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Reviewed by:
  • Za "zheleznym zanavesom": Mify i realii sovetskoi nauki, and: "Science in Russian Contexts,", and: Vlast´i nauka, uchenye i vlast´: 1880-e–nachalo 1920-kh godov. Materialy mezhdunarodnogo nauchnogo kollokviuma
  • Irina Sirotkina
Manfred Khainemann [Heinemann] and Eduard Kolchinskii , eds., Za "zheleznym zanavesom": Mify i realii sovetskoi nauki [Behind the "Iron Curtain": Myths and Realities of Soviet Science]. 527 pp. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2002. ISBN 5860073283.
Alexei Kojevnikov guest editor, in collaboration with Snait Gissis , "Science in Russian Contexts," special issue of Science in Context15, 2(2002): 177-374. ISSN 0269–8897.
Nikolai Nikolaevich Smirnov , ed., Vlast´ i nauka, uchenye i vlast´: 1880-e–nachalo 1920-kh godov. Materialy mezhdunarodnogo nauchnogo kollokviuma [Power and Science, Scientists and Power: 1880s–Early 1920s. Materials of an International Scholarly Colloquium]. 529 pp. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2003. ISBN 5860073070.

Some time ago, scholars who identified themselves with the history of science used to say, in a half-joking, half-self-deprecating manner, that a historian of science was nothing more than a failed scientist. That is, a historian of physics was treated as a trained physicist who could not cope with the complexities of his discipline, a historian of mathematics as a mathematician who ran away from the constraints of an exact science, and a historian of experimental biology as someone who escaped the lab in order to read. Scientists accepted the history of science as an auxiliary discipline that might be useful for teaching purposes but hardly as a field of its own, and certainly not as anything on a par with the so-called "maternal discipline"—that is, physics for the history of physics. If the history of science is indeed a warehouse of old ideas, erroneous thoughts, and false theories, why would anybody be interested in it, especially a general historian?

Fortunately, those days are gone. Contemporary history of science is no longer a record of scientific discoveries and a chronology of scientists' lives. It is both more and less than that. Less, because one can no longer speak of "discoveries" as atomized achievements of isolated scientists, just as one can no longer speak about the one and only universal science. More, because it is now widely recognized that science is part of culture and, as such, can be studied by the methods of all those disciplines, including [End Page 811]general history, that serve us in understanding foreign and not-so-foreign cultures. An obvious conclusion follows: comparing the history of science in different countries, we can learn something important about each country, something that might be hidden from scholars studying other developments. Thus, given the peculiarities of Russian and Soviet history, science in this country may serve as a model for studying political control over the production and distribution of knowledge. For example, such stories as the Lysenko affair or the "Sovietization" of the Academy of Sciences are exemplary for any discussion about the fate of intellectuals or the status of objective knowledge in a totalitarian society.

In light of these advances, one might ask what precisely the contemporary history of science can offer a scholar of Russia. The three collections under review enable us to approach this question. Taken together, they provide a useful overview of recent scholarship in the history of Russian science. In addition, they give a good idea of the state of the art as it exists in Russia. Za "zheleznym zanavesom"is mainly by Russian scholars (with the exception of Douglas Weiner and Lutz-Dieter Behrendt), who live and work in the United States and Germany, respectively; the Science in Contextspecial issue is exclusively Russian, though two of the authors (Alexei Kojevnikov and Slava Gerovitch) live in the United States. The third reviewed collection is a record of an international colloquium, "Power and Science, Scientists and Power, 1880s-1920s" (held in St. Petersburg on 6-9 June 2001) that brought together researchers from France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States.

Since the beginning of perestroikathe field has experienced noticeable changes. Russian historians of science discovered new topics, such as the political control of science, and new genres of writing, such as social history. Kojevnikov's brief introduction...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 811-818
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-13
Open Access
No
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