Networks of Science and Scientists

Helen Cowie

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Networks of Science and Scientists

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
  • African History
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Science in the Atlantic world was founded on the exchange of knowledge and objects across space and across cultures. Botanical and zoological specimens, texts, images, and people circulated around the region; as they moved, their form and meaning mutated. Until the 1990s, historians largely subscribed to a diffusionist model of science, whereby knowledge was transmitted from Europe to the colonies. This model presented non-European territories as places where empirical facts and specimens were gathered for analysis in metropolitan centers. Increasingly, however, this approach has been superseded by an emphasis on the circulation and exchange of knowledge and a focus on the global networks that facilitated its transmission. These included formal expeditions organized by European governments, bureaucratic, commercial, and correspondence networks and the knowledge networks established by the Jesuits and other missionary orders. They also included interactions between Europeans and other ethnic groups, notably Amerindians and Africans, whose crucial role in the knowledge production process was often effaced in contemporary European texts. Historians have until the 21st century devoted most attention to the work of traveling naturalists and official expeditions. Now, though, they are increasingly studying the other less visible means by which scientific knowledge was passed between culture, looking, for example, at the processes through which indigenous and African knowledge were appropriated by Europeans and placing increasing emphasis on the role of cultural brokers or intermediaries. Historians of science are also moving away from a focus on nation-states and intra-imperial networks to examine trans-imperial networks that transcended territorial boundaries. This means, in some cases, favoring a multi-centered approach over the center-periphery model associated with the diffusionist account.

Article.  12647 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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