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The Public History of Science, Technology, Medicine & Mathematics

Call for papers

Deadline for proposals: Friday 6th September

Please send a title and outline of around 300 words to research@sciencemuseum.ac.uk with the subject 'Public History of Science Conference'.

British Society for the History of Science / Science Museum Group
Convened by Tim Boon and Ludmilla Jordanova

The term ‘public history’ is widely used to mean both the range of ways in which the past is presented beyond academic settings and the scholarly analysis of such public presentations. But what issues does a public history focusing specifically on the past of science raise for both these meanings?

Public history of science—the practice of the history of science in public contexts, as paid employment or for fun—is a little-analysed phenomenon. People who work as professional historians of science may well have a strong interest in how the past of science is represented to wide audiences, and so, too, in many cases, do scientists. They may regard the past of science as their own turf, and they may invoke it in rhetorical articulations of its future or in the attempted resolution of contemporary conflicts.

Public history of science informed by the historiographical concerns of professional historians can sometimes be seen as unwelcome commentary on contemporary science. Public history of science also has a relationship with science communication, because its practitioners often use the past of science in their work. In other words, the public history of science has resonances, even an academic politics, that other public histories may not.

This conference will open up this field to discussion and debate. What is the public history of science, what could it be, what should it be? 

Scheduled dates

We welcome offers of papers, panels, examples, screenings, performances on the following and other relevant themes:

A. What is the public history of science?

  • Definitions of the public history of science and the usefulness of the phrase.

B. Relationships between public history (whether as practices or a field) and the public history of science

  • Is the public history of science a variety of public history in general? Can it be? Should it be? 

C. Public history of science and science engagement

  • Can the public history of science learn from debates about science communication and engagement?
  • How is the past used differently in public history of science and science communication and engagement?

D. Histories of the public history of science

  • How have public histories of science arisen? Why are they dominated by progressivist versions?
  • How has the public history of science changed over the periods in which it has been practised? Who does it—professional and/or lay, and how do they interact? How do different groups of lay people view the past of science?

E. Critical analysis of specific examples of the public history of science

  • In what media and genres is and has public history of science been practised (broadcasting, cinema, performance, museum display, publication, including novels, biography, painting, illustration, music)? How do the defining characteristics of these media inflect the practice of the public history of science? 

F. The future of the public history of science

  • What kinds of public history of science would we like to see? 

G. Collaboration with scientists and science funding agencies

H. Spaces and platforms for public history of science