How to write an urban history of science: New approaches and case studies

Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC), Carrer Carme 47
Centre d’Història de la Ciència (CEHIC) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona & Societat Catalana d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica
06.06.2014 - 06.06.2014
Oliver Hochadel

In recent years the modern city as a specific place of scientific (as well as medical and technological) practices has attracted a fair amount of interest among historians of science. Yet following this “urban turn” much remains to be explored. The lion’s share of the research on science and the city (in the formative period around 1900) has focused on the metropolis (London, Paris, Berlin etc.). Yet what about “second cities” such as Barcelona, Hamburg, Glasgow, Athens, Lisbon and so on? These cities have been under the radar of much of recent scholarship but surely deserve an in-depth-investigation.

What is more, there are thorny methodological issues to be resolved. In short: how to write an urban history of science? The sheer complexity of the topic, its abundant sources, innumerous actors, questions of scale and so on pose a serious historiographical challenge. One may argue for example that it makes no sense to neatly disjoin the spheres of art, architecture, science, medicine, politics etc. These spheres need to be understood as a seamless web with numerous intersections. Yet how would one describe such a seamless web? It seems clear that the urban space is always both: product and producer. Therefore the guiding research question is always a double one: how have science (technology and medicine) shaped the modern city? And inversely: in how far did the urban space condition the practices of producing, communicating and applying new knowledge?

We will pursue and discuss these questions in the Third Watson Seminar in the Material and Visual History of Science entitled: “How to write an urban history of science: New approaches and case studies”.


9:15 Welcome Address

9:30-10:20 Miriam Levin (Case Western Reserve University): “Science and the City: Museums, Expositions and the Modern Urban Context in the long nineteenth century”

10:20-11:10 Oliver Hochadel and Agustí Nieto-Galan (IMF-CSIC and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona): “Barcelona: A new urban history of science and modernity (1888-1929)”

11:10-11:40 Coffee Break

11:40-12:30 Maria Rentetzi and Spiros Flevaris (National Technical University of Athens): “Envisioning a New European Metropolis: The Athens Observatory, Greek astronomy, and the imposed path to modernization”

12:30-13:20 Ana Simões (Universidade de Lisboa): “Science in the capital city or a city turned into a scientific capital? Science, Technology and Medicine in Lisbon as seen through the press (1900-1910)”

13:30-15:30 Lunch

15:30-16:20 Diego Armus (Swarthmore College): “Hygiene in a modern peripheral city. Buenos Aires, 1870-1930”

16:20-17:10 Dorothee Brantz (TU Berlin): "The Urban Discovery of Nature: Science, Education, and the Display of Animals, 1850-1930"

17:10-17:40 Coffee Break

17:40-18:30 Ben Marsden (University of Aberdeen): “’Glasgow is our laboratory’: metropolis, province and philosophical engineering c. 1840s – 1900”

18:30-19:00 Mitchell Ash (Universität Wien) “Concluding Remarks”


Oliver Hochadel

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Institució Milà i Fontanals C/Egipcíaques, 15

How to write an urban history of science: New approaches and case studies, 06.06.2014 – 06.06.2014 Barcelona, in: H-Soz-Kult, 23.05.2014, <>.
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