Servants of Nature: A History of Scientific Institutions, Enterprises, and Sensibilities

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9780393046144: Servants of Nature: A History of Scientific Institutions, Enterprises, and Sensibilities

A penetrating account of how science, perhaps above all other human endeavors, has shaped --and been shaped by --the world that we inhabit today. Servants of Nature explores the fascinating interaction between scientific practice and public life from antiquity to the present. The authors reveal how, in Asia, Europe, and the New World, advances in science have been closely allied to changes in three distinct areas of society: the institutions that sustain science; the moral, religious, political, and philosophical sensibilities of scientists themselves; and the goal of the scientific enterprise. The book proceeds to trace how the bodies that shape scientific tradition and guide innovation have acquired their authority. And in conclusion the authors consider how scientific goals have changed, as they examine the relationship between science, the military, and industry in modern times. Servants of Nature probes the culture of science from its origins to the present and promises to be an indispensable contribution to the history of science.

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Perhaps the most pernicious myth about science is that of the bright loner, the Einstein who single-handedly revolutionizes how we think about the world. Scientists, just like the rest of us, are social animals, say Lewis Pyenson and Susan Sheets-Pyenson in their eloquent history of learned societies, Servants of Nature. From classical Greece and ancient China to modern technical institutes, they show us the cultural apparatus used to discover (or create) and then transmit knowledge through the generations, usually mirroring local political institutions, though sometimes on the vanguard of social change, as in the student-run colleges of late medieval Europe.

Scholarly yet lively, Servants of Nature is organized in chapters dealing with specific aspects of knowledge: "Teaching," "Measuring," and "Knowing" are a few of the activities whose meanings have changed over the centuries and have been debated and refined by academies, royal societies, and universities to the present day. Though the stories of personalities are, of course, subordinated to those of the institutions to which they contributed, the narratives are still fresh and compelling. In the end, we are reminded that while we perceive individuals as the source of discoveries and knowledge, it is really their connections that channel and perpetuate their learning--after all, it's not what you know, it's who you know. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Lewis Pyenson is professor of history and mathematics at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where the late Susan Sheets-Pyenson was professor of history. Lewis Pyenson is the author of the landmark trilogy about science and imperialism: Civilizing Mission, Empire of Reason, and Cultural Imperialism and Exact Sciences. Susan Sheets-Pyenson is the author of Cathedrals of Science.

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