"How Do We Study Eighteenth-Century Science?" Roundtable at ASECS (Los Angeles, March 19-22, 2015)

full name / name of organization: 
Science Studies Caucus, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

We welcome proposals for the Science Studies Caucus roundtable at ASECS:

"How Do We Study Eighteenth-Century Science? (Roundtable) (Science Studies Caucus) Chairs: Courtney Weiss Smith, Wesleyan University, and Alexander Wragge-Morley, Cal Tech/Huntington Library; E-mail: csmith03@wesleyan.edu AND wraggem@hss.caltech.edu
This roundtable seeks to provoke debate and discussion about the various ways in which scholars engage with the eighteenth-century sciences. This panel seeks to bring together scholars working on eighteenth-century science from different disciplinary, methodological and theoretical perspectives--including the history of science, science studies, literature, art history and material culture. Indeed, we invite participants to reflect on these differing disciplinary, methodological and theoretical perspectives.

In asking "How do we study eighteenth-century science," we are motivated by two main considerations about disciplinarity. First, widespread disagreement persists among scholars of different disciplines about the very basics of studying the sciences of the past. Despite the growth of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies, scholars still can find themselves at odds over fundamental issues about the aims and methods of inquiry. Further, our period is one in which understandings of science, religion, history and literature were interconnected and in flux; it is also a period that was important in shaping the disciplinary divisions that we have inherited. To ask how we study eighteenth-century science is thus to encourage reflexive meditations on the emergence, importance, and limits of our own sense of disciplinarity.

Pertinent questions to explore might include:
•What counts as evidence? How do scholars from different fields treat evidence differently?
•To what extent do scholars looking at the sciences from different disciplinary perspectives ask different questions or start from different fundamental assumptions?
•To what extent do you feel you risk anachronism by studying the eighteenth-century sciences with the questions and strategies of modern disciplines? How do you deal with this issue?
•What are the possibilities and the pitfalls posed by genuine interdisciplinarity?
•What are the chief advantages of methods employed by scholars outside your discipline? What disadvantages do you perceive?
•How has your own discipline been shaped by work being done in other disciplines?
•How does the study of the eighteenth-century sciences differ from the study of other socio-cultural phenomena?
•Are there significant differences between the study of the 'hard' and 'soft' eighteenth-century sciences? Do we need more cultural histories of mathematics and fewer of natural history and collecting?