t_h_s t_h_s t_h_s
ths ths


Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors

Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

January 2004

Volume V, Number 3


Charles C. Gillispie, "A Professional Life in the History of Science"

"An Interview with Peter Galison, Part II:Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps" 

David N. Livingstone, "Keeping Science in Site"

Amir Alexander, "Stories and Numbers: How a Romantic Tale of Geographical Exploration Transformed Mathenatics"

Brink Lindsey, "The Origins and Progress of the Industrial Counterrevolution" 
Alfred C. Mierzejewski, "Once Size Does Not Fit All"
Liah Greenfeld, "Speaking Historically about Globalization and Related Fantasies"
Brink Lindsey, "Reply to Mierzejewski and Greenfeld" 

Derek Wilson, "The 2003 Cambridge History Festival"


Jonathan Rose, "Arriving at a History of Reading"

Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

January 2004

Volume V, Number 3

by Charles C. Gillispie

It is with some compunction that, following in the footsteps of Peter Paret and others, I accede to Donald Yerxa’s flattering request to write of a professional life in the field of my specialty. Reluctance is the greater in that I have already given an account of that career on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the History of Science Society in 1999.[1] In all probability, however, there is little if any overlap between subscribers to Isis and to Historically Speaking. That such should be the case is one of the situations to be discussed. Anyone who wishes to consult the earlier essay will receive a copy at the drop of a postcard or the click of a mouse. He or she will there find that it turns on personal and institutional factors. I shall try not to repeat myself more than is necessary in order to make what follows intelligible, and shall instead offer some reflections on the content of my work in relation to the development of the historiography of science. 

First of all, a word about the subject. The generation to which I have the good fortune to belong is commonly said to have founded the history of science as a professional field of scholarship in the years after World War II. Marshall Clagett, I. Bernard Cohen, Henry Guerlac, Erwin Hiebert, Alistair Crombie, Giorgio di Santillana, Rupert and Marie Hall, Georges Canguilhem, René Taton, Thomas S.Kuhn—those are among the notable names. Having majored in some branch of science as undergraduates or the equivalent, and gone on to graduate school before or just after the war, all of us had somehow developed a strong ancillary taste for history. We came out of service of one sort or another in 1945, dazzled like everyone else by Hiroshima, the Manhattan Project, sonar, radar, penicillin, and so on. Independently of each other, or largely so, we each harbored a sense that science, even like art, literature, or philosophy, must have had a history, the study of which might lead to a better appreciation of its own inwardness as well as its place in the development of civilization. 

With a few stellar exceptions, the history of science until that time was the province either of philosophers—Condorcet, Comte, Whewell, Duhem, Mach—each adducing exemplary material in service to their respective epistemologies, or of elderly scientists writing the histories of their science, or sometimes all science, in order to occupy their retirement. Though not written in accordance with historical standards, neither of these bodies of literature is to be ignored. The one is always suggestive and sometimes informative, the other often informative, almost always technically reliable, and rarely of much interpretative significance. Of the two notable scholars who flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, George Sarton was a prophet and scholarly bibliographer rather than a historian, while E. L. Thorndike was a devoted, learned antiquarian riding his hobby horse of magic and experimental science through the library of the Vatican. Though much and rightly respected, neither found a following. Nor did E.J. Dijksterhuis, whose The Mechanization of the World Picture (1950) is a classic that will always repay study. 

Anticipations of a fully historical history of science appeared in the work of Hélène Metzger on 18th-century chemistry and Anneliese Maier on medieval science. Herbert Butterfield’s The Origins of Modern Science, 1300–1800 (1950) was a godsend both in itself and in that it was one of the few things one could expect undergraduates to read. The same was true of Carl Becker’s Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932), a supremely literate essay which (unfortunately in my view) has fallen into disfavor among students of the Enlightenment, and also of Arthur O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being (1936), a founding work in the modern historiography of ideas. Two ancillary masterpieces, one from the side of sociology, the other from philosophy, were still more inspirational in exhibiting respectively the social and the intellectual interest that the history of science may hold, namely Robert K. Merton’s path breaking Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-Century England (1938) and Alexandre Koyré’s superb Études Galiléennes (1939). 

I had read none of these works when, safely out of the army in graduate school at Harvard in 1946–47, I thought to find a thesis subject in what to me was the terra incognita of the history of science. My scientific and military backgrounds were respectively in chemistry and a 4.2-inch chemical mortar battalion, but I had taken almost all my electives in history as an undergraduate at Wesleyan, graduating in 1940. The emphasis in the excellent department there was on English history, and my instinct was to look to Britain for a subject, rather than to chemistry. I’m not sure I even knew that there had been a chemical revolution centering on the work of Lavoisier. Darwin was the obvious link between science and intellectual history, but, such was my naiveté, it hardly seemed possible that anything new could be said about the theory of evolution, about science and religion, or about social Darwinism, and I elected to look into the background. That turned out to be in geology, whence my first book, Genesis and Geology: A Study in the Relations of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790–1850 (1951). It has been in print ever since. Harvard University Press saw fit to put it in a new suit of clothes and reissue it in 1996. A foreword by a scholar of the next generation, Nicolaas Rupke, analyzes the way in which it came to mark a new departure in the historiography of science. He credits me with a novel methodology, first, in consulting, not only the original scientific texts, but the general periodical literature of the time; and second in telling not merely of technical discovery, but of the way in which varying religious views of geologists entered into the formation of their theories, and also the way in which the climate of social opinion entered into the discourse of theology as well as science. 

I had no notion of anything of the sort. So far as I was aware, my thesis was a new departure for me, but not for a subject of which I was quite ignorant. Nothing was farther from my thoughts than methodology, something fit for Marxists and sociologists. All that we students of history were taught to do was to go look at the sources, all of them. Perhaps it was lucky that I had never taken a course in geology. Though formally trained in science, I wrote my thesis as someone being trained in history. Had I written it as a scientist, it would have been a chronicle of discovery, a sequence of correct theories displacing incorrect theories, the context being the state of knowledge about the earth in the author’s time. 

This is not to say that persons trained in a science cannot convert their approach so as to treat its development by historical standards. There are distinguished instances in later years. But I am not among them. Nor is it to deny that it is an advantage, if not quite a necessity, for historians of science to have had scientific training.The reasons are not so much technical as psychological. Except for contemporary or highly mathematical topics, one can always inform oneself about the technicalities, as I was able to do with respect to early 19th-century geology. But it is difficult though not impossible—again there are distinguished instances—to appreciate what it is to know something scientifically without having experienced it. 

The department of history at Princeton offered me a job in 1947. Harvard granted me the Ph.D. in 1949, and Genesis and Geology appeared to almost inaudible acclaim in 1951. There was no question of my teaching history of science at the outset, and I was quite unprepared to propose any such thing. The curriculum there had the advantage for neophyte faculty that they did not have the labor of preparing courses, and instead led freshman classes and preceptorial discussion groups in the courses taught by senior faculty, whatever the subject. Thus one learned a lot of history while having time to develop one’s knowledge and scholarship. When as an assistant professor I had a course of my own, it was modern English history. Only in 1956 did I feel ready to offer history of science. In the interval, I had been able to read all the titles mentioned above and many others. I was informed about courses being offered by Henry Guerlac at Cornell, by Marshall Clagett and Robert Stauffer at Wisconsin, and by Bernard Cohen and others under James B. Conant’s leadership in the General Education Program at Harvard. Equally important, and in a personal way more so, I had come to know Alexandre Koyré, who spent half the year annually at the Institute for Advanced Study from 1956 until 1962. 

The opportunity to offer an undergraduate course in the history of science opened with the inauguration in the curriculum of an interdisciplinary humanities program. The senior faculty responsible accepted my proposal for a course on the history of scientific ideas from Galileo to Einstein. The notion was to present something that might contribute to the liberal education of students of science and engineering while opening to students in the liberal arts an awareness of the place of science in modern history. Enrollment was nothing of a mass movement, but the undergraduates who did participate in discussion of the material throughout the next three years helped me form a sense of the themes that made for viability. I was thus able to develop the lectures into a book, The Edge of Objectivity, an Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (1960). 

The time must have been ripe. That book has been translated into half a dozen languages, beginning with Japanese and ending with Greek. In 1990 Princeton University Press issued a second edition, which is still in print. The preface consists of a review of the thematics of the literature in the intervening thirty years. On its first appearance I had ventured to express the hope that my book might contribute to the development of a professional approach to the history of science. 

It would have been more seemly to recognize that The Edge of Objectivity was an early instance of such a movement already under way at the hands, largely, of the colleagues mentioned above in the second paragraph. Professional graduate study in history of science was then available only at Wisconsin, Cornell, and Harvard. My book was well enough received that Princeton thereupon agreed to my complementing undergraduate instruction with a graduate program that required additional staff. 

In point of content, our attention, like that of colleagues elsewhere, was on the ways in which study of nature reciprocally formed and was formed by the world pictures of classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and modern times. In point of context, the tendency was to look to philosophy in antiquity, to theology in the Middle Ages, to art and humanism in the Renaissance, to secularism and literature in the Enlightenment, and to industrialization and military technology in modern times. With respect to science itself, the seminal transitions were what attracted scholarship: the Scientific Revolution, mechanization, the Chemical Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Darwinian evolution. Chronologically, the center of gravity tended to be the 17th century. Other than Darwinism, much else in the 19th century and almost everything in the 20th—relativity, quantum mechanics, and genetics—awaited scrutiny. The narrative line throughout followed the route taken by the creation and transformation of scientific ideas and theories. We wrote, in a word, intellectual history of technicalities with important philosophical overtones. If social, economic, or political awareness crept in, it was around the edges. 

The publication of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1970–1980) affords more objective evidence that a fledgling profession had come into existence by the 1960s, when its preparation began under my direction. The initiative came, not from a historian of science, but from the publisher, Charles Scribner, Jr., who had made a hobby of the history of science since his wartime service in cryptography. Soon after The Edge of Objectivity appeared, he asked whether I thought a series of books on the history of science would be viable. I had to say that most of the series known to me started off with one good book by the initiator, and then tailed off into mediocrity since few leading scholars were ever willing to write books on commission. Scribner agreed. His firm was publisher of the Dictionary of American Biography, however, and he then had the idea that something of the sort might be feasible in history of science. That, I thought, might work. One could probably persuade first-rate scholars to write, not whole books, but authoritative articles about figures known to them from their own studies. 

What had not occurred either to Charles Scribner or myself was that preparation of the Dictionary of National Biography and later the Dictionary of American Biography had come about at a comparable stage in the formation of a professional discipline of historiography in Britain and the United States respectively. Such, quite serendipitously, proved to be the case with the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB). The quality of the board of editors, of the advisory committee, and of the thousand and more contributors whom it proved possible to enlist from every country with a scientific tradition other than mainland China, then incommunicado, not to mention a large grant from the National Science Foundation and sponsorship by the American Council of Learned Societies—all that succeeded, not only in the main purpose of eliciting over 5,000 articles in sixteen quarto volumes, but also in the unforeseen effect of drawing into a sense of common purpose practitioners dispersed among a miscellany of universities, institutes, national societies, and diverse academies throughout the world. 

The DSB reflects the time in which it was conceived and composed in another way. The emphasis by design is on the content of the science created—one did not then say constructed —by the men and the few women who are subjects of the articles. The instructions requested authors to keep personal biography and extra-scientific context to the minimum required in order to explicate how the work was possible and wherein it contributed to the development of positive scientific knowledge. It is fair to say that the DSB was brought into being by a generation of scholars and scientists who, whatever their other differences, believed in the overall beneficence of science, as by and large did public opinion generally. The climate of opinion changed amid the seismic shifts in cultural attitudes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amid the manifold, largely academic, rebellions of those years, authority became suspect everywhere, including the authority of science. In consequence what had been marginal became central, and social history became the approach of choice in historiography generally, and notably so in history of science. That development bore out a prediction by Robert Merton, to the effect that sociology of science would flourish only if and when the role of science in society should be perceived as problematic. 

So it has proved. In consequence, historians of science who came to the forefront in the generation currently in its prime have tended to see sociology, and to a degree anthropology, rather than philosophy as the disciplines with which to link arms. The merit of the approach is not to establish the truism that science is a social and cultural product. No one ever doubted it. But with a few exceptions, the earlier generation never undertook much in the way of analysis of context. We produced little comparable to the fine-grained accounts that distinguish current work by recapturing the actuality of experiment; the life of a laboratory; the labor of field work in natural history and geology; the recalcitrance of instruments; the differences between what scientists say and what they do; the role of research schools; the place of patronage; the occasional cheating; the interplay of professional rivalries, of personal loyalties and hostilities, of institutional standing, of public reputations, of social position, of gender, race, material interest, ambition, shame, guilt, deceit, honor, pride. The practice of scientific research is currently shown to exhibit, in short, the springs of action that make people tick in all walks of life. 

All that is to the good. At the same time, the emphasis on the practice, rather than the content, of science may entail certain drawbacks. Current authors often seem to lose interest in science once it is made. Phenomena for which it is difficult to seek any sociological dimension, say the return of Halley’s comet, the law of falling bodies, or the fissionability of Uranium 235, are little scrutinized for themselves. What matters is the way they became known. In consequence, or perhaps because of that approach, the fit, if any, with nature is often taken to be ancillary at best, while analysis of the quality of the science under consideration is left aside. 

Looking back at my career in the course of writing this essay, I realize that its development might be seen as a set of responses to what was happening in the historiography of science at large. If so, I was a fish in the stream under the impression that the choices were my own. Apart from the DSB, an organizational and editorial job, my most considerable effort has been directed toward the material covered in two books, Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime (1980) and its sequel, Science and Polity in France, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years (2004). They are really volumes I and II of a single work. The former is being reissued with the latter, but I did not want to call it Volume I since it could have stood on its own feet if its author had fallen off his in the interval. 

That research started, not in response to changing fashion in the historiography of science, but much earlier in consequence of teaching preceptorial discussion groups in Robert Palmer’s course on the French Revolution during the academic year of 1951–52. That was the best undergraduate course, including any of my own, in which I have ever participated. Genesis and Geology had just appeared. I had begun to feel (no doubt wrongly) that English history, important though it is, held few surprises. It occurred to me that something must have happened to science during the French Revolution, as many things clearly did in this country amid the major events of the last century. The Guggenheim Foundation agreed, and its generosity allowed my wife and me to spend the academic year 1954–55 in Paris, where we have been for part of almost every year until the above work was completed. 

That halcyon year was my introduction to archival research. It was clear ahead of time—and this was the attraction of the problem —that the period of French scientific preeminence in the world coincided with that in which political and military events centering in France were a turning point in modern history. The question was: what did these sets of developments have to do with each other? In the process of working that out amid the minutiae of the documents and the magnitude of all that happened in both domains, I came to feel that what I shall call the public history of science may better be elucidated through the medium of events, institutions, and practices than through abstract configurations of ideas and culture. What the relations of science and politics were I shall leave to readers of the books and not attempt to summarize here. Suffice it to say that they turned on the process of modernization in both areas and on the orientation toward the future that is always characteristic of science and was then radically characteristic of politics. 

My career, such as it is, has unfolded not in accordance with some agenda, but as a set of responses to a series of lucky accidents— being a historian by nature who happened to study chemistry and mathematics, taking up Charles Scribner’s idea for the DSB, precepting in Palmer’s course on the French Revolution. Personal rather than professional encounters made possible two of the four books that are spin-offs from the research on French science. During our many sojourns in France, my wife and I chanced to meet descendants of two distinguished families, the Carnots and the Montgolfiers. Lazare Carnot has been known to historians only as the “Organizer of Victory” during the revolutionary wars. So he was, but he spent only six years in government during a long life, most of which was occupied with highly original work, not fully appreciated at the time, in mathematics and physics. 

Learning of my interest in that aspect of his life, current members of the family arranged for me to spend a summer going through Carnot’s papers, which no one had ever seen, in the house in Burgundy where he was born. The result was Lazare Carnot, Savant (1971), to which book my esteemed colleague A. P. Youschkevitch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences contributed a chapter. That was another lucky break. He was the only other historian of science who had ever taken an interest in Carnot. In the midst of a discussion about Russian collaboration in the DSB, I mentioned a hint in papers I had seen that Carnot had submitted an early draft of his book on the foundations of the calculus to a prize competition set by the Prussian Academy of Sciences. On his way back to Moscow he searched its archives in East Berlin, found it, and contributed a chapter analyzing Carnot’s approach. 

I knew, of course, that hot-air balloons are called montgolfières after the brothers Joseph and Etienne, who invented them in 1783. On meeting Charles de Montgolfier at a wedding reception, I asked whether he was descended from the big balloon. Sure enough, collaterally at least, and since I expressed interest, he invited us to visit in the country house in Annonay, where his ancestors were in the paper business. There he showed me designs, sketches, correspondence, all scattered among drawers and attics in his and his cousins’ houses. Thence The Montgolfier Brothers and the Invention of Aviation, with a Word on the Importance of Ballooning for the Science of Heat and the Art of Building Railroads (1983). I give the full title (though aeronautics would have been more accurate than aviation) since it suggests, that even like Carnot’s work in mechanics, Joseph de Montgolfier’s further inventions (which to him were more important than the balloon), along with those of his nephew Marc Seguin, belong to the pre-history of the physics of work and energy. 

Two other publications were happenstance in different ways. Firestone Library in Princeton University is fortunate to possess a rare deluxe printing of the Description de l’Égypte, this one having been presented by Napoleon to the king of Prussia and bought at auction in 1865 from an impoverished descendant of a Prussian courtier by Ralph Prime of the class of 1843, later one of the founding trustees of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It had been clear from the outset that a chapter on the scientific component of Bonaparte’s Egyptian expedition would be important in my book. While studying the gorgeous plates, I bethought me that a former student who had just started an architectural publishing business might be interested to see them. He turned over a few pages, and said, “Wow, can we do that?” It had never occurred to me to reproduce them, and that was the origin of Monuments of Egypt, the Napoleonic Edition, 2 vols. (Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), which I edited in collaboration with Michel Dewachter, an Egyptologist then with the Collège de France. 

In like manner, Pierre-Simon Laplace, a Life in Exact Science (1997) emerged from an earlier publication, in this case the DSB. I had never intended to write a book about Laplace, who lies on the frontier of my ability to follow mathematical reasoning other than qualitatively. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, two colleagues who had successively undertaken to contribute the article on Laplace failed one after the other to keep their commitments. Faute de mieux Laplace devolved upon the editor as default author. I worked on him for a year, harder than I have on anything else, and with the collaboration of Robert Fox and Ivor Grattan-Guinness for particular topics, produced a lengthy article, of which the subsequent book is a revision and enlargement. 

Thus, exposure to archives and the closein research required for these books, as well as editing the articles, many of them very technical, in the DSB—these were the experiences that led me to think that limiting one’s attention largely to the history of scientific ideas and theories was like following the tips of icebergs, except that the history of science is anything but a frigid subject matter. One might perhaps consider that my individual development exemplifies Auguste Comte’s dictum to the effect that, just as every discipline passes through theological and metaphysical stages before becoming positive, so every person is a theologian in infancy, a metaphysician in youth, and a physicist on reaching maturity. 

However that may be, the discipline of the history of science has reached maturity. The first meeting of the History of Science Society I attended in 1952 comprised thirty or forty persons, for few of whom was the subject a livelihood. The most recent numbered upwards of 600, the great majority of whom are professional scholars in the discipline. The Society has an endowment and an office with an executive officer. A hundred or more books and collections are reviewed in every issue of the quarterly Isis. All that spells success. In only two ways do I feel some slight twinge of regret or disappointment, the first with respect to science and the second with history. 

The perception of science as socially problematic in the 1970s and 1980s stemmed in some degree, though by no means entirely, from widespread feelings of anti-scientism in academic and literary circles. In consequence, science studies, whether sociological, political, historical, or a mixture, are often perceived by scientists as hostile enterprises. The most obvious complaint is that critics with no technical qualifications to understand the subjects they discuss are violating the precincts of science. The accusation is nonetheless damaging for being usually, though not always, incorrect or irrelevant or both. The secondorder concern among scientists is that the image of science is thus tarnished at a time of weakened political support and stringent restrictions on funding. But the sense of offense goes deeper. While willing to agree that questions of power and advantage are factors both in the macro- and micro-politics of science, scientists resent any implication that their work serves no purpose larger than their own, that they are not in the last analysis investigators of the nature of things, that objectivity is an illusion and rationality a sham. There is the counter-cultural casus belli of what journalists have called the science wars. 

There was, as well as I can recall, no sense of resentment or hostility to the history of science during the time when our discipline was getting into its stride. On the contrary. We met with every encouragement, institutional and moral, on the part of scientific colleagues. We needed it. I doubt that the discipline could have matured in the face of their enmity and contempt. I do not think that any discipline can flourish in a healthy manner in a mood of hostility to its subject matter. Not that one would argue that prudential reasons should lead historians, or social scientists generally, to refrain from critical and even skeptical scrutiny of the objects of their studies. Still, if we are to recreate the past, the essential matter is to see the subject whole. To set out to see through it is to turn the creatures one studies into specimens. By and large, however, I feel optimistic and think the tide of anti-scientism, if that is what it was, has turned. Much of the work of recent years engages science and scientists on their own terms as well as on the author’s. 

The slight disappointment has to do with history. It was our hope at the outset, even our expectation, that the historical profession would come to accord the role of science in history a place comparable to that of politics, economics, religion, diplomacy, or warfare. Science after all has been a factor shaping history no less powerfully than have those other sectors. That has not happened. A few departments of history—Princeton’s among them—do offer undergraduate and graduate work in the field. But at many, and perhaps most institutions, the subject is taught, if at all, in a separate department or under the aegis of a science and technology studies program. Nor are writings in the history of science as widely read as are those in the conventional fields. The best known, unfortunately in my view, are those written in a more or less iconoclastic vein. Perhaps the barrier is psychological. There may be a fundamental divide between temperaments drawn to history and those drawn to science. At Princeton more of our undergraduate students are majoring in science, engineering, and pre-medical programs than in history or literature. The famous, or infamous, two cultures problem may well be real. Still, we work in hopes that it may be abated. 

Charles C. Gillispie is Dayton-Stockton Professor of History of Science Emeritus at Princeton University. 

[1] “Apologia pro Vita Sua,” Isis, 90 Supplement (1999): S84–S94.


Join the Historical Society and subscribe to Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society

January 2004

Volume V, Number 3


IN A RECENT New York Review of Books essay Freeman Dyson, one of the most prominent physicists of our time, notes that “[a]mong historians of science during the last half-century, there have been two predominant schools of thought. The leaders of the two schools have been Thomas Kuhn and Peter Galison.” For Kuhn science is typified by periods of relative stability wherein a dominant orthodox theory reigns because of its ability to explain observed phenomena. But at rare moments “normal science” undergoes transformation as new discoveries and especially new ideas overthrow prevailing notions in a scientific revolution. In contrast to Kuhn’s idea-driven view of scientific progress, Galison has emphasized the importance of tools. Dyson claims that “[h]istorians trained in theoretical science tend to be Kuhnians, while those trained in experimental science tend to be Galisonians.” Moreover, he suggests that in Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps Galison “is telling us that he still believes in the primacy of tools, but not to the exclusion of everything else.” In this second installment of a two-part interview, Peter Galison, the Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University, explores the utility of the notion of scientific revolution and the question of heroic standing in the history of science with Donald Yerxa. Their conversation took place in Galison’s Harvard office on September 29, 2003

Yerxa: Why is it that the names of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein have achieved such heroic standing, whereas Hooke, Owen, and Poincaré have not? Or perhaps to get at this another way, what sets Einstein apart from all other physicists and mathematicians of his time and context, including Poincaré? 

Galison: Let me start with the limited question and then move to the more general one. And the limited question is why has Einstein become the most famous human being of the century, the man of the century for Time magazine? His picture is on advertisements, and the last time I checked there were about 3 million Einstein sites on the Web. There is no limit to his fame. Yet outside of France (where he still carries a cultural legacy) and mathematics departments (where his works are still venerated) Poincaré is not a household name. There are many reasons for this. Einstein is a generation younger than Poincaré (in 1905 he was twenty-six whereas Poincaré was fifty-one). From the time Einstein came of age, he saw himself as an outsider. He fought with his teachers, argued fiercely with his family, friends, and parents, and rebelled against Prussian militarism. During World War I he was one of the few people in Germany who signed pacifist-oriented petitions. He was a dissenting voice in the run up to Nazism; and in the U.S. after World War II he made no bones about his unhappiness with McCarthyism, nuclear stockpiling, and many other pillars of established politics. Einstein clearly loved to identify himself with dissenting stances inside physics and outside. I think that there is something in this triumphant dissent that appeals widely to people in many walks of life. Add to this appeal the enormous attraction many people have to the particular kinds of problems with which Einstein grappled— the nature of space, the meaning of time, the origin of the universe, its fate, its structure. These were questions that make easy contact with broadly cultural, religious, and philosophical issues that have troubled people for centuries. The confluence of these various public personas is irresistible, creating a figure of Einstein that carries a limitless iconic draw. 

Poincaré was a very different figure. In many ways he was a symbol of a progressive, late 19th-century French establishment. He was somebody, I argue in the book, who should not be seen, as he so often is, as a reactionary, as someone who merely joined the backward-leaning, anti-relativity crowd. True, Poincaré objected to certain commitments of Einstein, but it wasn’t because Poincaré was trying to restore a Newtonian classical order. He was a progressivist in many respects, politically, technologically, scientifically, as well as philosophically. He was for altering things, but it was by repair, by a kind of intervention to fix things that were wrong—an engineer’s progressivism rather than a rebel’s sense of needing to upend. But Poincaré’s meliorism did not mean that he was unwilling to depart, quite radically, from the older science. On the contrary: Poincaré was willing to take up new ideas of space and time. He invented what we now know as chaos theory. There are many respects in which he departed from classical knowledge. He was an advocate of what he dubbed conventionalism and insisted throughout his life that we have enormous freedom in how we choose to structure our scientific laws so long as they are consonant with the experiments. Far from being a reactionary, this was a very progressive figure, somebody who helped free Dreyfus by dismantling the scientific evidence that had been mustered against him. But I think it is harder for people to identify with Poincaré the master craftsman, the engineering reformer, the symbol of an intact French Empire extending its beneficence to lands outside of France. That may have been an ideal cherished by a Third Republic pragmatic reformer, but it is not a vision that seizes hold of each generation of young people from the 1910s to the present. There is surely something very revealing in the way that Einstein functions for people; he plays a useful role for us now and in previous generations that Poincaré has not. 

Yerxa: You’re not interested in keeping any scorecard between Einstein and Poincaré? 

Galison: Not at all. Rivers of ink have splashed onto pages denouncing one or the other, offering credit and posthumous accolades. This interests me not at all. On the contrary, there is something bracing about understanding two very different ways of looking at extremely similar situations in physics, philosophy, and technology. I am interested in understanding clearly how each of them saw the world, in making the vision of each as compelling as possible, and yet pitting them against one another. But no, I am repelled by the idea of the historian or philosopher as a prize committee giving first and second honors to the discoverers of relativity. That’s just never interested me, except perhaps as itself a historical subject. That is, we may want to understand how, historically, priority became an issue because some people used Poincaré as a way of discounting what Einstein had done, or conversely of discounting Poincaré as a way to value what Einstein had done. I have no dog in that fight. (But I could find interesting the history of dogfights.) 

Yerxa: Beyond Einstein and Poincaré, why is it that certain scientists achieve such heroic standing?

Galison: Fame is a complicated issue, and standing is not constant over time. The stature of an enormously salient scientist can change in a generation or two, just as it does with politicians, painters, or musicians. William Whewell, for instance, was a figure of major standing in 19th-century Britain and now is largely forgotten. Gregor Mendel was not famous at all and now is a hero. Darwin’s fame has been more unbroken but needs to be understood in terms of larger pedagogical and theological issues—he became a culture hero in the United States by being assimilated to a form of teleological, almost Panglossian progressivism, not because of his advocacy of natural selection. Fame or heroic standing is a historical problem to be cracked, but it has to be approached not as a natural category but as a historical category that must be produced and constantly reproduced. We have an Einstein now, but it’s not the same as the Einstein of 1960, 1933, or 1919. People pick out of these figures different things, and each age establishes fame in its own image. 

Yerxa: To what extent is the popular understanding of Einstein in need of revision? 

Galison: Our contemporary picture of Einstein is dominated by his later years. It is Einstein with his wild, long white hair, his oracular pronouncements, his years in Princeton at the Institute for Advanced Study. This is a person who largely has figured out, if not how to tame, at least how to live with his inner demons, and who represents the very incarnation of a kind of equilibrated calm in his relationship to the world even when he stood as an oppositional figure. The young Einstein is really a very different figure. He is very much in battle with the world: he is unemployed for several years; he wants to establish himself in physics; he is fighting with his elders; he is passionately engaged with material objects, inventions, devices; he takes out patents; he takes on the world in every possible way. In a sense, it’s that younger Einstein that may have been eclipsed by a picture of the “head-in-theclouds” Einstein of his later years. And even in the later years, we forget his hard-edged political stance at the peril of distorting the record. 

Yerxa: Your work raises many fascinating questions about how science works. You advance a reading of the history of science that dispels the erroneous notions that science either proceeds simply from the material to the abstract or the opposite, from the realm of pure ideas to the concrete. And your book describes the “oscillation back and forth between abstraction and concreteness” in the worlds that Poincaré and Einstein inhabited. Is such oscillation generally the case in the history of science? 

Galison: Let me respond in two steps. First, I think that very often what we consider to be the most abstract ideas can be located within a set of much more particular concerns that are associated with them. I actually don’t think that it is rare for abstract and concrete developments within science to be associated. What I think is rare is the simultaneous crossing of broadly philosophical, importantly technological, and centrally physical ideas. That does not happen very often. More recently, we see another example of the crossing of philosophy, technology, and fundamental science in the nexus of issues around cognitive science, cybernetics, computers, the building of computers, abstract ideas about computer functioning and proof. Think, for example, of John von Neumann. He was a mathematician who became interested in practical problems of computation during World War II and afterward was one of the co-inventors of the stored-program computer. When he thought of the computer, he patterned it on the faculties of the mind. He reasoned, “How does our mind work? Well, we have memory, we have input, we have output, processing.” And then he began to identify the functional elements of what we call the stored-program computer in terms of this quasi-faculty picture of the mind. But then the computer itself became a model of the mind, and people began to draw on the computer to better understand how cognition works. Around a fluctuating picture of model and modeled has arisen a complex of philosophical ideas, very practical issues around computer design, and abstract notions of computational science. That sort of oscillation seems to be somewhat analogous to the story I am pursuing in Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps. The computer becomes a kind of governing metaphor for our times—and of course through its consequences far more than a metaphor. It is that kind of centrality and multiplicity that I think is unusual, and it’s that triple intersection of practical, abstract, and philosophical issues that becomes a governing sign of an era. I’ve called this a kind of critical opalescence. 

Yerxa: Could you explain the metaphor of critical opalescence and discuss how it helps us better understand the simultaneous convergence of questions at multiple scales? 

Galison: By critical opalescence I have in mind this: it is easy enough, as we think back historically, to reason in terms of a kind of ascension from the concrete to the abstract. One way of thinking of that progression is as a kind of Platonic ascension—we make a stick model of a triangle, then we draw it on paper, then we imagine it as a pure idea, abstracted from all instantiations. Or we might think of the progression from material to abstract in terms of a vulgarized Marxist picture (I don’t actually think this is what Marx had in mind at all). But such a view would argue that in the beginning are the relations of people to specific means of production and from those relations come, univocally, the epiphenomenal superstructures of the world, including jurisprudence, religion, and perhaps science. According to this way of thinking, science or the abstract ideas of science become nothing but surface phenomena that are projected by the functional relations of labor. So in either the Platonic model or (over-simplified) Marxism the movement from materiality to abstraction is a process of sublimation: all that is solid melts into air. 

On the other side is a more idealist picture, one that says: in the beginning are ideas, and our ideas become more concrete or applied—mathematics or mathematical physics is converted into applied science or engineering and eventually written into concrete, wires, and stone in the factory. In a sense the idealist picture is an exact reverse of the materialist picture, and we think of it as a kind of condensation. On the one side, a kind of sublimation; on the other, a condensation. I’m not happy with either of those images on both philosophical and historical grounds. And I don’t think that either begins to capture what is going on in situations like those in which Poincaré and Einstein found themselves. In fact these people were moving very quickly back and forth between practical questions and abstract questions. Poincaré would give a talk on relativity and then work on turning the Eiffel Tower into a timesending station; then he’d go back and attend a philosophy conference. Back and forth this went. 

A better metaphor, it seems to me, is the phenomenon—a little less well known perhaps than sublimation or condensation— that physicists call critical opalescence. If you put water and vapor in a vessel under such pressure and temperature that the water thrashes back and forth between tiny droplets, bigger droplets, and vapor and then you shine in blue light, you get blue light back because it reflects off the droplets that are the wavelengths of blue; if you shine in green, then you get back green. Whatever size droplet you want, you will find. In critical opalescence there is no privileged scale, no single length that is more fundamental than all others. There simply is no natural scale to water and vapor in critical opalescence. And it is something like that that I’m after in the story I am looking at here with Poincaré and Einstein. There isn’t one scale at which this story is grounded or founded. There isn’t an originary or fundamental scale. It is all at once about philosophy, technology, and physics. And the fluctuations of scale between the abstract ideas of conventionalism and a new kind of knowledge and the practical exigencies of wiring up continents so that they’ll tell the same time are very rapid and an essential aspect of this story. Is this a story of social history? Yes. Look at the coordination of cities, trains, markets, and maps. Is this a story about the intellectual history of physics? Yes. Relativity is one of the epochal changes in the discipline. Is this a question about the history of philosophy? Again, yes. Conventionalism reshaped modern philosophy. Moreover, it is not just a story about those things, but central stories to each of those. It is a crucial piece of late 19th-century technology. It is one of the founding pieces of 20th-century physics. And it is a transformative moment in the philosophy of science, indeed a model for the philosophy of science for the next hundred years. 

Yerxa: How does critical opalescence—which presumably is highly transformative— relate to the notion of scientific revolution?

Galison: Scientific revolution has a long and complicated history within my discipline. Sometimes it means the Scientific Revolution of Descartes, Galileo, and Newton. The problem is that people have found it increasingly difficult to bound this notion of “The Scientific Revolution” in any coherent way. Driven by the difficulty of bounding this “event,” historians of science started writing books decades ago on the Scientific Revolution from 1550 to 1750. But then it is really not clear what conceptual meaning can be derived from a revolution lasting two centuries. And because of difficulties like this, many historians today refer now to early modern science, with all the complexities that you would expect from what we know about early modern history more broadly conceived. I think, for instance, of Lynn Hunt’s excellent work on the French Revolution where she looks at how different strata of life are broken or continuous across the events of the French Revolution. She shows that if we look in one plane, so to speak, we see continuity; whereas in another we might see breaks. So what represents a break in terms of representative government may not in terms of family structure and much else besides. I think something like that has become more typically the way we see things in the history of science. For as historians of science have attempted to engage the content of science and its embedding in the world together, it becomes more and more problematic to see a particular doctrinal change as a universal break that cuts all the way through everything. In that sense, Thomas Kuhn’s image of the shattering of a world by responses to a stubborn scientific anomaly becomes harder to accept. Take a simple example from my How Experiments End. Part of what I was interested in was that experimenters typically don’t change their practices in lock step with theoretical changes. So if you look at what happened to experiments during the time of quantum mechanics and relativity, it’s not a major change for the experimentalist. Conversely, the big changes to the experimentalist are not the most major changes for the theorists. Because I find periodization to be intercalated in this way (rather than global continuity followed by global discontinuity), I find the idea of a scientific revolution too clumsy to capture what interests me. 

Now, you have asked how the idea of critical opalescence relates to this. In Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps, I am not saying that there is a break in all of the different strata simultaneously. It is obviously not that all of electrodynamics, cartography, or train scheduling is broken at once. But there is a coincident transforming event (around time and simultaneity) that takes in theoretical physics, practical aspects of technology, and philosophy. So I am interested in a break that takes place across many different scales, but it is not my claim that this shatters practices all at once everywhere. 

Consequently, the argument against scientific revolutions is not based on the notion that everything is continuous; it is rather that the breaks and continuities are not all lined up. This suggests that the hopeless question of whether science is continuous or discontinuous needs to be replaced by precisely where scientific practices are continuous and precisely where they are discontinuous. Because of these more complex questions we need to ask, I find allusions to the Scientific Revolution (singular) or scientific revolutions (plural) to be unhelpful. 

Yerxa: You have terminal degrees in the history of science and particle physics. How important is it for historians of science to have that sort of dual professional expertise? 

Galison: In the history of science, the particular mix of training is really specific to the kind of problem that interests you. I have a colleague here at Harvard, Katharine Park, who is a great historian of Renaissance science. For her and for her students, it is much more important to know the pertinent languages, to be familiar with the broader issues of Renaissance history, of Renaissance painting, and of the development of perspective. She’s interested in anatomical drawing and representations of dissection, so medical knowledge becomes crucial. For someone training with her, particle physics, quantum field theory, or condensed matter experimentation are all really pretty irrelevant. So what was appropriate for me is not necessarily appropriate for everyone. Those who study with me pursue a variety of mixes of historical, philosophical, and technical work. Two of my students have done Ph.D.s in physics in addition to their Ph.D.s in the history of science. Some have done masters’ degrees in physics, chemistry, or astronomy—others have studied sociology or philosophy. There is no universal solution to such questions; it depends essentially on the historian, the problem, and questions asked. 

Yerxa: Did you pursue particle physics in order to address specific questions in the history of science?

Galison: It would never be worthwhile to do a Ph.D. in physics in order to just ask one set of questions. It’s too big a commitment for that. But it is true that the problems I worked on in my physics dissertation (electroweak theories) grew out of historical questions that arose in writing my history dissertation (“How Experiments End”). For me, one of the advantages of physics training was that it opened up the literature in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. Second, and this might seem paradoxical, my physics training allows me to write less technically because I am in a better position to know which technical ideas are central and which are secondary. Einstein once said that we must do everything as simply as possible —but not simpler. I have always liked that view. 

by David N. Livingstone 

It is September 1864 and the British Association for the Advancement of Science has convened in Bath. As part of its program, a public debate has been arranged between Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, both African explorers. The matter at stake is whether or not Speke has succeeded in reaching Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile. England’s favorite missionaryexplorer, David Livingstone, is also in town to address the assembly and he is invited to arbitrate. Unfortunately, the debate never materialized due to the untimely death the previous day of Speke in a hunting accident. 

The whole affair, no doubt cinematically over-dramatized, makes for a colorful finale to the motion picture Mountains of the Moon. But it’s an intriguing moment during the build-up to the abortive exchange that I want to fasten onto here as symptomatic of a wider suite of issues about the making of scientific knowledge. The scene I have in mind is the initial meeting between Burton and Livingstone prior to the scheduled public discussion. “Risky profession we’re in,” observes Livingstone beginning to open his shirt when he and Burton are left alone. “You know of course that I was mauled by a lion. He only chewed my shoulder,” he goes on, pointing to the spot. Burton, not to be outdone, pulls back his shirt and points: “Bullet hole. Single bore.” Livingstone now takes to unbuttoning his breeches to display a scorpion bite. “Cellulitis,” Burton replies, pulling up one trouser leg. And so it continues. A ritual exchange of wounds. What is going on here is an exercise in the establishment of credibility. Each explorer comes to trust the witness of the other because they bear in their bodies the authenticating marks of their expeditions. It’s an instance of what might be called “embodied warrant.” 

Such matters are not restricted to the melodrama of the silver screen. Precisely this species of self-warranting also lay at the heart of the controversy about who should be credited with the distinction of being the first European to enter the African city of Timbuctoo in the 1820s.1 In adjudicating the competing claims of the young Frenchman René Caillié and the Scottish soldier Alexander Gordon Laing, John Barrow, permanent secretary to the Admiralty, put confidence in the lengthy list of wounds that the Scotsman had sustained—multiple sabre slashes to the head, left temple, and right arm, a variety of fractures, and a musket ball in the hip. The reason was simple. They bore witness to the genuineness of the geographical knowledge he had so painfully acquired. The injuries he had sustained were nothing less than the signs of truth imprinted in the flesh. 

What might be called “the moral economy of wounds” surfaces in these two accounts as crucial embodied insignia of reliable testimony. Why? Because scientific travel and geographical exploration raised acute questions about who could be trusted. How could metropolitan authorities be assured that the information field workers brought home from afar was reliable? And how could scientific travelers justify their reports to their hearers and sponsors? Such questions disclose the profoundly place-based nature of measures that are put in place to underwrite testimony and secure warrant. In other cognitive enterprises the nature of the mechanisms are different. Knowledge acquired in the field raises different issues about credibility than knowledge gleaned in laboratories or museums or libraries. But in each case acceptable repertoires of knowledge-gleaning practices are rooted in the specifics of location. . . . 

1 See Michael J. Heffernan, “‘A Dream as Frail as Those of Ancient Time’: the In-Credible Geographies of Timbuctoo,” Society and Space 19 (2001): 203–225.


by Amir Alexander

Evariste Galois was a young mathematical genius, who was beginning to make a name for himself in European mathematical circles in the early 19th century. He was also a political radical, and an enthusiastic participant in French revolutionary politics. At the young age of twenty-two he was challenged to a duel over his radical political beliefs. Knowing that he may not survive the morning, he spent the night before the encounter writing down his latest mathematical insights. Tragically, he was indeed killed in the duel. His hastily jotted notes, however, bequeathed to mathematics an entire new field of inquiry: the Theory of Groups. 

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this story, which I heard repeatedly from my mathematics professors, but then, it was not told for its historical veracity. It was told as a morality tale: the young Galois, we are left to surmise, would have presented the world with many more mathematical wonders if he had not been lured away from his true vocation by politics and violence. The passions and turmoil of human history appear as nothing more than senseless strife when viewed against the beauty and coherence of eternal mathematics. 

One may argue—and most historians would—with the value judgments of history and mathematics implicit in this tale. But the story does bring out the fundamental problem of a history of mathematics: mathematics deals with unchanging Platonic universals; history deals with unexpected earthly contingencies. How, then, can one write a meaningful contingent history of universal mathematics? 

The problem is shared, to a degree, with other areas of the history of science, where historians have had to deal with such stubbornly ahistorical factors as universal gravitation and the laws of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, over the past thrity years historians of science have been remarkably successful in providing insightful and culturally rich historical accounts of crucial episodes in the development of science. 

Not so historians of mathematics, who have remained surprisingly unperturbed by the intellectual tempests raging in adjacent fields. Many historians of mathematics, though by no means all, remain thoroughly satisfied with the “Galois” model of history and are content to contrast history and mathematics rather than connecting them. In their view history might be the “theater” of mathematics —since different mathematicians live in different historical times and places and each gets a glimpse of a part of the realm of mathematics. History is not, however, the dimension of mathematics, since in these accounts mathematics truly resides in its own insular Platonic sphere. 

What, then, can be done? How can a historical account be given of a field as insular and self-contained as mathematics? . . . .


In his Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism (John Wiley & Sons, 2002) Brink Lindsey argues that much of the history of the 20th century was shaped by negative attitudes toward free trade, some of the consequences of which were the two world wars and the Great Depression. Here Lindsey presents his views in an essay drawn from that book. Alfred Mierzejewski and Liah Greenfeld respond to his essay, followed by Lindsey’s concluding reply. 

by Brink Lindsey

The buzzword is of relatively recent vintage, but the reality it describes is nothing new. Globalization was in full swing a century ago. Indeed, it was remarkably advanced, even by contemporary standards. It is fair to say that much of the growth of the international economy since World War II has simply recapitulated the achievements of the era prior to World War I. The first world economy was made possible by the staggering technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, a burst of technological creativity that demolished the natural barriers to trade posed by geography. At the same time, it created entirely new possibilities for beneficial international exchange. In the core of the new global economy, the factories of the North Atlantic industrializing countries pumped out an everwidening stream of manufactured goods desired around the world. Those factories, in turn, relied on access to cheap natural resources and raw materials. And in the less advanced periphery of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, new technologies allowed those natural resources and raw materials to be grown or extracted more cheaply than ever before. 

So arose the initial grand bargain on which the first global division of labor was based: the core specialized in manufacturing, while the periphery specialized in primary products. For Great Britain, the first industrial power, manufactured goods constituted roughly three-quarters of its exports. The sprawling United States, on the other hand, straddled both core and periphery. The urbanized East took industrialization to a new level and carried America past Great Britain in economic development. The West, meanwhile, followed the path of other temperate “regions of European settlement” (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina) and specialized in the production of grains, meats, leather, wool, and other high-value agricultural products. Finally, the South roughly followed the tropical pattern of development, focusing on such products as rubber, coffee, cotton, sugar, vegetable oil, and other lowvalue goods. 

While far-flung foreign trade is as old as human history, this was something new. No longer was such commerce a marginal matter, limited to a few high-value luxuries. Now, for the first time, specialization of production on a worldwide scale was a central element of economic life in all the countries that participated. But it was not to last. The global economic order that arose and flourished in the waning years of the 19th century was swept away by the great catastrophes of the 20th: world wars, the Great Depression, and totalitarian dictatorships. Only in the past couple of decades has a truly global division of labor been able to reemerge . . . .

by Alfred C. Mierzejewski

Brink Lindsey attempts to provide a general explanation for opposition to free markets and globalization. He contends that a movement straddling ideological divisions between Left and Right has promoted the adoption of top-down, centralized control since the late 19th century. In doing so, he makes a laudable effort to use history to explain current developments. 

In reading his essay, I wondered whether there was a theoretical framework underlying Lindsey’s analysis. Therefore, I decided to read his book Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism. His article is a summary of the historical component of that work, omitting the theoretical and contemporary political aspects. Interestingly, he bases his argument in the book on the theoretical concepts of the Nobel prize winning economist Friedrich von Hayek. Having been a student of the ideas of Hayek and those of his mentor Ludwig von Mises for many years, I find Lindsey’s use of Hayek’s theories enlightening. In his book, Lindsey provides a good summary of some of Hayek’s key insights that is intelligible to the reader unfamiliar with economic theory and unwilling to wade through the Austrian’s dense prose. Probably the most important of Hayek’s ideas presented by Lindsey is the notion of markets as discovery mechanisms. Hayek is justly famous for this concept. Markets, in addition to helping us allocate resources, are also a means for finding useful knowledge and making it available to consumers everywhere. Markets are capable of doing these wondrous things because they are decentralized. Lindsey points out how those who criticize markets as chaotic are wrong. Markets in fact involve a good deal of planning, but on a decentralized basis. For this reason, they are much more effective than any central planning apparatus could ever be.1 

Using Hayek as a foundation, Lindsey builds an explanation, summarized in his article, of how centralized, top-down governance became the dominant political and economic model in the late 19th century. He correctly points to the widespread fear of change as a critical factor leading people to seek refuge in collective solutions. Lindsey is right to typify this as an atavistic impulse. Socialism is in fact a backward looking philosophy. Lindsey calls the entire drive toward centralization a “back to the future” outlook. I would suggest that “advancing to the past” would be more apt. He also rightly highlights the engineering mentality which, as Hayek pointed out, incorrectly posits that human beings will act according to natural laws in the same way as matter responds to physical laws. In addition, Lindsey is correct in pointing out that international free trade, the international division of labor, is nothing new. We are, indeed, today only retracing a path followed by the world in the 19th century.

Lindsey also performs the useful service of making clear that just as there is an anticapitalism of the Left, so too there is an “antimarketism” of the Right. The former condemns inequality and seeks to abolish private property and competition. The latter also hopes to hamper competition, but for the purpose of protecting private property. Thus the enemies of competitive markets, and therefore of consumers, reside on both sides of the political spectrum. 

Lindsey relies entirely on a thin selection of secondary works to build his historical narrative in support of his theoretical position. The result is a misrepresentation of the origins of centralized government. In his essay (and in the first part of his book) Lindsey focuses on Germany as one of the main sources of antimarket logic. Therefore, let’s take a look at the German example, which, in my view, shows that centralizing tendencies grew out of non-economic sources that existed long before the Industrial Revolution began . . . .

by Liah Greenfeld 

History, says Marc Bloch, is the “science of men in time.” When one talks of history, even in the non-specialist press, it is useful to mention (or not to mention, depending on the aimed-at result) dates. It is also useful—according to Bloch, absolutely essential—to provide precise definitions of the historical phenomena one talks about. If one makes historical claims and yet does not mention dates and skimps on definitions, one abuses history and misrepresents it (i.e., presents it for what it is most assuredly not: a mixed bag of arguably real but perhaps imaginary events or non-events which either happened or did not happen at one time or another). One thing certain about arguments presented in such a dateless and undefined manner is that history cannot provide any support for them. 

In the past two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the favorite subject of such arguments has been “globalization.” To American eyes, the existence of the Soviet Union had divided the world into two; its collapse, in consequence, has resulted in one, united world. The globe has turned into a cozy village, and on the wave of euphoric celebration of the “end of history” the obscure and quite recent term “globalization” was brought out of its academic closet. It is suggestive that it was precisely with the end of history that “globalization” came into fashion. 

Most people who argue about globalization belong either to its enemies and critics or to its friends and advocates. So they argue about it indeed in the sense in which enemies and friends of anything may argue: it is horrid, say the former; it is splendid, retort the latter. It is an argument about the nature of the common good, about the nature of the good in general. Both parties are, therefore, biased by definition; they are ideological and led by their prior notions and their prejudices. Both sides, however, claim to rely on history, and it is possible that they even sincerely believe that their opinions (as to whether globalization is good or bad) derive from it. But the history they rely on, which is the same for the critics and advocates, is that pliable non-discipline, which cares nothing for dates and definitions, and can serve as a soft cushion for any position, while supporting none. This pliability is seen by both camps as a result of being stood on the head by their respective opponents. The metaphor is clearly inappropriate, because whichever way you stand this cushion, it will flop. But it is supported by the adamantine authority of Karl Marx, who, as we all learned in our various 101 courses, used it in regard to Hegel’s philosophy of history prior to standing it on its feet. As we should have learned subsequently, this change of position did not help to bring the philosophy in question any closer to reality; so the whole Marxist exercise turned out to be futile. But, I guess, our 101 courses omitted to mention this. 

In this reply to an ardent advocate of globalization, it is important to identify myself vis-à-vis the parties described above before I begin. I do not belong to either of them. For reasons that will be made clear in the rest of this essay, I am neither for, nor against, globalization. I do not consider it to be either good or bad. But I greatly admire “the historian’s craft” and strongly object to the cavalier treatment of dates and definitions. Therefore, I shall limit my present participation in “the controversies that swirl around globalization today” to the construction of a small timetable and an attempt to speak about the subject historically. 

What is “globalization”? It is a noun derived from a verb “to globalize,” which, in accordance with the elementary logic of grammar, gives it the meaning of an action or process of being made or becoming “global.” This action or process is necessarily limited and progressive, because when the “globality” in question is achieved, it ends, and the structure of the word presupposes the increasing approximation of this state. This type of morphological construction is of rather recent origin and, before the advent of modernity, was unknown. In the past analogous verb-derivatives referred to specific intentional acts carried out by specific actors, such as “circumcision” from “to circumcise.” The earliest case of this modern construction seems to be the word “civilization,” first used in French in the 16th century (from civilizer, later civiliser), and this grammatical innovation signaled a change in the way reality was imagined. For “civilization” implied a continuous, progressive process, spanning generations and initiated and carried out by grand abstract forces. In the 16th century such forces are likely to have been identified with Divine Providence; closer to our time they would be called “social forces.” Divine Providence worked in mysterious ways, but though the design was unfathomable, it presupposed a Designer, and therefore there was no logical problem in its explicit teleology. But the substitution of “social forces” for God, which made the teleology implicit, also made it illogical, for it placed the effect before the cause and the carriage before the horse. As a result, the picture of reality symbolized by morphological structures such as “civilization” became, logically, nonsense. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, as reliable a source of historical data as they get, the source of the concept of “globalization” was the term “global village,” introduced in the 1960s by Marshall McLuhan “for the world in the age of high technology and international communications, through which events throughout the world may be experienced simultaneously by everyone, so apparently ‘shrinking’ world societies to the level of a single village or tribe.” Webster’s Dictionary had an entry for “globalization,” referring to the action or process of becoming or being made such a “global village,” already in 1961, and thirty years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it entered and achieved its pride of place in economic discussions. Logically, as was explained above, the concept makes no sense, and therefore, lacking both explanatory and diagnostic capacities, cannot help us understand reality. In other words, there is no such thing as globalization . . . .

by Brink Lindsey

In “The Origins and Progress of the Industrial Counterrevolution” I aimed to shed light on the decline and collapse of the global economy that arose in the late 19th century. Specifically, I argued that widespread belief in the virtues of centralized economic decision-making—inspired, in part, by the example of the giant new industrial enterprises of North America and Europe—played a crucial role in propelling this train of events. I called this intellectual and political backlash against market competition the “Industrial Counterrevolution.” 

The concept of the Industrial Counterrevolution is a big, sweeping generalization. It is therefore susceptible to the charge that it oversimplifies and omits. To which charge I can only respond: of course it does. All history consists of leaving things out—of telling some stories but not others, and spying some patterns but not others. I would never presume that the thesis I have advanced is the story of the period in question. At best it is a valid story: one that is correct, as far as it goes, and that enriches our understanding of a particular slice of the past. 

Neither of the two commenters is particularly fond of my thesis. With all due respect, I do not believe that either has struck a telling blow against it . . . .

by Derek Wilson

“While our historians are practising all the arts of controversy, they miserably neglect the art of narration, the art of interesting the affections and presenting pictures to the imagination.” 1 So wrote Lord Macaulay in 1828. David Starkey beat the same drum in a recent article for the London Times: “professionalisation means a cult of the obscure, the esoteric and the illiterate . . . what should be the most public of subjects has become one of the most hermetically sealed.” These two statements are not cairns built in a flat landscape between which lie a level century and a half of unchanging perceptions. They are more like familiar markers on a cross-country circuit that tell us we have been here before. 

There have always been academic specialists, scholars who, according to one colourful definition, “crawl along the frontiers of knowledge with a magnifying glass.” They may, and frequently do, turn the historian’s craft into an arcane mystery, and career structures encourage this trend, for advancement is often a matter of academic politics— supporting the hypothesis of Professor X; undermining the assertions of Doctor Y. Popular history, on the other hand, ebbs and flows. At some times it becomes fashionable to be fascinated by the past, or what is generally thought to be “the past.” At others the common perception is that history is dry and irrelevant. It is when popular taste is in that first phase, when Joe Public cannot get enough of “old stories,” that the contrast between the academic and the popular comes into sharpest focus. 

This is the phase of the cycle currently being experienced in Britain. It is often said, with a fair degree of truth, that the 1960s was the decade in which we turned our back on our past; and it is not surprising that it should have been so. For many people “history” was a process that had led to two devastating wars, economic depression, austerity, the loss of empire, and Britain’s descent into the ranks of second-class powers. They wanted to look forward, not back, and the future was bright with the promise of scientific and technological advance, full employment, and a rising standard of living. For many “history” meant either a classroom diet of regnal dates, battles, and Acts of Parliament or a patriotic catalogue of heroes and great deeds from Agincourt to Trafalgar. Neither seemed to have any relevance to the late 20th-century world. 

A generation on, the history market looks very different. In 2002 the number of students opting for first degree courses in history increased by 14%. Publishers’ lists are bulging with new titles in popular history and biography. Academics are falling over themselves to sell program ideas to TV producers and we have a channel completely devoted to history. The heritage industry is booming as never before, whole families heading off for reenactment weekends or imaginatively presented museum exhibitions. Adult education courses in history and related subject areas are in demand, and record numbers of amateur historians are making use of archives to research their own families or local communities. Historical fiction, a genre considered to be on its deathbed twenty years ago, has made a remarkable recovery and its devotees now have their own society, operative on both sides of the Atlantic. We are back, in many ways to where we were in Macaulay’s day when Sir Walter Scott, Harrison Ainsworth, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton topped the bestseller lists, while Augustus Egg and Edward Matthew Ward gave their public pictorial glimpses of other epochs in such paintings as “The Night Before Naseby” and “Napoleon in the Prison at Nice.” . . . .


WE ASKED A FEW HISTORIANS to comment on what they have been reading over the past year. We encourage readers of Historically Speaking to submit brief, 500-word notices of books that fall into one of three categories: (1) recently published books that are particularly noteworthy, (2) seminal books that have influenced one’s historical thinking, or (3) great books that never received their due. –the Editors

John Ferling, University of West Georgia

In recent weeks I’ve read two exceptionally good new books in my field, the American Revolution. I’ve liked David Hackett Fischer’s work for years, and his latest effort, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, 2004), which deals with the Trenton- Princeton campaign in 1776–77, is just as good as his wonderful Paul Revere’s Ride, published in 1995 by Oxford University Press. As usual, his writing is exceptional and he exposes some myths that have lingered about the campaign; in addition, he adequately treats the British and Hessians, who have often gotten lost in the shuffle. I also recently read An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), authored by Henry Wiencek, and found it to be a provocative and moving account of slavery in early America, though not quite as groundbreaking on Washington as the author imagines. 

Not long ago I read John K. Alexander’s Samuel Adams: America’s Revolutionary Politician (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), an excellent biography of that popular leader. Stimulated by it, I dug out John C. Miller’s earlier biography, Sam Adams: A Pioneer in Propaganda (Stanford University Press, 1936), which I had not looked at in years. While Alexander’s is now the definitive life history, I found Miller's biography to be surprisingly modern. Fascinated by my discovery, I went on this summer to reread his Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (Harper, 1959) and The Federalist Era (Harper, 1960), and found that each has held up well and remains worthwhile. 

My rediscovery of Miller, and my discomfort with the recent romanticizing and glorifying of war in the movies and on television, led me to pull from the shelf one of my favorite anti-war novels, a relatively little known book by William Hoffman entitled The Trumpet Unblown (Fawcett, 1957). I read it when in high school and again during the Vietnam War era, and loved it both times. Now I am approaching retirement and still find it to be a powerful account of an American soldier in World War II whose disillusionment and despair ultimately overwhelm his initial zeal for war. 

Carol Thomas, University of Washington 

This historian of the ancient world has now read twice and assigned as class reading another “new” magisterial work of Fernand Braudel, Memory and the Mediterranean (Knopf, 2001) which tracks the longue durée of the Mediterranean from the Paleozoic era to the Roman encirclement of its shores, deftly interweaving place with people and people with one another. Originally written in the late 1960s, the manuscript was rescued and edited to include more recent data. In the same broad sweep is Barry Cunliffe’s The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (Penguin, 2002) which also explores the Mediterranean sphere, in this case the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. Since his subject, Pytheas, traveled beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, the account reaches to Ultima Thule as the author retraces Pytheas’s journey by his own travel. Merlin Donald offers another sort of journey in A Mind So Rare (Norton, 2001), namely the development of human consciousness as a result of the interplay between the biological structure of the brain and the increasingly complex cultures constructed by humankind. The story is told carefully and engagingly. 

Jeremy Black, University of Exeter

I’m unhappy with the “great books” approach. All too many of the major works applauded in that light seem to me to be the self-validated products of the “thing” or academic establishment, with the added finesse that the economics of the publishing trade ensure that major efforts are made to puff them up (e.g., special deals are offered for sale via reviewing journals that then always seem to carry favorable reviews, display space in bookshops is paid for, etc.). So let me put aside such work, much of which anyway displays an obsession with discourse, a mistaken conviction of the existence of a zeitgeist, and the practice of argument by assertion. Instead, in choosing what to read, I ignore the advice of modish journals as the TLS and the London Review of Books, neither of which I read anymore, and prefer to work on the basis that there are large numbers of good authors, and not a small number of stars. Many of the most interesting books I have read lately have been chosen for me by the review editors of specialist journals. Some are not only first-rate in themselves, but are also of wider resonance. Thus, for example, David Laven’s Venice and Venetia under the Habsburgs, 1815–1835 (Oxford University Press, 2002) is a scholarly revisionist work which, in offering a fundamental reevaluation, underlines the strength of conservative tendencies in early 19th-century Europe and also challenges teleological assumptions about European development. 

I find many books valuable not because I agree with all, or part, of their arguments, but because, in responding, I have to define and consider my own views. Thus, reading the essays in Writing World History, 1800–2000 (Oxford University Press, 2003), edited by Benedikt Stuchtey and Eckhardt Fuchs, has led me to assess the limitations of my own approach in The World in the Twentieth Century. War, international relations, and historical geography are particular interests of mine. For the first, I enjoyed the helpful surveys of the post-mortems and controversies among participants and scholars in France, Germany, and Britain included in The Battle of France and Flanders 1940 (Leo Cooper, 2001), edited by Brian Bond and Michael Taylor, and the welcome redressing of Eurocentricity in Kenneth Chase’s Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (Cambridge University Press, 2003). For international relations, there was a welcome focus on small states in Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy: The Structure of Diplomatic Practice, 1450–1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), edited by Daniela Frigo. Much geographical writing becomes platitudinous, if not opaque, in its striving after theoretical significance, so it is pleasant to welcome a number of varied recent works including Robert Mayhew’s Enlightenment Geography: The Political Languages of British Geography, 1650–1850 (St. Martin’s, 2000), Ian Whyte’s Landscape and History since 1500 (Reaktion, 2002), and John Marino’s “On the Shores of Bohemia: Recovering Geography,” in Early Modern History and the Social Sciences: Testing the Limits of Braudel’s Mediterranean (Truman State University Press, 2002), edited by Marino. 

As a nuts and bolts historian, I have to confess that I am happiest when reading works that display archival mastery, a characteristic absent from most of the discourse merchants, and indeed the great names who appear to feel that their eminence protects them from such drudgery. (I can recall a fit Fellow of the British Academy telling me a decade or so ago that he never intended to set foot in an archive again, and judging from his misleadingly much-applauded works, he has realized his goal.) So, aside from reading in the archives themselves, I have enjoyed looking at types of literature that have been largely passed by in the rush from the archives: local history society publications, many of which are excellent, and doctoral theses. Recent visits to Oxford have given me opportunities to read such theses as M.A. McDonnell’s “The Politics of Mobilization in Revolutionary Virginia: Military Culture and Political and Social Relations, 1774–1783” (1995) and N. Bhattacharyya- Panda’s “The English East India Company and the Hindu Laws of Property in Bengal, 1765–1801: Appropriation and Invention of Tradition” (1996). On a personal note, I feel I have come full-circle. As a Cambridge undergraduate, my favorite time working was sitting reading the theses in the University Library that related to such varied courses I took as Early Modern Europe, the Norman Conquest, and Britain and Europe, 1783–1793. I admired then, and still do, the archival knowledge, scholarly mastery, and careful judgment that I have sought to emulate. It is a great solace, when so much about both profession and discipline depresses me, that first-rate work is still being produced by a large number of both academics and non-academics. 

John C. Greene, University of Connecticut (retired) 

I recommend Denis Alexander’s Rebuilding the Matrix (Zondervan, 2003) to historians interested in the historical relations of science and religion. I also recommend highly Christopher Benfey’s The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (Random House, 2003). It is a marvelous account of the intertwining careers and personal relations of a group of New England intellectuals, including Herman Melville, Henry Adams, the zoologist Sylvester Morse, the Amherst Dickinsons, John La Farge, Percival Lowell, and their Japanese friends and acquaintances—beautifully written cultural history with a good deal of political and diplomatic history as background. Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge come in toward the end. Lafcadio Hearn too, of course. Read it! 

Wilfred M. McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 

In preparing the introduction for a book of essays by various hands that I’m editing on the subject of “the human person” in the American past, I’ve been dipping into the rich literature on personhood and selfhood in the European past. I can’t think of a subject that taxes the historical imagination more strenuously, and more usefully, especially for one whose graduate training was primarily within the confines of U.S. history. It forces one to think outside the constraints of modern liberal individualism without making an easy resort to the stance of “otherness,” which allows one to miss out on the vital elements of continuity and tacit presupposition that link us with earlier times. I’ve gotten great benefit from a handful of older books, such as Michael Carrithers, et al., eds., The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History (Cambridge University Press, 1985) and Colin Morris’s The Discovery of the Individual, 1050–1200 (University of Toronto Press, 1987), as well as the more recent Mirages of the Selfe: Patterns of Personhood in Ancient and Early Modern Europe (Stanford University Press, 2003), by Timothy J. Reiss. More generally, I continue to find the multitudinous works of philosophers Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre indispensable for thinking through how we might move beyond the exhausted modernist concept of “self” back toward a more complex, and more historically and socially grounded understanding of the “person.” 

Joseph Amato, Southwest State University (retired)

Finishing a manuscript of the history of walking, I have returned to Eugen Weber’s classic Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford University Press, 1976) to remind myself just how recently the making of the modern nation state occurred. Focused on the last third of the 19th century, Peasants into Frenchmen details how a traditional society composed of multiple peoples, many languages, diverse rural ways, isolated communities, and even peasant walks was made into the French nation. This was facilitated by a variety of things, including railroads, uniform clocks, roads, literacy, public schools, central banks, the military draft, national parties, improved manure, and visits from city cousins. 

In the same spirit of pointillism based on rich detail and good language, Peter Ackroyd’s recent London: The Biography (Anchor, 2003) convinces me how rich and kaleidoscopic everyday urban life was in the past. In the spirit of Dickens, Ackroyd details how myriad forms of life were played out in full— or near full—sight on the streets of 19thcentury London. Smog, murders, police, new populations, outcasts, public transport, horses, and street entertainment made streets universities of human experience for their walkers. There, as much as anywhere, the chrysalis of the urban walker into contemporary pedestrian, shopper, and commuter occurred. 

Psychologist Robert Levine’s A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently (Basic Books, 1997) supplements Ackroyd’s portrait of London by demonstrating empirically how in the contemporary cities of North America, South America, and Asia pedestrians and commuters move at different rates in diverse ways, under different pressures and impulses to stop or move on. 

More than walking, promenading, strolling, staggering, and trolling were in play in the steps of the passerby. In his fine intellectual work of two decades ago, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880–1918 (Harvard University Press, 1986), Stephen Kern instructs us that in the closing decades of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th a fundamental and irreversible transformation of Western senses of time and space took place. Arts, sciences, and technology collectively mounted an attack against the traditional divisions and bulwarks of space and time. If any one thing collapsed the vault of heaven, making heaven and earth closer than ever before, it was the endless miles of spreading telephone wire. Instantaneously crisscrossing the world, the telephone carried signals for World Standard Time and contemporary voices into the depths of politics, leveling social structures. Everywhere the present transgressed local and regional borders, fed the pulsating rhythm of the burgeoning metropolis, and drew the people of the world ever closer to one another in one engulfing simultaneity. 

by Jonathan Rose

In our line of work, nothing is more gratifying than to lay out an agenda for future scholarship, and then see it fulfilled well before one reaches retirement age. On that count, Robert Darnton has a right to feel vindicated. In his 1986 essay “First Steps Toward a History of Reading,” he suggested (with due caution) that “it should be possible to develop a history as well as a theory of reader response. Possible, but not easy,” for how could the historian recapture something so private, so evanescent as the mental experience of the “common reader”? As Darnton warned, “the documents rarely show readers at work, fashioning meaning from texts, and the documents are texts themselves, which also require interpretation. Few of them are rich enough to provide even indirect access to the cognitive and affective elements of reading, and a few exceptional cases may not be enough for one to reconstruct the inner dimensions of that experience.”1 

In fact, in less than two decades, the historiography of reading has advanced more quickly than either Darnton or I expected. It constitutes one-third of the mission of a new scholarly organization, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP), founded in 1991. Using some of the methods that Darnton suggested —and sometimes inventing new techniques for recovering reading experiences— scholars have sketched in some of the blank spaces on this vast empty map. They have constructed and debated historical models. And they have produced a remarkable string of surprising discoveries, often quite different from what literary theorists predicted. 
The great obstacle to a history of reading, as Darnton acknowledged, was a lack of sources. But laborers in this field have, with considerable ingenuity, located and used a wide range of raw materials that offer some insight into the mental world of ordinary readers . . . .


Join the Historical Society and subscribe to Historically Speaking

The Historical Society, 656 Beacon Street, Mezzanine, Boston, MA 02215 | Tele: (617) 358-0260, Fax: (617) 358-0250
                                                         © The Historical Society | web design by Randall J. Stephens | v. 10/26/05