DOUBLE
REFRACTION
Looking twice at the history of science

Monday, October 3, 2016

Historians of science have too many big pictures, not too few

This is not a good metaphor
for the historiography of science.
There has long been talk in the history of science about our alleged failure to write big picture histories. This talk goes back to at least 1993, when the British Journal for the History of Science published a special issue that was supposed to address the problem. The latest round of rumination on the topic is in July’s number of Isis, which featured several essays on the theme of the “longue durée.” The worry is that, for the last forty years or so, historians of science have been spending too much time writing exquisitely rendered accounts of particular people or episodes, and too little time stitching these episodes together to make some sort of coherent narrative. There is something to be said for this view, but there is much to be said for the opposite view, which is that we have too many big pictures, not too few. The challenge is not to stitch together our case studies to make new big pictures, but to merge the big pictures we already have. Expand post.

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