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Science without frontiers. Cosmopolitanism and national interests in modern Europe

Robert Fox, Emeritus Professor of History of Science at the University of Oxford, delivers a talk as part of the celebration of the CEHIC's 20th anniversary
cehic 19/10/2015

Professor Robert Fox
Professor Robert Fox

El proper divendres 23 d'octubre tindrà lloc al CEHIC el segon dels actes acadèmics de celebració del 20è aniversari de la fundació del Centre i la reubicació al Mòdul de Recerca de Ciències (MRC), Carrer de Can Magrans, s/n, Campus de la UAB. Ho celebrarem amb una conferència del professor Robert Fox, catedràtic emèrit d'Història de la Ciència de la Universitat d'Oxford, a la qual assistirà el Rector de la UAB, el Dr. Ferran Sancho. Esperem que ens pogueu acompanyar en aquesta celebració acadèmica, a la qual esteu cordialment convidats.

Robert Fox took a doctorate in the history of science at Oxford, after reading physics as an undergraduate. His thesis, entitled: “The study of the thermal properties of gases in relation to physical theory from Montgolfier to Regnault (1967),” was supervised by Alistair Crombie, a leading figure of our discipline.

After twenty years at the University of Lancaster he was a appointed Director of the Centre de recherche en histoire des sciences et des techniques (CRHST), at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (La Villette) in Paris (1986–88), to later became Professor of the History of Science at Oxford from 1988 to 2006. As Emeritus Professor since 2006, he has held visiting positions in a number of universities and research groups in the USA and Europe: Johns Hopkins University, East Carolina University, Oregon State University. He was also the founding president of the European Society for the History of Science (2003-2006), and he currently edits the journal Notes and Records of the Royal Society.

Robert Fox’s interests have been mainly in the history of physics and the relations between science, technology, and industry in Europe since the eighteenth century, with special reference to France. His allegiance to European multiculturalism has provided in all these years a vibrant and truly European international research school for the history of science. His vision probably anticipated some of the current prominent trends in global and transnational history of science, and the urge to push historiographical categories beyond the frame of the nation-state. His book The savant and the state (2012) crowns his enormous contribution to the culture of science in nineteenth-century France, yet still another book, forthcoming in 2016, Science without frontiers. Cosmopolitanism and national interest in the world of learning, 1870-1940, examines world fairs, politics, and information practices across several municipalities and nations.

Science without frontiers. Cosmopolitanism and national interests in modern Europe

The ideal of an international world of learning in which knowledge passed freely between scientists, regardless of political frontiers and language, captured imaginations during the second half of the nineteenth century. It bore fruit in unprecedentedly ambitious schemes for the ordering and retrieval of information and in a proliferation of universal exhibitions and congresses driven by the rhetoric of openness and cooperation. But in peace as in the world wars of the twentieth century national interests provided a constant counterweight at odds with the universalist vision and fed the tensions between ideal and reality.

In this lecture, Professor Fox discusses early attempts to classify knowledge by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine and pre World War I universalist visions of a world where science was the engine of progress and all knowledge was open to everyone. He  also compares the international universalist exhibitions beginning with The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations (the Crystal Palace Exhibition) of 1851 on through some post-World War I era exhibitions. He finally explores the impact of World War I on universalist aspirations. Specifically discussed are the Nobel Prizes, the rise of national science museums, and the 1937 Paris Exposition Internationale Arts et Techniques.