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Cry "Good for history, Cambridge and Saint George"? Essay Review of Mary Jo Nye (Ed.); The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 5. The Modern Physical and Mathematical Sciences, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

By G. Gooday


FIRST PARAGRAPH\ud This volume is the third thus far published of The Cambridge history of science, planned in eight parts over the last decade by Cambridge University Press. Noting the incompleteness of George Sarton’s heroic solo endeavour on a comparably magisterial scale (Sarton, 1953–1959), Cambridge general editors David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers adopted a more pragmatic multiple author approach in devising this new series. They devote the four latter volumes to that fertile wonder ‘modern science’, its modernity construed chronologically as the post-1800 era. While Volume 6 encompasses the biological and earth sciences ( Bowler & Pickstone, forthcoming), Volume 7 deals with the social sciences ( Porter & Ross, 2003), and Volume 8 examines the sciences in national and international setting ( Livingstone & Numbers, forthcoming). Lindberg and Numbers thus circumscribe the territory of Volume 5 to be the history of physics, chemistry, astronomy and mathematics in the Euro-American world. Although this might seem a fairly conventional—even conservative—subject clustering, few historians would have felt undaunted by the heterogeneity of such material, the narrowness of the brief and the long two-century period of coverage. This volume must therefore be judged with sensitivity to the difficulties of leading thirty-seven scholars in diverse specialisms to produce a coherent product, and the sheer impracticability of Sarton’s near-Shakespearean ambitions for unitary drama. Useful comparisons can thus be made with recent works that offer a multi-perspectival view over comparably broad terrain: John Krige and Dominic Pestre’s stimulating and uncomplacent Science in the twentieth century (1997), and the more radically inclusive bibliographical essays in Arne Hessenbruch (Ed.), The reader’s guide to the history of science (Hessenbruch, 2000)

Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2004
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:3227

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