A Guide to the History of Science: A First Guide for the Study of the History of Science, with Introductory Essays on Science and Tradition

By George Sarton | Go to book overview

PREFACE

DIVIDED into two parts which are very different yet complete each other, this Guide may attract and serve two kinds of readers; on the one hand, scientists and scholars, on the other hand, historians of science. The first and shorter part explains the purpose and meaning of the history of science in the form of three lectures delivered at various European universities; the second, much longer part, is a bibliographic summary prepared for the guidance of scholars interested in those studies. The first part is meant to be read, the second to be used as a tool.

The lectures of the first part were originally thought out at the request of the University of London, and they were first delivered in the Anatomy Theatre of University College in March 1948. The University had invited me twice previously but I had not been able to accept its flattering invitations more promptly, because I could not leave the United States before the printing of the third volume of my Introduction to the History of Science ( Science and Learning in the Fourteenth Century) was completed. Freedom to leave Cambridge was not in sight until the end of 1947.

When a man has devoted the best part of his life to definite studies, he may be forgiven if he interrupts his real work for a while in order to explain it to others. It is for that reason that when the University of London invited me, I yielded to the temptation.

The problems dealt with in these London lectures were dealt with again in other lectures delivered on the Continent. The ideas of the first lecture were discussed in English before the Vlaamse Club of Brussels, and in French at the Institut d'histoire des sciences (Faculté des Lettres) of Paris; those of the second lecture were explained in French at the University of Liége and at the Collège de France; those of the third were summarized in French before the annual meeting of the Association française pour l'Avancement des Sciences in Geneva.

As all my lectures, whether in English or in French, were delivered with but a minimum of written notes and recreated to some extent for each occasion, the text which is printed below does not reproduce them except in a general way. The text contains much less than the lectures, but also something more, and it differs from each spoken lecture at least as much as each spoken lecture differed from the others dealing with the same subject.

To the lectures has been added a general bibliography meant to provide a kind of vade mecum for students. The lectures try to explain that it is worth while to study the history of science, and indeed that general history is utterly incomplete if it be not focussed upon the development of science; the bibliography appended to them gives the means of implementing the purpose which they advocate.

The history of science is slowly coming into its own. Its study has been delayed by administrators without imagination, and later it has been sidetracked and jeopardized by other administrators having more imagination than knowledge, who misunderstood the discipline, substituted something else in its place and intrusted the study and teaching to scholars who were insufficiently prepared. Historians of science must know science and history; the most perfect knowledge of the one is insufficient without some understanding of the other. A historian of culture is not

-ix-

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