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The History of Science Portal

The history of science is the study of the development of science and scientific knowledge, including both the natural and social sciences. (The history of the arts and humanities is termed history of scholarship.) Science is a body of empirical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the natural world, produced by scientists who emphasize the observation, explanation, and prediction of real world phenomena. Historiography of science, in contrast, studies the methods employed by historians of science.

The English word scientist is relatively recent—first coined by William Whewell in the 19th century. Previously, investigators of nature called themselves "natural philosophers". While empirical investigations of the natural world have been described since classical antiquity (for example by Thales and Aristotle), and scientific method has been employed since the Middle Ages (for example, by Ibn al-Haytham and Roger Bacon), modern science began to develop in the early modern period, and in particular in the scientific revolution of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Traditionally, historians of science have defined science sufficiently broadly to include those earlier inquiries.

From the 18th century through late 20th century, the history of science, especially of the physical and biological sciences, was often presented as a progressive accumulation of knowledge, in which true theories replaced false beliefs. Some more recent historical interpretations, such as those of Thomas Kuhn, tend to portray the history of science in terms of competing paradigms or conceptual systems in a wider matrix of intellectual, cultural, economic and political trends. These interpretations, however, have met with opposition for they also portray history of science as an incoherent system of incommensurable paradigms, not leading to any scientific progress, but only to the illusion of progress.

Selected article

"Musei Wormiani Historia", the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities.

Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Wunderkammer or wonder-rooms) were collections of natural history artifacts kept by many early practitioners of science in Europe, and were precursors to natural history museums.

Two of the most famously described cabinets were those of Ole Worm (also known as Olaus Wormius) and Athanasius Kircher. These 17th-century cabinets, actually room-sized collections, were filled with preserved animals, horns, tusks, skeletons, minerals, and so on. Often they would contain a mix of fact and fiction, including apparently mythical creatures. Worm's collection contained, for example, what he thought was a Scythian Lamb, a wooly fern thought to be a plant/sheep fabulous creature. The specimens displayed were often collected during exploring expeditions and trading voyages.

Cabinets of curiosities would often serve scientific advancement when images of their contents were published. The catalog of Worm's collection, published as the Museum Wormianum (1655), used the collection artifacts as a starting point for Worm's speculations on philosophy, science, natural history, and more.

Obviously cabinets of curiosities were limited to those who could afford to create and maintain them. Many monarchs, in particular, developed large collections. Frederick III of Denmark, who added Worm's collection to his own after Worm's death, was one such monarch. Another example is the Kunstkamera founded by Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg in 1727.

Selected image

Durer astronomer.jpg

An engraving by Albrecht Dürer, from the title page of the Masha'allah ibn Atharī's astronomy treatise De scientia motus orbis (Latin version with engraving, 1504). As in many medieval illustrations, the compass here is an icon of religion as well as science, in reference to God as the architect of creation.

Selected inventor

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush (March 11, 1890 – June 30, 1974) was an American engineer and science administrator, known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the idea of the memex—seen as a pioneering concept for the World Wide Web. A leading figure in the development of the military-industrial complex and the military funding of science in the United States, Bush was a prominent policymaker and public intellectual ("the patron saint of American science") during World War II and the ensuing Cold War. Through his public career, Bush was a proponent of democratic technocracy and of the centrality of technological innovation and entrepreneurship for both economic and geopolitical security.


Overview In early cultures | In classical antiquity |In the Middle Ages | In the Renaissance | The Scientific Revolution | Scientific method | Modern science
Historiography Historians | Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) | Science Studies | Science and Technology Studies
Physics Natural philosophy | Astronomy | Aristotelian physics | Optics | Electricity | Classical mechanics | Timeline of thermodynamics | Special relativity | General relativity | Quantum field theory | Materials science
Biology Natural history | Ecology | Biochemistry | Genetics | Molecular biology | Evolutionary biology | Speciation | Model organisms | Great chain of being
Chemistry Alchemy | Atomism | Chemical revolution | Atomic theory | Electrochemistry | Periodic system
Earth science Geology | Geography | Paleontology | Age of the Earth | Volcanology
Technology Ancient Rome | Middle Ages | Industrial Revolution | Second Industrial Revolution | Agricultural science | Computer science | Biotechnology
Medicine Prehistoric medicine | Ancient Egypt | Ancient Greece | India | China | Middle Ages | Islam | Anatomy | Germ theory | Wound care
Scientific culture Royal Society | Académie des Sciences | Nobel Prize | National Academy of Sciences | Scientific publication | Science wars | Women in science | Romanticism in science
Funding of science Patronage | Science policy | Military funding of science | Research and development
Science and religion Relationship between religion and science | Conflict thesis | Merton thesis | Galileo affair | Scopes Trial | Islamic science | Creation–evolution controversy
Big Science Manhattan Project | Soviet nuclear program | Military–industrial complex | Human Genome Project | Space program | High-energy physics
Related fields Philosophy of Science | History of Mathematics | History of Ideas | History of Medicine | History of Technology

Did you know

...that the travel narrative The Malay Archipelago, by biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, was used by the novelist Joseph Conrad as a source for his novel Lord Jim?

...that the seventeenth century philosophers René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz, along with their Empiricist contemporary Thomas Hobbes all formulated definitions of conatus, an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself?

...that the history of biochemistry spans approximately 400 years, but the word "biochemistry" in the modern sense was first proposed only in 1903, by German chemist Carl Neuberg?

...that the Great Comet of 1577 was viewed by people all over Europe, including famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the six year old Johannes Kepler?

...that the Society for Social Studies of Science (often abbreviated as 4S) is, as its website claims, "the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to understanding science and technology"?


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August 12:

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Searchtool.svg The History of Science Collaboration is On the Origin of Species.

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