Jon Agar‘s new History of Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond goes beyond the limitations of disciplinary and national histories of science to look at the broad themes in the science of the last eleven decades. He shows the close connections between science and warfare, politics and the commercial world, and charts the rise of new fields and the impact of new discoveries. He also tells the stories of some of the remarkable individuals, both well known and less familiar, who shaped twentieth-century science.
Jon Agar is senior lecturer in science and technology studies at University College London. He is the editor of the British Journal for the History of Science; his previous publications include histories of the computer and the mobile phone.
To listen to the complete interview, click here. For excerpts, click on the links below.
1. “One of the interesting things about twentieth-century science is that a lot of the really exciting stuff has happened at the edges of disciplines.” Jon Agar explains here why he set out to write a history of twentieth-century science like no other previously attempted. [2:41]
2. I asked Jon if he knew what the big picture of modern science would be from the outset or whether that only emerged when he stepped back from the canvas. Click here [1:21].
3. “Nineteen hundred turns out to be a good place to start.” I asked Jon to take us back to that year and describe how science was then practised. Click here [2:13].
4. We talked about the ways in which the career of German Jewish scientist Fritz Haber (above) exemplified many of the big themes of the book, not least the intimate connections between science and war. Click here to learn more [2:36].
5. Science on the twentieth century is continually throwing up moral dilemmas. Here Jon Agar talks about the chemical and biological weapons programmes which were set up during the Second World War but never put to offensive use during the conflict [1:18].
6. One of the major themes of the book is the rise of the United States to a position of world dominance in science. How easy is it to explain why that came about? Click here [1:54].
7. Finally, I asked Jon Agar to venture some predictions about the state of science ten years from now. What will science 2022 look like? Click here to listen to his answer [3:16].