The Sciences of the Archives: Big Science, Big Humanities, and the Pathos of Positivism
6pm, International Digital Laboratory
In the mid-nineteenth century, scholars and scientists created the most ambitious, expensive, and labor-intensive projects ever designed: they invented Big Science and Big Humanities and the model of project-driven research still dominant today. But unlike most current mega-research, these first examples of centrally organized, international, and trans-generational projects were not focused on generating discoveries in the here-and now. Rather, they aimed to build the archives for future research, centuries or even millennia hence. In an era when scholars and scientists first began to realize that impermanence was the price of progress in their fields, when it became brutally clear that today’s truth would be tomorrow’s error, only the archives of carefully collected data promised to endure. This was the pathos of positivism. In the era of Big Data and the Digital Humanities, the sciences and the humanities are once again in the grip archival visions, and there may lessons to be learned from the first era of archive enthusiasm.
Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her publications include (co-authored with Peter Galison), Objectivity (2007), (co-edited with Elizabeth Lunbeck) Histories of Scientific Observation (2011), and (co-authored with Paul Erikson et al.) How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (2013). She is currently at work on a book about the history of rules.