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Charles Singer and the founding of the British Society for the History of Science

By G. Cantor


[FIRST PARAGRAPHS]\ud \ud Presidential addresses offer an opportunity to reflect on the history of our subject and\ud where the history of science stands in our own day. Such reflections are particularly\ud appropriate with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the British Society for the\ud History of Science (BSHS) which is marked in 1997. Some may consider that looking\ud back over our past is either an unacceptable luxury or an occasion for the kind of\ud celebration that can all too easily degenerate into hagiography and an excuse to rake over\ud the past in a thoroughly uncritical manner." This address - and I trust the events of 1997\ud - will try to avoid such excesses and instead contribute to the historiography of our\ud subject.\ud \ud \ud This paper contains an all-too-sketchy account of the role of the first president, Charles\ud Singer (1876±1960), in the founding of the BSHS. My main theme is Singer's commitment\ud to a form of internationalism that appeared so necessary and so appealing after Europe had\ud been shattered by Fascism and a devastating war. I shall be exploring the ways in which\ud his background and the political events of the 1930s and 1940s shaped his vision for the\ud history of science in the post-war era and especially his concern to found a specifically\ud British society that would, through encouraging study of the history of science, contribute\ud to international peace and stability. I should make clear at the outset that by focusing on\ud Singer I will doubtless undervalue the roles of the many other people who were active in\ud the early years of this Society. There are, without doubt, other contending narratives and\ud ones that I hope will soon be heard. I also approach this subject with some trepidation in the realization that some of my readers will have known Singer and may themselves have\ud been actors in the events I am discussing

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 1997
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