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History 82. Science and technology in the Modern world. Mechanics of course. Risk aversive grading scheme – 4=parts 4 Quizzes/review –lots of choice Reading responses for each meeting –default, describe one significant new thing you learned and one question raised but not answered

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History 82 l.jpg

History 82

Science and technology in the Modern world


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Mechanics of course

  • Risk aversive grading scheme – 4=parts

    • 4 Quizzes/review –lots of choice

    • Reading responses for each meeting –default, describe one significant new thing you learned and one question raised but not answered

    • Mention course reader

    • Research paper –aim at 7-10 pages but I quit reading after 12

    • Final exam based on study questions

    • Bonus for class participation

  • Relation of lectures to readings –usually start with FAQs, most lectures intended to extend and supplement, not repeat readings; but occasionally there will be more substantial overlap when I think reading is unusually difficult or important.


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What is History ?

  • A hybrid –neither “science” nor “humanistic” in some sense –difference between causal and becausal –presumption of choice and agency.

  • Aristotle’s preference for poetry.

  • An interpretive discipline in which many different stories are likely to be consistent with “the facts.” Historian must choose what data to incorporate –impossibility of completeness.


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Why bother ?

  • Play

  • To extend experience to orient us for action in the present and future.

    • To offer vicarious experience of the “other” so as to recognize the contingency of our own ideologies and make possible choices not before recognized --i.e homo-economicus, meaning of “science.”

    • To offer collective psychotherapy– uncovering reasons for our actions and behaviors that we would otherwise be unaware of –so we can consciously choose to embrace, ignore, or reject them.


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Reasons for studying the history of science in particular -1

  • As a form of socialization into the community of the sciences – some disciplines –i.e. Psychology, Sociology still require –hagoigraphy.

  • BUT Stephen Brush 1966 “Should the History of Science be X-Rated”

  • To extend/deepen understanding of a particular discipline –i.e Ernst Mach’s analysis of history of mechanics led to rethinking classical notions of space and time—background to Einstein’s work (how I got started)


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Reasons for studying -2

  • Humanize the sciences – lessen feeling of inferiority produced by refined, logical presentation of textbooks which often gives feeling that while you can follow an argument, you can’t imagine discovering/ creating it in the first place – Nobody did. Also, even great scientists often blunder badly


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Reasons -3

  • Begin to understand the ways in which scientific activities, attitudes, and ideas sometimes reflect and sometimes transform other cultural domains –i.e., ideologies, social theories & social life, aesthetic judgments, religious beliefs & practices, technologies, etc. (my present central interest)

  • I. E. – “to understand the impact of your work on society”

  • S. Harding’s explanations of why feminists should study modern science –extendable to us all– (use Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Cornell, 1986), p. 16.


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What counts as the “modern world”

  • By historian’s convention – “modern” begins with the French revolution

    • For our purposes it makes sense to start slightly earlier with the industrial revolution

    • Emphasis will be on Western Europe in the 19th century and the U.S. during the 1st half of the twentieth century –with a few forays into “colonial” science

    • Lectures will end at beginning of the Cold War


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What counts as “science”

  • Differences between definitions in natural sciences and in humanities & social sciences.

  • Discussion of demarcation criteria with students. ~ 35-40 min.

  • The “political” or social character of all definitions of science –illustrated by examples– incorporating historiographical reflections.


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Definition 1 –positivist & logical positivist

  • George Sarton (1913) – “Science is systematized positive knowledge, or, what has been taken as such at different ages and places”

    • 1-a kind of knowledge

    • 2-”positive” – context independent – free of biases – empirically grounded – what we tend to call “objective” today – emphasizes distinction from technology which may be applied science .

    • 3. Advantages –for Comte, for Logical positivists, for cold war scientists in Britain and America –

    • 4. Most widely accepted today within the scientific community

    • 5. Not widely accepted among recent historians of science—Why?


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Definition 2 - Marxist

  • Farrington (1949) –”Science is the system of behavior by which man has acquired mastery of the environment. It has its origin in techniques –in various activities by which man keeps body and soul together. Its source is experience, its aims, practical, its only test, that it works.”

    • 1. a set of practices –emphasizes links to technology –some inheritors, including Bruno Latour, uses the term “technoscience”, rather than science or technology, to insist upon the fusion of the two in the contemporary world.

    • 2. Focuses on social purposes & the right of society to direct science to social goods rather (for example) than to the profits of capitalists and multi-national corporations.

    • 3. Even most present day non- Marxist historians find the perspectives initiated within this movement –especially the emphasis on material culture – valuable.


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Definition 3 –sociological (but not radical social constructionist)

  • Olson (1982) “Science is a socio-cultural institution characterized for each time and place by a set of activities aimed at contributing to an organized, universally valid, and testable body of knowledge about phenomena. These characteristics are usually embodied in systems of concepts, rules of procedure, and/or model investigations that are generally accepted by groups of practitioners”


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Advantages/Disadvantages of definition 3 constructionist)

  • Allows for cross-cultural, cross temporal comparisons by arguing that certain goals are important in many settings.

  • But allows for those goals to be embodied in locally specific ways using concepts, methods, and practices which are negotiated by specialist groups.

  • Suggests the possibility of exploring the interaction/competition/cooperation between science and other social institutions –i.e. religion, politics, education, economic systems, etc.


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Definition 4—overtly political constructionist)

Closest thing to a legal definition of science in US because used in formulating the Supreme Court decision in Aguilard vs Edwards.

How does one distinguish between a supernatural and a naturalistic explanation in general ? (What about phlogiston? Aether theories?)


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Definition 5 -- Anthropological constructionist)

  • “Zapotec farmers…certainly practice science. They hypothesize, they model problems, they experiment, they measure results, and they distribute knowledge among peers and to younger generations. But they typically proceed from markedly different premises…than their counterparts in industrialized societies.”

  • Why care –issues of status, pride, credibility, financial support, etc.


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Additional definition –social constructionist constructionist)

  • Harry Collins (1990) – “The canons of scientific method and directives of the scientific ethos do not to a great extent govern the actual conduct of science or the actual operation of science: Building scientific knowledge is a messy business; it is much more like the creation of artistic or political consensus than we once believed. The making of science is … above all a social practice.”


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The “Science Wars” constructionist)

  • What was/is at stake

    • Credibility, funding, jobs

    • The Science in American Life exhibit

    • The Institute for Advanced Studies episodes

    • The Sokal hoax

    • Subsequent irony –


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