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The ‘national’ in international and transnational science

  • MARK WALKER (a1)


This essay analyses discussions of national versus international or transnational science, with an emphasis on the journal Osiris from 1986 to 2009, including the concepts of national science, national styles and characters in science, scientific internationalism, transfer of science and scientists from one nation to another, and comparison of different national examples. The author argues that perceiving science as a ‘national’ activity has not only been persistent, it is also perhaps inevitable. This special issue on transnational histories of science raises the question of what is gained and lost by such an approach. First of all, what is the distinction between ‘transnational’ and ‘international’? The dictionary defines the latter as something existing, occurring, or carried on between two nations, while the former extends or operates across national boundaries. Thus ‘international’ implies some sort of commerce. In contrast, transnational is a loosely defined term.



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1 This journal, the British Journal for the History of Science, was also examined for the same span of years for articles on nationalism versus internationalism or transnationalism. This author found no articles explicitly devoted to this topic, and only a modest amount of discussion in a few publications.

2 Crosland, Maurice, ‘History of science in a national context’, BJHS (1977) 10, pp. 95113.

3 Crosland, op. cit. (2), pp. 96–97.

4 Crosland, op. cit. (2), pp. 97–98.

5 Crosland, op. cit. (2), p. 98.

6 Crosland, op. cit. (2), p. 98.

7 Crosland, op. cit. (2), p. 99.

8 Crosland, op. cit. (2), p. 101.

9 Crosland, op. cit. (2), pp. 112–113.

10 Crosland, op. cit. (2), p. 111.

11 Pyenson, Lewis, ‘An end to national science: the meaning and the extension of local knowledge’, History of Science (2002) 40, pp. 251290, 252.

12 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 252.

13 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 265.

14 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 269.

15 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), pp. 268–269.

16 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), pp. 269–270.

17 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 282.

18 Thanks to an anonymous review for this point.

19 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 253.

20 Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory and Rossiter, Margaret (eds.), Historical Writing on American Science: Perspectives and Prospects, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 7.

21 Olesko, Kathryn (ed.), Science in Germany: The Intersection of Institutional and Intellectual Issues, Osiris, 2nd series (1989) 5, p. 7.

22 Geison, Gerald and Holmes, Frederic (eds.), Research Schools: Historical Reappraisals, Osiris, 2nd series (1993) 8.

23 The themes in this gap are as follows: Instruments; Constructing Knowledge in the History of Science; Science in the Field; Women, Gender, and Science: New Directions; Beyond Joseph Needham: Science, Technology, and Medicine in East and Southeast Asia; Commemorative Practices in Science: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Collective Memory; Nation and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise; Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions; Science and Civil Society; Science and the City; and Landscapes of Exposure: Knowledge and Illness in Modern Environments. None of these volumes is explicitly about the nation, yet almost all of them deal with countries; none of them is explicitly transnational, yet almost all of them transcend national boundaries. The volume that comes closest to a transnational perspective, Roy MacLeod's edited collection on empire, includes many chapters focused on a particular nation and its relationship with a colony, but these are about colonialism, not national or transnational science.

24 Sachse, Carola and Walker, Mark (eds.), Politics and Science in Wartime: Comparative International Perspectives on the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Osiris, 2nd series (2005) 20.

25 Krige, John and Barth, Kai-Henrik (eds.), Global Power and Knowledge: Science and Technology in International Affairs, Osiris, 2nd series (2006) 21.

26 Gordin, Michael, Hall, Karl and Kojevnikov, Alexei (eds.), Intelligentsia Science: The Russian Century, 1860–1960, Osiris 2nd series (2008) 23.

27 Harrison, Carol and Johnson, Ann (eds.), National Identity: The Role of Science and Technology, Osiris, 2nd series (2009) 24, p. 3.

28 Margaret Rossiter, ‘Science and public policy since World War II’, in Kohlstedt and Rossiter, op. cit. (20), pp. 273–294, 273.

29 Kathryn Olesko, ‘Introduction’, in idem, op. cit. (21), pp. 6–14, 13.

30 Michael Gordin and Karl Hall, ‘Introduction: intelligentsia science inside and outside Russia’, in Gordin, Hall and Kojevnikov, op. cit. (26), pp. 1–19, 1, 4.

31 Gordin and Hall, op. cit. (30), p. 11.

32 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 252.

33 Albert Moyer, ‘History of physics’, in Kohlstedt and Rossiter, op. cit. (20), pp. 163–182, 169.

34 Moyer, op. cit. (33), pp. 163–165.

35 Gordin and Hall, op. cit. (30), p. 11.

36 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), pp. 255–256.

37 Pyenson, op. cit. (11), p. 252.

38 Jeffrey Johnson, ‘Hierarchy and creativity in chemistry, 1871–1914’, in Olesko, op. cit. (21), pp. 214–240, 214.

39 Peter Weingart, ‘German eugenics between science and politics’, in Olesko, op. cit. (21), pp. 260–282, 260.

40 Mary Jo Nye, ‘National styles? French and English chemistry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, in Geison and Holmes, op. cit. (22), pp. 30–49, 31–32.

41 Nye, op. cit. (40), p. 49.

42 Carol Harrison and Ann Johnson, ‘Introduction: science and national identity’, in Harrison and Johnson, op. cit. (27), pp. 1–14, 3.

43 Harrison and Johnson, op. cit. (42), p. 8.

44 Michael Gordin, ‘Points critical: Russia, Ireland, and science at the boundary’, in Harrison and Johnson, op. cit. (27), pp. 99–119, 100, original emphasis.

45 Gerald Geison, ‘Research schools and new directions in the historiography of science’, in Geison and Holmes, op. cit. (22), pp. 227–238, 227.

46 John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth, ‘Introduction: science, technology, and international affairs’, in Krige and Barth, op. cit. (25), pp. 1–21, 1–2.

47 Forman, Paul, ‘Scientific internationalism and the Weimar physicists: the ideology and its manipulation in Germany after World War I’, Isis (1973) 64, pp. 150180.

48 Krige and Barth, op. cit. (46), p. 13.

49 Krige and Barth, op. cit. (46), p. 2.

50 Bruno Strasser, ‘The coproduction of neutral science and neutral state in Cold War Europe: Switzerland and international scientific cooperation, 1951–1969’, in Krige and Barth, op. cit. (25), pp. 165–187, 166.

51 Krige and Barth, op. cit. (46), p. 3.

52 Ronald Doel, Dieter Hoffmann and Nikolai Krementsov, ‘National states and international science: a comparative history of international science congresses in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, and Cold War United States’, in Sachse and Walker, op. cit. (24), pp. 49–76, 51.

53 Doel, Hoffmann and Krementsov, op. cit. (52), pp. 75–76.

54 Krige and Barth, op. cit. (46), p. 14.

55 John Krige, ‘Atoms for Peace, scientific internationalism, and scientific intelligence’, in Krige and Barth, op. cit. (25), pp. 161–181, 180.

56 Itty Abraham, ‘The ambivalence of nuclear histories’, in Krige and Barth, op. cit. (25), pp. 49–65, 56.

57 John Servos, ‘History of Chemistry’, in Kohlstedt and Rossiter, op. cit. (20), pp. 132–146, 133, 146.

58 Michael Gordin, ‘The Heidelberg circle: German inflections on the professionalization of Russian chemistry in the 1860s’, in Gordin, Hall and Kojevnikov, op. cit. (26), pp. 23–49, 27, original emphasis.

59 Gordin, op. cit. (57), p. 47, original emphasis.

60 Gordin, op. cit. (57), p. 24.

61 Gordin, op. cit. (57), p. 47.

62 Moyer, op. cit. (33), p. 171.

63 Carola Sachse and Mark Walker, ‘Introduction: a comparative perspective’, in Sachse and Walker, op. cit. (24), p. 4.

64 Sachse and Walker, op. cit. (62), p. 1.

65 Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, ‘Institutional history’, in Kohlstedt and Rossiter, op. cit. (20), pp. 17–36, 35.

66 Moyer, op. cit. (33), pp. 168–169.

67 Moyer, op. cit. (33), p. 176.

68 Olesko, op. cit. (29), pp. 8–9; Forman, Paul, Heilbron, John L. and Weart, Spencer, Physics circa 1900: Personnel, Funding, and Productivity of the Academic Establishments, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1975) 5.

69 James Albisetti, Charles McClelland and R. Steven Turner, ‘Science in Germany’, in Olesko, op. cit. (21), pp. 285–304.

70 Asif Siddiqi, ‘Germans in Russia: Cold War, technology transfer, and national identity’, in Harrison and Johnson, op. cit. (27), pp. 120–143, 122.

71 Siddiqi, op. cit. (69), pp. 121.

72 Alexei Kojevnikov, ‘The phenomenon of Soviet science’, in Gordin, Hall and Kojevnikov, op. cit. (26), pp. 115–135, 134–135.

73 Sachse and Walker, op. cit. (62), p. 17.

74 Sachse and Walker, op. cit. (62), pp. 18–19.

75 Ash, Mitchell G., ‘Wissenschaft und Politik als Ressourcen für einander’, in Bruch, Rüdiger vom and Kaderas, Brigitte (eds.), Wissenschaften und Wissenschaftspolitik: Bestandaufnahmen zu Formationen, Brüchen, und Kontinuitäten im Deutschland des 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002, pp. 3251.

I would like to thank Néstor Herran and anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
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