January 2016 – In Memoriam

John Farley

John Farley

Canadian Historian of Science, John Farley

23 April 1936 — 10 November 2015

G. McOuat, the History of Science and Technology Programme, University of King’s College/Dalhousie, with material from the Dalhousie Department of Biology, the Chronicle Herald, and reminiscences from friends and family.

Born in Leicester, U.K., in 1936, John Farley joined Dalhousie University’s Biology Department as an Assistant Professor in 1964. Although trained as a parasitologist, and a teacher of invertebrate biology, John took a sabbatical leave at Harvard University in 1970-71 where he began his transformation into a leading historian of science. He soon turned his teaching to the history of science and the history of medicine in classes cross-listed across Biology, History, and Medicine at Dalhousie and at King’s College. His passion for teaching—his way of bringing history alive—was reflected in the huge popularity of his classes. In his well-subscribed History of Medicine classes, for example, he took his biology, history and pre-med students into the lives and mindsets of medical practitioners and patients of various ages—pressing them to abandon our present knowledge and imagine how they would experience disease and health. On his own account, his irreverent lectures on Darwin and the history of science delivered in the King’s venerable “great books” Foundation Year Programme (FYP) got him repeatedly kicked out of the FYP lecture line-up (only to be asked to return again and again). His energy and total dedication to making history of science an essential part of the curriculum for both arts and science students became a catalyst for establishing the History of Science and Technology Programme at the University of King’s College, although by the time the programme came into being in 2000 he had retired.

John’s first forays into the history of science resulted in a collaboration with Gerald Gieson producing one of the iconic contextual studies in the history of science: “Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation in Nineteenth-Century France: The Pasteur- Pouchet Debate,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 48 (1974), pp. 161-198. John and Gerald took a classic case study of an experimental success (one of the key textbook examples of good science triumphing over darkness), namely Pasteur’s defeat of Pouchet, and they completely dismantled it, revealing the formative political, social, philosophical and metaphysical underworkings of the debate. It was very radical for its time, and remains so, used as a classic case of the “indeterminacy of theory by data” thesis in the philosophy of science. This was expanded in his first book The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin (Johns Hopkins, 1977), which remains the best treatment of what John liked to call “Life Without Parents.” His second book, Gametes and Spores: Ideas about Sexual Reproduction, 1750-1914 (Johns Hopkins, 1982), contained important insights for biologists and historians into how our approach to and understanding of reproduction has changed over time.

After his work on spontaneous generation, John turned to the history of medicine, especially tropical diseases, starting with Bilharzia: A History of Imperial Tropical Medicine (Cambridge University Press, 1991). In 1995 John took early retirement to concentrate on writing but continued to teach. From his “retirement” two further books emerged: To Cast Out Disease: A History of the International Health Division of Rockefeller Foundation (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and a biography of the Canadian Brock Chisholm: Brock Chisholm, the World Health Organization & the Cold War (UBC Press, 2008), establishing his importance in the history of medicine and the developing interest in globalized history of health.

No mere one-sided academic, John continued his passion for competitive “master swimming” past retirement, winning numerous local and national awards and, in his last years, set provincial records in the 100 and 200m freestyle, the 50 and 100m breaststroke and the 100 and 200m individual medley in the 70-74
age group. He continued to be active, teaching English as a second language at the Halifax Public Library and as a volunteer patient at the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie. In his last year John was developing a class for seniors on the history of medicine. John could be seen at his weekly gatherings at the “Henry House Pub” with his beloved wife, Grace, friends and family holding court about rugby, beer, politics, and the ridiculousness of academic life.

Although one of the key figures in our field, John was an immensely humble and self-effacing man. He never lost his playful side, nor his deflationary tactics in the face of pretention. John had little patience with abstract discussions of historiography or philosophy of science and he disliked history of science meetings. It was always frustrating for our more theoretically smitten students when they would fail to drag him into debates over his views of this or that methodological turn in the historiography or sociology of science. In light of this it is perhaps ironic that his early work became so important in support of the “Strong Programme” in the sociology of scientific knowledge, which didn’t interest him at all. He thought it was too abstract and maybe just too pretentious. He prided himself on his hard empirical work, and the importance of the taking seriously the intricacies of the subjects he studied (albeit, of course, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, perhaps knowing that what he said would have large theoretical consequences).

John passed away on November 10 at the age of 79. As per his final wishes, John’s body was accepted into the Body Donation Programme at Dalhousie Medical School. He is survived by his loving family, wife Grace, children Gael, Gyneth, James and Gilmour and his five grandchildren, and his colleagues and friends in Halifax, Canada and the history of science community worldwide. Our community has lost a great friend, colleague and inspiration.

Hamilton Cravens

Hamilton Cravens

‘Triumph’: A Remembrance of Hamilton Cravens

12 August 1938 — 24 November 2015

David Seim, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Hamilton Cravens should be remembered as one of his generation’s finest intellectual historians.

I remember the last time that Hamilton and I attended a conference session together. It was November 2014, at the History of Science Society’s annual meeting, in Chicago. While sitting outside the session room, I saw Ham as he walked up. I had expected that he would attend that session. He smiled big, and genuine. I so appreciated my chance to then settle into a seat alongside him. We visited a bit, yes even a few times quietly during the session. Especially we chatted for some good minutes afterwards. As I have known Hamilton since 1999, one bit of our time was to get caught up. Yet we did not need much of that, as we had already established our habit of meeting twice yearly for lunch. During that particular extended conversation in a hotel lobby, mostly we talked about ideas. I recall my quietly-held understanding of what, embodied in such complex thoughts and memories of my former advisor, was undeniably much accumulated and well-managed wisdom. Yet as I had also been a graduate student who studied Hamilton’s writings along with assorted responses to them, I understood that his wisdom, to some extent, arose from his ability to learn from experience. And included in some of those experiences—as really maybe only a graduate student would find them—were just a few small and mild missteps made through many years of professional engagement.

In August 1962, after completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington, Hamilton arrived at the University of Iowa. He went there in pursuit of the best. Hamilton, in his owns words, selected “to take my PhD with Stow Persons,” a renowned teacher and scholar who through a series of works had already helped lay much of our foundation of modern American intellectual history. Hamilton attended packed classes, moved well through his studies, got a dissertation in the works, and obtained a temporary teaching position at Ohio State University. While teaching many classes, Hamilton shortly completed his dissertation, which he hoped soon to publish.

In the fall of 1968, Hamilton arrived at his tenure-track job at Iowa State University, right at his thirtieth birthday. There he remained for 42 years, teaching wide-ranging courses for generations of grateful undergraduates, and supervising scholarly learning and professional development of dozens of graduate students—including my own doctoral work, completed in spring 2007.

Hamilton became a member of the American Historical Association, American Studies Association, Organization of American Historians, and the History of Science Society. He was active, as well, with the Midwest Junto for the History of Science, and he occasionally even presented a paper or organized a session on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology. Many historians gained opportunities to meet and enjoy visiting with Hamilton. Hamilton also well represented himself, as well as our big group of historians collectively, when overseas. He was three times a Fulbright recipient—a Fulbright professor in 1988-89 (Göttingen University), Fulbright professor again in 1999 (Bonn University and the Max Planck Institute), and a Distinguished Fulbright scholar at the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, The Netherlands, in spring 2007.

Over a long career Hamilton held himself, as well as all historians, to high standards. When he studied and assessed others’ publications, these standards were such that Hamilton intended to calibrate his expectations as appropriate to where each person was in his or her career. While Hamilton and I were at that wonderful 2014 HSS session, we took time to process three papers each delivered by keynote-level scholars. Hamilton let me know just occasionally when he believed one of these fine historians had a worthy insight. He was capable too of noting (not just on that day) when he believed that some attainable, even if plainer, point of importance had been missed. And again, this latter care of critical commentary on Hamilton’s part was something that he aimed to pitch at a level proper for each recipient. Over the years that I knew him, the great majority of Hamilton’s critical pitches went at least close to target. There were qualities of courage and service to how he did this.

Sometimes Hamilton’s critical points could miss a target. And, sometimes these points probably went otherwise astray, perhaps because the target itself was a little bit misunderstood. Why do I say this? Well, it stands first to reason. Hamilton had a long professional career. He willingly, and at times candidly, offered guidance to help all of us historians be better at what we do – better for our individualized efforts at self-actualization, and better in our service to what Hamilton believed historians of social science should collectively undertake. Hamilton served to advance the history of social science in every way that he could envision.
There are other reasons why I figure that Hamilton might have missed an occasional target. One reason is that he pushed his own abilities; sometimes he tried for selected targets right at the edge of his own knowledge. And as to a final reason why I figure I know this, it’s probably my best reason: I was one of his doctoral students. I read not only his books and major articles, but also reviews of his books. In fact, I even read some of his reviews of other historians’ books.

Through all that Hamilton accomplished after arriving in Ames, Iowa, in 1968, he actually first struggled a bit. Particularly he did not find it easy to publish that wonderful dissertation. It was a contribution that he so much believed in making to our modern values, and it was a contribution with which he must have so much wanted to please his own advisor.

Then Hamilton’s scholarship came fully on the scene. It was 1978, he was forty years old, and he published The Triumph of Evolution: American Scientists and the Heredity-Environment Controversy, 1900-1941—a book later subtitled just slightly differently for subsequent reprinting. Drawing from ideas germinating at least as early as 1962, Hamilton had done what he could. He had paid the usual price as well, of family moves and family time lost. The book, today recognized as its own kind of triumph, significantly expanded our historical understanding of many complexities as well as ironies and lapses in an overall march of scientific sensibility: the favoring of powers of nurture over nature. The immediate reception of the book, as I silently learned while a graduate student, consisted of some really positive reviews by leading historians, and perhaps a review where it seems a reader at least fairly attempted to figure out what the mission was. (Hamilton later communicated to me how he intended that word ‘Triumph’ to carry intonations of wry irony, sarcasm.) And then there was one really severe review that I found—in my proper role as a graduate student—which it was not my business to ask about.

What any of us knows is this: If you work that long and hard on a project that you intend to be a great service, then it must be a shock—and unexpected betrayal—to be so hammered in a review. How did Hamilton respond? In highly complex ways I believe.

Just a few years later there was a fine book published, an important study of multiple fields of social science that just overlapped the timeframe and some subject matter of Hamilton’s book. Yet this book differed too much in viewpoint perhaps. Or it simply neglected Hamilton’s book. Hamilton reviewed that book, harshly. It is a good book. These things happen.

Hamilton mellowed. He kept motivated. He went through some health crises, issues that arose from years of stress and cigarettes. Then he quit smoking. His health came back. His family life changed, first a bit adversely, then again for the better, but then Hamilton went through yet another health crisis: cancer. He recovered well enough. Throughout this stretch of a series of personal challenges and events, Hamilton developed other manners of engagement with the profession. We know that during his last couple of decades Hamilton gained a reputation for being as helpful of younger historians as an elder can be. For his own students, his efforts turned simply indefatigable—not least of which was all those many recommendation letters. For junior-level historians whom he met along the way, he did all he could to help, as well.

As to the timeline, it quickens. In 1993, following some fifteen years with many articles, Hamilton published his monograph, Before Head Start: The Iowa Station & America’s Children. This book, extensively well researched, was again structured to prove the powers of nurture. It is simply a grand accomplishment as a work of synthesis and storytelling, by a keen and determined mind maybe at its best.

Then one year, there was a book that people talked about, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994). When that book gained its press time, Americans heard about the return of an argument that it is nature that prevails over nurture—that born with little intellect, you amount to relatively little in life. Or if born from parents with high intellect, you receive high intellect at birth, and your chances of success in life are great. And, said the authors—which so distressed Hamilton and what all of his work aimed to show—there were policy implications. That “Bell Curve book” somehow advocated for policies to treat various racial and ethnic groups differently. All Hamilton would want me to say, I am going to believe, is that his response was to speak, on a few campuses at least, against that argument. He did this when he was still not in the best of health. Hamilton also brought his viewpoint back to scholarly meetings and conferences.

Hamilton was active especially in HSS. In recent years he served on the Finance Committee, he was an Isis advisory editor, and with some regularity he served on the Committee on Meetings and Programs. Most notable is Hamilton’s many years of service supporting the Forum for the History of the Human Sciences. From 2002 to 2006, Hamilton served as chair of FHHS, during which time he was especially known for offering guidance to that struggling and modest group, as (in words from the succeeding chair of FHHS) “he infused us with his energy, challenging us to do a great deal more to raise the visibility of our group.” During his time as chair Hamilton established the FHHS Distinguished Lecture at the annual meeting of HSS, and in 2009, Hamilton himself delivered that lecture. But Hamilton is remembered most of all, again, for how deeply he cared to bring in young scholars and to help them with their individual projects, as well as bring them into the group.

Hamilton published more articles and reviews. He edited or coedited a number of books, typically including quite a number of contributions by younger scholars and even graduate students. Included are these edited volumes: Technical Knowledge in American Culture (1996), Health Care Policy in Contemporary America (2002), The Social Sciences Go to Washington (2004), Race and Science: Scientific Challenges to Racism in Modern America (2009), and Cold War Social Science (2012).

Of all of his writings, the most influential on me is probably Hamilton’s 25-page article in 1985, simply on “History of the Social Sciences.” I find no broad survey of the history of the social sciences, from beginning to end, existing prior to this piece. Hamilton’s broad-sweep analysis and framework, solicited by HSS for the inaugural volume of the revived Osiris, came from a scholar who by 1985 was still an intellectual historian. Yet with that piece, I believe Hamilton started on his road to being also a historian of social science. In that article he posed the question, “why anyone should be interested in the history of the social sciences in America”? This was a bigger question than he could fully answer. For to answer it would require a lifetime of careful analysis of a long history of “experts” employing “the ideas and techniques of the social sciences to resolve tensions between the group and the individual.” Thirty years later, Hamilton was far along on this last project, a monograph on the history of the social sciences.

What did Hamilton do right? My response to such a question, is many things. But most of all he made friends. So many friends. By 2015, Hamilton was truly blessed with caring and devoted friends.

Hamilton Cravens died on November 24, 2015. In his obituary, a request—from his wife Carole Davis Kazmierski—is that if anyone wishes to donate in Hamilton’s remembrance, donate to support democratic expression and process, including support of public radio.

Charles Gillispie

Charles Gillispie

Charles Gillispie in the Genesis of the History of Science

6 August 1918 – 6 October 2015

by Seymour Mauskopf and Michael McVaugh

We met Charles Gillispie—and each other—for the first time in the fall of 1960, when Princeton launched its Program in the History and Philosophy of Science. We were its first history entrants, and Charles (and John Murdoch, just appointed from Harvard) made up the history of science faculty. Charles was immediately a daunting personage: tall and rather imposing, with exceptionally closely cut hair, very uncommon in those days; formal in speech and manner, with a short dry chuckle his normal expression of amusement. It was not until we had been out on our own, teaching, for at least three years, at Duke and Chapel Hill respectively, before we could bring ourselves to call him “Charles” to his face. His personality was complemented by that of his warm and charming wife, Emily. Charles and Emily would have semester gatherings at their cozy house off campus; these are some of the most vivid and pleasant memories that we cherish.

We did not appreciate that he might have felt his new graduate students a little daunting, too, though for quite different reasons. He was an exceptionally gifted undergraduate teacher, and the program had been built on the success of a Princeton undergraduate course in the history of science that he had begun to offer in 1956 and that had evolved into his just-published interpretative survey, The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960); some of its anecdotes (Joule measuring the temperature of waterfalls on his honeymoon) are no doubt echoes from those lectures, and his manner had probably been honed on his undergraduates, with whom all his life he continued to maintain close ties, even after they had graduated. But graduate students were something new to him. As was the Program: what shape was it to have? There were still almost no other models—Harvard and Wisconsin, perhaps; Indiana began its HPS program that same year. Like Indiana, the Princeton program was one in history and philosophy of science, and it came into being as a result of Charles’ interest in training graduate students in history of science and his realization that good students were unlikely to come to work with a singleton (Murdoch’s appointment was in philosophy) in this field in a history department. The linkage with philosophy of science had little to do with any feeling on Charles’ part that historians of science needed training in it. Nor was it fostered by or in association with the distinguished Vienna Circle philosopher of science at Princeton, Carl G. Hempel (1).

In retrospect, we can sense that he was feeling his way, and that that first year was an experiment in which we were the unknowing subjects. He must have had in mind a series of three graduate seminars (there were then two years of graduate study before qualifying exams, followed by the dissertation; students were supposed to finish in four years [!]). The first of these seminars, given in spring 1961, addressed the seventeenth century: the class consisted of us and Bill Schuyler, who had just entered the philosophy side of the program (a fan of E. R. Eddison), plus two auditors a dozen years older than us: Gordon Fisher, a Junior Fellow in the Humanities and instructor in mathematics at Princeton, and Stanley Jaki (“Father Jaki,” as Charles punctiliously addressed him), a priest trained in philosophy, physics, and theology. We occasionally felt out of our depth. Secondary literature was sparse in those days, and copiers of course non-existent; we were each told to buy E. J. Dijksterhuis as a kind of textbook. We read the Études Galiléenes early on, but we spent most of the semester deeply engaged in sources, going first through Favaro’s twenty-volume edition of Galileo and then the ten-volume Dutch edition of Huygens’ complete works, instructed to give reports on individual volumes (one of us was assigned Galileo’s work on fortifications, the other gave a three-hour account of the Horologium Oscillatorium). The next year it was the Enlightenment (articles from the Encyclopédie), and finally the nineteenth century, bracketed by Gerhard Hennemann—in German—and J. T. Merz. Charles had not yet learned (if he ever did) to make allowances for a graduate student’s possible limitations in science or in foreign languages.

We were trained as “internalists,” of course (not that the term then existed), in the sense that we wanted to understand why Arnald of Villanova or René-Just Haüy had thought as he had. Alexandre Koyré was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study for half a year in 1961 and 1962, and Charles made a point of driving us out to meet him there. But Galileo on fortifications, or Hennemann on Naturphilosophie, or the Encyclopédie—or Joule’s honeymoon—should make it clear that Charles was well aware that wider social, technical, and personal factors had to play a part in any account of scientific development, and we willingly absorbed that lesson too.

Other students joined the program as we took our exams, and our contacts with Charles centered on his direction of both our dissertations, for at that point he was temporarily on his own: John Murdoch had gone back to Harvard in 1963, leaving the responsibilities of the graduate program entirely in Charles’ hands until Tom Kuhn arrived in 1964, at just the moment when we were going out into the academic world. But by this time Charles had become somewhat more comfortable with graduate instruction. When one of us came back in 1965 for his PhD final oral, the first in the short history of the program, Charles was at ease enough for a joke, saying, as he opened the exam, “I’m not sure whether today we are marking the birth of the Program’s first child or the loss of its virginity”—with a smile, and the dry chuckle somewhat louder than usual.

Regarding his scholarly corpus, it is prodigious indeed, especially if one adds the monumental Dictionary of Scientific Biography, which Charles spearheaded and presided over as Editor-in-Chief (2). At the risk of being presumptuous, we shall try to give a brief characterization of fifty years of prolific publication. A good point of entry is Charles’ own account of his double undergraduate interest/ formation: the study of chemistry (his “duty”) and of history (his “joy”) (3). What is noteworthy is his formation in history rather than philosophy or just science, as had characterized many of the notable historian-of-science precursors to the modern discipline. The time was, of course, propitious for him, since history of science was just emerging as a professional discipline.

Now, the practice of history of science can obviously relate to many different interests, activities and objectives. In Charles’ case (and, we would suggest, those of Henry Guerlac, Allan Debus, and many other historians of science of the 1950s and 1960s), it meant complete immersion in voluminous sources (4) and, hence, in the society, culture, politics, institutions, etc.—and, of course, science—of the era when these sources were written. Beginning in the mid-1950s, under the influence of the great historian of the French Revolution, R. R. Palmer, for whose course on Revolutionary and Napoleonic France Charles was a preceptor at Princeton, his research interest became focused on just the time and place of this course: France, ca. 1770-1820 (Gillispie, “Apologia,” pp. S86-87). This focus prevailed for the next half-century, climaxing in the publication of Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years in 2004 (5), when Charles was well up in his eighties! The result, particularly in those two magisterial volumes, is something akin to the anthropologist, Clifford Geertz’s “thick description.” But this is not simply history for the sake of relating wie es eigentlich gewesen. As Charles pointed out in the second of these volumes, France ca. 1770-1820 was the time and place where the state, political and social ideology, and science all began to assume their modern (i.e., nineteenth- and twentieth-century) guises. Regarding science, the country and the era witnessed an unprecedented efflorescence of high creativity, which set the stage for development in all of science for the rest of the nineteenth century.

Charles related in extraordinary detail the activities of his scientists (often including their research), the developments of the institutions in which they came to be educated and employed, their professionalization, their activities with and for the state, and their intersections with politics. With all of this, Charles eschewed easy causality. Thus, as “one of the leading themes of this history,” he delineated, for the overall period, two eras in which different modes of scientific research prevailed: science of the ancien régime was “encyclopedic,” whereas in the nineteenth century it had become “positivist (6).” Although there was an obvious correlation between the two scientific eras and the pre- and post-revolutionary eras, Charles did not attempt grandiose socio-political explanations or reductions; the nearest he came to explanation was to relate the scientific changes to the success of the institutions for technical education that emerged during and after the French Revolution, “which produced scientists, even though they were intended to turn out engineers and doctors, in large part because they were in keeping with the needs and forces of the future (7).”

Perhaps because of his quintessential “thick” historical perspective, Charles was less interested in some of the philosophical and sociological concerns that became important—even central—to the field by the 1970s: the nature of scientific change and the genesis (“production”) of scientific knowledge (We might also add: their problematization and explanations in terms of socio-politico-cultural contexts). However, although in his strictly historical studies he rarely addressed this subject directly, he did examine these concerns in one early work that has probably remained his best known and that we have already mentioned: The Edge of Objectivity. The context for the origin of this work was very different from his historical research: it was the undergraduate lecture course in history of science that he inaugurated in 1956 (8). As its subtitle, “An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas,” implied, this was a much more “idealist” and even philosophical work than any of his other publications. It was also much more grandiose in its temporal scope, encapsulating the history of science from the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution down to Einstein. Charles’ conception of “objectivity” (9) reflected the profound influence of Alexandre Koyré, and this conception was also associated with a “progressivist” historical view of scientific development, whereby more modern scientific methods, perspectives, and results were improvements on earlier ones (We hesitate to say “truer” but that is implied by Charles conception of objectivity as stated in footnote 9). While this view does not logically preclude external socio-politico-cultural explanations, Charles made no appeals to such in the book (although there was plenty of social, political, and cultural context provided). Rather, it was the extension of “objectivity” into new scientific domains that mediated scientific change. Darwinian evolution was a case in point:

For nothing is more arresting in the comparison of the biological to the Newtonian revolution than the reduction of the concept of natural selection to material atomism in the hybrid science of genetics, produced by the crossing of Darwinism and Mendelism. Just as the discontinuity of matter in atoms-in-the-void liberates motion from subjectivity, so biological objectivity was firmly seated in the discontinuity of the hereditary patrimony, where inheritance might be comprised in number (Gillispie, Edge of Objectivity, pp. 340-341).

To the best of our knowledge, Charles did not deploy his philosophical apparatus of “objectivity” to explain scientific change in subsequent historical studies.

Explanation of scientific change in terms of the extension of objectivity also precluded the problematization of this process in ways that were soon to appear, most obviously, in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions of 1962. It is not necessary here to outline Kuhn’s model of scientific change, but we might point out that there were points where Charles’ and Kuhn’s views actually touched, one being the common patrimony of Alexandre Koyré, who was the first historian of science mentioned by Kuhn in the body of his text. But the schema in Structure of Scientific Revolutions was fundamentally antithetical to Charles’ progressivist view, and Kuhn explicitly cited the argument of Edge of Objectivity as the exemplar of the perspective that “the history of science records a continuing increase in the maturity and refinement of man’s conception of the nature of science.” Many years later, Charles, for his part, reflecting on the “wonderful collaboration” with his erstwhile colleague at Princeton, noted that the one area of disagreement with Kuhn had been “of altogether trivial importance personally. It concerned merely the fundamental nature of science.”

It was a tribute to the powerful argument of The Edge of Objectivity that it continued to be conjured with by the next generation of scholars who were developing schemas of scientific genesis/scientific change in the direction of social construction of natural knowledge. Thus, Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin chose for the title of a review that contained adumbrations of what would become SSK (Sociology of Scientific Knowledge), “Where Is the Edge of Objectivity?” However, the review itself had no discussion of the book or its thesis (10). That was not the case with another essay, by the historian of science Carolyn Merchant, published a few years later. Titled “Isis’ Consciousness Raised,” it was a manifesto of a feminist perspective on science and its development. Merchant defined an “ideology of objectivity” as a hallmark of logical positivist philosophy of science, which she delineated in terms of a duality of masculine thinking subjects studying (and controlling) a feminine world of Nature. The Edge of Objectivity was taken as the epitome of this male-centered approach (11).

We have no idea what, if anything, Charles thought of Merchant’s characterization of his conception of “objectivity” (and science and scientists). But we might venture that, given his own delineation of Napoleonic-era sciences in his last book as “moving toward quantification and control, (Gillispie, Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years, p. 694)” he would by no means have completely disagreed with it, although he might have been puzzled by its gender ascriptions and objected to its negative moral tone.

Charles commented on the general move towards social construction of science with its problematization of scientific advance in the second of his autobiographical essays. His comments were gracious and thoughtful—emblematic, indeed, of his personality. He ascribed the “seismic shifts in cultural attitudes”—and the associated distrust of scientific authority—to history of science’s turn from philosophy to sociology and even anthropology. Not only did he not disparage this turn; he offered it high praise and even suggested that his own scholarly development “might be seen as a set of responses to what was happening in the historiography of science at large.”

However, he did see drawbacks—namely, that the emphasis on the study of scientific practice led to a disinterest in scientific product (“content”); the concern with sociological dimension meant that “the fit, if any, with nature is often taken to be ancillary, while analysis of the quality of science under consideration is left aside (12).” Later in the essay, he embroidered on this last drawback in stronger language—and ascribed the sentiments to “scientists”—when he discussed one of two “disappointments” regarding the discipline of the history of science: “the perception of science as socially problematic:”

While willing to agree that questions of power and advantage are factors both in the macro- and micro-politics of science, scientists resent any implications that their work serves no purpose larger than their own, that they are not in the last analysis investigators of the nature of things, that objectivity is an illusion and rationality a sham. There is the counter-cultural casus belli of what journalists have called the science wars (Gillispie, “A Professional Life in the History of Science,” p. 23).

The second of Charles’ disappointments had to do with history and, if the theme of this memorial essay—that Charles was quintessentially a historian—is correct, he may have felt this one more keenly than the one concerning science and scientists. It centered on the failure of the history of science to secure in the history profession “a place comparable to that of politics, economics, religion, diplomacy, or warfare.” As he acknowledged, relatively few departments of history had a place for an historian of science (a sentiment that we both feel particularly keenly!): “the famous, or infamous, two cultures problem may well be real.” But Charles ended his essay on a note of optimism: “Still, we work in hopes that it may be abated (Gillispie, “A Professional Life in the History of Science,” pp. 23-24).”

Charles’ long career in history and history of science spanned virtually the entire post–World War II era of science: the rise of government-funded “Big-Science” and the concomitant expansion of higher education and academic research; the development of industrial research centers and science-based start-ups; the leap into space; the development of biogenetic science and technology, of information science and technology, and so forth. The public valuation of science in this era has swung between extremes and, as this essay has tried to show, the work of historians of science has both mirrored these swings and (perhaps) influenced them a bit. When Charles initiated his career in history of science at Princeton and placed his first graduate students in academic positions in history departments, the prospects for history of science in history were very bright. Charles was undoubtedly correct about their dimming over the decades. But if we can get our colleagues in history to read the history of science that Charles wrote with such passion, wit, and scholarly depth, perhaps there will be hope yet.


  1. Rather, the agent in philosophy was the classicist philosopher, Gregory Vlastos, who had recently become chair of the philosophy department. Charles C. Gillispie, “Apologia pro Vita Sua,” Isis, 1999, 90 [Supplement, Catching up with the Vision: Essays on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the History of Science Society], pp. S89-90.
  2.  16 vols. (New York: Scribner [Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies], 1970-1980).
  3. So characterized by him. Gillispie, “Apologia,” Isis, 1999, 90 [Supplement], p. S84.
  4. He said as much about his own first major study, Genesis and Geology. In response to a highly laudatory characterization of this book by Nicolaas Rupke, which Charles paraphrased as “marking a new departure in the historiography of science” through use of a “novel methodology,” entailing primary scientific sources and published periodical literature, to produce a cultural and social contextualization of theory formation, Charles wrote (characteristically mordant and self-deprecating):“I had no notion of anything of the sort. ….Nothing was further from my thoughts than methodology, something fit for Marxists and sociologists. All that we students of history were taught to do was to go look at the sources, all of them.”Charles C. Gillispie, “A Professional Life in the History of Science,” Jed Z. Buchwald, ed., A Master of Science History: Essays in Honor of Charles Coulston Gillispie (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012), p. 17.
  5. Princeton: Princeton University Press. This was the sequel to Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).
  6. Charles gave pithy descriptions of what he meant by these terms at the end of second work: “encyclopedic” science was the “enterprise of classifying things in a natural order”; “positivist” science was enjoined “to determine the facts and then to act upon them.” Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years, pp. 694-695.
  7. Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years, p. 112. In fact, on the final page, Charles did suggest “a complementarity between the science and the politics of the Revolutionary era….In both politics and science, the premium was upon effectiveness, on doing something rather than being someone. In both domains, the rules in principle depended upon the facts, and the point in determining the facts was to act upon them.” p. 695.
  8. This came out vividly in the book’s dedication: “To the Undergraduates of Humanities 304 Who in 1956, 1957, and 1958 responded with charm and forbearance to the presentation of this history by the spoken word, and who by discussion brought about its evolution to the present form,…”
  9. “Modern science…is impersonal and objective. It takes its starting points outside the mind in nature and winnows observations of events which it gathers under concepts, to be expressed mathematically if possible and tested experimentally by their success in predicting new events and suggesting new concepts. Modern science…is first of all metrical and experiential.” Gillispie, Edge of Objectivity, p. 10.
  10. Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin, “Where Is the Edge of Objectivity?” British Journal for the History of Science, 1977, 10, pp. 61-66. This was a review of works of the anthropologist, Mary Douglas.
  11. “For Gillispie masculine qualities of toughness and mastery are attributes of the scientific mind and technical tradition, that science is an aristocratic elite pursuit, that scientists are clearly male, and that a “feminine” quality such as delicacy will not lead to human progress and betterment. . . . This historical association of objectivity with masculinity not only reinforces the tendency for scientists to be predominantly male, but also supports the identification of nature as object with femaleness, emotion, soulfulness, and sentience.“Critiques and Contentions: Isis’ Consciousness Raised,” Isis, 1982, 73:pp. 401-402.
  12. “But with a few exceptions, the earlier generation never undertook much in the way of analysis of context. We produced little comparable to the fine-grained accounts that distinguish current work by recapturing the actualities of experiment; the life of a laboratory; the labor of field work in natural history and geology; the recalcitrance of instruments; the differences between what scientists say and what they do; the role of research schools; the place of patronage; the occasional cheating; the interplay of professional rivalries, of personal loyalties and hostilities, of institutional standing, of public reputations, of social position, of gender, race, material interest, ambition, shame, guilt, deceit, honor, pride. The practice of scientific research is currently shown to exhibit, in short, the springs of action that make people tick in all walks of life.” Gillispie, “A Professional Life in the History of Science,” pp.19-20. The long quotation is p. 20.