Anachronism and retrospective explanation: In defence of a present-centred history of science

This paper defends the right of historians to make use of their knowledge of the remote consequences of past actions. In particular, it is argued that the disciplinary cohesion of the history of science relies crucially upon our ability to target, for further investigation, those past activities ancestral to modern science. The history of science is not limited to the study of those activities but it is structured around them. In this sense, the discipline is inherently 'present-centred': its boundaries are determined, in part, by judgements inaccessible to the historical actors. Present-centredness of this sort, it is urged, should not be regarded as a problem; its methodological consequences are minimal.
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