Science in the 20th Century and Beyond (History of Science)

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Auteur: Jon Agar. Uitgever: Polity Press. Samenvatting A compelling history of science from to the present day, this is the first book to survey modern developments in science during a century of unprecedented change, conflict and uncertainty. The scope is global. Science's claim to access universal truths about the natural world made it an irresistible resource for industrial empires, ideological programs, and environmental campaigners during this period.

Science has been at the heart of twentieth century history - from Einstein's new physics to the Manhattan Project, from eugenics to the Human Genome Project, or from the wonders of penicillin to the promises of biotechnology. For some science would only thrive if autonomous and kept separate from the political world, while for others science was the best guide to a planned and better future. Science was both a routine, if essential, part of an orderly society, and the disruptive source of bewildering transformation.

Jon Agar draws on a wave of recent scholarship that explores science from interdisciplinary perspectives to offer a readable synthesis that will be ideal for anyone curious about the profound place of science in the modern world. Toon meer Toon minder. Recensie s Winner of the Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title Agar has abstracted and made manageable a range of rich and informed analysis. Anyone who thinks seriously about science will find it a very useful source. The Economist Global in scope and fresh in approach, this monumental history lays out the evolution of science during a tumultuous century.

Nature Truly extraordinary in its depth and breadth, it makes significant contributions to the history of science and more broadly to our understanding of twentieth-century history. It is also remarkable in that, while written primarily with a scholarly audience in mind, it's nevertheless accessible and of interest to a wider audience, and an excellent advertisement for the discipline.

British Society for the History of Science Judging by the majestic scope of Jon Agar s new volume, we still have fertile big-picture approaches to guide us through the untidily evolving and multiplying plurality of the natural sciences. Generations of students might take great pride in critiquing the book, just as scholars have done for fifty years with Kuhn s in famously challenging The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Reviews in History Agar's approach focuses on the relationship of science to external ideas and practices, thus tying it more tightly to broader histories; it also emphasises patterns of discovery over the individual flashes of insight.

Scientific Discoveries of the 21st Century - Documentary 2018 [HD] (Advexon) #Advexon

Both are useful correctives, and scientists, historians and those who aspire to be either will all benefit from them. The rise of this new type of history coincided with the rise of the modern environmental movement and the emergence of public concern over environmental issues as a major public concern in the s. It was in this mood of environmental concern that the new discipline of environmental history came into being and historians started to look for the origins of the contemporary problems.

We can distinguish several branches in environmental history including green history, the ideas of environment and nature throughout history, pollution and degradation history, to mention only a few. This type of environmental history is anthropocentric and part of the more traditional approaches of political, administrative and intellectual history. To understand the origins of modern environmentalism and our attitudes to nature we need to enter into debates about the nature and origins of contributing fields and currents such as the Frankfurt school, Romanticism, oriental philosophy, monism, rationalism and even Nazism.

That is what Anna Bramwell does in her book Ecology in the 20th Century. It is often said that Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with nature. During the Palaeolithic time of harmony there was plenty of food and resources for humans and the conception of nature was that humans were part of it an that time and nature was cyclical. During the Neolithic period when agriculture was introduced a split between human culture and nature emerged. Humans increasinglu regarded themselves as separated from nature, and that nature was designed and created for their benefit.

If land was not suitable, humans had the ability to alter it and make it useful. According to Oelschlager is this development the moment that natural degeneration began. The result of the emergence of agriculture in the Near East was that Mediterranean peoples became increasingly adept at and aggressive in their endeavours to humanise the landscape. On the other hand the increasing reliance also made them aware that their civilisations depended on nature but also of their distinctiveness of nature. As a result of this contradiction they devised increasingly abstract and complicated explanatory schemes to explain human separation and domination of nature but also failure to control nature, for example in the case of flooding or drought.

The limitations of mastery over nature were explained with forces beyond human control such as deities. But in general the Mediterranean landscape was regarded as divine and designed for humans to live in, to alter at will and to dominate. Out if these rationalisations emerged Greek philosophy and Judaism. Both traditions rationalised the world in their own way. Greek rationalism abandoned mythology for explicit theory and definition and Judaism rationalised the world using a metaphysical framework that explained the world in a metaphoric, allegorical and symbolic way.

Judaism and Greek rationalism came together in Christianity within which the philosophical edifice of Platonism was used to create the concept that ruled the west for the past years. Greek rationalism and Christianity created a concept in which nature was conceived as having no value until humanised. Two other aspects of this tradition are anthropocentrism and the linear conception of time instead of cyclical. This meant that history was teleological, which means that it was pointing in one direction to an ultimate goal of perfection. This manner of thinking is known as the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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In environmentalist literature it is not uncommon to blame the roots of our ecological crisis on the attitudes of the Judeo-Christian tradition towards nature. In this article he argued that Judeo-Christianity preaches that humans are separate from and superior to the rest of nature. In this view nature was created by God to be used and dominated by humankind. According to White, this attitude has translated into harmful attitudes and actions towards nature with the application of technology during.

Pepper sums up some of the most important criticisms and notes that other non-Christian cultures have also abused nature. For example, the ancient Romans exploited nature more intensive than medieval Christianity by exhausting soils in North Africa and destroying forests around the Mediterranean. The same can be said about the idea of the domination over nature granted by the Christian doctrine.

Again, it is not unique and other religions are also stressing human domination over nature. A very important aspect of criticism is the fact that during the Middle Ages older magical, astronomical and spiritual traditions were still more important for most people than White presents it and he tends to overlook other and older cultural influences that are present under the Christian surface. Last but not least, Pepper adds that White overestimates how much religious values influenced general values and actions towards nature during the Middle Ages. It appears that material changes are more important and powerful than religious ones.

The rise of capitalism made Christians exploit nature on a scale never seen under the Judeo-Christian doctrines. In the end capitalism had a much greater impact on western attitudes towards nature than theology because the rise of capitalism commoditised nature, labour, and land.

The cause of this development was the transformation from feudalism to capitalism during which previous pressures to get more out of the land were intensified. Thus the ideology of scientific agricultural improvement gained sway. It has also been argued that there were theological reasons to drain marches and clear forests. According to Midgley was wilderness a challenge to the medieval mind. Simultaneously it exercised human dominion over nature and exterminating paganism. The period before the Renaissance was monistic rather than dualistic, which means that the cosmos was regarded as a whole in which humans were microcosms in a larger order.

The medieval view of nature was that the world was a divine organism in which every plant, creature, every thing had its place given by God. This chain hung from the top of the hierarchy, the place were God resided, to the four basic elements, earth, air, water and fire. God was the source of life and did not remain in himself and spilled over, generating in plenty and bringing life to the things lower on the chain.

In this way all things were linked and interdependent as an organic whole and if one part of the chain was removed, the whole chain of being was in jeopardy. It was as if an organ was cut out of a humanbeing and without the organ he cannot live. This metaphor was used until the start of the modern period. During the Renaissance nature was seen as a book made up of a system of signs and this book needed to be carefully read and studied in order to understand the cosmos and our place in it. They saw the scientific method as an instrument to read the book of nature. Anyone who could read the book and understand nature was able to understand the will of God.

However, it became soon clear that the founders of modern scientific thought, among them Bacon and Descartes, abandoned the theological foundations of science. Mathematics became the language to describe real knowledge about the world. In doing so the new paradigm became: what truly real is, is mathematical and measurable; what cannot be measured cannot have true existence.

What we normally call nature is completely disappeared with Descartes and reduced to numbers; hence this is called the reductionist method. For Descartes nature was a realm that cannot be observed by our own sense but can only be known through the power of reason, what means by rational thinking. In this way nature is reduced to a tool that can be used for the benefit of human society. During the enlightenment the idea of human progress was extended. It is fashionable within environmentalist and conservationist cycles to regard Descartes and Bacon as villains who are guilty of degrading nature from a living organism into a dead mechanism that can be manipulated at will.

But this judgement is possibly too simple. He is not just proposing a mere revolution in human reasoning and mastery of nature but is also aware of the changes in human relations during and after the conquest of nature guided by science. Bacon questions if the outcome of this project is always positive one. The period during which European society regarded nature as something that could be used at will and changed limitlessly to meet our needs did not last for long.

Already during the 17th century the destruction of nature in Europe intensified to such an extent that it was probably more visible for the people than our contemporary environmental problems are for us. He wrote:. One might argue that this was only a local environmental problem that cannot be compared with our continental-wide and even global problems such as global warming. He was among the first to plead for conservation and a sustainable management of the forests.

This classic of the so-called Conservation Movement is followed by many publications repeating the same message: there are limits to human exploitation of nature. To avoid an environmental crisis humanity must behave more responsibly and act as a steward managing and protecting nature. This is also the message of the so-called Brundtland Report that was published by the United Nations in This report stated that we have to behave as good stewards of the earth, creating sustainable development.

But would the call for more responsible behaviour and sustainable use of nature work this time? If we look at the history of the relationship between humans and nature, one can only be very sceptical. In spite of all several warnings of the past three centuries human impact on nature has intensified manifold since the 17th century. It seems that modern proposals for solving environmental problems are merely old ideas in new guise. We are reinventing the wheel and present sustainable development and good stewardship as new solutions to recent problems.

It appears that our current problems and the rise of modern environmental concern in the last forty years or so are working as a lens that obscures the past. The 19th century debate about climatic change caused by the clearing of the Indian forest and the debate about the effects of overpopulation Malthus shows that concern for the environment is a continuous story.

Timeline of Science and Technology in the 20th Century

Studying environmental history shows us that our current problems are not so new and unique as many of us think and that they are the products of a long historical process. At the same time of the scientific revolution the European powers were in the process of rapid colonial expansion.

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To make the new discovered lands economic useful, the study of plants, animals and geography was stimulated and it is with this context that we must put the appointment of botanists and other scientists in service of the East Indian Company and other colonial authorities and the activities of missionaries and surgeons as naturalists. He saw a perfect hierarchy in the natural world and thus he categorises all plants in a system of families and genera.

Curiosity about the environment and natural world was thus rising and in this atmosphere Alexander von Humboldt voyaged the world to discover how the balance of nature was achieved. Humboldt was a German scholar and explorer whose interests encompassed virtually all of the natural and physical sciences. He laid the foundations for modern physical geography, geophysics, and biogeography and helped to popularise science.

However, another voyage, that of the Beagle, led to the development of the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin. The idea of evolution proved vital to the creation of ecology as a science. He defined ecology as the study of the web of relationships that link all species, including humanity. The link between the development of ecology and the colonial context provided the background for a distinct type of environmental history: the impact of imperialism and colonialism on the natural world. Where the Americans had taken Thoreau, Leopold and Muir as the beginning of modern environmentalism and conservation, Richard Grove is pushing the origins back into the 18th century.

He argues that the European expansion produced a situation in which tropical islands were seen as symbolic locations for idealised landscapes, images of the Garden of Eden. The commercial exploitation of tropical islands and India led to environmental degradation of these islands and local extinction of plant and animal species. This led to an increased anxiety about human caused regional climatic change and species extinctions during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the wake of this concern the first measures were taken by colonial authorities to prevent deforestation and protect rare species.

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This concern for the environment reached a climax around , when the Indian Forest Service was established, almost 60 years before such as service emerged in Britain. Alfred Crosby explored in this context the role of bio-ecological factors in the Europeanisation of large parts of the world, in particular South America.

He argued that there are two distinctive ecological realms. The second area covers roughly the tropical belt of the world map 1. Map 1: The countries of demographic takeover. Zone 2: Tropics. The biological differences between both zones defined the success of European settlement. Between and about 50 million people emigrated from Europe and most of them settled in the temperate zones where they have been extremely successful.

In the tropical zone, European settlement practically failed and the causes for this phenomenon are of an ecological kind. The ecological system of the Old World was extremely aggressive in comparison to the ecological system of the Americas and the other white settlement colonies. The invasion of European diseases, such as measles and smallpox, and the introduction of animals and plants caused a disaster among the indigenous populations and ecosystems. The fate of the Central and South Americans empires is well known. Their where practically decimated by disease after the arrival of the Spanish at the start of the 16th century.

Before the European conquest the Mexican population is estimate to have numbered between 25 to 30 million. By , less than 50 years after the first contact with Europeans, the population had shrunk to about three million. In their new environments, European crops and cattle flourished better than in the Old World and they adapted quickly and overwhelmed many local species.

In this way they provided a sustainable environment for the European settlers and without the success of the European ecological system in the colonies, it is unlikely that the settlers would have succeeded in occupying North America, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia in only a few generations. William McNeill discussed in his book Plagues and Peoples the importance of epidemics and disease in world history. Ponting points out that:.

Over the last The universal expansion of settlement and the creation of fields and pastures for agriculture, the continual clearing of forests and other wild areas, … , have steadily reduced the habitats of almost every kind of animal and plant.


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  • Past human actions have left contemporary societies with an almost insuperably difficult set of problems. This is a rather gloomy vision of history, however, one cannot hide from the fact that past human action has affected the planet on a global scale, changing the natural world.

    But to present most changes as decay caused by humans is probably a rather narrow-minded approach because the natural world itself is never static but always evolving. It is changing so rapidly and leaves such a deep imprint on human society that we might search in vain for a recognisable stable state of nature. The task of environmental historians is to dissect these representations, reconstruct them, trace their origins and place them in their historical context.

    In doing so historians can show how little these ideological perceptions have to do with the real natural world. One of such perceptions is that nature is capable to quickly recover from human interference, especially if aided with good management policies.

    Jon Agar: Science in the twentieth century and beyond | SpringerLink

    Many proponents of the free market economy favour this perception because it does not require any action or interference from humans, or narrowly defined the free market. On the other side of the perception spectrum we find the idea that nature is very vulnerable and easily damaged by human activity. Therefore humans must be cautious about any development and even regarded as acting outside of unspoiled nature. According to Pepper each perception or myth functions as a cultural filter that determines how adherents of different perceptions perceive the environment at the present day and in the past.

    They are mental categories, concepts that try to describe the real world. These past concepts might differ from ours but we must careful in judging it because is always easy to be wise after the event. By studying the social and historical filters, historians can reconstruct a perceived environment and explain particular opinions and actions of distinctive groups. This will help us understand how others and ourselves arrived at the present set of attitudes and ideas and to evaluate them critically.

    This will also help us to identify misconceptions in environmental thinking and perceptions about nature. It will contribute to stimulate the development of new environmentally sound concepts and attitudes. These people are portrayed as having lived in harmony with the land and not disturbing its natural balance through the application of technology or demographic pressure.

    This idea is also an important force in political arguments used by native people especially in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Science and Imperial Order 8. Revolutions and Materialism Nazi Science Science and the Second World War Trials of Science in the Atomic Age Cold War Spaces Transition: Sea Change in the Long Sixties Networks Connecting Ends Part 5: Conclusions Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Reviews Winner of the Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title "Agar has abstracted and made manageable a range of rich and informed analysis.

    It is also remarkable in that, while written primarily with a scholarly audience in mind, it's nevertheless accessible and of interest to a wider audience, and an excellent advertisement for the discipline. Both are useful correctives, and scientists, historians and those who aspire to be either will all benefit from them. I suggest it would also be of wider relevance to teachers of A-level science, giving us a little of the breadth occasionally. Jon Agar has set this to rights with this book, which will interest the scholar, the historian and the enquiring mind of any discipline.

    But Agar has given us something more than that: his book is an innovative model of how one might think about scientific practices at temporal and institutional scales much larger than those to which modern historical writing has become accustomed.



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