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Third Watson Seminar in the History of Material and Visual Science > Abstracts

CEHIC 20/05/2014

Miriam Levin (Case Western Reserve University):

“Science and the City: Museums, Expositions and the Modern Urban Context in the long nineteenth century”

This presentation will be in two related parts: One a case study
1. The making of Urban Modernity: This portion of the presentation will outline the research design developed that enabled efficient, focused and economical collaborative-comparative research on the topic of science and cities.
2. The physiology of science and the city. This portion will present an overview of approaches historians of science have taken in examining the relationship between science and cities and posit additional ways in which this relationship could be approached, with the aim of understanding how science has become constitutive of modern culture.


Oliver Hochadel and Agustí Nieto-Galan (IMF-CSIC and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona):

“Barcelona: A new urban history of science and modernity (1888-1929)’”

How to write an urban history of science is certainly no easy task in the case of Barcelona. This paper will try to articulate the difficulties and possible solutions in this endeavor. Barcelona hosted two international exhibitions, 1888 and 1929. These can also be understood as an extraordinary effort of the city in order to catch up with the newest developments in science and technology. A city, which was not the capital of a state, but from the European periphery, was seeking national and international recognition. In those four decades between these two major exhibitions, Barcelona was a city in permanent state of construction. The hegemony of its modern scientific culture prevailed in museums, scientific academies and schools, factories, railway networks, international conferences, publishing houses and liberal professionals. Entertainment, amusement and education were intermingled in a local scientific culture.
Collaborating with a sizeable group of colleagues our aim is to shed light onto the jungle of actors, objects and events that constituted the scientific, medical and technological culture of the city. Barcelona’s fin de siècle medical doctors, patients and their clinics, public health and social tensions, anarchist and spiritualist circles, museums, recreation parks, exhibitions, amateurs, users, local experts, technological networks form part of a complex cultural web. It would be an illusion to try and offer a “complete” picture. Our approach will be “spatial”, trying to focus on specific sites. Yet clearly the notion of “site” will have to go beyond physical (and institutional) spaces in order to include more transient and flexible phenomena such as the circulation and appropriation of scientific knowledge through different urban classes. In this sense, space but also “scale” will be a central historiographical issue. We claim that there are lots of microhistories that deserve further attention. In the same way historians defend the epistemological value of a particular case study compared to big historical narratives, particular episodes in the city will shed new light on the complexities of the urban history of science.


Maria Rentetzi and Spiros Flevaris (National Technical University of Athens):

“Envisioning a New European Metropolis: The Athens Observatory, Greek astronomy, and the imposed path to modernization”

 “With the introduction of Greece to the rank of civilized European countries and the coronation of His Excellency King Othon to the Greek throne have risen anew in this country the sun of art and science …whose resurrected sunbeams lighten now the ‘stages’ of past glories…” This is how Theophil Hansen, the famous Dutch architect, representative of neoclassicism, introduced his architectural study of the Athens Observatory in 1842. Attracted to the idea of reviving the spirit of classical antiquity to Athens—the newly pronounced capital of Greece (1833)—Othon commissioned a number of European architects, mainly Germans and Dutch, and those Greeks who studied in Germany, to design the new capital around the most significant monuments of the ancient city. This article argues that the Athens Observatory (1842) played significant roles in modernizing the city and projected how deeply enamored was the European royalty with classical antiquity. This path to modernization was deeply imposed by the monarchy and influenced not only the urban location and the architecture of the observatory but Greek astronomy as well.


Ana Simões (Universidade de Lisboa):

“Science in the capital city or a city turned into a scientific capital? Science, Technology and Medicine in Lisbon as seen through the press (1900-1910)”

In this paper I will look at the various ways in which science, technology and medicine (STM) are presented in a daily newspaper Diário de Notícias as they relate to the city of Lisbon during the first decade of the 20th century, which in Portugal is associated with the last troubled decade of the monarchy and the first months of the new Republic. Except for a section called Scientific Chronicles specifically dedicated to science, often signed by a Portuguese naturalist and committed popularizer, the news scattered throughout the newspaper enable to build a kaleidoscopic picture of Lisbon: a city which was being reshaped by new infrastructures and means of communication and in which old and new scientific institutions and experts made themselves heard in various ways; a city which reacted to various natural events, often astronomical (the 1900 and 1905 eclipses or the return of Halley’s comet in 1910), at the same time it responded to epidemics or diseases (such as tuberculosis) by incorporating new sanitary and medical trends; a city which not only looked outwards to the scientific novelties coming from abroad, but also took possession of STM events associated with its African possessions. In sum, more than offering a dynamic picture of a city whose urban landscape was being reshaped in part by STM, I will assess in what ways the daily press enables to follow the transformation of the city of Lisbon into a city which became the country’s scientific capital.


Diego Armus (Swarthmore College):

“Hygiene in a modern peripheral city. Buenos Aires, 1870-1930”

This paper is concerned with hygiene as a central issue in the making of modern Buenos Aires. It assumes that the Argentine capital was the site of one of the many urban modernities that emerged in the Latin American periphery.
Attention will be focused on: 1. Hygiene as a chapter of the civilizing project; 2. Hygiene as a component of broader but localized medical urban utopias; 3. Hygiene as a set of locally adjusted ideas and practices initially articulated in the many centers that dominated the Atlantic world between 1870 and 1930; 4. Hygiene as the credo, territory of expertise, and professional identity of a medical group who created and ended up controlling new and specific public and private health oriented state agencies.


Dorothee Brantz (TU Berlin):

"The Urban Discovery of Nature: Science, Education, and the Display of Animals, 1850-1930"

The period between 1850 and 1930 is frequently described as an era of rapid urbanization and the far-reaching scientization (Verwissenschaftlichung) of society. Interestingly, the intersection of these two phenomena has hardly been investigated. This seminar seeks to address this notable lacuna. One reason why these two aspects are mostly discussed in isolation rather than conjunction might lie, quite literally, in the “nature” of the concepts. While urbanization, for the most part, has been understood in contrast to nature, science is frequently equated with the study of nature. This divergence found a powerful expression in relation to animals. On the one hand, animals played an important role in scientific discourses about nature, which were increasingly conducted in cities. At the same time, the growing urbanization of Europe went hand in hand with the growing removal of animals from cities. Or so it seemed because upon closer examination it became clear that the diversity of animal species in the city actually increased as urbanization proliferated, and much of this increase, I would argue, has to do with the scientization of the urban.
My paper will focus on the city as a place where the knowledge of nature and about animals was increasingly generated, institutionalized, and disseminated. Drawing on the example of zoos, natural history museums, and university laboratories, I will examine how and why cities emerged as centers of this kind of knowledge production. I will ask why the foundation of these institutions was closely linked to new metropolitan claims, e.g., why a city that wanted to be metropolitan had to have a zoo and a natural history museum. A key aspect in this scientization of the urban was, not surprisingly, the embourgeoisiement (Verbürgerlichung) of society. The growing emphasis on education was certainly a decisive factor in this, but which other bourgeois values found articulation in this animalistic conjuncture of science and urbanization, how did they differ from previously existing institutions (e.g., menageries, curiosity cabinets), and how did they shift during the time period under consideration. My presentation will also shed light on the discrepancy between the claims and realities of urban science and education, e.g., the zoo as an educational institution versus exotic spectacle.
Empirically, the paper will primarily focus on Berlin, but I will also draw on examples from other cities to document the transnational nature of these developments. Given my research focus on metropolitan studies, my examples will, for the most part, be drawn from “first” rather than “second” cities (just because I do not have the expertise about the latter), but I think in the discussion it will be interesting to debate to what extend these developments were equally visible in smaller cities and if they occurred there at the same time or on a different scale. This should advance our discussion about the notion of a “second city” and what that term means not only with regard to size but also in relation to the dimensions of urbanity, how they were understood at this point in time, and how we can historicize them today.


Ben Marsden (University of Aberdeen):

“’Glasgow is our laboratory’: metropolis, province and philosophical engineering c. 1840s – 1900”

This paper takes as its focus the Scottish or ‘North British’ city of Glasgow and its relationship to engineering industry. There are many existing studies of practical or institutional science in cities of industry (e.g., Kargon and Thackray on Manchester) but as Morrell reminds us having a developed industrial base was not at all a sufficient condition for a city (his example is Bradford) to have a stable local institutional context for science. Inkster and Morrell, long ago, investigated the contingencies of science in ‘metropolis and province’, focusing on the special cases of British and Irish provincial towns with their diverse local scientific cultures and their ambivalent relationships with capitals, or first cities. In the Scottish case, the situation was further complicated by Edinburgh’s uncertain status – as a national (Scottish) capital or law, medicine, and education that might still be viewed as provincial from London. Despite the cliché of Scottish engineering (and imperial) dynamism, the engineers of Scotland and of Edinburgh had, in the mid nineteenth century, no obvious association to join, either making do with the differently heterogeneous forums of the Scottish Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Edinburgh – or heading to London, the site of the allegedly national Institution of Civil Engineers.
How, then, do we deal with Glasgow – so-called ‘second city’ of the empire, and yet a ‘second city’ in Scotland to Edinburgh which was itself, perhaps, a ‘second city’ within Britain to the London metropolis? It was not in Edinburgh but in the city-centre office of academic engineer W. J. M. Rankine in Glasgow that an ‘Institution of Engineers in Scotland’ met from 1857. Smith and Wise, in their ‘Work and Waste’ papers, have studied the peculiar ethos of the earlier Glasgow Philosophical Society, including its engagement with Glasgow’s engineering industry and with the city’s science professors from the 1830s; but the IES remains relatively unexplored, despite the survival of detailed records of its formative period. What seems clear is that a putative institution dedicated to the engineers of Scotland grew contingently from another city ‘presence’: that is, Birmingham and Manchester as foci, since the mid 1840s, for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. When the IMechE began to mimic the peripatetic wanderings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded 1831) with summer meetings away from home, it travelled first to Glasgow. The city’s worthies ensured success in terms of attendance, local presence, and manifestations of civic pride. One spin-off, created by practised institutional actors, was an institution of engineers not ‘of Glasgow’ but rather ‘in Scotland’. The relationship with prominent dynasties of engineers and industrialists, the University, ‘scientific’ shipbuilders and marine engineers, and local media, was strong; and Rankine was on call to ensure, in an earlier manifesto, that for the IES, ‘Glasgow is our laboratory’. Despite the very clear orientation towards Glasgow, the IES could, and did, claim a national presence, in several senses: it was an institution both in and ‘for’ Scotland, supplementing and, to some extent, competing with the institutions of Edinburgh and of London, working to brand Scottish engineering and shipbuilding as distinctively scientific, and opposing those elements of the ICE that made philosophical (or science-oriented) engineers at best ‘honorary’ rather than integral. As well as discussing how the relationship of the IES with its university, industry, and city corporation was maintained through to the end the century, I hope, in this paper, to speculate on broader issues, including the divergence of the urban cultures of geographically proximate cities (like Glasgow and Edinburgh) through the agency of material and intellectual communication.