The relationship of science and urban space, and the ways in which scientific knowledge and the city have shaped and influenced each other, have received increasing attention by historians of science in recent years. While the city as an environment for science production and dissemination has proven to be a fertile field of study, much of the existing research on the reception and perceptions of science in the urban context has focused on the study of the re/localization of scientific knowledge and practices in terms of traditional, institutional places of knowledge: universities, laboratories, botanical or zoological gardens.
The papers in this symposium will engage with cases that highlight an aspect of the “urban turn” in the history of science that has received somewhat less focused attention: cases when science leaves the institutional boundaries of these places of knowledge. The examination of science as a controversy, or even scandal, makes it possible to examine the interactions of the scientific community and urban society due to the heightened reactions on both sides elicited by the different expectations, perceptions and concerns about the role of science in society. Public space, of course, is not only and not exclusively urban, but by focusing on specifically urban context the most interesting, revealing and coherent formulations of the explosive nature of the scientific discovery and its greater social significance can be found. The session will address the formative effect of the urban press and its readers on the popularization of science: instead of being perceived as a stabilizing force, science increasingly becomes a source of danger in the eyes of the public to the moral, mental and physical health of the city and its inhabitants. On the way from the scientific institution to the scandal sheets, science – as perceived by the popular imagination – can easily turn into a “bad” influence on traditional morals, or even a physical threat, that could possibly even destroy an entire city. Through the examination of the reactions of the public to foreign or “dangerous” science in various European cities in the long nineteenth century, this session will engage with the ways scientific debates leave the institutional context and enter the public sphere, reaching and moving a wide audience.
Markian Prokopovych (University of Vienna)
Katalin Straner (Central European University, Budapest)