Past Event

Daniel J. Kevles - From Private and Insular to Public and Engaged: The History of Science in the Century Since Sarton

May 1, 2024
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Avenue, New York

Event Description 

Upon the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, George Sarton, a historian of science, the owner/editor of Isis, and an evangel of the field, fled his house near Ghent, eventually arriving in the United States. He found a place at Harvard and, together with friends, an institutional home for the journal by establishing the History of Science Society, in 1924. Running Isis largely alone, he made it an outlet for the (often unrefereed) work of scholars of reputation, including himself. Sarton’s journal recognized the contributions of the Middle East and Asia to the creation of modern science, but during his editorship, Isis published little that bore on the science-related social, economic, and political upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century.

Shortly after World War II, with the encouragement of John Fulton, a Yale physiologist and admired historian, the historians of science Conway Zirkle and Henry Guerlac initiated various reforms, including transfer of ownership and substantive oversight of the journal to the Society, and the installation of a managing editor. He was I. Bernard Cohen, a young Harvard physicist and budding historian, who succeeded Sarton as editor, in 1952. Cohen instituted additional changes, notably the regular refereeing of submitted articles, and he encouraged contributions from scholars in the history of biology and of American science.

Since the 1960s, the content of both the Society’s journal and meetings has expanded and diversified. The transformation has been marked by much less attention to the content and methods of science, far more to its social, economic, and political engagements. The transformation has gained history of science a large audience, but without adequate attention to the truth-content of science, it is handicapped in resisting, for example, racist biology, denials of vaccine effectiveness, or the devastations of anthropogenic global warming.

Event Speakers

  • Daniel J. Kevles, Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University
  • Marwa Elshakry, Associate Professor of History and Center for Science and Society Executive Committee Member at Columbia University
  • Matthew Jones, Smith Family Professor of History at Princeton University
  • Sophia Roosth, Associate Professor at New York University

Event Information

This event is free and open to the public; Registration required. Please contact [email protected] or [email protected] with any questions. 

This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series and serves as the 2024 History of Science Society's Hazen Lecture

Sponsoring Organizations:

  • Columbia University in the City of New York
  • NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study
  • The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • The New York Academy of Medicine
  • The New York Academy of Sciences