

COUNTERPOINT. What is the place of the emotions, ideas, immateriality in this history of things?

Let us find out, but let us get a much better sense of the range of things first.


POINT. “The Shock of the Old” has confronted other accounts of history. Which benefits can “other histories”, or history, take from history of STM? And viceversa?

I think one needs to disentangle the corpus of work associated with history of STM and its relationship to the wider corpus of historical scholarship from the question what can the study of STM in history contribute to our understanding of history. To both questions there are many and varied answers, but they are not the same ones. My answer to the second question is that it will change our understanding of history, not because STM is absent from history, but because much history assumes dubious accounts of STM. A richer engagement with history as discipline will help the history of STM, by helping to make clear that there is a great difference between the worthy project of using case studies from the past to illustrate the nature of STM, and writing the history of STM.

COUNTERPOINT. Should history of STM disappear once it is inserted in a “single” history without subdivisions? What about the genealogies and languages of each subdiscipline?

Again it depends what you mean. If one takes a particular historical question, say how Britain fared in the Second World War, and one wanted to write a book about it, it would be good to see the economic, political, scientific, material issues addressed in a single interconnected book. But that is a different, though related, issue from how one organises the training and work of professional historians. I think it essential for the serious study of knowledge and the material that we have specialised training, specialists working together, in specialist departments and centres focused on particular issues of concern. There are also many important issues concerning the relationship of historical studies to the modern profession most concerned with it. What might be the most productive relations between professional soldiers, military academies and military historians, between diplomats and historians of foreign policy, between scientists and historians of science?


POINT. You have criticized the scientific and political consequences of what you term “technofuturism”. Should historians aim at changing popular ideas on technology or the elite’s ones? Among which audiences do you think historians could have a biggest political impact?

I assume your question is directed towards influence on popular ideas and elite ideas outside a pedagogical context, but it needs to be understood that this is central. Historians are employed largely by schools and universities to teach, and exert their greatest influence in that way. Some historians will write books which will affect what is taught by other historians, which can have a huge direct and indirect audience. Teachers of history are perhaps the most important audience for historians who want to change how the world thinks.

As far as the non-pedagogical context is concerned I think there is no ‘should’ for historians as a whole. Some historians may wish to write to reinforce existing popular and elite ideas; others may simply wish to earn a little extra income. Some historians will wish to try and change the ideas of the mass of the population (good luck to them!), others might wish to change elite views. None will really succeed, for history will form only a tiny input into what people know and believe.

To the extent that particular authors want to reach out to wider publics, choice of medium is a key issue. Books necessarily reach tiny numbers (though may have very substantial indirect effects); television is much more important, obviously, with museums in between.

COUNTERPOINT. In what sense, if any, is writing for a general public a political act?

All historical writing is to some degree a political act, though usually of miniscule political significance.


POINT. If you were to write a deontological code for historians, which sentence(s) would be your first one(s)?

Historians are experts on the future; they know the most important thing about it, that it hasn’t happened yet, that no one is ahead of their time (or behind it) and that what will happen is highly uncertain. Forgetting this is a serious offence.

COUNTERPOINT. What is not ethical in history?

(…) I can’t think of anything that is unique to history.


POINT. What books would you recommend as good narratives for a general public
in history of technology? And in any other academic field?

In Britain we are blessed with high quality history books for the general public written by specialists. Generally speaking – outside the area of contemporary British history – general history for the general public is dominated by specialists. In military history, transport history, history of science, history of technology, the position is quite different. I can’t think of a narrative history of technology I would recommend, partly because I don’t like narrative histories, and in the history of technology and science they are all too likely to be a collection of clichés. Mercifully there are good accessible histories of technology for the public to read and learn from: Tom Hughes’s American Genesis is an underrated example in this respect.

COUNTERPOINT. Which author would you not recommend?

I would never recommend that someone not be read but all works should be treated critically. Alas when we study the history of science and technology a deep knowledge of bad books is indispensable.


POINT. What do you think are the most promising fields or urgent issues to explore in the history of technology?

Most answers to such questions (and their analogues concerning science and engineering) are unoriginal and misleading and well past their sell-by date.

COUNTERPOINT. Which are the less promising and urgent ones?

I don’t know, but probably a significant proportion of those currently being studied and believed to be promising and timely.

[1] In 2008, a review of the book was published by Jaume Valentines Álvarez in Quaderns d’Història de l’Enginyeria (“Tecnologia criolla, femenina, pobra i vella. Una revisió de la imatge de la tecnologia del segle XX”, vol. IX, 313-324)


20 anys de la Societat Catalana d’Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica

El 27 de maig de 2011 la Societat Catalana d’Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica va complir 20 anys!! És un motiu de felicitació i també d’agraïment a totes les persones que ho han fet possible.
Moltes i bones coses duem a terme en aquesta filial de l’IEC, que es caracteritza per tenir uns associats força hiperactius. Entre les seves activitats habituals s’hi poden comptar Col·loquis, Escoles de PrimaveraTrobadesJornades sobre Història de la Ciència i Ensenyament, iJornades d’Història de l’Astronomia i de la Meteorologia. Eps! Que també hi ha un premi per a treballs de recerca de batxillerat (Premi Antoni Quintana i Marí) i una revista científica, Actes d’Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica.
En constant evolució (seria impossible una altra cosa), ara comptem amb una nova eina de comunicació. Aquest bloc  ens permetrà establir una relació encara més dinàmica entre tots aquells que ens interessem per la història de la ciència.
I, si no ho sou encara i voleu fer-vos socis, aquí teniu la butlleta d’inscripció. 😉