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Book description

This book in the highly respected Cambridge History of Science series is devoted to the history of the life and earth sciences since 1800. It provides comprehensive and authoritative surveys of historical thinking on major developments in these areas of science, on the social and cultural milieus in which the knowledge was generated, and on the wider impact of the major theoretical and practical innovations. The articles are written by acknowledged experts who provide concise accounts of the latest historical thinking coupled with guides to the most important recent literature. In addition to histories of traditional sciences, the book covers the emergence of newer disciplines such as genetics, biochemistry and geophysics. The interaction of scientific techniques with their practical applications in areas such as medicine is a major focus of the book, as is its coverage of controversial areas such as science and religion, and environmentalism.


'… Volume 6 … together with the others of the same series, will serve as a useful reference source.'

Source: Nuncius: Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-12
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    This chapter provides an introduction to the history of life and earth sciences in the modern period in order to help the reader understand the new developments in the historiography of science. Scientists have often worried about initiatives that explore the social dimension of how scientific knowledge is created, fearing that the search for social context ends up treating science as no more objective than any other belief or value system. The amount of attention focused on Charles Darwin by historians of evolutionism, for instance, reflects English-speaking scientists' greater commitment to the genetical theory of natural selection as the defining feature of their field. By the opening of the twentieth century, France, Britain, and the United States were "catching up" in the biomedical sciences, which were also developing in Japan as it "Westernized". Since 1940, the world of biomedical sciences has been transformed by the two forms of investment - from governments and from industry.
  • 2 - Amateurs and Professionals
    pp 13-33
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    Science in the nineteenth century changed from an area of learning in which it was exceptional for people to be paid to pursue it into one in which large numbers were receiving instruction in schools and universities with the expectation of making their living from it; science had turned into a substantial profession. Until the 1880s amateur came to acquire a derogatory overtone, especially in the United States. Amateurs were classified as "researchers", "practitioners", and "cultivators". Naturalists collected because it was the time-honored route to take, and one could not record if one could not distinguish what one discovered and ideally put a name to it. The life sciences were about to be polarized by the emergence of the academic discipline of biology. It is significant that a parallel cleavage did not take place in geology, which, even when substantially professionalized, retained links with its amateur following.
  • 3 - Discovery and Exploration
    pp 34-59
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    By the act of discovery, people lay claim to possession; but by the act of exploration, people acquire the means for trading. Historians view the nineteenth century as one of excitement for Europeans, who, having mapped their own continent, looked for new worlds to conquer. Unlike his contemporary military surveyors, navigators, naval surgeons, and collectors, Alexander von Humboldt was interested less in solving empirical problems than in determining interconnections between phenomena. His observations focused on movement, change, and distribution, and succeeded in linking previously separate disciplines of geography and history, and the new "global physics". Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, accompanied by a celebrated mission of savants, gave science an imperial presence. The English were also keen to associate science, exploration, and strategic interest from the Asiatic Society of Bengal to the austral Pacific. Voyages and expeditions shared a commitment to internationalism, and involved the mobilization of people, resources, equipment, publicity, and authority.
  • 4 - Museums
    pp 60-75
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    Plentiful raw material awaits historians in museums' records, in the scientific literature, and even in the physical evidence of collections and buildings. This chapter focuses on the zoological activity of major natural history museums. It discusses the museums prior to 1792, Paris's museums during the period 1793-1809 and its impact, the museum movement from 1860 to 1901, and the era of dioramas and diversity from 1902 to 1990. Museums were the focus for a new type of science that came to the fore around 1800 based on the analysis of large bodies of information by professional scientists. During the second half of the eighteenth century, collections of natural specimens rapidly increased in number and in size. The Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, founded by the revolutionary government in Paris in 1793, became the model for new science. The Paris achievement was imitated most effectively where an avid naturalist teamed up with a generous monarch.
  • 5 - Field Stations and Surveys
    pp 76-89
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    Europeans built their own field stations and conducted their own national surveys in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One of the major preoccupations of these European naturalists was to understand the vexing but wonderful phenomenon of biogeographical distribution. With a long and vested interest in nature through the cabinet tradition and the new museum craze, Europeans represented a ready market for naturalists who were willing to venture into the still dangerous New World to bring back or to send back specimens for exhibit or commercial sale. The most important government-sponsored survey for its influence on the early development of American science was the U.S. Exploring Expedition sent out under the guidance of Charles Wilkes in 1838. Most of the early field stations in Europe were either adjunct summer laboratories for universities (French stations) or were directed to address fisheries-related problems.
  • 6 - Universities
    pp 90-107
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    Universities have been important to biology not merely by providing it with a home. Particular features of the university setting had a substantial impact on both the proliferation of new fields in the nineteenth century and the central questions that came to characterize those fields. The life sciences found their earliest home within the medical faculty in the form of anatomy and botany. By the mid-eighteenth century, anatomy theaters had become the norm at German universities, but thereafter anatomical institutes as sites for research began to replace them. This chapter looks at how the status of various fields has been shaped by two kinds of patronage: the supply of funding for research and the demand for particular kinds of expert or knowledge. For new fields in the life sciences, one principal route into the universities was via medicine; botany and physiology developed within the universities primarily via the medical connection.
  • 7 - Geological Industries
    pp 108-125
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    This chapter addresses the relation between geology and industry from four perspectives, namely, mining schools, government surveys, private surveys, and industrial science. It first discusses institutions that served as intermediaries between science and commerce. Mining schools have been regarded as one of the birthplaces of geology. As with European mining schools, geological surveys were government institutions. The idea behind their establishment was straightforward: Geologists possessed specialized knowledge that might aid in the location, identification, and evaluation of mineral resources. Then, the chapter addresses the settings and conditions in which geologists worked directly for private enterprise. This commercial practice goes back at least to the late eighteenth century, when mineral surveyors or engineers, as they were sometimes styled, became actively involved in searching for coal, iron, or other resources. Historians and scientists agree that industry aided the development of geology at its most basic level: exploration.
  • 8 - The Pharmaceutical Industries
    pp 126-140
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    Pharmaceutical industries are one of the most research-intensive industries. The discovery of the alkaloids was among the most significant therapeutic advances of the early nineteenth century. This stimulated a search for active principles in other medicinal plants, and eventually this would contribute to the development of the pharmaceutical industry. The rise of synthetic dyestuff industry in the nineteenth century also figured prominently in the growth of pharmaceutical manufacturing. In addition to the discovery of alkaloids and the growth of the chemical industry, the therapeutic application of advances in bacteriology and immunology in the late nineteenth century also stimulated the pharmaceutical industry. Wartime exigencies often stimulated growth in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the pharmaceutical industry in Russia grew significantly in the wake of the Crimean War. Regulation of the pharmaceutical industry in many developing nations has ranged from corrupt to absent, as documented by Milton Silverman, Mia Lydecker, and Philip Lee.
  • 9 - Public and Environmental Health
    pp 141-164
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    Public health measures have concentrated on four main areas: controlling hazards in the physical environment, ensuring the quality of food and water, preventing the transmission of infectious diseases, and providing vaccinations and other individual preventive services. The history of modern public health can be divided into three periods during which new sites for professional activity were developed. In the period 1800-1890, the main focus was on the health of towns as new methods of disease control were introduced. In the years 1890-1950, the major new concern was over health of nations, especially economic and social efficiency, which was promoted by measures aimed at individuals and their behavior. Environmental approaches to public health were maintained, although they were increasingly routinized. Finally, after 1950, new attention was given to world health, particularly as a result of population growth, the impact of advanced industrial technologies, such as nuclear products and pesticides.
  • 10 - Geology
    pp 165-184
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    Geology is the name arrived in the 1820s for a specific approach to the scientific study of the earth's outer layers. The phenomena of geology were being investigated at every level from the microscopic to the global. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, geology acquired a number of additional subjects and divisions. Important among them were glacial geology and geomorphology, with the firm establishment by 1875 of the theory of the ice ages in both Europe and North America. At the very moment of the triumphant declarations of independence and scientific maturity, geology was transformed in the first decade of the twentieth century by the emergence of three fields of study, appearing in rapid succession: radiometric dating, seismology, and gravimetric geodesy. In twentieth centuries, geology developed a three-part structure of university and academic geology, economic and industrial geology, and the geology of state, national, and imperial geological surveys.
  • 11 - Paleontology
    pp 185-204
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    Paleontology has become increasingly important from the perspective of the institutional and disciplinary dimensions of the science. Georges Cuvier first demonstrated the occurrence of extinction; his work also influenced developments in stratigraphy. Although many early nineteenth-century geologists and paleontologists believed that the fossil record demonstrated progress, the question of whether progress entailed evolution was a much more controversial matter. Many opposed evolution, and none more forcefully than Cuvier. In 1971, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, rejecting the neo-Darwinian emphasis on phyletic gradualism, defined evolution not as a slow, continuous process but rather as a series of rapid bursts of change followed by periods of stasis, which they termed "punctuated equilibrium". Charles Darwin and his followers adopted a historical interpretation of biogeography, claiming that each species had originated in and dispersed from a single locality. Rejecting extended land bridges and sunken continents, Darwin suggested a biogeography based on migration.
  • 12 - Zoology
    pp 205-224
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    Philosophical naturalists started from a priori assumptions and abstract principles, searching for unity and symmetry in the array of natural forms. This chapter focuses on the central theoretical issues as perceived by zoologists when the field was still accepted as a coherent focus of research. The champions of the natural system hoped to uncover the essential characters of animals beneath what were considered the more "utilitarian" characters privileged by Carl Linnaeus. Charles Darwin was introduced to the natural theology tradition by John Henslow and others, while the Beagle voyage focused his attention on biogeography and the adaptation of species to their environment. His specimens were inspected by the leading naturalists of the time, including Richard Owen. No evolutionary typology would have existed without the decisive intervention of Darwin's concept of descent and even of natural selection.
  • 13 - Botany
    pp 225-242
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    Botany has played a key role in the history of the life sciences. The system of plant classification devised by Carl Linnaeus in mid-eighteenth century dominated the world of amateur botanists and collectors. Botanical geography, or phytogeography, had developed in distinct directions in the nineteenth century. The modern botanical garden got its start in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a site for the display of plant life from all sectors of the globe, with the dual rationale of providing, on the one hand, a very tangible symbol of Christian European imperialism and, on the other, a diversity of herbs potentially capable of curing any known disease. By the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the transformation in botany that was centered in Germany came to be called the "new botany" in the United States and England. Young botanists from all over the world traveled to Germany to receive the kind of training that was available nowhere else.
  • 14 - Evolution
    pp 243-264
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    The study of evolution today forms a distinct discipline, namely, evolutionary biology. For Georges Buffon, the two principal tasks for the naturalist as theorist were the theory of the earth and the theory of generation. Comprehensive contrasts between Buffon and Carl Linnaeus made them a hard pair of acts to follow, and make implausible the claim by Michel Foucault that they were both singing off the same episteme. The great divergences among, say, Georges Cuvier, Lorenz Oken, and Jean Lamarck were prosecuted despite any consensus over such pickings and mixings. The early Lamarck's earth has been steadily heated by the sun for a limitless past, with the present plant and animal species perpetuating themselves fixedly. Only the special forces in living bodies can compound matter into minerals such as chalk. The Origin of Species can be and was read as ultimately a conjunction of the tree of life.
  • 15 - Anatomy, Histology, and Cytology
    pp 265-284
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    Anatomy, histology, and cytology are sciences of form that have largely depended on the study of dead bodies, dead tissues, and dead cells. The history of anatomy has two subsets: human anatomy and comparative anatomy. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, work on human anatomy was largely the province of university medical faculties, independent medical schools, and medical corporations. In nineteenth century, Georges Cuvier promoted shifts in orientation for comparative anatomy. By the mid-nineteenth century, tissues and cells had become foundational concepts for understanding both the structures and functions of complex multi-cellular life. The study of microorganisms intersected repeatedly with study of tissues and cells as both concepts and techniques developed in nineteenth-century laboratories. Histology opened up new fields of research for anatomists at a time when research became increasingly important for individual and institutional prestige. In twentieth century, attention focused on refinement of biochemical methods for identifying complex compounds and reactions involved in cell and tissue metabolism.
  • 16 - Embryology
    pp 285-315
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    Embryological analysis dealt specifically with development from collected specimens. In 1930s, embryologist-historian Joseph Needham nominated a Hippocratic writer as "the first embryologist" and traced a straight line through Aristotle, William Harvey, and Karl Ernst von Baer to premier embryological journal of his own day. Two medical students from the German-speaking Baltic, Christian Pander and Karl Ernst von Baer showed how organization arose from the transformation of primitive "germ layers", and their followers resolved these into cells. Experimental embryology and genetics were taken as model sub-disciplines. One can understand the fate of embryology only in relation to other sciences with alternative programs. In twentieth-century, biology was to gain access to explain mechanisms of development through the properties of cells, molecules, and genes. In the early twentieth century, reproductive scientists carved out from embryology, a new field of research on sex, but attempts to control reproduction by manipulating gametes and early embryos continued to overlap with embryology.
  • 17 - Microbiology
    pp 316-341
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    As organisms responsible for various fermentations, microorganisms could be used to probe and manipulate the production of many foodstuffs and chemicals, but also to study general biochemistry. Working with microscopes that produced as much doubt as conviction, and without a framework into which to fit their observations of the "infusoria", only a few eighteenth-century naturalists attempted more than detailed descriptions of the individual miniscule creatures. Louis Pasteur's initial interest in the study of alcoholic fermentations was aroused when he was approached by the Lille industrialist Mourier Bigo, who was experiencing difficulties with the production of alcohol from beets. The "bacteriological revolution" is most commonly associated with work of Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and Joseph Lister. In the early-twentieth century, protozoa were studied as agents of disease, especially in colonial or tropical medicine, and much of the institutional support for their study was clearly linked to this last interest.
  • 18 - Physiology
    pp 342-366
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    Physiology allowed historians of science of first generation after World War II to develop a series of narratives that reflected their broader concerns about the nature and significance of modern science and about how to write its history. The early histories of physiology present four intertwined themes: physiology's "struggle for independence", the experimentalization of the discipline, the growth of physiological "concepts", and the formation of research schools or genealogies of physiologists. The newer studies also have emphasized the utility of experimental physiology for a medical profession eager to make itself more "scientific". By the mid-1940s, several trends began to trouble leaders of American Physiological Society. A comprehensive study of the fate of twentieth-century physiology as a discipline, source of professional identity, or collection of research programs has yet to be written. A preliminary reconnaissance of several quantitative indicators presents a mixed picture of physiology's continuing viability amid the explosion of increasingly specialized biological sciences.
  • 19 - Pathology
    pp 367-382
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    This chapter shows that an important practice and "science" of pathology grew up in Western cultures over the past two hundred years. It explains a way of thinking about the origins and subsequent directions taken by the stages of prehistory, tissue pathology, cellular pathology, clinical pathology, and present-day paradigms. In 2000, several Crime Scene Investigation casts along with a flurry of other programs such as Crossing Jordan, glorified personal and professional lives of pathologists and other forensic investigators. From the 1990s, the new vision, for pathology and medicine more generally, seemed to be "translational medicine". Just as tissue cellular pathology drew from biology and microscopy, and clinical pathology drew from chemistry, so translational medicine and its daughter discipline, genomics, drew on informatics, a discipline that grew out of computer science and clinical information systems, including taxonomies of diseases and procedures.
  • 20 - Plate Tectonics
    pp 383-394
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    After 1966, most earth scientists became mobilists soon after the confirmation of seafloor spreading, and plate tectonics. The chapter outlines the major historical aspects of the plate tectonics revolution. Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist and geophysicist, presented his version of continental drift in 1912; his theory spawned a number of sub-controversies within different fields of the earth sciences. In each case, fixists and mobilists raised problems with the competing solutions, and neither group was able to develop a recognized difficulty-free solution. Fixists criticized Wegener's solution to the problem about the matchup of continental margins. During the early 1950s, when the controversy over continental drift had come to a standstill, workers in paleomagnetism began to develop a new case for mobilism. With the confirmation of corollaries such as the one on geopolarity reversals, most fixists actively engaged in oceanographic research immediately accepted mobilism because of the explanatory advantages offered by seafloor spreading.
  • 21 - Geophysics and Geochemistry
    pp 395-415
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    This chapter deals with geophysics with a focus on geodesy, gravimetry, seismology, and geomagnetism. Geochemistry involves the chemical analyses of minerals, rocks, and the atmosphere, and mineral solutions. Modern geochemical research makes much use of studies of the radioisotopes of the different elements, which are also used for radiometric dating. The chapter outlines the contributions of branches of geophysics to the establishment of the plate tectonics synthesis. Seismology has provided essential evidence concerning the earth's internal structure and is generally supportive of the plate tectonics paradigm. As the nineteenth century progressed, instruments of ever-increasing sophistication were designed. Geomagnetic field strengths could be compared for two different localities by suspending a magnet and measuring its oscillation period at the two places. Techniques for chemical analyses of rocks and minerals in "wet" way were first devised by Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman. The chapter also discusses physic-chemical petrology.
  • 22 - Mathematical Models
    pp 416-431
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    The history of mathematical models in the life sciences is not just the history of applying mathematics to living systems. It is rich in process and the myriad of factors influencing it. This chapter provides some important historical threads that are representative of modeling in the life sciences, providing pointers to selected primary and secondary sources. It first begins with three areas in which mathematical modeling has entered the life sciences: physiology and psychology, evolution and ecology, and development and form. It then focuses on three more recent historical perspectives, namely mathematical statistics, integrative modeling, and computers and mathematical modeling. The early (mid-twentieth-century) influence of computers on mathematical modeling was through their speed of numerical calculation. Models as sets of analytically intractable differential equations could now be solved using brute force numerical calculations. Models from mathematical statistics could be applied to larger and larger datasets requiring not only rapid numerical calculations but also the development of algorithms for manipulating them.
  • 23 - Genes
    pp 432-450
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    This chapter describes traditional historical accounts of the gene and gene concepts. Histories of the gene and genetics are still in their infancy. There were always tensions in genetics between those who focused on the functions that genes were supposed to play and those who thought of them as material structures, between those who treated genes as units of calculation and those who believed that Mendelian analysis had discovered fundamental units. The various traditions and disciplines surveyed in the chapter show that the notion of a gene was always open, at least to some extent, reflecting the tension between the approaches taken in different disciplines and contexts. Recent work in genetics has cast doubt on the idea that there is a unique resolution of the proper delimitation of genes and gene concepts. Since 1990, there has been a human genome project to map and sequence all human genes; its findings are leading to revisions in mankind's understanding of gene action.
  • 24 - Ecosystems
    pp 451-466
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    This chapter reveals that the shaping and development of the ecosystem concept is too recent a field of historical research to have given rise to important controversies, the differences of opinion being expressed by choices of different standpoints rather than by focused debates. In addition to studies of plant communities, some late nineteenth-century scientists, mainly zoologists, turned to the interrelationships between the plant world and animal life. At the start of the twentieth century, little was known of the mechanisms governing the fluctuation of populations. The concept of the pyramidal population structure of a biocoenosis is the work of the German zoologist Karl Semper, 1832-1893. This was further developed by the British zoologist Charles Elton, 1900-1991. Elton also gave the concept of "ecological niche" a functional definition rather than a spatial one. The ecosystem concept has become, at the start of the twenty-first century, the basic unit used for modeling the potential changes we may expect in earth's global ecology.
  • 25 - Immunology
    pp 467-485
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    This chapter focuses on history of the concept of immunity and the emergence of the science of immunology as it relates to the laboratory at the expense of the field and clinic up to the 1970s. Its also focuses on historiography of immunology in the twentieth century, especially in the last three decades. During the first half of the twentieth century, the nature and specificity of antibody-antigen reaction, mechanism of antibody formation, and physical structure of antibody molecules were a few of the central problems around which the emerging discipline of immunology gravitated. The post-World War II consolidation of immunology from disparate fields is illustrated by the recent elucidation of the molecular and genetic basis of Macfarlane Burnet's central immunological problem. In the 1960s and 1970s, as an accompaniment to the worldwide institutionalization of immunology, some of the many new textbooks begin to carry short historical essays, typically providing a canonical list of major immunologists and important discoveries.
  • 26 - Cancer
    pp 486-503
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    Twentieth-century cancer was dominated on the one hand by the cancer cell and on the other hand by the development of physical and chemical means of intervention. If the history of cancer nicely exemplifies the uneasy relationships between the practice of science and the practice of medicine, it also sheds a powerful light on the transformation of Western medicine into a large-scale biomedical venture. Medical historians have documented the development of medical radiology as an autonomous diagnostic specialty. The "biomedicalization" of cancer meant that clinical problems and pathological material were turned into biological research systems. In the 1960s and 1970s, the diffusion of cancer drug therapies was achieved, not through the general use of a few compounds, but through the transformation of clinical trials using combinations of drugs. Chemotherapy thus became a system of routine experimental treatment managed by medical oncologists.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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