The Paradoxical Internationalization of the History of Sciences: From Modern Science to Indigenous Knowledge

Statement about the conference “Areas and Disciplines” by Dhruv Raina

The period immediately following the Second World War was witness to some serious debates on the future of history writing and its relation to the several renewed project of nation building. Some of these debates occurred within the institutional framework of UNESCO. Historians of science such as Joseph Needham, however problematic their approaches turned out to be retrospectively, had created an opening for scholars from Asia and the Arab speaking world to join the international community of the history of sciences – an opening up that was to alter both the historiography and the social theory of science in the decades that followed. Similar social theoretic developments swept a whole range of disciplines and were captured sensitively in the Gulbenkian Commission Report produced half a century later. Over the last decade or so the history of sciences having come out of the postcolonial turn now engages with frames that seek to go beyond the nation and civilization. Following the postmodern, multicultural and postcolonial turns there is a perceivable conceptual shift towards the transnational and transcultural – though these different cognitive movements are not distinct from each other, but reflect a layering of many discourses. However, this historiographic revolution also generates another transformation as the object that defines the discipline is found to be inadequate. “Science” itself is seen to be a term that is too historically loaded with the institutional and cultural baggage of the last two hundred years of history. This in turn produces several research programmes – some oriented towards a more comprehensive engagement with the histories of knowledge while others confront a challenge with the rising engagement with indigenous knowledge – hitherto considered outside the purview of historians of knowledge. This poses both a political and epistemological challenge for the internationalisation of the interdisciplinary field.


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