The Beginnings of Canadian Meteorology // Review

By Thomas, Morley | Journal of Canadian Studies, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

The Beginnings of Canadian Meteorology // Review


Thomas, Morley, Journal of Canadian Studies


THE BEGINNINGS OF CANADIAN METEOROLOGY Morley Thomas. Toronto: ECW Press, 1991.

On the surface, it seems that the history of science and technology in Canada suffers from a lack of heroes and drama: after all, most world - altering inventions and discoveries seem to have occurred elsewhere, as ground - breaking change seems to have been imported rather than indigenous. Yet this misses the point. Much recent British and American scholarship de - emphasizes concepts of "discovery" and "invention" in favour of new models in which scientific and technological change is a gradual, socially conditioned transformation with few actual points of revolutionary change. One writer disputes the occurrence of intentional discovery, arguing instead in favour of a strict process of natural selection: all ideas or hypotheses are serendipitous, mere random generation; unfit variations are eliminated, for example, within the scientific community; fit variations become discoveries through confirmation by the community. As such, "individual scientists do not, in fact, cannot, make a scientific discovery," he argues; "scientific knowledge is a socially produced knowledge."(f.1) The real drama, it could be argued, is in the interplay between scientific concepts and society and how both are mutually transformed.

As the essays in Science, Technology and Medicine in Canada's Past indicate, science and technology in Canada have been profoundly shaped by their social, cultural and economic contexts. Science, Technology and Medicine in Canada's Past is a sampling of essays drawn from the first 10 years of the journal Scientia Canadiensis, aimed at high school and university readers. As with other such collections, the quality of papers varies: some are marred by prosaic writing and analysis, but others are more exciting while most have the virtue of introducing readers to prevalent themes among historians of Canadian science and technology.

Discussions of the influences of nationality and colonialism are especially prominent within the collection. In his paper"Between Two Empires: the Toronto Magnetic Observatory and American Science Before Confederation," Gregory Good contends that national values shaped the institutional character and purpose of the Toronto observatory. English staff used the observatory to seek scientific fellowship with their American neighbours, but for Americans, the observatory primarily offered opportunities for observations on British territory. In his paper, "Colonialism and the Truncation of Science in Ireland and French Canada During the Nineteenth Century," Richard Jarrell repeats familiar themes, blaming "internal colonialism" for making French Canadians and Irish "inward - looking societies," financially and socially unwilling to imbed science within their culture. However, in his study of the French - Canadian botanist Louis - Ovide Brunet, the entomologist Leon Provancher and the geologist J.C.K. Laflamme, Raymond Duschene suggests that "colonial" dependence, and Quebec's place on the periphery internationally, had far less impact on these scientists' status than accidents of personal career and the differing characteristics of research and publication within varying fields.

Canada's technological performance has been a favourite theme among historians of technology. Douglas Baldwin's all too brief account of technological innovation in the Cobalt mining region disputes contentions that technological development in Canada has been a history of failed opportunities. Chris de Bresson uses the emergence of the mass production Bombardier snowmobile as an exceptional case study in analyzing Canada's failure, despite economic prosperity, to develop an energetic, capital - intensive high technology sector. De Bresson rejects traditional explanations such as capital shortage, Canada's vast geographic distances, domination by foreign multinationals, timid banking practices and Canada's small market size. …

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