Article ID: CBB969514447

Orientations and Disorientations in the History of Science How Measures Made a Difference at the Imperial Meridian (2022)


2022 Gustav Neuenschwander Prize Lecture. Historians of the sciences have paid great attention to the ways that faith in what has been called the quantitative spirit emerged as a dominant feature of the politics of science, a theme of obvious salience in current epidemiological and climate crises. There are instructive connexions between measurement practices and orientation towards other cultures—as though scientific modernity somehow appeared through the primacy of robust quantification over subaltern, past, and exotic worlds, where merely provisional judgment allegedly still operated. This highly simplistic Orientalist distinction accompanied assumptions that the remote was best understood as the ancient, a viewpoint common at the same late Enlightenment moment as the apparent institutionalisation of the regime of the exact sciences within European polities. Under this regime, precision surveys—the way the state saw—have often been understood as integral for European societies and even more so in colonised territories. This version of what might be called metrological Orientalism can be disoriented through excellent recent scholarship that explores complex entanglements of measurement practices circulating across very different scientific cultures, which shows how precision devices that claimed merely to represent phenomena often helped produce them. Studies of select cases of relations between European practitioners and indigenous experts, in fields such as Egyptian hydraulics or South Pacific surveys, can reveal even more: the role that judgment and exactitude played in forging very different, politically significant versions of the past history of the sciences. These disorientations can aid novel forms of historical understanding of the politics of science.

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Authors & Contributors
Daniel Gamito-Marques
Daggett, Cara New
Toledano, Anna
Kumar, Siva Prashant
Brendecke, Arndt
Dege, Martin
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Science Technology and Society
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
History of Science
Yale University Press
Walter de Gruyter
Palgrave Macmillan
Harvard University Press
Duke University Press
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Science and politics
History of science, as a discipline
Historical method
Corvo, João de Andrade
Barboza du Bocage, José Vicente
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
18th century
17th century
Early modern
South Asia
Himalayan Mountains (Nepal)
Mexico City (Mexico)
East India Company (English)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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