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A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks…

de Clifford D. Conner

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaMencions
231689,106 (3.3)2
We all know the history of science that we learned from grade school textbooks: How Galileo used his telescope to show that the earth was not the center of the universe; how Newton divined gravity from the falling apple; how Einstein unlocked the mysteries of time and space with a simple equation. This history is made up of long periods of ignorance and confusion, punctuated once an age by a brilliant thinker who puts it all together. These few tower over the ordinary mass of people, and in the traditional account, it is to them that we owe science in its entirety. This belief is wrong. A People's History of Science shows how ordinary people participate in creating science and have done so throughout history. It documents how the development of science has affected ordinary people, and how ordinary people perceived that development. It would be wrong to claim that the formulation of quantum theory or the structure of DNA can be credited directly to artisans or peasants, but if modern science is likened to a skyscraper, then those twentieth-century triumphs are the sophisticated filigrees at its pinnacle that are supported by the massive foundation created by the rest of us.… (més)
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I kept thinking "get to the facts & stories!" But it's written in a pretty inaccessible way, with the author trying to make lots of theoretical points. ( )
  mitchtroutman | Jun 14, 2020 |
Essai historique intéressant, permettant de mettre en perspective l'histoire des découvertes et grandes inventions à la lumière des savoirs populaires accumulés au fil des siècles. Au travers des époques c'est la recherche quotidienne de solutions à des problèmes concrets se posant aux gens ordinaires et les échanges entre groupes humains, artisans, villages, guilde de métiers, qui a permis de constituer des savoirs expérimentaux et parfois même théoriques qui seront synthétisés, collectés par des hommes en position d'être entendus à leur époque, généralement des puissants ou tout du moins des personnes faisant partie ou proche des élites des sociétés.
Cependant, j'ai trouvé qu'au delà de l'apport documenté et historique, la thèse de Conner enfonce tout des même des évidences. Il me semble évident que tout acte humain, toute réflexion, toute pensée ne surgit pas du néant, comme une révélation mais est forcément le résultat de l'apport de milles idées, découvertes, échanges, essais accumulés au cours des années, des siècles précédents. Nous ne sommes que la résultantes de tout cela.
C'est l'angle et la thèse de Conner qui le démontre très bien mais au fil des pages devient un peu répétitif.
Par ailleurs, Conner dit lui même en fin de volume : "les idées scientifiques ne sont pas des agents historiques autonomes, (...) la grande idée est dans l'air du temps elle avait des antécédents et n'attendait plus que d'être enfin reconnue. Si tel individu hors du commun n'avait pas agencé la dernière pièce du puzzle, un autre n'aurait guère tardé à le faire à sa place. (...) glorifier les idées de (Newton) ne fait pas avancer la compréhension historique : c'est l'apparition de ces idées à un moment particulier et en un lieu particulier qu'il faut expliquer" (p463 Ed Point Seuil), or c'est de mon point de vue ce qu'il manque à cet essai. Conner est focalisé sur l'origine des idées, des expériences, des savoirs en oubliant bien souvent d'analyser le contexte social, psychologique, philosophique, sociétal, politique, ou lorsqu'il en parle il effleure les sujets sans réellement les creuser.
Donc pour qui s'intéresse aux technologies, à la science, mais également et surtout à l'histoire de l'humanité, ce livre reste intéressant mais pour celui qui cherche à comprendre l'enchaînement des évènements et la compréhension de pourquoi ici et à ce moment, l'essai de Conner reste un peu faible. ( )
  folivier | Nov 26, 2018 |
Tutti abbiamo imparato la storia della scienza dai libri di scuola e ci siamo fatti l'idea che il progresso tecnico e scientifico sia opera di un ristretto numero di menti geniali. In realtà la scienza è il risultato di un lavoro collettivo nel quale imprescindibile è stato il ruolo di cacciatori, contadini, marinai, minatori e masse anonime di lavoratori. Scopriamo le origini trascurate delle grandi scoperte scientifiche e riconosciamo il vero genio, quello del popolo.
  delfini | Apr 1, 2009 |
Hailed by Howard Zinn, A People's History of Science attempts to correct the heroic intellectual view of history by recognizing science as a "collective social activity" that was developed, for the most part, in the daily activities of working people. Conner illuminates the roles of African slaves in bringing agricultural knowledge to America, of Native Americans and peasant healers in the development of medicine and pharmacology, of sailors in honing the fields of navigation and mathematics, of eyeglass-makers in creating the telescope and the microscope, and of artisans and craftsmen in performing the trial and error experiments that formed the backbone of the Scientific Revolution. The prose is clear, the arguments are thought-provoking, and while I occasionally found myself wanting a bit more depth, this book held my fascination for 500 pages. --Emily
  skylightbooks | Feb 9, 2008 |
Being of a generally socialist bent, I am very sympathetic to the project of "people's histories", ever since it was conceived by A.L. Morton's excellent "A people's history of England", but that does not mean that we should be uncritical towards what is actually written. Not just Howard Zinn's prototype book (People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present) in the modern series should be evaluated with care, but this goes as well for other books in this series, including this one, the "People's History of Science" by Clifford Conner.

Conner's thesis is that although the history of science has often been portrayed in the usual "Great Men" style as the work of a privileged few brilliant men (and yes, almost only men) seeing further than anyone elses and inventing wondrous new sciences and technologies, in reality most of established academia during the ages was of no value whatever, and real scientific progress resulted through the experiments and practice of artisans, painters, miners, etc., not through the academic thinking of the learned.
Tracing a chronology of technological development, Conner gives a convincing if not entirely open-and-shut case for this thesis, in particular when it comes to demonstrating the great advances in science made by the lowly and unacademic during the ancient periods as well as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Equally, Conner gives women and non-Europeans their due, quite correctly emphasizing the large advances in technology made by the Chinese, the Native American societies, the Arabs, and so on, often ages before any European ever conceived of the thought. Conner does this quite well, in the process also repudiating the popular view of the natives as the "noble savages living in communion with nature"; in reality the various Indian tribes were masters at the manipulation of nature to their advantage, such as forestry and the genetic selection of edible plants to improve agriculture.

However, this book also has clear and evident downsides. Conner's own specialization seems to be in the history of science during the period of the Renaissance through the 18th-19th Centuries, for it is the chapters on this that are by far the best part of the book and particularly worth reading. On other subjects, however, he is much less informed. Especially the chapter on science in ancient Greece is woefully erroneous: Conner has bought completely into the oft-refuted theories of Martin Bernal, including even the slanderous commentary on Karl Otfried Müller, which even Bernal himself has since withdrawn. The entire "out of Africa" tendency of this chapter is as wrong and unscientific as that idea itself. But that's not all, since Conner's understanding of Plato is also horribly mangled, leading him to either ignore or completely misunderstand the possibly progressive elements in Plato's "Republic". For example, when discussing Plato's political views, Conner at no point even deems it worth mentioning that in Plato's ideal society men and women would have an equal opportunity to lead if worthy, surely a very revolutionary view in his time (compare it to Aristoteles!). He also does not understand Plato's conception of the various classes in his society, which are explicitly opposed to the idea of castes one are born into, unlike what Conner seems to assume. Conner even quotes Marx who refutes the point he is trying to make in that context.

I do not know enough about most of the other subjects Conner writes on without being specialized in them, like classical China, prehistoric societies, and so on, to judge whether that suffers from similar flaws, but at least if he gets these things that I do happen to know so horribly wrong, that bodes ill for the trustworthiness of the entire book. So do take his analysis with a grain of salt at all times, and check the sources elsewhere. Additionally, the book contains many minor spelling errors and wrong expressions in foreign languages cited; not a big deal, but something a competent editor should have caught and removed.

On the whole, the book's chapters on the so-called Scientific Revolution are very good, and his commentaries on other historians of science are worth reading. His thesis is also sufficiently proven to be convincing, if not enough to be certain; it may be added though that he does not establish very well that the Great Men theory of the history of science is actually still supported by contemporary historians, making his case seem a bit obsolete. And his use of sources is very narrow and occasionally wholly incorrect at times, so be skeptical when reading. ( )
1 vota McCaine | May 13, 2007 |
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We all know the history of science that we learned from grade school textbooks: How Galileo used his telescope to show that the earth was not the center of the universe; how Newton divined gravity from the falling apple; how Einstein unlocked the mysteries of time and space with a simple equation. This history is made up of long periods of ignorance and confusion, punctuated once an age by a brilliant thinker who puts it all together. These few tower over the ordinary mass of people, and in the traditional account, it is to them that we owe science in its entirety. This belief is wrong. A People's History of Science shows how ordinary people participate in creating science and have done so throughout history. It documents how the development of science has affected ordinary people, and how ordinary people perceived that development. It would be wrong to claim that the formulation of quantum theory or the structure of DNA can be credited directly to artisans or peasants, but if modern science is likened to a skyscraper, then those twentieth-century triumphs are the sophisticated filigrees at its pinnacle that are supported by the massive foundation created by the rest of us.

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