2023 års Hans Rausing-föreläsning hålls av Dagmar Schäfer

2023-10-06

Hans Rausing-föreläsningen är en vetenskapshistorisk föreläsning för allmänheten som hålls av en inbjuden framstående internationell forskare. Föreläsningen ges årligen sedan 2002, vanligtvis i oktober.

Årets föreläsning hålls av Dagmar Schäfer, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

Abstract: 

"Time Bandits. Historians of Science and the Matter of Comparison"

When reflecting on their own practices, numerous historians specializing in science, technology, and medicine often find themselves engaged in comparisons. However, back in 2001, historians of science Li Tieqiang and Geng Runchuan rather pessimistically concluded that historians of science were less self-reflective and rigorous than scholars in the broader historical discipline when it came to employing comparison as a research method: those who used the comparative method lacked a solid foundation, the necessary analytical skills, and a well-defined research question or subject. In this lecture, I investigate the criteria that led to this critical assessment by Li and Geng. Moreover, I seek to initiate a broader discussion about the role of comparison in the historical analysis of a topic that, though modern, has close associations with narratives of (good or bad) progress and development. In response to Li and Geng's concerns, I question the utility of the comparative method in understanding scientific change, particularly when approaching elusive and contested bodies of knowledge. Please note that this approach differs significantly from the conventional historiography of the History of Science, in which the comparative method is often used to create distinctions, between, for example, the”'East" and the “West" or “Europe" and the “rest"— which leads to an understanding of knowledge as a fragmented entity that is or can be claimed as property. My aim is to draw attention to the ways that historians impact knowledge ownership—how they become "time bandits“ who travel through time, stealing valuable treasures from various historical periods. In my case study, I compare two different stealing practices related to mathematics and tanning practices in fourteenth century Yuan China.