Why should I read histories of science?
Erickson, Mark (2010) Why should I read histories of science? History of the Human Sciences, 23 (4). pp. 68-91. ISSN 0952-6951
Official URL: http://www.hhs.sagepub.com
History of science is, we are told, an important subject for study. Its rise in recent years to become a ‘stand alone’ discipline has been mirrored by an expansion of popular history of science texts available in bookstores. Given this, it is perhaps surprising that little attention has been given to how history of science is written. This article attempts to do that through constructing a typology of histories of science based upon a consideration of audiences who read these texts and writers who construct them. It identifies four ideal types of history of science which describe the opposite poles of two continua running from exoteric to esoteric. The article also examines the content of a sample of history of science texts and finds that often these texts, whether esoteric or exoteric, provide only a chronology of events (often incredibly detailed), avoiding discussion or even mention of wider social, economic and political contexts. Such histories serve to reinforce a ‘standard’ account of science as ‘separate’ from the rest of society, an account that is at odds with almost all contemporary sociology of science and science and technology studies. This prompts the question: why should I read histories of science?
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