Conference: Science in the past, science in the present (24 November 2016)

Science in the past, science in the present. Reflections on a historiography of science for the 21st century

Paleis der Academiën | Palais des Academies
1, Hertogsstraat | Rue Ducale
1000 Brussels
Thursday 24|11|2016
Rubens room
Attendance is free; please send an email to to confirm your presence.


It is a truism that the face of past science changes in step with present notions of science. What are the precise implications of this for history writing on science, both theoretical and practical? Our one-day symposium focuses on this question, by encouraging historians of science to articulate their views and experiences concerning the relation between present situations, past realities, and objects (such as science) which cross this divide. This focus entails many questions, which may or may not be addressed by our participants. Is past science to be understood on the model of an object which we increasingly know and master? Or is past science rather to be understood on the model of the rear view mirror: a mere index and reflection of our own passing notions of science?

What are the unexplored options and desiderata for historians of science working in the 21st century? For which specific audiences should we be writing? Which immediate effects should narratives of past science ideally carry with such an audience? Is our purpose best served by collections of exemplary micro-histories, or is there still a place for grand narrative? If so, how can liminal phenomena (religion, magic, dissimulation) be properly integrated? How far can/should historians go in undercutting received wisdom after the science wars? Does the material turn in history of science call for different conceptions of history writing? These are only a few of the questions that will be considered.


09h30: Opening remarks
09h45: Bart Karstens, Liquid Present, Liquid Past
10h30: Geert Vanpaemel, The End of Discipline or How Science Became Public Knowledge
11h15: Coffee break
11h30: Steven Vanden Broecke, Writing histories of astrology: why and how should we do it?
12h15: Anne Staquet, Quand la science se dissimule
13h00: Lunch
14h00: Dominique Pestre, Writing a history of science and knowledge on a global scale. Reflections on the past five centuries
14h45: Sven Dupré, Revisiting Embattled Territory - Towards A History of Knowledge for the Early Modern Low Countries
15h30: Coffee break
15h45: Kenneth Bertrams, Legitimate Historique, Illegitimate History: the Strange Case of Jean Pelseneer’s Historique des Instituts Internationaux de Physique et de Chimie Solvay
16h30: Closing remarks