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Spreading the Spirit of Science

Social Determinants of the Popularization of Science in Nineteenth-Century Germany
  • Kurt Bayertz
Chapter
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences a Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 9)

Abstract

The need for popularization of the natural sciences arose during the 18th century as a result, on the one hand, of increasing institutional and professional differentiation of the scientists from the wider society and, on the other, of the fact that literacy was no longer the privilege of a tiny caste of scholars. An extensive literature arose during the Enlightenment for the purpose of familiarizing the “educated classes” with the new results in the natural sciences. But it was neither in the 18th century nor in the present that popular science reached its heyday, but in the 19th century. This is due not so much to the amount of popular literature produced and read it that century, but to the significance of popularization for the self-image of the period. The natural sciences were considered to be the motive force of progress in all areas of social life; whoever wanted to be “up with the times” had to be familiar with their success and method of thought. As a result popularization became a fad that affected virtually all levels of society. Neither before nor after this “century of the sciences” can one find that efforts at popularization had a comparable cultural influence.

Keywords

19th Century Natural Science Popular Science Intellectual Life Popular Literature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes and References

  1. 1.
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    In 1883 the scientist and entrepreneur Werner von Siemens states: “Scientific research will always build the foundation for technical progress; a nation’s industry will never come to occupy a leading position internationally, and be able to maintain it,, if it is not a leader in science. Research is the most effective way of promoting its industry”. Quoted from Peter Lundgreen, ‘Wissenschaft und Wirtschaft. Methodische Ansatze und empirische Ergebnisse (unter besonderer Beriicksichtigung Deutschlands im 19. Jahrhundert)’, in Technikgeschichte 44 (1977), 310. Lundgreen’s review of current research makes clear what difficulties stand in the way of an attempt at a solid historical reconstruction at the actual connection between science and economic development. Contradicting the optimism expressed in the passage quoted from Werner von Siemens, recent empirical research makes “questionable the assumption of a one-sided scientific-technical determinism”. Ibid., p. 313.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Kurt Bayertz, op. cit., note 32, pp. 381ff.Google Scholar
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    Cf. in contrast: “Science in Germany grew up as a part of a philosophical-educational enterprise and without the support of a powerful scientistic movement”. J. Ben-David, The Scientist’s Role in Society, A Comparative Study, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971, p. 126.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt Bayertz
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BielefeldUSA

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