Despite cogent critiques, the long-durée history of science continues to be understood in public discussion largely as a sequence of conceptual revolutions. A focus on revolutionary changes within science involves a displacement, in which epistemic violence occurs within scientific communities rather than through the colonial and imperial encounters in which knowledge was forged. This is damaging both to the reputation of contemporary science (which is currently under attack anyway) and to understandings of the place of science in history. It has only gradually become possible, for example, to see the conquest of the Americas in the 1500s and the emergence of colonial empires in the 1800s as key episodes in the simultaneous emergence of Western power and scientific forms of enquiry. The narratives of resistance, exchange and subjugation involved in these new stories are rapidly providing an alternative—important for engaging audiences and suggesting new research questions—but they cannot be maintained simply by adapting the old historiography.
Jim Secord, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge