To: CCI task force
From: Michael Nauenberg* Dec. 13, 1999
Professor of Physics Emeritus
I am responding to your request for suggestions, regarding the campus curriculum initiative proposed by EVC Simpson.
I would like to propose for a new area of
undergraduate and graduate studies on this campus
the field of history of science and technology. This field
covers a wide span in time, from early antiquity
to the present, and deals with contibutions by
many different cultures around the globe.
It fits very well with some of the
criteria which you have identified
for the CCI initiative,
providing a unique bridge between two
different divisions on this campus, that of the
humanities and the sciences.
Although as an academic subject this field has been recognized only relatively recently (e.g. the History of Science Society was founded in 1927), it has become by now an important area for both teaching and research at many major universities including all UC campuses except, unfortunately, our own. Since the middle 70's this field has been neglected here after our first and only historian of science, Dick Olson, left to teach at Harvey Mudd College.
Research and teaching in history of science is enhanced by collaborative efforts between faculty who traditionally are appointed in two different divisions, the humanities and the natural sciences. It requires a combination of the skills and knowledge of the professional historian and the working scientist who has a practical understanding of the field under study. More recently there has been also an interest in this subject within the social sciences (e.g. science studies), although some of the contributions remain highly controversial. In most universities history of science is located within the department of history or as a separate program or department, but some faculty are also associated with a science department. For example, at Harvard one of its most prestigious historians of science , Gerald Holton, is a professor in the Physics dept., while a recent Chair of its history of science program, Peter Galison, also teaches Physics. At the University of Minnesota, which has one of the best programs in history of science in the country, each faculty in this field has an appointments within the science department of his specialty.
The vitality of this field is illustrated by the increasing number of excellent books and articles on history of science which have appeared during the past years. During my own lectures, I have found a great interest among student to learn more about the early history of physics, and some of my colleagues have reported similar experiences when talking about the history of mathematics or biology. Our campus is very fortunate to have one of the best collections of books and journal on the history of Astronomy due to the presence here of Lick. It contains even some hidden jewels like the recently discovered 16-th century manuscript of a horoscope by Kepler. This collection includes, for example, the complete transactions of the Royal Society of London, including the first volume published in the early 1660's, available in open shelves at the Science Library, while some of the oldest books and journals are kept in Special Collections at Mc Henry Library. In addition, for material not found here there is easy and rapid access from other UC libraries. Currently, this great resource for teaching and research is apparently rarely used here. A notable exception is the recent work on the history of astronomy of Donald Osterbrook* who is an emeritus Professor of Astronomy. While browsing and reading in the science librabry I have found that most books and journals on the history of physics and astronomy which I have wanted to read have rarely been taken out more than a few times if at all, which underscores the neglect of history of science on this campus.
During the past years I have interacted with a number of science faculty on our campus who have some serious interest and knowledge in history of science . These include John Faulkner in Astronomy, Tony Tromba and Bruce Cooperstein in Mathematics, Lincoln Taiz in Biology, and emeriti faculty like Don Osterbrook* in Astronomy and Jean Langenheim in Biology. Recently the Physics dept has appointed an Adjunct Professor, Michael Riordan, who is co-author of several books on the contemporary history of science and technology. Other scholars on campus who have expressed an interest in establishing an effort here in history of science include David Hoy and Richard Otte from our Philosophy dept. I expect that any of these local scholars can be consulted if this campus wishes now to move in this direction. For an eminent outside historian of science who could offer useful advise, I recommend I. Bernard Cohen* from Harvard University.
* Now deceased, footnote added by Wipke in 2019: Cohen in 2003 @ 89, Osterbrock 2007 @ 83, Nauenberg 2019 @ 84. (Gerald Holton is 97 in 2019.)