This paper offers personal reflections on the fashioning of the history of science in Europe. It presents the history of science as a discipline emerging in the twentieth century from an intellectual and political context of great complexity, and concludes with a plea for tolerance and pluralism in historiographical methods and approaches.
The years immediately after the final downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte could easily have been years of anti-climax in French science. In 1815, after two decades of undoubted greatness, the time, I feel, was ripe for decline. And decline might well have occurred if the traditions and the style of science as practised in France in the period of Napoleon's rule had been carried on unchanged by the disciples of the two great men who had dominated work in the physical sciences (...) for so many years. These men, of course, were the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet and the mathematician and physicist Pierre Simon Laplace. (shrink)
There is a story, which historians of modern France often tell, of the ministerial official in Paris who had only to glance at his clock in order to know the exact passage of Vergil being construed and the law of physics being expounded in every school throughout the country. Invariably, the story is told for a purpose. It is used to demonstrate the high degree of centralization and the attendant rigidity of the French educational system, usually with special reference to (...) the nineteenth century. The story, which has its roots in the rich corpus of Napoleonic legend, serves this purpose very well, but unfortunately it is both apocryphal and misleading. For while it is true that most nineteenth-century ministers with responsibility for education aspired to the ideal of total control, not one of them came close to it in reality. (shrink)
The ethical recruitment of participants with neurological disorders in clinical research requires obtaining initial and ongoing informed consent. The purpose of this study is to characterize barriers faced by research personnel in obtaining informed consent from research participants with neurological disorders and to identify strategies applied by researchers to overcome those barriers. This study was designed as a web-based survey of US researchers with an optional follow-up interview. A subset of participants who completed the survey were selected using a stratified (...) purposeful sampling strategy and invited to participate in an in-depth qualitative interview by phone or video conference. Data were analyzed using a mixed methods approach, including content analysis of survey responses and thematic analysis of interview responses. Over 1 year, 113 survey responses were received from US research personnel directly involved in obtaining informed consent from participants in neurological research. Frequently identified barriers to informed consent included: cognitive and communication impairments, unrealistic expectations of research participants, mistrust of medical research, time constraints, literacy barriers, lack of available social support, and practical or resource-related constraints. Strategies to enhance informed consent included: involving close others to support participant understanding of study-related information, collaborating with more experienced research personnel to facilitate training in obtaining informed consent, encouraging participants to review consent forms in advance of consent discussions, and using printed materials and visual references. Beyond conveying study-related information, researchers included in this study endorsed ethical responsibilities to support deliberation necessary to informed consent in the context of misconceptions about research, unrealistic expectations, limited understanding, mistrust, and/or pressure from close others. Findings highlight the importance of training researchers involved in obtaining informed consent in neurological research to address disease-specific challenges and to support the decision-making processes of potential research participants and their close others. (shrink)
Thomas Edison's incandescent lamp was one of four that were displayed at the first international exhibition of electricity in Paris in 1881. By the end of the exhibition, most observers believed that Edison had taken a clear lead over his rivals: Maxim, Swan, and Lane-Fox. In reality, his victory was a narrow one that owed much to the skilful management of public opinion by his aides in Paris. Nevertheless, it reinforced Edison's view of Paris as the natural starting point for (...) the implantation of his system in continental Europe. Almost immediately, however, the three companies that he established for the purpose in Paris were in difficulties as the financial crash of January 1882 hardened into sustained recession. Quickly Edison's favour turned to Milan and, more particularly, Berlin, leaving the once central Parisian venture to become a minor element in his European strategy. (shrink)
One of Alfred North Whitehead’s Lowell lectures of 1925 encapsulated a common belief about the relations between science and romanticism. In a chapter on “The romantic reaction” in the published version of the lectures, Whitehead presented science and the romantic spirit as fundamentally at odds (Whitehead 1926, chapter 5). The romantic world view, for Whitehead, had no place for perceptions of nature as an unfeeling law-bound machine. Against the conventional scientific virtues of objectivity, it stressed subjectivity, and against the model (...) of inexorable determinism, it favored one closer to that of an organism, with the potential for growth and change. It is not hard to see the core of truth in Whitehead’s interpretation. When Wordsworth wrote “We murder to dissect,” he was voicing a romantic sensibility that saw the abstraction of science as, at best, scratching the surface of a natural world at once richer and closer to us as human beings than the one handed down by the mechanical .. (shrink)
Physics in Oxford, 1839-1939 offers a challenging new interpretation of pre-war physics at the University of Oxford, which was far more dynamic than most historians and physicists have been prepared to believe. It explains, on the one hand, how attempts to develop the University's Clarendon Laboratory by Robert Clifton, Professor of Experimental Philosophy from 1865 to 1915, were thwarted by academic politics and funding problems, and latterly by Clifton's idiosyncratic concern with precision instrumentation. Conversely, by examining in detail the work (...) of college fellows and their laboratories, the book reconstructs the decentralized environment that allowed physics to enter on a period of conspicuous vigour in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially at the characteristically Oxonian intersections between physics, physical chemistry, mechanics, and mathematics. Whereas histories of Cambridge physics have tended to focus on the self-sustaining culture of the Cavendish Laboratory, it was Oxford's college-trained physicists who enabled the discipline to flourish in due course in university as well as college facilities, notably under the newly appointed professors, J. S. E. Townsend from 1900 and F. A. Lindemann from 1919. This broader perspective allows us to understand better the vitality with which physicists in Oxford responded to the demands of wartime research on radar and techniques relevant to atomic weapons and laid the foundations for the dramatic post-war expansion in teaching and research that has endowed Oxford with one of the largest and most dynamic schools of physics in the world. (shrink)
This volume assembles ten studies of the life and work of Thomas Harriot (1560-1621). These are based on lectures that have been given annually at Oriel College, Oxford since 1990, by such authorities as Hugh Trevor Roper, David Quinn and John D. North. The contributions to Thomas Harriot. An Elizabethan man of science shed new light on all the main aspects of Harriot's life and stand as an important contribution to the re-evaluation of one of the most gifted and intriguing (...) figures in early modern British science. (shrink)