As the History of Science Society holds its annual meeting in Utrecht, one of the key academic centers on the European continent, one may surmise that the field has returned home. Yet, this hardly reflects how today’s world of scholarship is constituted: in the historiography of science, “provincializing Europe” has become an important theme, while the field itself, as is the case across the world of academia, is centered around a predominantly American literature. At the same time, ever since historians of science have emancipated themselves from the sciences a long time ago, they often have appeared, in the public eye, to question rather than to seek to bolster the authority of the sciences.
How has this situation come about, and what does it tell us about the world we live in today? What insight is sought and what public benefit is gained by the historical study of science? As we try to answer these questions, we will follow a number of key mid-twentieth century historians in their Atlantic crossings. Their answers to debates on the constitution of the early modern ‘scientific revolution’ or the novelty of the work of Albert Einstein will illustrate how notions of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ have shifted—and what that may tell us about being ‘in Europe’ today.
Jeroen van Dongen is Professor of History of Science at the University of Amsterdam. He studies black holes, Einstein, and themes that cut across science in its Cold war contexts and general questions of how to conduct historiography. He has taught and researched at Utrecht University, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech.