An introduction to the historiography of science

by Helge Kragh

Paperback, 1987




Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1987.


This book introduces the methodological and philosophical problems with which modern history of science is concerned, offering a comprehensive and critical review through description and evaluation of significant historiographical viewpoints. Incorporating discussion of key problems in general historical writing, with examples drawn from a range of disciplines, this non-elementary introduction bridges the gap between general history and history of science. Following a review of the early development of the history of science, the theory of history as applied to science history is introduced, examining the basic problems which this generates, including problems of periodisation, ideological functions, and the conflict between diachronical and anachronical historiography. Finally, the book considers the critical use, and analysis, of historical sources, and the possibility of the experiemental reconstruction of history. Aimed primarily at students, the book's broad scope and integration of historical, philosophical and scientific matters will interest philosophers, sociologists and general historians, for whom there is no alternative introduction to the subject at this level.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
In An Introduction to the Historiography of Science, Helge Kragh writes of the justification of the study, “The truly historical perspective that the study of the past is of value in itself and therefore not in need of legitimation with regard to the present, barely existed before the 19th century” (pg. 5). In the eighteenth century, the study of science was bound into a teleological view with progress (pg. 6). Kragh continues, “It was not until the turn of the century that the scattered activities were organized and history of science began to be established as an independent profession” (pg. 15).
Of the historians, Kragh writes, “The agents of the history of science are the individuals who have, in fact, helped to collect knowledge about nature or what has been thought to be so” (pg. 25). Of the study itself, Kragh writes, “History of science ought to function as an analytical instrument for the critical evaluation of methods and concepts that appear in modern science” (pg. 32-33). In this way, “History of science can be used, and ought to be used, to analyse the interplay between science, technology, and society. But empirical evidence that science always or just usually results in technology is weak. By making use of examples from history one could easily construct a case for arguing that science does not, as a rule, lead to technology or that science and technology do not normally contribute to people’s welfare and safety” (pg. 35).
For the historian, “Scientific occurrences ought to be evaluated and explained in accordance with the norm or norms prevailing at the time they took place. A period’s norm can be regarded as everything that is taken for granted by the scientific community during that period” (pg. 61). Unfortunately, “History of science has been dominated by the physical sciences and, to a somewhat less extent, biology. Although recently less glamorous sciences, like geology, have also met with increasing historical interest, the preoccupation with physics continues” (pg. 78). While historians try to avoid projecting their own views backward, “in practice, anachronical history of science is widespread and difficult to avoid. The doctrine is connected to the presentist view of history which may be seen as a theoretical justification of anachronical historiography” (pg. 89). To this end, “history of science has its own ‘imperialism’ that partly reflects the fact that viewed historically and socially science is almost purely a western phenomenon, concentrated on a few, rich countries. While science may be international, history of science is not” (pg. 111).
Looking at biography, Kragh writes, “The biographical approach to the history of science can be accused of giving a narrow, individualized and internalist picture of the development of science; of focusing on the individual genius at the expense of the collective and social currents” (pg. 171). Kragh continues, “In the first place biography is only one solitary instrument in the history of science orchestra. And in the second place the focusing of biography on the individual will not necessarily happen at the expense of collective and social factors. In fact biography, in one version, can be decidedly externalist; it can, for example, depict the subject of the biography as a mere medium for social and economic currents typical of the time” (pg. 171).
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