Putting knowledge to war: research, development and the image of science in the First World War

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Conference Proceeding

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Many histories of science, technology and medicine in the First World War begin by identifying that the coming of conflict in 1914 provided a stimulus - for the organisation and, importantly, funding - of scientific, engineering and medical research and development. This picture of the relationship between war and science provides an inadequate basis for understanding an important moment in the institutionalisation and expansion of the enterprise of science. Relatively little attention has been paid to the images of science offered by scientists to institutions - governments, armed forces, industry, etc. - or the images of science as perceived by those institutions. Examining the various images of science in circulation between 1914 and 1918 provides an alternative basis for understanding how and why scientific knowledge was put to war - from which new responses to the familiar questions asked of this topic can be generated.

This symposium aims to bring fresh consideration to the history of STM and the First World War. By focusing on the institutions of wartime research and development, and the images of science generated within them, we aim to consider the following.

  • The use and adaptation of scientific knowledge for national war efforts.
  • How war concerns shaped sites of scientific work, including laboratories, universities and learned societies.
  • The proliferation of research and development institutions.
  • Models and cultures of research and development devised (and revised) during wartime.
  • Locally contingent definitions of pure and applied science, and how actors sought to legitimate them.
  • The transformation of the image of the scientist and the boundaries of scientific expertise.
  • Science and propaganda.
  • The social history of the wartime scientific workforce.

Through a series of case studies we aim to provide a richer picture of STM during the First World War. While we do not explicitly pursue a comparative historical approach, we hope that symposium discussion will further define the experiences of different STM disciplines in a number of combatant countries.

Publisher's Statement

Publisher's version of record: http://ichstm2013.co.uk/programme/guide/s/S055.html

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