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Biomedicine in museums

'The Historianimation of Contemporary Technomedicoscience'

On Tuesday I am going to give the introductory talk to a ‘meet-the-author’ discussion session at the Swedish History of Science and Technology Biannual Meeting in Stockholm, 8-10 April. (added 9 April: and again at the Dept of Science Studies, Univ of Århus, on Monday 14 April).

My intro talk for the session—titled ‘The Historianimation of Contemporary Technomedicoscience (NewGoogleWorldStudiesTube, 2017)’ and moderated by Sven Widmalm, University of Linköping—will be followed by critical remarks from a discussion panel of historians of science and technology: Jenny Beckman (Stockholm Resilience Centre), Mats Fridlund (Aarhus University), and Christer Nordlund (Umeå University). Here’s a summary of what I’m going to say (earlier Swedish version here):

I have edited two volumes on the historiography of contemporary science, technology and medicine. First The Historiography of Contemporary Science and Technology which came on Harwood Press in 1997 (see one of many reviews here) and then The Historiography of Contemporary Science, Technology and Medicine: Writing Recent Science which I edited with Ron Doel on Routledge in 2006 (see book website here).

And now I’m planning the third, and hopefully the last, edited volume on the topic—to be published in 2017.

Well aware of the fact that there may not be any publishers, as we use to know them, in 2017, I’ve nevertheless already begun to think about the proposal; it’s always a good idea to be planning ahead of time.

The volume (I sometimes call it ’contribution’, because the notion of ’book’ may well be obsolete at that time) is at the moment planned to be divided into three parts: 1) The subject matter of the history; 2) The historiographical approach; and 3) The presentation of the past.

As you may well understand, all three parts will put heavy demand on my imagination. So I’m in dire need for some help from the panel and the audience to answer the following three questions—or maybe even pose better questions:

1) What will the subject matter of such a volume be in 2017?

All rendering (I prefer ’render’ to ’write’, cf. below) of the past is bound to be made from the vantage point of the present, so the planned contribution will have to be produced, more or less explicitly, from the horizon of 2017. But what will the institutions of science, technology and medicine be like in 2017? Which sciences and technologies and practices will set the horizon for historicized histories (if we are still interested in historicized history, cf. below).

Will the ‘technoscience’ concept still be useful? Have science and technology merged with design? Will we write from the horizon of a merger between science and religion, or, in other words, is religion on its way back to set scientific agendas?

Or wil we finally have realised that Descartes was right—that science is just a means for cultivating morality and reach the good life (eudaimonia)?—which will then set altogether different agendas for writing the history of the late 20th and early 21st century.

2) How will we approach history in 2017?

Which are the conceptual tools with which we will analyse the history of science, technology and medicine in ten years from now? Theoretical and methodological fashions come and go, and the only safe prognosis one can probably make is that what is modern today is unmodern then. In 2017 we have hopefully forgotten everything about discourse theory, social constructivism, actor network theory, gender theory, and so forth. (Maybe some 2017 history students will reintroduce a then forgotten French essayist by the name of M. Foucault?).

What will come instead? Will evolutionary history (not history of evolution, but history informed by evolutionary theory, like evolutionary psychology) be the Big Thing in 2017? Maybe Whig history will make a successful comeback?

Or maybe we will realise that Carlyle was right after all, i.e., that all history is in essence biography (and autobiography?).

3) How will we render the past?

One of the consequences of the breakthrough of the new visual and internet-based media may be that the rendering of science, technology and medicine of the past is not necessarily identical with ‘writing’ history—or that history will be ‘written’ in article or book format. Will leading historians of science, technology and medicine publish in visual media rather than in written media?

And what will be the effects of the participatory web? Will the rapid emergence of web 2.0-media like Wikipedia, blogs, Youtube etc. (and their 4.0/5.0-successors in 2017) revolutionise the whole publication institution, effectively abolishing peer-review and classical publishing houses?

Or will we be so tired of the post-googlified, globalised internet world that we, as intellectuals, withdraw to the classical learned leatherbound book instead?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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