Roy MacLeod, “The Scientists Go to War: British, Imperial and American Perspectives, 1914-1918”.

RMcLeodThe Scientists Go to War:

British, Imperial and American Perspectives, 1914-1918.

Roy MacLeod,
Professor Emeritus of History,
University of Sydney

 au séminaire Histoire des sciences, histoire de l’innovation
(Université Paris Sorbonne, UPMC, LabEx EHNE)

le jeudi 2 avril à 17h00

à l’Institut des sciences de la communication (ISCC)
salle de conférence RDC, 20 rue Berbier-du-Mets à Paris (Métro Gobelins).



Within weeks of the outbreak of fighting in August 1914, the ‘war to end all wars’ had become a contest of minds, no less than of manpower and munitions. On both sides, the communities of science became deeply involved in the struggle. Wissenschaftlern merged into Kriegsgeologen; savants became savants de guerre, and British men of science recast themselves as ‘scientific soldiers’ in uniform. Wartime demands soon stretched the boundaries of the ‘chemist’s war’, or the ‘engineer’s war’, and eventually embraced all the disciplines of science. Many seized the day. For George Ellery Hale, the distinguished astronomer and wartime chairman of the US National Research Council, America’s entry brought about ‘the greatest chance we ever had to advance research’.

Historians know well that the war accelerated the application of existing technologies in chemicals, aviation, radio, submarines and transport — and fostered many other significant innovations in design and practice. Among scientists, the war also encouraged and financed new ways of thinking. In Britain, as Hyman Levy put it, the experience fostered ‘… a new sense of solidarity ‘…. The war of 1914-18 was the occasion for the birth of the scientific profession’. In Britain, the United States and the British Empire, war service assisted what Durkheim called the ‘accommodation’ of a new professional group, previously outside the settled order of the professions, and gave it social space. A ‘community’ emerged, and across the English-speaking world, came a vestige of conscience, propelling the scientific humanism of George Sarton, the idealism of Arthur Eddington, and the science-as-socialism of J.D. Bernal.

This paper will consider the war on the self-image and practice of science, and will suggest that its impact set terms of debate that would continue for generations, and, in many ways, help to determine the shape of things to come.

Le programme du séminaire est disponible sur le site de l’ISCC et sur le blog de l’axe Europe des flux du LabEx EHNE :


                     Calendrier des séances à venir :

9 avril           Graeme Gooday (University of Leeds), International diversity in patent systems: a historical perspective

16 avril           Timothy H Stoneman (Georgia Tech Lorraine), Global Radio and Religion: A Protestant Voice of Europe, 1945-1970

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