Session 3D - History of science in public

Room 3.24

History, Memory and Environmental Controversies

Angela Cassidy (University of Exeter, UK)

This talk raises questions about long-running scientific and environmental controversies – in which scientific, social and policy uncertainties have been contested in the wider public sphere for several decades.  We draw upon research investigating the dynamics of two UK-based examples – debates over the siting and storage of nuclear waste; and the management of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) through culling wild badgers. These include repeating cycles of built and broken expectations; the persistence - and elision of – memory; and the significance of place. Are these commonalities more widespread, and if so, can we learn more by thinking through public controversies in the long-term?

Science at the Royal Society’s Tercentenary, 1960: Timeless, International, Pure

Tim Boon (The Science Museum Group, UK)

The Royal Society’s 1960 tercentenary provided opportunities to promote particular views and accounts of science. This was taken not only by the Society itself, but also by media organisations. This presentation focusses in particular on the documentary film ‘A Light in Nature’, made by the film unit of the Shell oil company, highly respected as specialists in scientific documentary filmmaking. At a time when Cold War competition in science and technology was marked, the film shows science as international, timeless and pure. This presentation discusses this account of science and how the film’s grammar conveys it.

The Psychodynamics of Race

Adrian C. Brock (University of Cape Town, South Africa)

Rae Sherwood was a South African social psychologist. In 1970 and 1971, she and her research assistant, Sylvia Hutchinson, conducted interviews in an area of London with a large immigrant population. They led to a book, The Psychodynamics of Race (1980) in which Sherwood offered psychoanalytic explanations of racism and suggestions on how it might be overcome. Apart from its merits as a piece of social research, it is an interesting document of the time, coming as it did in the wake of the Race Relations Act, Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and the rise of the National Front.

The Translations of Science of Electricity into Mysticism in 19th century Poland

Piotr Urbanowicz (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

The cultural fascination about electricity took place in Poland at the end of eighteenth and the beginning of nineteenth century. Electricity was performed mostly at universities, but also in public demonstrations, lectures, as well as in discourse that time – textbooks for physics, press, popular books. I claim that the performances established a significant representation of electricity, that involved religious presuppositions and was translated into domain of romantic activities – poetry, politics, philosophy – leading to spiritualism. Thus scientists accidentally opened the floodgates of new scientific-religious movements that unfolded metaphysical logic in the science of electricity and pushed forward new ideas of community.