Series Foreword

The volumes in this series are devoted to concepts that are fundamental to different branches of the natural sciences—the gene, the quantum, geological cycles, planetary motion, evolution, the cosmos, and forces in nature, to name just a few. Although these volumes focus on the historical development of scientific ideas, the underlying hope of this series is that the reader will gain a deeper understanding of the process and spirit of scientific practice. In particular, in an age in which students and the public have been caught up in debates about controversial scientific ideas, it is hoped that readers of these volumes will better appreciate the provisional character of scientific truths by discovering the manner in which these truths were established.

The history of science as a distinctive field of inquiry can be traced to the early seventeenth century when scientists began to compose histories of their own fields. As early as 1601, the astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, composed a rich account of the use of hypotheses in astronomy. During the ensuing three centuries, these histories were increasingly integrated into elementary textbooks, the chief purpose of which was to pinpoint the dates of discoveries as a way of stamping out all too frequent propriety disputes, and to highlight the errors of predecessors and contemporaries. Indeed, historical introductions in scientific textbooks continued to be common well into the twentieth century. Scientists also increasingly wrote histories of their disciplines—separate from those that appeared in textbooks—to explain to a broad popular audience the basic concepts of their science.

The history of science remained under the auspices of scientists until the establishment of the field as a distinct professional activity in middle of the twentieth century. As academic historians assumed control of history of science writing, they expended enormous energies in the attempt to forge a distinct and autonomous discipline. The result of this struggle to position the history of science as an intellectual endeavor that was valuable in its own right, and not merely in consequence of its ties to science, was that historical studies of the natural sciences were no longer composed with an eye toward educating a wide audience that included non-scientists, but instead were composed with the aim of being consumed by other professional historians of science. And as historical breadth was sacrificed for technical detail, the literature became increasingly daunting in its technical detail. While this scholarly work increased our understanding of the nature of science, the technical demands imposed on the reader had the unfortunate consequence of leaving behind the general reader.

As Series Editor, my ambition for these volumes is that they will combine the best of these two types of writing about the history of science. In step with the general introductions that we associate with historical writing by scientists, the purpose of these volumes is educational—they have been authored with the aim of making these concepts accessible to students—high school, college, and university—and to the general public. However, the scholars who have written these volumes are not only able to impart genuine enthusiasm for the science discussed in the volumes of this series, they can use the research and analytic skills that are the staples of any professional historian and philosopher of science to trace the development of these fundamental concepts. My hope is that a reader of these volumes will share some of the excitement of these scholars—for both science, and its history.

Brian Baigrie University of Toronto Series Editor

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