Past international scientific collaborations have been recently portrayed as examples of positive interchange between states and national scientific groups, and even as models of global governance. Some scholars contend, however, that we should pay greater attention to how colonial relations have shaped the sciences’ past, including collaborations too.
Nothing better than the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-58) exemplifies the contrast between these readings. This archetypal collaborative exercise uniting sixty-seven national committees in the pursuit of making available new knowledge on the earth and its phenomena, is still seen today as overcoming global tensions at height of the Cold War, and even paving the way to the governance of the ‘global commons.’ This tallk contends that we should look instead at its organization as exemplar of the colonial legacies that have shaped global science. It focuses especially on one of the IGY major achievements, namely the configuration of a discipline-based system of World Data Centers. By examining the negotiations behind this system, it unearths how the IGY was shaped by (and contributed to shape) post-colonial relations across the globe.
Simone Turchetti, Professor of History of Science and Technology at the University of Manchester