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Week 7: Science

Tutor: Anne Gerritsen

Science is a particularly interesting topic for global historians because science is often thought to be 'Western' or 'un-global'. The idea that science was born in Europe, especially in early modern Europe, is old and persistent, based on the notion of 'the scientific revolution', which is traditionally held to have taken place in Western Europe in the seventeenth century. Science therefore raises a question for global historians: what is the relationship between global history on the one hand, and monumental events like the scientific revolution on the other? Historians of science have answered this question in a range of ways, from reinforcing the idea of a European scientific revolution to ignoring the topic altogether. The readings for this seminar cover a range of these answers as well as illustrating a variety of current approaches to the global history of science.

Questions and Tasks

First read the Basalla piece for a classic example of Europe-centred history of science. How does Basalla narrate the story of 'the spread of Western science'?

Then read any two of the other core readings, which are more recent. Come to the seminar prepared to summarise the two more recent pieces you have read, bearing in mind that several students will not have read the same recent pieces as you have read. Also, think about these questions:

  • How do the recent pieces you have read differ from the classic narrative exemplified by Basalla?
  • What are the different approaches to global history that are exemplified by the more recent pieces?
  • Which of these approaches do you think is most promising, and why?

Core readings

Basalla, George. “The Spread of Western ScienceLink opens in a new window.” Science 156, no. 3775 (1967): 611–22.

Now choose TWO of the following:
  • Cohen, Floris. 2015. The Rise of Modern Science Explained (Cambridge UP) - Warwick e-book. Please read the section "Why Europe?" on pages 135-144. Note: the "three revolutionary transformations" Cohen refers to in this section are changes in mathematics, experiment and theory that he locates in Europe in the period c. 1600-1650. If you're interested, Cohen describes these transformations on pages 102-135.
  • Raj, Kapil. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007 - Warwick e-book, Chapter 1 (Surgeons, Fakirs, Merchants, and Craftsmen...).
  • Marcon, Federico. The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan. University of Chicago Press: 2017 - Warwick e-book, Chapter 4 ('Writing Nature’s Encyclopedia'), as well as pages 52-4 for context.
  • Portuondo, Maria. "Cosmography at the Casa, Consejo, and Corte During the Century of Discovery," in Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford University Press, 2009) - Warwick e-book
  • Sivasundaram, Sujit. “Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions, and Theory.” Isis 101, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 146–58 - Warwick e-journal

Further questions

  • Should science be studied on a global scale or would it be better to study science in local context?
  • How important are local actors for the development of global science?
  • Can we write the history of science without using the concept of revolutions?

Further readings

Antonio Barrera-Osorio, "Books of Nature: Scholars, Natural History, and the New World," in Experiencing Nature: the Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (University of Texas Press, 2006), 101-127.

Poskett, James. Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920. Chicago University Press, 2019.

Poskett, James, Horizons: A Global History of Science. Viking: 2021.

Sivasundaram, Sujit, “Islanded: Natural History in the British Colonisation of Ceylon,” in Livingstone, David N., and Charles W. J. Withers, eds. Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011 - Warwick e-book

Rules for acupuncture

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