Time is a fundamental concept that we typically take for granted in our everyday lives.
Rarely do we look at our wristwatch and think how seconds, minutes and hours came to
take on such importance. Even less do we reflect on all the work that goes into making
seconds, minutes and hours appear as something as natural as the world around us.
What is time? How is it we have come to order our lives in such regulated and precise
ways? How has our conception of time changed throughout history? The idea to reflect
upon such weighty questions emerged at a conference organized by the British Society for
the History of Science on the subject of ‘space’ held at the University of Kent in 1994. It
seemed to many participants that the topic of time would make an equally interesting
subject for a meeting. In particular, one question came to the fore: did space dominate time
or time dominate space? In the event it took the dawning of a new century to provide the
impetus, excuse and opportunity to organize a meeting to discuss such matters. It also
quickly became clear that other historical societies and institutions had similar aims. The
result was a joint three-day meeting, co-organized by the BSHS, the Royal Historical
Society and the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, held at the impressive
Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, in September 1999.
This unprecedented coalition demonstrated the importance and productivity of bringing
together historians of different backgrounds and interests. The bridging of traditional
boundaries was also symbolized by Ludmilla Jordanova's unique position as both
president of the BSHS and vice-president of the Royal Historical Society. The whole event,
not surprisingly, attracted significant media attention and was deemed by all concerned a
great success. This special issue of the BJHS is a small sample of the diversity and richness
that characterized the meeting.