An article by Lewis Pyenson in Louisiana University (USA) about the comparative history of science, quoting critically The Secret of the West (see p.21 below shortcut), published in March 2002 in the Cambridge, UK-based journal History of Science. PDF-version.
(Lewis Pyenson: "Comparative History of Science", History of Science, Volume 40, Part 1, Number 127, March 2002, p.1-33).
Copy from the internet version Aug 06. Source.
Other article by Lewis Pyenson on this site.
The Secret of the West

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Lewis Pyenson
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Beginning a review in 1978 of a collection comparing the Mexican and United
States revolutions, Don Higginbotham observed: “Historians in general, especially
American historians, have not been notably interested in comparative studies.
Until recent years at least, Clio’s disciples have been markedly conservative in
the way they have viewed their craft — ‘conservative about everything but their
politics,’ as the saying goes.”
To accentuate his thesis, Higginbotham entitles his
review, “The uses and abuses of comparative history”. Comparatists are marginal
in the historical discipline, Higginbotham seems to contend. Following Friedrich
Nietzsche’s criticism of Jacob Burckhardt in the essay, The use and abuse of
history, it is a querulous topic that admits to being used and abused: who would
title an article, “The uses and abuses of economic history”, or, “The uses and abuses
of diplomatic history”?
Higginbotham’s impressions reinforce the appraisal of
Rushton Coulborn in 1970, that we should look to the future, when the art of literary
history shall be transformed into the science of comparative history:
The comparative study of civilized societies is at a critical juncture. Almost all
the work which has been done has been that of very able scholars: Danilevski,
Spengler, Toynbee, Sorokin, Kroeber. That some of these pioneers are
eccentrics, or have an ulterior motive, is a familiar situation. What is now
needed is the work of a large body of respectable historians. The majority
of problems which arise in studying the rise and fall of civilized societies
are historical problems which can be solved — if at all — only by synthesis
skillfully done by putting together the results of documentary research. This
is the historian’s job; yet, of the authorities on the subject named here (or
anywhere else) only one is a historian by profession.
More recently, Robert Gregg has compared race relations in the United States
and South Africa. In a book that deals extensively with theoretical questions, he
devotes almost no discussion to comparative history, summarizing: “The most
severe limitation of comparative literature has been its national and nationalist
bent. The unit of analysis under comparison is, generally speaking, the nation
(or proxies thereof).”
Michel Trebitsch, introducing a collection of essays on
the comparative history of intellectuals, shares Gregg’s opinion. Regarding
comparison, he emphasizes,
historians, notably those writing today, still remain prudent and timid, if not
distrustful. The comparative approach already has its history, its long history,
in the humanities and social sciences; it doesn’t lack for eponymous heroes
0073-2753/02/4001-0001/$2.50 © 2002 Science History Publications Ltd
Hist. Sci., xl (2002)

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among historians — one need only bring to mind the invocation of the great
canonical texts of Marc Bloch or Henri Pirenne. Yet it remains, because of
national historiography, a prisoner not only of the neo-positivist tendencies
that continually confront historians who write about our time, but also a
prisoner of its own contradictions — the structural dilemma that is evident
between a micro-comparative approach to historical entities confined to one
space, group, or event and a macro-comparative approach that is laced with
universalist tendencies.
Comparison in the social sciences and humanities indeed has a sketchy methodologi-
cal basis, to judge from the encomium received by Charles C. Ragin’s examination
of comparison from the point of view of Boolean logic.
Comparison may have a difficult time in Clio’s classroom, but among writers on
tools, methods, and trends, comparative history of science is denied even the dignity
of marginality: it is off the historiographical chart. In a summary of comparative
history written by the Americanist George M. Fredrickson for a volume published
under the auspices of the American Historical Association in 1980, there is no
mention of history of science.
Complementing Frederickson’s pessimistic view,
Robert J. Richards’s inventory of methodological approaches to writing history
of science, in 1981, is silent about comparison.
Comparison does not figure in
the title of any of the 67 chapters comprising a recent, gargantuan vademecum of
history of science.
Comparison is absent from Helge Kragh’s useful 1987 study
of historiography in history of science, which includes chapters on such themes as
biography, prosopography, and scientometrics, and it receives no mention in the
revised edition of François Russo’s disciplinary survey.
Shortly it will be seen that historical comparison has a long past, but a convenient
date for the crystallization of a concerted enterprise is 1958. In that year Sir Ronald
Syme, the great exponent of prosopography, delivered the third Whidden Lectures
at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. As his topic, he compared colonial
élites in the three longest-lasting Western empires, the Roman, the Spanish, and
the British. Syme concluded with an appeal to Sir Lewis Namier and emphasized
the merits of comparison:
Henry Adams said of history that it is “in essence incoherent and immoral”.
None the less, in the phrase of Namier, a notable enemy of system and dogma,
it can be described as an “intelligible disorder”. “Intelligible” is the word. Our
occupations are not inevitably condemned to futility or pessimism. History
is discovery. It broadens the horizon and deepens the understanding. It is a
liberal and liberating force.
Also in 1958, the distinguished journal Comparative studies in society and history
was founded by the medievalist Sylvia Thrupp at the University of Michigan.
served to focus both sociological and historical interest on comparative questions.
The journal nevertheless followed Syme’s lead in treating marginality, in this case
situations far from imperial seats of power. Raymond Grew observed in 1980

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that many of the five hundred manuscripts he received for Comparative studies in
society and history, during his term as editor, concerned colonial matters: “The
colonial experience offers a degree of analytic control not usually available to social
scientists; new influences and pressures can be identified and their assimilation,
distortion, or rejection can be traced.”
Grew’s comments point to the importance of a longstanding international project
to compare the history of India with the history of Indonesia, animated by the
Centre for the History of European Expansion at the Rijksuniversiteit Leiden under
the watchful eye of, among other scholars, H. L. Wesseling, C. A. Bayly, D. H.
A. Kolff, P. C. Emmer, and Leonard Blussé.
Science is not a principal focus for
the scholars at Leiden, although in the course of their collective endeavour it has
proved impossible to neglect natural knowledge. Michael Adas, a United States
historian with ties to Leiden who has written about impressions of modernity in
modern empires, keeps science at arms’length.
Commenting on a series of recent
essays dealing with Manchu colonialism, Adas avoids addressing conceptions of
the natural world — even though one of the essays under consideration, concerned
precisely with maps of North-Central and EastAsia, fairly cries out for a comparative
discussion of surveying command structures, measuring techniques, and printing
The Leiden group did publish a brilliant comparative collection in
1991 with the Japan-Netherlands Institute in Tokyo as the third volume of the
Institute’s Journal, edited by W. G. J. Remmelink, which records the proceedings of
a conference on the transfer of modern science between Europe and Asia. Many of
the thirteen chapters radiate wide learning, but only two are explicitly comparative.
H. Floris Cohen concludes in his contribution: “To distant China’s science the West
does not seem to owe much — partly because of the ‘translation filter’, partly as
a result of the incommensurability of the natural philosophies of China and the
West”; Harm Beukers reaches a related conclusion that, in early modern times,
there was relatively little interchange of medical knowledge East and West, except
for the Western use of Eastern medicinal herbs, and with recognition of the special
case of Japan.
These promising explorations have remained within a relatively
small community of scholars. Because historians of science still overwhelmingly
study European and North American occurrences, they have paid little attention
to innovations emanating from Leiden and elsewhere which deal with European
expansion. History of science seems to follow the observations of the Sinologist
Craig Clunas, who emphasizes, in reviewing a history of Western consumers:
“Comparative work is all very well, but, with certain shining exceptions, it
tends for the present to take place toward the periphery, not at the center, of
the historical field.”
Philosophers have analysed science from first principles, and even Thomas Kuhn
in his last writings sought to follow this path, but understanding also arrives through
examination of many concrete examples taken from the natural world. Some
knowledge — religious or artistic — may come directly from divine inspiration,
but an apprehension of the world in the undertaking called natural knowledge is

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won through a process of sorting things out into kinds. The disturbing sabotage of
this view opens Michel Foucault’s book, Les mots et les choses, where Foucault
recounts Jorge Luis Borges’s description of the animal kingdom in a medieval
Chinese bestiary, organized in an apparently fabulous and nonsensical fashion.
Foucault, whose methodological animadversions seem guided by anarchist impulse,
nevertheless places things in diverse heaps.
If generalization is granted to
historians (the matter is contested), it comes following sustained reflection of
comparable instance and example.
Notwithstanding the underground status of comparative history generally, the
following pages contend that comparison has been a persistent feature of the
discipline of history of science. Comparative studies have been among the most
innovative and the most durable of scholarly undertakings in our field, and they
have been carried out from a number of locations around the world. They have
generated significant discussion, and they have stimulated new areas of inquiry. At
the present time, when postmodernism has run its course and when scholars are
looking to formulations based on constructive labour and clear prose, comparative
history of science offers direction and inspiration. The very range and richness of
what has appeared over the past generation, especially, recommend comparison as
a solid foundation for research in the present decade.
A particular merit of comparison derives from its ecumenical presence in the
world of scholarship. Persuasive and original studies have issued from Cambridge
and Berkeley, as well as from São Paulo and Tokyo, from the hand of doctoral
students as well as distinguished professors. Today the application of comparison
harbours no eponymous “school”, whether deriving from a university town or a
philosopher. It displays neither secret agenda nor code words, and it is intolerant of
muddle-headed prose. By its nature, it resists appropriation by bonzes or Gelehrter.
Comparative history of science may provide a path to scholarly reconciliation
in a fissiparous discipline.
* * *
Comparison is implicit in nineteenth-century historical studies, which not
infrequently sought to establish contrasting racial or regional styles. In the New
World, comparison appeared explicitly in the two great commentators on democracy,
Alexis de Tocqueville and Henry Adams, and in Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s
novel about civilization and barbarism, Facundo. The French polymath Pierre
Duhem contrasted British model-building to French mathematical abstraction.
his history of European science, the Anglo-German wonder John Theodore Merz
characterized the ideal type of German scientist by an attention to thoroughness, an
awareness of the larger picture, a desire to create acolytes, and a predilection to deal
with philosophy; English scientists were idiosyncratic and practical-minded; French
scientists were analytical and pedagogical. This interpretive device has proved
remarkably resilient.
The Swiss naturalist Alphonse de Candolle, in his work on
foreign memberships in national academies, was explicitly comparative.

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Johannes Paulmann recently suggested that historical comparison is most
effective on a European scale, where on occasion science is present.
The origin
of this restriction lies in the faint presence of Western historical inquiry beyond
the North Atlantic World. The asymmetry is acute: there are many treatments of
Argentina and Indonesia by North Atlantic scholars, but very few in the reverse
direction. A sense of the poverty may be obtained from a collection edited by Ivan
Vallier in 1971, where a Eurocentric focus, from Karl Marx to Talcott Parsons,
weighs heavily in the historical footnotes — in clear contrast to the extra-European
discussion of anthropology.
When reason and enlightenment come into play,
Europe still takes centre-stage. Indeed, in his comparative social history of the
Enlightenment, Thomas Munck portrays Benjamin Franklin only as a kite-flying,
masonic, American politician, rather than, more optimistically, a printer, diplomat,
and American natural philosopher. Munck asserts: “Natural philosophy remained
throughout the eighteenth century primarily in the hands of non-specialists”,
apparently mistaking physics for philosophy dealing with “basic scientific
Robert H. Robins has traced the early development of the discipline from which
comparative history derives. The inspiration for disciplined comparison comes from
the enterprise of comparative linguistics. Appearing explicitly in the Renaissance
through the work of scholars like Joseph Justus Scaliger, comparison of languages
proceeded under the watchful eye of Leibniz, mindful of the practical translations
upon which European expansion was predicated. Then, late in the eighteenth
century, the field exploded with the labors of Sir William Jones, Jacob Grimm,
Rasmus Rask, Franz Bopp, and Alexander von Humboldt, whose book, Die
Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues appeared posthumously in 1836.
The notion behind comparative linguistics was simple: by comparing existing
languages and thereby reconstructing extinct antecedents, it would be possible to
extend historical reasoning back to a time before written documents.
Anthropology provided a second scholarly focus for comparison in the nineteenth
century and early twentieth century, and, inspired by Auguste Comte’s writings, it
led into ambitious programs for analysing the evolution of civilization. Franz Boas
and Alfred Lewis Kroeber, for example, wrestled with comparison throughout their
career, and anthropologists still provide many of the most interesting comparative
studies with relevance to historical themes, for example, Tadataka Igarashi’s study
of astronomy in the Malay Archipelago.
The centre of comparative history at
the University of Wisconsin owes a great deal to anthropological inspiration.
Roland Axtmann has observed that the nineteenth-century comparatists, whether
anthropological or sociological, were evolutionist; they sought to classify cultures
and societies and aimed “towards assigning cultural traits (or whole countries) to
a specific stage of development”. The comparative method “allowed investigators
to see social and cultural differences as simply representing various stages of
The lines between anthropology, sociology, and history have been
blurred for more than a century (a notable early example is found in the writings

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of Pitirim Sorokin), despite the caution against such mésalliance in the controversy
around Karl Lamprecht.
Fritz Ringer observed a generation ago that Lamprecht was at the centre of a
controversy that became known as the Methodenstreit, the struggle over method.
In the 1890s, Lamprecht, ordinarius of history at Leipzig, was publishing a multi-
volume history of Germany which had a wide readership. Borrowing eclectically
and carelessly from political historians, economic historians, and psychologists,
Lamprecht enlisted a “rather turbulent mixture of anthropological information,
imaginative portraiture, and embarrassingly superfluous rhetoric about psychosocial
laws” to describe cultural epochs in terms of fundamental psychological resonances.
Lamprecht’s writings generated intensely negative feelings in the German historical
community, for whom the aim of history remained the elaboration of decisive
individual action in the development of the state. There was, however, no general
agreement about Lamprecht’s basic orientation, whether he was, indeed, idealist,
materialist, or positivist. The Lamprecht controversy, Ringer concludes, “helped
make German historians acutely conscious about their methods during the late
1890s and thereafter”.
Cultural history and its comparative focus fell into disrepute in Germany, but they
enjoyed a rebirth in France during the late 1920s through the School of the Annales,
founded by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch. To Marc Bloch falls the distinction of
proposing a method for comparative history.
Elaborating remarks by Henri Pirenne, Bloch described comparative history as
the process of identifying two or more phenomena that seem analogous and that
appear in one or more social settings, and then considering how these phenomena
resemble and differ from each other. A historical comparison required similarity
between the observed phenomena as well as “a certain dissimilarity between the
environments in which they occur”. Bloch noted that there are two different ways
of applying the comparative method. One may consider societies widely separated
in space or time, like those in Sir James Fraser’s Golden Bough, or one may take
as unites of comparison societies that are geographical neighbours or historical
contemporaries, as in the method of comparative linguistics. In either case, the
comparative method helps the informed historian formulate questions to ask the
documents that he confronts. The comparative approach allows the historian to
discover phenomena that a first glance seem to be lacking in one geographical area
or society. The comparative method can illuminate divergent evolution, when a
phenomenon becomes extinct in one place but persists in another. It is sometimes
indispensable in the search for historical causes.
The program of the Annaliens brought them to study long-term economic trends,
which eventually took them into the terrain of science and technology.
Two critics
have identified a restriction that in their view is fundamental to Bloch’s program:
“What ought to be compared in any study that claims to follow the method used in
comparative historical linguistics is all and only the phenomena in a related group.”
That is, just as the construction of Proto-Romance requires studying all living

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descendants of this extinct language, so understanding the origins of feudalism
requires an analysis of all its later, medieval manifestations.
Comparative history has gone beyond Bloch’s prescriptions. Theda Skocpol
and Margaret Somers identify three different kinds of comparative history:
macro-causal analysis, which resembles multivariate hypothesis-testing; the
parallel demonstration of theory; and the contrast of contexts.
Charles Tilly,
after examining the state of global, historical comparison, divides scholarship
into four categories: individualizing comparisons, universalizing comparisons,
variation-finding comparisons, and encompassing comparisons. In general, he notes,
“Historically grounded huge comparisons of big structures and large processes
help establish what must be explained, attach the possible explanations to their
context in time and space, and sometimes actually improve our understanding of
those structures and processes”.
A. A. van den Braembussche points to the value
of comparison operating in three “mixed” forms which he calls generalizing (where
differences between instances move to centre-stage), macrocausal (hypothesis-
testing), and inclusive (where the instances to be studied are found within one
large context, for example, a world economy).
Maurice Mandelbaum classifies
comparative history into the evolutionary approach (for example, the sociology
of Auguste Comte), the genetic approach (tracing similarities among societies
through their lines of descent), and the analogical approach (further divided into a
phenomenological form of carrying out direct description and an analytical form
of identifying implicit resemblances).
A sense of the many moods of comparatists
and also of the heavy theoretical machinery invoked to put a compass to them may
be obtained from a forum on comparative historiography at the second European
Social Science History Conference in 1998.
Levels of theory cascade one upon
the other in Jörn Rüsen’s discussion of comparative historiography.
By way
of temperamental and literary contrast, Robert Darnton, an historian working
with primary sources, has offered a practical agenda for a comparative history of
the book.
An understanding of comparison certainly differs from one historian
to another, but nearly all writers would agree with Christophe Charle, in his
comparative study of intellectuals in the nineteenth century, that the merit of
comparison is not to confirm propositions that are in essence tautological, of the
kind: “French intellectuals behave in a certain way because they are French.”
as in other parts of history, comparison allows for generating deeper explanatory
* * *
Sophisticated, comparative history of science appeared through the labour of four
scholars in the 1950s: Edward Shils, Ludwig Fritz Haber, Joseph Ben-David, and
Derek J. de Solla Price. Shils, a conservative sociologist at the University of Chicago
and the founder of the periodical Minerva, focused on élites in academia; Haber
stayed close to the record of technology; Ben-David compiled historical statistics
to sustain his thesis about the vitality of free-market, competitive academia;

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and Price sought to transform the history of science into a science itself, where
quantitative indicators could map vitality and torpor.
The 1960s saw additional
interest. Hrothgar John Habakkuk published a comparison of invention in American
and British technology, a comparison later reconsidered by Nathan Rosenberg.
Background to the issue of professionalization of science came from John J. Beer
and W. David Lewis; scientists as political actors formed the subject of an analysis
by W. H. G. Armytage; Donald Cardwell compared scientific research at British
and German universities.
The most interesting of comparative studies related
to science on a world scale: Donald Fleming and then George Basalla compared
early science in the New World with that of other developing nations. Basalla’s
three-stage model for the evolution of an independent scientific community has
become a classic in the field of science and imperialism.
The comparative euphoria of the 1960s, where scholars elaborated broad themes
over long periods of time, took new shape in the 1970s. One of the last of the broad
treatments was Odin Waldemar Anderson and Ronald Andersen’s comparative
treatment of health care in the United States, Sweden, and England.
The 1970s
may be, to borrow from David S. Landes’s expression for the decades after the
dramatic expansion of the First Industrial Revolution, a time of “short breath and
second wind”. Scholars sought clear and careful comparisons over a short range.
Leading the way was Stanley Goldberg’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard University
comparing the reception of special relativity in Europe and the United States,
completed in 1969.
Following this approach came Thomas F. Glick’s collection
of essays about Darwinism in various cultural settings and Sal P. Restivo and
Christopher K. Vanderpool’s collection of comparative essays on science and
Charles Weiner studied cylotrons in European, American, and Japanese
settings; R. G. A. Dolby investigated nineteenth-century physical chemistry in
Great Britain and the United States, and Dieter B. Herrmann examined astrophysics
in Germany and the United States. Stephen G. Brush considered a number of
scientist revolutionaries circa 1905 in an attempt to evaluation the notion of a
scientific revolution.
Analytically, three texts stand out. First is Nathan Reingold’s
characterization of the American national style in science, read in 1978 at the
International History of Science Congress in Edinburgh, with its remarkable,
comparative tables.
Second is Russell McCormmach’s original and penetrating
comparison of the general attitudes of scientists in Wilhelmian Germany and in the
United States during the 1960s.
The major comparative effort of the 1970s is the
Dreimännerarbeit of Forman, Heilbron and Weart, published as a separate volume
in McCormmach’s Historical studies in the physical sciences.
The Dreimännerarbeit, or three-man work, followed the major archival project
of the 1960s, Sources for the History of Quantum Physics, led by Thomas S. Kuhn
and conducted with the help of Heilbron and Forman.
The Sources project sought
to assemble letters from and interviews with the major actors in the revolution of
twentieth-century physics. The project led to the extraordinary resources available
today through the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of

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Physics. The material allowed Kuhn, Heilbron and Forman to produce remarkable
works of scholarship, notably Kuhn and Heilbron’s tracing of Niels Bohr’s path to
his atomic model and Forman’s thesis that the reception of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty
Principle in Germany was a response by physicists to a cultural environment that was
hostile to traditional reason and causality.
Forman in fact elaborated the contrast
between Germany and England in this regard.
Stimulated in part by the work of
the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia and its Science citation index,
in part by the indefatigable optimism of scholars like Price, quantitative analysis
was on the agenda for historians of science in the 1970s.
Forman, Heilbron and Weart set out to provide a comparative, statistical picture
of physics at academic establishments around the world in the year 1900, the
eve of the quantum revolution. They compared physical size, budget, and staff
of laboratories and institutes, as well as the literature output of national sectors.
The information was assembled from a wide variety of published sources, and it
appealed to the extensive archival record. They concluded that Germany dominated
physics, although the United States was rising rapidly in the discipline; France was
declining. The study is remarkable for having resolved many issues that confound
comparison, for example, fluctuating currency exchanges and distinctive command
structures. Other persuasive comparisons on related material have appeared, but the
Dreimännerarbeit remains unique in scale and sophistication.
Complementing the master-work of Forman, Heilbron and Weart were other
significant comparative studies in the 1970s. Jack B. Morrell provided a paradigmatic
study comparing the success of Liebig’s school of organic chemistry in Germany
and the relative eclipse of Thomas Thomson’s chemical school in Scotland, a
form of institutional comparison that continues to generate fruitful results.
Loren Graham studied how eugenics came to Germany and Russia in the 1920s.
John Heilbron presented a comparative picture of physicists in seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century Europe in his definitive early history of electricity.
continued into the 1980s with major, new statements by David Landes on clocks
and clockmaking, Daniel J. Kevles on eugenics in Great Britain and the United
States, and Thomas P. Hughes on large networks of electrical power in Europe and
In Hughes’s nuanced study, he shows that there was no inevitability to
the development of electrical power, for technological choices (such as direct
versus alternating current) abounded; the architecture of networks derived from
social, not technological, imperatives; that technologists sought to resolve thorny
problems, rather than remand them to scientists; that electrical power came as
part of a vertical integration of banks and factories; and that when established,
technology acquires a ‘momentum’ of its own, which shapes and constrains
many social enterprises.
In the 1980s, generalizations emerged based on extensive comparison, notably
Gerald L. Geison’s classification of specialties and research schools.
Restivo’s broad characterizations of science, East and West, and Margaret Lock’s
characterization of Japanese and Western medicine found a complement in the

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contributions to the proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of the Center
for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies at the State University of New
York at Binghamton, devoted to “Islam and the medieval West”, where George
Makdisi compared the college in Islam and the West and Albert Dietrich compared
pharmacology in Islam and the West.
Jonathan Harwood compared genetics
in Germany and the United States, and Erik Baark, Andrew Jamison and their
colleagues at the University of Lund examined national styles of administration of
science and technology.
In his doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins University,
Louis Barry Rosenblatt compared early Victorian geology with early Victorian
classical history.
Two enterprises based extensively on both primary and secondary sources merit
special attention. Jens Høyrup undertook to reformulate the social conditions for
mathematics in Antiquity and the medieval period, an enterprise complementing
the technical analyses of Otto Neugebauer’s school and in any case appealing
to a good number of ancient and modern languages. His approach was modest.
He sought
to investigate how the character of mathematical thinking depends on the
institutional situation in which mathematics is practiced as knowledge
perhaps as theory, perhaps as techniques one should know in order to apply
them — in interplay with the wider cultural settings and societal determinants of
institutions. The method is cross-culturally and cross-historically comparative,
but no effort is made to find the same parameters in all cases, apart from
the choice of teaching as a critical factor.... Nor do I, indeed, believe that
a schematization aiming at finding a rigid common grid of explanatory
factors makes much sense in cultures as widely divergent as those dealt
with here.
For the modern period, Susan Sheets-Pyenson undertook a pioneering comparative
study of popular-science publications in London and Paris during the middle of the
nineteenth century, concluding that French science popularizers were “high-science
watchers” while English science popularizers were “high-science boosters”. The
French popularizers reported passively on academy and laboratory, while the
English amateur scientist could and did contribute to academic science.
then published a landmark study comparing nineteenth-century natural-history
museums in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada. Sheets-Pyenson’s
approach was an integrating one, in the manner of social historians. Her book on
colonial natural-history museums avoids superfluous appeal to methodology. The
five institutions considered in her book constitute type specimens of the “colonial
museum”. She writes: “The patterns of development drawn from the five cases ...
are typical of the more successful among colonial museums.” Generalizations are
omnipresent, whether on matters of personnel, funding, or institutional organization,
and they are presented inobtrusively to draw the reader in; just as with Høyrup’s
study, absent is rhetoric about abstract constructions such a role-set, ideology, and

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power, of the kind displayed in sociology of science.
As Sheets-Pyenson’s work demonstrates, in addition to encouraging a certain
economy of explanation, comparison discourages triumphal writing, for in any
historical comparison, even the most successful example carries less than desirable
traits. (Otto Neugebauer remarked, for example, that while Babylonian science
was clearly more sophisticated than Egyptian science, he would certainly have
preferred to live in Egypt over Babylon.) Comparison cautions enthusiasm. Early
in the 1980s, Joseph Needham published his Ch’ien Mu Lectures at the Chinese
University of Hong Kong. The book is an accessible meditation on science East
and West, continually comparing figures, inventions, and understandings. To cite
one of a very great many examples, Needham holds that “the centralised feudal
bureaucratic style of social order was in the early stages favourable to the growth of
applied science”. This social order, controlled by the shih, or scholar-bureaucratic
meritocracy, departed from the “aristocratic military” feudalism of the West, and it
permitted grand enterprises like the “Big Science” of the twentieth century:
Chinese society in the Middle Ages was able to mount much greater expeditions
and much more organised scientific field work than was the case in any other
society of that time. A good example of this is the survey of the meridian arc
carried out early in the +8th century under the auspices of I-Hsing ... and the
astronomer Nankung Yüeh. This was a geodetic survey covering a line no less
than 2500 km long, ranging from Indo-China to the borders of Mongolia. At
about the same time an expedition was sent down to the East Indies for the
purpose of surveying the constellations of the southern hemisphere within
20° of the south celestial pole.
He reviews the complex development of gunpowder, concluding: “While gunpowder
blew up Western military aristocratic feudalism, the basic structure of Chinese
bureaucratic feudalism after five centuries or so of gunpowder weapons remained just
about the same as it had been before the invention had taken place.” He reconsiders
the origin of Islamic alchemy, observing Chinese antecedents in macrobiotics and
the invention of automata. Needham concludes: “Arabic alchemical theory was a
marriage between the Taoist idea of longevity or immortality, brought about by
the ingestion of chemical substances, and the Galenic rating of pharmaceutical
potency, in accordance with the krasis, the mizaj, and ‘adal — the balance of the
four primary qualities, the natures.” The attempt of Jabir ibn Hayyan to create life
in an alembic is the union of Chinese medicinal alchemy and Greek metallurgical
chemistry, and “If nothing living was really ever seen to step forth from Jabir ibn
Hayyan’s cosmic incubators, chemotherapy with all its marvellous achievement of
today was certainly born from the Chinese-Arabic tradition with Philippus Aureolus
Theophrastus Paracelsus Bombastus von Hohenheim as its great midwife”. And
it was neither William Harvey nor the Damascus physician of the thirteenth
century, Ibn al-Qarashi al-Nafis, who originated the circulation of the blood:
it was the Chinese, although to Harvey fell the notion of the heart as a pump.

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Needham’s eye for detail did not prevent him from issuing broad generalization.
The preceding extracts suggest the extent to which his project is animated by
a comparative urge.
Needham’s comparison finds an extension in other syntheses. Shigeru Nakayama,
in a comparative work first appearing in Japanese in 1974, proposes that East Asian
knowledge derived from documentary scholarship, while Mediterranean knowledge
stemmed from rhetorical learning, and he examines why, “among the multitude
of theories and arguments afloat in classical Greece and Warring States China,
those of Aristotle and Confucius assumed the paradigmatic mantle”. Aristotle and
Confucius achieved the status of an authority in part as a result of a tradition of
“manuscript-centered, classics-oriented scholarship”. The tradition, which in each
case lasted more than 1500 years, required an originator of some sort: “The question
of authorship was not a significant issue. The name of the progenitor and the texts
associated with him were used first of all as an invisible yet commonly understood
badge of identity by which scholars knew themselves and were known to others.”
Nakayama’s text is unusually rich in its comparative style; that is, comparative
discussion often occupies many consecutive paragraphs, for example, distinguishing
the classificatory mode of Chinese science, which easily accommodates Kuhnian
anomalies, from the Western science of unitary, nomological explanation, which
eventually breaks under the weight of growing numbers of anomaly.
Toby E. Huff has reconsidered science from the perspective of the social
philosopher Benjamin Nelson and through the impetus of Joseph Needham.
“Without doubt”, Huff writes, “Joseph Needham’s monumental study, Science and
civilisation in China, did more than any other work in the twentieth century to draw
attention to the need for a comparative, historical, and sociological study of the rise
of modern science”. Huff’s appeals to sociology detract from a comparative inquiry
that may stand on its own merits. One of Huff’s original contributions is to identify
the special character of law in European, Islamic, and Chinese civilization, and
to contend that only European legal tradition, both conceptual and institutional,
paved the way for the formulation of natural laws in modern science: “By the
end of the thirteenth century, along with the formal elements of the Aristotelian
corpus, a powerful, methodological sophisticated, intellectual framework for the
study of nature had been institutionalized” in European universities. For Huff,
universities, far from being bastions of ignorance and prejudice, were the engine
of the Scientific Revolution:
Sociological and historical accounts of the role of the university as an
institutional locus for science and as an incubator of scientific thought
and argument have been vastly understated.... The universities were highly
instrumental in disseminating many new intellectual currents in scientific
thought, and, most important of all, they were the primary locations of severe
criticism of both old and new ideas.
Edgar Zilsel’s fruitful emphasis on artisans and craftsmen as the non-academic

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builders and measurers of the world recedes in favour of a focus on the traditionally
maligned schoolmen as disseminators of the new knowledge.
Sophisticated comparison is now a structural feature of scholarship dealing
with East Asia. The Seventh International Conference on the History of Science
in East Asia, held in Kyoto in 1993, produced a number of sensitive studies in
this direction. There Nathan Sivin outlined a program to delve more deeply into
comparing ancient Greek and Chinese science. Comparisons have accumulated
“a certain number of facts and dates ... but the conclusions drawn in the many
published comparisons seldom affect our daily work or our understanding of the
world we study”, that is, the details of East Asian science. Sivin offered that many
comparisons were made “out of context one at a time, whether they are concepts,
values, machines, or groups of people”. He presented a project undertaken with
G. E. R. Lloyd to focus on the period 300
. to
. 200 in both the Greek
and Chinese ambit. Sivin’s preliminary conclusions identify a Greek culture of
disputation and a Chinese culture of consensus; the Chinese notion of ‘polis’
was unifying and centralized, while in Greek learning there was a multiplicity of
political concepts; Chinese rulers established a loyal civil service and they were
disposed to acknowledge political limitations offered by their clercs, while Greek
rulers and their successors ignored the advice of philosophers, a situation that
encouraged heterodoxy; Greek learning was a competitive affair, functioning by
oral disputation, while Chinese scholars offered their thoughts directly to rulers,
and in this way sought to avoid disagreement. In the same proceedings, Karine
Chemla compared algebraic equations in Babylonian, Greek, and Chinese traditions,
identifying two unique features of the Chinese literature: equations were imagined
as arithmetical operations, and equations were solved within a framework of root
extraction. By philological analysis involving a number of Arabic texts, Chemla
posited a debt by Arabic algebra to Chinese tradition. Jianjun Mei and Tsun Ko
compared copper, iron, and zinc technology in India and China. Hans Ulrich Vogel
compared Chinese and Western accounts of subterranean brine and gas wells. In
view of some confused postmodernist rhetoric that the conference sustained, Vogel’s
conclusion is strikingly reasonable: “Western explanations of the seventeenth
century were in no way superior to their Chinese counterparts. Only with the
development of modern chemistry and geology towards the end of the eighteenth
century were Western scholars in a better position to forward, in the long run, more
realistic explanations.” Vogel shares Needham’s emphasis on the unique importance
of the European Scientific Revolution.
* * *
Notwithstanding the sophisticated, sachlich comparisons of the Asianists, less
ambitious individual “comparisons” are a standard feature of scholarship now, and
the word has acquired a wide meaning. David B. Wilson has written a segmented
biography of two nineteenth-century British physicists who engaged related
scientific questions, notably the electromagnetic ether. R. D. Harvey has performed a

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similar analysis for William Bateson and Erwin Baur, with regard to eugenics. Alan
J. Rocke has offered a “comparative perspective” on the early nineteenth-century
organic analysis of Liebig, Dumas, and Berzelius; the ‘comparison’ is summarized
weakly: “The battles over elemental organic analysis circa 1830 provide an
interesting window on wider aspects of chemistry, science, and European culture.
Liebig borrowed essential elements of French culture and French chemistry, some
of which remained with him for the rest of his life, but he added other elements as
well, including German and Berzelian.”
A fine comparison of two contemporaries has been provided by Russell
McCormmach in his study of the response by Albert Einstein and writer Hermann
Broch to the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s: “Among the realistically hopeful and
humane critics of the actions of politicians and the publics who supported them
were a number of scientists and artists who included the physical scientist who was
perhaps the most gifted since Newton, and one of the century’s greatest writers of
fiction — Einstein and Broch.” Both men knew,
as we know, that the recent barbarism arose “from within, from the core of
European civilization” where great works of art were produced and where
the great scientific and technical institutes were. The extermination of tens of
millions of Europeans by Europeans, to say nothing of the related extermination
of and by non-Europeans, in a brief thirty years following 1914 makes the
normally reflective person question whether or not science and art have had any
significant influence for the better on the political life of the West.
Neither man questioned his own search for meaning and harmony in science and
in art, although Broch “did question ... the value of the pure quest for beauty,
and he made that question, paradoxically, the heart of his mature artistic work”.
McCormmach allows that if, today, we are inclined not to take their notions
seriously, it is an artifact of the timelessness of ethics: “If their admonitions sound
like moral platitudes — so they have been called — it is because the standard of
moral judgments is not originality.” McCormmach’s essay concludes:
Science and art, as Einstein and Broch knew, may not make our character
better, but they jointly shape many of our perceptions of reality. Ethical
judgements and actions take their starting point both in character and in
perceptions of reality. In this sense, both science and art serve as guides
through our ethical universe.
The assessment gives meaning to our own specialty, which frequently seeks to
evaluate the character of reality perceivers.
As part of her extensive work on the Nobel institutes and prizes, Elisabeth
Crawford has indicated three ways of undertaking comparison in history of science.
The first is to study disciplines, specialties, and schools; the second is to focus
on élite stratification of scientists; the third is to divide the world into centre
and periphery. Crawford undertakes a prosopography of the group consisting

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of nominators and nominees for Nobel prizes to explore these three senses of
comparison, and she applies her results to evaluate the notion of internationalism
in science. Her felicitous choice of data allows her to go beyond impressionistic
generalizing. It remains a rare, sophisticated comparative study dealing explicitly
with European science. A fourth form of comparison places comparable instances
alongside each other, notably in considering the reception of scientific innovations
in a national context.
Thomas Glick has used the national-reception comparison
effectively in a collective volume considering how people responded to Einstein’s
relativity. The chapters in the volume focus on particular national sectors, and it
is left for the reader to propose explanations for differences and similarities. One
of the chapters does explicitly engage comparison, considering how the structure
of the German response to relativity, called a scientific revolution, compares with
the structure of the French Revolution.
A related collection considers science
separately in the United States and in Australia, although the volume includes
a scintillating comparative chapter by Susan Sheets-Pyenson and a comparison
of science in Ireland and in Quebec during the nineteenth century by Richard A.
Jarrell; a companion volume comparing science in Canada and Australia features
only three explicitly comparative chapters in a total of nine, and of the three
only one focuses on science.
Historians with a theoretical bent have not hesitated to offer prescriptions to
their colleagues, but comparison in the history of science, undertaken by theorizing
authors, often remains indistinguishable from conflation. The result may be
persuasive and original, even if comparison is not a primary desideratum, as in
David S. Landes’s Unbound Prometheus, but the danger is superficial narrative, or
‘potted’ history.
Colin A. Russell’s survey of two centuries of European science
appears in a series devoted (according to the editor’s foreword) to themes “in a
comparative context, drawing on material from western societies as well as those
in the wider world”. Russell’s focus is heavily British, with comparisons most
effective between England and Scotland: “Scotland differed from England in its
dedication to cultural and economic improvements, in its Calvinist ethic and in
its University at Edinburgh uniquely tuned to the needs and aspirations of the
local and national community.”
In an examination of the introduction of Western
astronomy into China during the seventeenth century by the Jesuit Johann Adam
Schall von Bell, Zhu Weizheng analyses Schall’s confrontation with the courtier
Yang Guangxian; the only element of comparison concerns the two astronomical
systems — Western and Chinese. Zhu also writes about Han learning and Western
learning in the eighteenth century; where one might have expected a comparison
between the European Renaissance and the Han renascence, we see only European
writings in China placed alongside the Han classics.
The proceedings of the 13
International Symposium on the Comparative History of Medicine, East and West,
follows Zhu’s approach, restricting comparison entirely to the conflation of Western
and Japanese views of medicine and illness.
Seeking to reevaluate “the context of dependency”, Michel Paty has recently

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called for careful comparison:
Only by ‘differential’studies, whose subject is restricted but which are accurate
and varied, concerning different but in some respect comparable situations
(this is indeed the original meaning of the term differential: different but
very close), can legitimate comparative statements be made. It is with these
differences and these similarities as starting point, situated exactly, that
appropriate concepts and categories can be formulated to clarify facts, help
to understand them in their own reality, and broaden the field of investigation
which corresponds to them.
But we have seen that scholars addressing science beyond Europe and the United
States arrived safely in the harbour of judicious comparison some time ago.
Comparative citation studies, in fact, have been used for more than twenty years,
and they continue to inform a growing area of inquiry.
R. W. Home and Masao
Watanabe, in the late 1980s, compared the development of physics in Australia
and Japan during the years before 1950. They observe that differences in the way
that the physics discipline came to the two countries “derive not so much from
the different cultural settings as from straightforwardly political factors, and in
particular, from the fact that Japan remained an independent power while Australia
was, throughout this period, a mere subsidiary unit within that vast British Empire
upon which the Sun, so it was said, never set”.
One of the most compelling
comparisons is Jaime Larry Benchimol and Luiz Antonio Teixeira’s study of the
institutes founded by Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro and Vital Brazil in Saõ Paulo.
Both institutes arose following the outbreak of bubonic plague in the port of Santos
in 1899. Their task was to produce serums. By 1911, both institutes presented papers
at an international congress in Dresden, “and from this combined effect resulted
an increase of international esteem — and as a consequence national esteem — of
‘scientific Brazil’”. Both institutes competed against faculties of medicine and the
Pasteur institutes, which had their own agendas. The institutes also contested with
each other for authority in the field of public health.
From the standpoint of historians, political scientists may seem to use broad
brush strokes. Notwithstanding the use of solid data, impressionistic conflation is
the order of the day in comparative science-policy studies, for example Peter S.
Biegelbauer’s monograph, apparently deriving from a doctoral dissertation at MIT,
where Biegelbauer evaluates how Hungary adopted “paradigms” for organizing
science from other countries and comments on the experience of other nations
in Central Europe.
As impressionistic is David Barling’s survey of government
response in the United States and Europe to genetic modification of foods in a
volume that, notwithstanding its subtitle, hardly compares things at all.
compelling is John Connelly’s study about higher education in communist Eastern
Europe. Connelly examines why “an intelligentsia beholden to the needs of a
socialist state” emerged with particular intensity in East Germany, compared to
Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. (“Why is East Germany like a hot pepper?”,

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my East Berlin host asked me early in the 1980s. “Because it is the smallest, the
reddist, and the sharpest.”) The Polish communists did not effectively purge old
professors in the universities, and the Czech communists, while purging professors,
“did not achieve a significant change in the sociocultural make-up of the student
body”. Neither the Polish nor the Czech communists created loyal élites in the
Thomas Glick’s model of national conflation is preferred by the
political scientist Etel Solingen in her edited collection of eclectic treatments
about national and international science; it merits interest here only because
several chapters (notably the Soviet Union and Japan) appear by the hand of
historians of science.
Conflation of separately-developed cases is also the sense of
comparison discussed by John M. MacKenzie, an historian of imperial Britain who
has addressed themes in colonial science.
The attributes of vague comparison have come to buoy to the last of the
postmodernist writers, now struggling to hold their head above water. David
Turnbull has published a collection of case studies to ascertain “the way knowledge
is constructed by different groups of people”. His examples are based largely on
secondary works and include medieval architects, Polynesian seafarers, and tropical
physicians — fields of knowledge that are far, indeed, from the precision and
verifiability of the exact sciences. Turnbull’s examples are intended to verify his
presupposition: “The strength of the sociology of scientific knowledge is its claim
to show that what we accept as science and technology could be other than it is.”
(Presumably his meaning is figurative; he does not explicitly assert that the loading
strength of cathedral walls might have defied a modern, mechanical analysis.)
Turnbull’s chapter on maps inadvertently disproves the contention, for it persuades
a reader about the gradual and regular improvement of a picture of the world. The
notion of “comparative knowledge traditions” is introduced to relativize, in a way
that is not defined, all visions of the natural world:
The most important consequence of the recognition of the localness of scientific
knowledge is that it permits a parity in the comparison of the production of
contemporary technoscientific knowledges with knowledge production in other
cultures. Previously the possibility of a truly equitable comparison was negated
by the assumption that indigenous knowledges were merely local and were
to be evaluated for the extent to which they had scientific characteristics....
Treating science as local simultaneously puts all knowledge systems on a par
and renders vacuous any discussion of their degree of fit with transcendental
criteria of scientificity, rationality, and logicality.
Little purpose is served in following this chain of scholastic rhetoric. The question
is precisely to identify sound and persuasive reasoning, whether the reasoning
appear ideological (in the view of Karl Marx) or transcendental (in the view of
Paul Forman) to our eyes.
Historical comparison continues to be pursued by sociologists. PeterWeingart has
compared eugenics in Nazi Germany and democratic Sweden. He finds “a virtual

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identity of the eugenic and race-hygiene discourse in Sweden and in Germany as
well as a striking similarity in the sterilization practice”, and he supports the notion
that the horror of Nazi eugenics was isolated or “bracketed”, in a political way,
from essentially comparable disciplines in other countries. Weingart concludes that
“the development of science (here eugenics) is hardly directly affected by political
circumstances”. Rather, politics selects out “certain factions within the scientific
community” that “would not survive the scientific debates”.
Brigitte Chamak has
compared the development of the discipline of cognitive science in the United States
and in France in a narrative that is less focused than Weingart’s.
H. C. Bolton and
Alan Roberts have measured sentence-length in an attempt to distinguish between
scientific and literary styles.
The lure of comparison, by means of invoking
general principles, appeals to Patrick Carroll, who, notwithstanding his focus on
nineteenth-century Ireland, contends that “the modern state, in a crucial sense, is a
configuration of subject-bodies and material spaces, realized within a network of
heterogeneous practices, in which both government and science and integral”.
Perhaps we do have science to thank for Margaret Thatcher.
* * *
Rudyard Kipling’s “Ballad of East and West” concerns a Muslim rebel under the
British raj who steals the prized horse of a post commander. The commander’s
son goes out to recover the horse and, through exemplary courage, befriends the
thief. The son returns with both the horse and the thief’s son, who is instructed
to learn the ways of the British invader. In 1931 George Sarton, a contemporary
of Kipling’s, lectured on “East and West” at Brown University. “Oh, East is East
and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, he quoted. Then he generalized
Kipling’s point about the common quality of courage to emphasize the universal
attributes of an apperception of nature:
However divided it may be with regard to material interests and other trifles,
mankind is essentially united with regard to its main purpose. East and West are
often opposed one to the other, but not necessarily so, and it is wiser to consider
them as two visages, or let us say, too moods of the same man.
Sarton continues: “Scientific truth is the same East and West, and so are beauty
and charity. Man is the same everywhere with a little more emphasis on this
or that.”
Is science indeed one or many? Is knowledge Platonic or Aristotelian? Shall we
in the matter, to use the terms of anthropologists, be etic or emic?
The unitary
or Platonic view, prominent half a century ago, has been unfashionable recently.
George Sarton, just mentioned, saw himself as a Platonist. In his notes for the Keiser
Lecture at the Library of Congress, Sarton emphasized:
History of culture should be focussed upon the hist. of science (h. of knowledge).
Man different from animals — because of his interest in religion, justice, beauty,

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truth. Without this — man is nothing but a beast, the most efficient & the most
cruel. — Now — history of science is the center — because it is cumulative &
progressive. Everything hangs on knowledge, justice & love.
Progress, he notes, did not occur to the ancients; Hesiod, for example, believed
that things began with a golden age of perfection, which then regressed into ages
of silver, bronze, and iron. The Western notion of progress extended through the
Victorian age and into the twentieth century, despite revolutionary discoveries
in physics. “In the long run, progress is certain — but our own life is a short
run”, he commented wistfully.
Sarton’s view was shared by Joseph Needham,
who emphasized, also with Sarton, the significance of the European Scientific
Revolution, which forged reliable procedures for discovering new truths about
nature. In Needham’s view, science was unitary; it could be represented by a
great river flowing to the sea, fed by many tributaries. To this end, he identified
science writers in Chinese history as counterparts of natural philosophers in
the European and Mediterranean traditions, and he dignified particular Chinese
endeavours as distinctive scientific disciplines. The course of science, in his view,
was a “grand titration”.
The particularist or Aristotelian view is prominent today, and not only by
postmodernist relativists. People who look over the torrent of specialized theses
and dissertations issuing from our universities may sense the broad spectrum of
norms that govern scientific disciplines: what is half-baked for one specialist may
be burned to a crisp for another. In some disciplines, language takes unusual turns,
emphasizing passive voice (where experiments conduct themselves) and strange
vocabulary (consider, for example, the rise of the word discourse over the past
generation, as well as the way titles in English now preferentially begin with an
ambiguous gerund instead of the definite article). Disciplines and their norms
evolve. Chemical experiments three hundred years ago may seem bizarre today,
and what was considered an adequate mathematical proof three hundred years ago
may no longer be credible. Today’s corpus of chemistry and mathematics departs
substantially from what was taught in the eighteenth century.
In her publications on traditional Chinese technologies, Joseph Needham’s
collaborator Francesca Bray has challenged his ecumenical vision. She writes:
“Needham’s lyrical accounts of Chinese achievements in science and technology
transformed the public image of China and its place in history around the world.
Needham criticized using science to bolster Western suprematism, but like the other
scientists of his generation he fully shared the teleology of the ‘whig position’”,
the view of an inevitable progress from the past to the present. “Yet precisely
what is most interesting about non-Western societies is that the material worlds
they produced did not embody the same values as our own.” Bray asks for “a new
materialism that takes into account social and symbolic as well as — or, where
appropriate, instead of — economic and mechanical efficiency”.
To the extent that Francesca Bray’s comments are weakly constructivist and go
in the direction of contextualization without challenging causality, to the extent

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that they give dignity to a wide range of intellectual enterprise, they are situated
firmly in the centre of scholarship over the past several generations.
My sense
is that she wishes to maintain that all views of nature are equally useful, a view
that Needham would not have supported. Would such a “new materialism” —
freed from the material struggle for survival that dominated Marxist thought —
hold that there can be as many kinds of astronomy, metallurgy, and medicine as
there are cultures, and that one kind is not better than another? Would such a new
materialism advocate that the truth of any apprehension of nature — a judgmental
ethnocentrism of Greek science in Antiquity — is a matter of indifference? If so,
it would be a materialism extending back more than a century to find antecedents
in fin-de-siècle England. In Chapter 2 of “A study in scarlet”, by Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, Watson is amazed at Sherlock Holmes’s ignorance of astronomy and tries to
relate the nature of the solar system. Holmes becomes annoyed: “‘What the deuce
is it to me?’ he interrupted impatiently: ‘You say that we go round the sun. If
we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me
or to my work.’” Sherlock Holmes shares this indifference with Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, a central figure in the anti-modernist artistic and literary movement
known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who did not care if the Earth circled
the Sun or vice versa.
Notwithstanding the considered views of the great master of deductive reasoning
and the great champion of sentiment, it seems to me that the radically relativist
point of view, just outlined, is incorrect. Since we no longer place credence in
astrology, the stars may seem remote and irrelevant, as Sherlock Holmes contends.
But consider for a moment the field that is most likely to sustain a relativist thesis,
medicine. It is true that before the nineteenth century, with regard to therapeutics,
Galenic medicine was hardly superior to the Chinese medicine of acupuncture and
moxibustion. Nevertheless, while both traditions of medicine supported the sciences
of botany (for materia medica) and chemistry (for concocting cures), European
medicine sustained astronomy (for casting horoscopes), and after the Renaissance
it slowly embraced descriptive anatomy. With aliquots of post-Baconian science,
European medicine was eventually able to intervene in the course of disease in a way
unlike that of Chinese medicine; the basis for intervention was statistically verified
success. For better or worse, medical practice today owes very little, if anything, to
Chinese tradition. (What is the non-Western contribution to a recent, newsworthy
medical intervention, the implantation of a cardiac rhythm-management device
into a prominent United States politician?) Technology, despite Francesca Bray’s
relativizing contentions, even more clearly follows one criterion for success,
East and West. Nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, the internal
combustion engine, synthetic insulin, and microelectronics function in one way,
whether in Beijing or Paris; so did, in late medieval times, the magnetic compass,
firearms, and the moveable sternpost rudder.
Joseph Needham knew that comparison requires a framework of some kind,
a standpoint for recognizing similarities and differences. The framework can be

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rigid and inflexible. In a recent, comparative work, The Secret of the West, David
Cosandey contends that the secret behind the rise of science and technology in
Western Europe is a tradition of competition among stable, independent, and
prosperous political entities (a méreuporie) located on a relatively large land mass
with a highly articulated coastline. Land wars facilitate competition and encourage
the transmission of new technologies. Ready access to the high seas allows for
large-scale commerce, on which prosperity and invention depend. The form of
the argument recalls scholastic disputes. Africa, for instance, does not enjoy a
sufficiently articulated coastline (as calculated by its fractal dimensions according
to the author’s technique of thalassographie) for sustained innovation in science
and technology. When the coastline and other conditions are present and science is
absent, a big deficiency is invoked: no science in the Arctic because it is too cold;
no science in the eastern part of aboriginal North America because the continent
is too vast. In Cosandey’s story, merchants are the impetus for, and soldiers the
means of, spreading science.
The evocation of comparison transcends a mastery of literary tropes. Entirely
straightforward prose can achieve a stunning effect by displaying carefully chosen
similarities and differences. Generalizations deriving from comparison, even if
they prove ephemeral, retain a certain currency. Joseph Ben-David’s contrast of
centralized French science with free-market German science and George Basalla’s
stages of colonial science remain useful and fruitful analyses, as does John Theodore
Merz’s characterization of science in England, France, and Germany. Charles
Gillispie has recently reminded us: “One of the mercies of being a historian instead
of a practitioner of a more rigorous discipline is that somehow our books turn out to
be better than our theories.”
Historians do continually ask to see new evidence, but
give us comparative theses, Lord, if they keep boredom at bay!
In contrast to Cosandey’s rigid generalizations, G. E. R. Lloyd has collaborated
with Nathan Sivin to provide a close and careful reading of Greek and Chinese
texts from the period of the ‘Greek miracle’ and the one hundred schools in the
Warring States era in an attempt to characterize the sense of science understood
in the West and East. Lloyd cautions that the great diversity of thought in each
setting, as well as the incommensurability of many discourses, make comparison
extremely difficult:
We cannot start from the Greek side, let us say, by identifying some particularly
prominent theory of concept and then asking what the Chinese equivalent is —
as if it is a foregone conclusion that the will be any such equivalent. We cannot
assume, in the period we are dealing with, that there is a single set of theories
or concepts fundamental to early science that will turn out to play analogous
roles in both China and Greece.
Lloyd finds merit in a revision of the notion that the Greeks were adversarial while
the Chinese were irenic, by examining texts outlining their views of nature. Both
settings knew schools and discursive traditions, which included a wide range of

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behaviour. The assertive Greek emphasis on the priority of what we might call
‘pure’ science, and the argumentative path to achieving certainty in it, in part
reflected the relative lack of influence that philosophers exerted over temporal
rulers; Chinese savants were more closely tied to political life, and their precepts
were designed to intensify the connection. Savants in both settings sought to
know causes, but Greek learning was fractious in this search, with schools
speaking at cross-purposes, while the savants of the Han period were able to
“consolidate a comprehensive world-view”. Differences in astronomy follow,
although not directly:
The types of astronomical model developed in Greece and China reflect the
influence of the styles of intellectual exchange cultivated in each society.
The modes of rivalry among astronomers differed, in that, in Greece, the stakes
were those of strict proof. The Chinese demand ... was for accuracy in prediction:
there was plenty of competitiveness in delivering that. But deductive certainty,
incontrovertibility, were a red herring. The enterprise of demonstrating the
movements of the planets by way of geometrical models, if it had been attempted
— which it was not — would have been considered irrelevant.
Lloyd is convinced that Greek and Chinese science differ from one another, but he
is cautious about explaining why:
Not only are there going to be no final explanations of the complex phenomena
we refer to under the rubrics of Greek and Chinese philosophy and science: there
are not even going to be any hard-edged explanations that are at all comparable
to those we would demand in other contexts, for example in explaining
physical interactions or even clearly motivated intentional acts in terms of
those intentions. The best we can hope for it to identify possible influences,
possible correlations or conjunctions, that may enable us to understand how
the philosophy and science produced related to the circumstances of their
production. It is precisely here that comparative studies can prove so useful,
both by highlighting points that might otherwise be missed, and by checking
hypotheses as to the interaction of particular factors. Certainly any proposals
as to the one-way or mutual influences of some factors on others can be
tested by examining whether or not similar combinations of actors cluster
Lloyd is sensitive to charges of relativism. The stars appear for us today just as they
did for the ancient Greeks and Chinese; our physical body is not different from
theirs. But the view of nature varied:
To be sure, reality is always social constructed in a sense: but that construction
reflects the investigators’ claims (varied ones, for sure) that it was indeed
reality that they were investigating, and that sometimes acts as a check on the
investigations, even if sometimes a reality claim is just a persuasive device,
and even if no one can step completely outside the conceptual framework

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within which they operate.
He has made a reasonable case for a dialectic between the etic and the emic in
natural knowledge. He suggests why we are wise to invoke comparison explicitly,
once more, to that end.
Nearly a decade ago, John R. R. Christie surveyed writings in the history of
science during the 1970s and 1980s. He observed the decline of “‘Big Pictures,’
those texts, starting with William Whewell’s History of the Inductive Sciences
(1837), which addressed the whole history of science, or much of it, in Western
Civilization”. Inspired by a relativist reading of Thomas Kuhn’s methodological
writings (while apparently ignoring Kuhn’s concrete historical research), historians
of science focused on the generation of ideas from social settings. Scholars were
deterred by the complexity required of any prospective synthesis:
It was not just that increased research from larger numbers of historians made
the coverage of science in history much more demanding. Even more demanding
were the methodological imperatives: to be one’s own social, political,
economic, intellectual historian in addition would have been a dismaying
methodological prospect for any but the supernaturally gifted historian of
science, if a “Big Picture” for social history of science, comparable to the older
synthetic works of 1837–1960, were to be contemplated.
In place of the intelligible narrative came the relativist notion that scientific texts
were at base nothing more than social interactions: understanding knowledge past
became an exercise in revealing who had “power” over whom, and the exercise
focused on “concrete, localized and relativized knowledge”. Christie hoped to
see a rise of interest in instruments, instrumentation, and physical human agency:
“Scientists always were and are bodies, bodies whose agency of variegated
disciplinary skills were always essential to the performance of science.” He looked
forward to the year 2001 for answers to many of the questions he posed.
The present focus departs substantially from Christie’s assessment. The range
and accomplishment of comparative writing over the past generation is encouraging.
“Big Picture” research is certainly alive and well. The best parts of comparative
writing in the discipline of history of science proceed carefully and systematically,
drawing upon results obtained by other specialists. Comparative research has shown
that, in the evolution of natural knowledge, scientific disciplines (however one is
to refer to kinds of knowledge like astronomy, algebra, or medicine) have greater
or lesser discursive cohesion and appear to respond to broader social settings in
special ways (some disciplines have little in common across space and time, while
others remain surprisingly invariant). Whatever else may be said about comparative
research, it has generated unusual enthusiasm among its practitioners. The results,
where dogma and cant occupy a relatively small place, have found wide appeal.
In its many forms, comparison offers a promising way of tracking around the
convoluted cataracts of recent methodological discussions.

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For comments I am grateful to Rob Iliffe and two anonymous referees.
1. Don Higginbotham, “The uses and abuses of comparative history”, Latin American research
review, xiii (1978), 238–34.
2. Judith N. Shklar, “Learning without knowing”, Daedalus, cvii (1988), 409–37, p. 420. Use and
abuse, borrowing from Nietzsche, can be prescient. Consider Frank E. Manuel’s observation,
originally made in 1970 (reprinted alongside Shklar’s text), “The use and abuse of psychology
in history”, Daedalus, cvii (1988), 199–225, p. 222: “The histories of fashion, clothes, sexual
and marital customs, punishments, style, and a hundred other questions which have traditionally
belonged to la petite histoire and to the antiquarians need to be explored for their symbolic
content.” For the record: Erwin N. Hiebert, “The uses and abuses of thermodynamics in
religion”, Daedalus, xcv (1966), 1046–81.
3. Rushton Coulborn, “A paradigm for comparative history?”, Cahiers d’histoire mondiale, xii
(1970), 414–21, pp. 418, 414.
4. Robert Gregg, Inside out, outside in: Essays in comparative history (London, 2000), 5.
5. Michel Trebitsch, “Présentation”, in Pour une histoire comparée des intellectuels, ed. by
Michel Trebitsch and Marie-Christine Granjon (Paris, 1998), 11–17, pp. 11–12. Trebitsch
and Granjon provide a survey of current discussion about comparative history in France
and Germany.
6. Charles C. Ragin, The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative
strategies (Berkeley, 1987).
7. George M. Fredrickson, “Comparative history”, in The past before us: Contemporary historical
writing in the United States, ed. by Michael Kammen for the American Historical Association
(Ithaca, 1980), 457-73.
8. Robert J. Richards, “Natural selection and other models in the historiography of science”, in
Scientific inquiry and the social sciences, ed. by Marilynn B. Brewer and Barry E. Collins
(San Francisco, 1981), 37–76.
9. R. C. Olby, G. N. Cantor, J. R. R. Christie, and M. J. S. Hodge (eds), Companion to the history of
modern science (London, 1990); comparison is addressed squarely, nevertheless, in the chapter
on science and imperialism, on pp. 923–4.
10. Helge Kragh, An introduction to the historiography of science (Cambridge, 1987); François Russo,
Libres propos sur l’histoire des sciences (Paris, 1995).
11. Sir Ronald Syme, Colonial élites: Rome, Spain and the Americas (Oxford, 1958), 64.
12. Raymond Grew, “On the current state of comparative studies”, in Marc Bloch aujourd’hui:
Histoire comparée et sciences sociales, ed. by Hartmut Atsma and André Buguière (Paris,
1990), 323–34.
13. Raymond Grew, “The case for comparing histories”, American historical review, lxxxv
(1980), 763–78.
14. To indicate just one of many significant volumes issuing from Leiden, Two colonial empires,
ed. by C. A. Bayly and D. H. A. Kolff (Dordrecht, 1986), offers a compelling collection
of rich comparative studies.
15. Leonard Blussé, “Qua patet orbis: An interview with world historian Michael Adas”, Itinerario,
xvii (1993), 9–20, p. 19: “The Machines as the Measure of Men study and my current work on
African and Indian responses to Western scientific and technological dominance grew out of
my fascination with efforts by intellectuals and Westernised political leaders to cope with the

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challenges created by the same differential in material power that peasants struggled with at other
levels.” The interview is otherwise innocent of an appeal to history of science.
16. Michael Adas, “Imperialism and colonialism in comparative perspective”, International history
review, xx (1998), 371–88; Peter C. Perdue, “Boundaries, maps, and movement: Chinese,
Russian, and Mongolian empires in early modern Central Eurasia”, International history review,
xx (1998), 263–86. The discussions pussyfoot around the essential question for a historian of
science: the extent to which a technical understanding of nature, for example in astronomy or
taxonomy (something more than a vague prejudice or general apprehension), is determined
by social or cultural norms. One has the impression that with regard to science, historians of
European expansion take their cue from the eunuch in the harem: they see it done every day,
but they have little sensibility for its details.
17. W. G. J. Remmelink (ed.), Journal of the Japan-Netherlands Institute, iii (1991), the volume titled:
“Papers of the First Conference on the Transfer of Science and Technology between Europe and
Asia since Vasco da Gama (1498–1998)”: H. Floris Cohen, “The emergence of early modern
science in Europe, with remarks on Needham’s ‘grand question,’ including the issue of the
cross-cultural transfer of scientific ideas”, 9–31, quotation on p. 31; Harm Beukers, “Medicine
and the life sciences in Europe and Asia”, 125–35.
18. Craig Clunas, “Modernity global and local: Consumption and the rise of the West”, American
historical review, civ (1999), 1497–511, p. 1506.
19. Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines (Paris, 1966).
20. On St Michel as an anarchist: Lewis Pyenson, “Imperium in imperio: The natural history of natural
knowledge”, Historia scientiarum, x (2000), 1–15, pp. 3–4.
21. Quantitative history, on occasion called cliometrics, is by its nature comparative, and some
quantitative approaches such as prosopography and citation analysis have generated comparative
studies in the history of science. The literature on these approaches is enormous, and it merits
special review in another place. Studies of technology transfer, which relate to “dependency
theory” in economics, also constitute an enormous literature, much of which is comparative. A
sense of the literature from the point of view of Latin American may be obtained from several
classic sources: Jorge A. Sábato (ed.), El pensamiento latinoamericano en la problemática
ciencia-tecnología-desarrollo-dependencia (Buenos Aires, 1975); Sábato, Transferencia
de tecnología: Una selección bibliográfica (Mexico City, 1978). For a persuasive essay in
dependency theory: Eduardo Galeano, Open veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the
pillage of a continent, trans. by Cedric Belfrage (New York, 1973). The present text for the
most part directs itself away from technology and economics.
22. Over the past quarter century the author has published a number of comparative works. They shall
generally not be addressed in what follows, but for the sake of completeness the more recent
ones are listed here: “Elegant Sartons: Platonic science, Platonic letters”, in Elegance: Beauty
and truth, ed. by Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, La., 2001), 5–13 [comparing the oeuvre of George
Sarton and May Sarton]; “Imperium in imperio: The natural history of natural knowledge”,
Historia scientiarum, x (2000), 1–15; “La historia natural del conocimiento natural: Utilidades
de la comparación”, in La ciencia en la Argentina entre siglos: Textos, contextos e instituciones,
ed. by Marcelo Montserrat (Buenos Aires, 2000), 87–97; “International activity and national
norms in the memory of American and Dutch science”, in Memory, past and future, ed. by
Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, La., 2000), 48–72; (with Susan Sheets-Pyenson) “Curricular value:
Natural history in early nineteenth-century medicine”, in Value: Pondering goodness, ed. by
Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, La., 1999), 23–53 [comparing natural history in medical curricula
at Philadelphia, New York, and Montreal]; “Etica e ideologia na ciência de Nollet e
Franklin”, História, ciências, saúde — Manguinhos (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de
Janeiro), v (1998), 7–33; “Academic words”, in Word and icon: Saying and seeing, ed.

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by Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, 1998), 9–25 [comparing T. Clifford Allbutt’s and Umberto
Eco’s instructions for writing dissertations]; “Higher learning and its kinds”, in Disciplines
and interdisciplinarity in the new century, ed. by Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, La., 1997),
20–35 [comparing Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften]; “Inventory as a route to
understanding: Sarton, Neugebauer, and sources”, History of science, xxxiii (1995), 253–82;
“Cultural imperialism and exact sciences revisited”, Isis, lxxxiv (1993), 103–08; “Typologie
des stratégies d’expansion en sciences exactes”, in Science and empires: Historical studies
about scientific development and European expansion, ed. by Patrick Petitjean, Catherine
Jami, and Anne Marie Moulin (Dordrecht, 1992), 211–17; “Habits of mind: Geophysics at
Shanghai and Algiers, 1920-1940”, Historical studies in the physical and biological sciences,
xxi (1990), 161–96; “Why science may serve political ends: Cultural imperialism and the
mission to civilize”, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, xiii (1990), 69-81, reprinted
in XVIIIth International Congress of History of Science, Hamburg-Munich, 1st–9th August
1989: Final report, ed. by Fritz Krafft and Christoph J. Scriba (Stuttgart, 1993) [Sudhoffs
Archiv, xxx], 39–54.
23. Pierre Duhem, The aim and structure of physical theory, transl. by Philip Wiener (Princeton,
24. John Theodore Merz, A history of European scientific thought in the nineteenth century
(Edinburgh, 1904–14).
25. Alphonse de Candolle, Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles suivie d’autres
études sur des sujets scientifiques en particulier sur la sélection dans l’espèce humaine
(Geneva, 1873).
26. JohannesPaulmann,“InternationalerVergleichundinterkulturellerTransfer:ZweiForschungsansätze
zur europäischen Geschichte des 18. bis 20 Jahrhunderts”, Historische Zeitschrift, cclxvii
(1998), 649–85.
27. Ivan Vallier (ed.), Comparative methods in sociology: Essays on trends and applications
(Berkeley, 1971).
28. Thomas Munck, The Enlightenment: A comparative social history 1721–1794 (London, 2000),
13, 19, 70, quotation on p. 12.
29. Robert H. Robins, “Leibniz and Wilhelm von Humboldt and the history of comparative linguistics”,
in Leibniz, Humboldt, and the origins of comparativism, ed. by Tullio de Mauro and Lia
Formigari (Amsterdam, 1990), 85–102. Robins has emphasized that in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, to paraphrase Otto Jesperson, linguistics generally “was mainly a historical
study”. Robins, A short history of linguistics (London, 1967), 164.
30. Tadataka Igarashi, “Sidereal-lunar time reckoning in Nusantara: A brief comparison”, in Studies
on the dynamics of the frontier world in insular Southeast Asia, ed. by Tsuyoshi Kato (Kyoto,
1997), 119–36. Since the nineteenth century, ethnographical specialties have generated
significant insight for the history of science, notably in Southeast Asia. Their accomplishments
in this regard have not yet been surveyed systematically. The present text for the most part
excludes consideration of work in ethnobotany, ethnoastronomy, ethnomathematics, and
(following Thomas Kuhn’s appropriation of music as a “classical science”) ethomusicology.
Ambitious programs in these specialties are outlined in: Richard Evans Schultes and Siri
von Reis, Ethnobotany: Evolution of a discipline (Portland, Or., 1995); Paul E. Minnis (ed.),
Ethnobotany: A reader (Norman, Ok., 2000); Anthony Aveni, Empires of time: Calendars,
clocks, and cultures (New York, 1989); Ubiratan D’Ambrosio, Ethnomathematics: The art or
technique of explaining or knowing, transl. by Patrick B. Scott (Las Cruces, 1998); Paulus
Gerdes, Geometry from Africa: Mathematical and educational explorations (Washington,
D.C., 1999); Arthur B Powell and Marilyn Frankenstein (eds), Ethnomathematics: Challenging
Eurocentrism in mathematics education (Albany, 1993); Helen Myers (ed.), Ethnomusicology:

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Historical and regional studies (London, 1993).
31. Craig A. Lockard, “The contributions of Philip Curtin and the ‘Wisconsin School’ to the
study and promotion of comparative world history”, Journal of Third World studies, xi
(1994), 180–223.
32. Roland Axtmann, “Society, globalization and the comparative method”, History of the human
sciences, vi (1993), 53–74, pp. 64–65.
33. Fritz Ringer, The decline of the German mandarins: The German academic community, 1890–1933
(Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 302–4. Ringer considers comparative history to be unproblematic. In
a recent, comparative work where methodology is much in evidence, he avoids all discussion of
the comparative method. Ringer, Fields of knowledge: French academic culture in comparative
perspective, 1890–1920 (Cambridge, 1992). On Lamprecht: Roger Chickering, Karl Lamprecht:
A German academic life (1856-1915) (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1993).
34. Lewis Pyenson, Cultural imperialism and exact sciences: German expansion overseas,
1900–1930 (New York, 1985), 298–9. Ole Bay discounts a Lamprechtian inspiration for
Bloch’s comparative history, even though Bloch “must have known” about Lamprecht.
Bay, “The evolution of the historical thought of Marc Bloch”, Theoretische geschiedenis,
xv (1988), 149–62, p. 152.
35. For example, Jean-Claude Hocquet, “Métrologie du sel et histoire comparée en Méditerranée”,
Annales ESC, xxxix (1974), 393–424, a comparative work on standards for measurement
in medieval and early modern times. Hocquet’s study follows the precepts of comparative
36. Alette Olin Hill and Boyd H. Hill, Jr, “Marc Bloch and comparative history”, American historical
review, lxxxv (1980), 828–46, p. 834.
37. Theda Skocpol and Margaret Somers, “The uses of comparative history in macrosocial inquiry”,
Comparative studies in society and history, xxii (1980), 174–97.
38. Charles Tilly, Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons (New York, 1984), 145.
39. A. A. van den Braembussche, “Historical explanation and comparative method: Towards a theory
of the history of society”, History and theory, xxviii (1989), 1–24.
40. Maurice Mandelbaum, “Some forms and uses of comparative history”, American studies
international, xviii/2 (1980), 19–34.
41. Chris Lorenz, “Comparative historiography: Problems and perspectives”, History and theory,
xxxviii (1999), 25–39, introducing a number of special treatments that follow his.
42. Jörn Rüsen, “Some theoretical approaches to intercultural comparative historiography”,
History and theory, xxxv/4 (1996), 5–22, in a number devoted to “Chinese historiography
in comparative perspective”.
43. Robert Darnton, “Histoire du livre, Geschichte des Buchwesens: An agenda for comparative
history”, Publishing history, no. 22 (1987), 33–41.
44. Christophe Charle, Les intellectuels en Europe au XIXe siècle: Essai d’histoire comparée
(Paris, 1996).
45. Michael Adas, “Scientific standards and colonial education in British India and French Senegal”, in
Science, medicine and cultural imperialism, ed. by Teresa Meade and Mark Walker (New York,
1991), 4–35, arrives at conclusions of the type that Charle criticizes. (The “scientific standards”
in the title refer neither to weights and physical measures nor to experimental philosophies.)
South Asia and Senegal resist informed comparison; South Africa and Senegal or India and
Indo-China seem more felicitous choices.
46. Edward Shils, “The intellectuals and the powers: Some perspectives for comparative analysis”,
Comparative studies in society and history, i (1958), 15–22; Shils, “The traditions of life:
Their conditions of existence and growth in contemporary societies”, International journal

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of comparative sociology, i (1960), 177–94; Shils, “Tradition, ecology, and institution in the
history of sociology”, Daedalus, xcix (1970), 760–825; Ludwig Fritz Haber, The chemical
industry during the nineteenth century: A study of the economic aspect of applied chemistry
in Europe and North America (Oxford, 1958); Joseph Ben-David, “Scientific productivity
and academic organization in nineteenth century medicine”, American sociological review,
xxv (1960), 828–43; Ben-David, “The universities and the growth of science in Germany and
the United States”, Minerva, vii (1968), 1–35; Ben–David, The scientist’s role in society: A
comparative study (1971; Chicago, 1984); Derek J. de Solla Price, Little science, big science
(New York, 1963); Price, “Networks of scientific papers”, Science, cxlix (1965), 510–15.
47. Hrothgar John Habakkuk, American and British technology in the nineteenth century: The
search for labour-saving inventions (Cambridge, 1962); Nathan Rosenberg, Perspectives
on technology (New York, 1976).
48. John J. Beer and W. David Lewis, “Aspects of the professionalization of science”, Daedalus, xlii
(1963), 764–84; W. H. G. Armytage, The rise of the technocrats: A social history (London,
1965); D. S. L. Cardwell, “The development of scientific research in modern universities: A
comparative study of motives and opportunities”, in Scientific Change, ed. by Alistair Crombie
(London, 1963), reprinted in Comparative studies in science and society, ed. Sal P. Restivo
and Christopher K. Vanderpool (Columbus, Ohio, 1974), 31–45.
49. Donald Fleming, “Science inAustralia, Canada, and the United States: Some comparative remarks”,
in Actes du Xe Congrès International d’Histoire des Sciences (Paris, 1964), i, 179–96; George
Basalla, “The spread of Western science”, Science, clvi (1967), 611–22.
50. Odin Waldemar Anderson and Ronald Andersen, Medical care in Sweden and the United States:
A comparative analysis of systems and behavior (Chicago, 1970).
51. In its published form: Stanley Goldberg, Understanding relativity: Origins and impact of a
scientific revolution (Boston, 1984).
52. Thomas Glick (ed.), The comparative reception of Darwinism (Austin, 1974); Sal P. Restivo
and Christopher K. Vanderpool (ed.), Comparative studies in science and society (Columbus,
Ohio, 1974).
53. Stephen G. Brush, “Scientific revolutionaries of 1905: Einstein, Rutherford, Chamberlin, Wilson,
Stevens, Binet, Freud”, in Rutherford and physics at the turn of the century, ed. by Mario
Bunge and William R. Shea (New York, 1979), 140–71.
54. Nathan Reingold, “National style in the sciences: The United States case”, in Human implications
of scientific advance, ed. by Eric G. Forbes (Edinburgh, 1978), 163–73; Nathan Reingold
and Joel N. Bodansky, “The sciences, 1850–1950: A North Atlantic perspective”, Biological
bulletin, clxviii, supplement no. 3 (1985), 44–61.
55. Russell McCormmach, “On academic scientists in Wilhelmian Germany”, Daedalus, ciii/3
(1974), 157–71.
56. Paul Forman, John L. Heilbron, and Spencer Weart, “Physics ca. 1900: Personnel, funding, and
productivity of the academic establishments”, Historical studies in the physical sciences,
v (1975), 1–185.
57. Thomas S. Kuhn, John L. Heilbron, Paul Forman, and Lini Allen, Sources for the history of
quantum physics: An inventory and report (Philadelphia, 1967).
58. John L. Heilbron and Thomas S. Kuhn, “The genesis of the Bohr atom”, Historical studies in the
physical sciences, i (1969), 211–90; Paul Forman, “Weimar culture, causality, and quantum
theory, 1918–1927:Adaptation by German physicists and mathematicians to a hostile intellectual
environment”, Historical studies in the physical sciences, iii (1971), 1–115.
59. Paul Forman, “The reception of an acausal quantum mechanics in Germany and Britain”, in
The reception of unconventional science, ed. by Seymour H. Mauskopf (Boulder, Col.,

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1978), 11–50.
60. Eugene Garfield, “Historiographs, librarianship and the history of science”, in Garfield, Essays
of an information scientist, ii (Philadelphia, 1977), 136–59; Derek Price, “Measuring
the size of science”, Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, iv
(1969), 98–111.
61. For example, Robert Fox and Anna Guagnini, “Laboratories, workshops, and sites: Concepts and
practices of research in industrial Europe, 1800–1914”, Historical studies in the physical and
biological sciences, xxix (1998/99), 55–294.
62. Jack B. Morrell, “The chemist breeders: The research schools of Liebig and Thomas Thomson”,
Ambix, xix (1972), 1–46; J. D. Hunley, “Comparative history of rocket development at
Peenemünde in Germany and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the U.S.A. from 1932 to
1945”, Acta astronautica, xliii (1998), 61–62.
63. Loren Graham, “Science and values: The eugenics movement in Germany and Russia in the
1920s”, American historical review, lxxxii (1977), 1133–64.
64. John L. Heilbron, Electricity in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: A study of early modern
physics (Berkeley, 1979).
65. David Landes, Revolution in time: Clocks and the making of the modern world (Cambridge, 1983);
Thomas Parke Hughes, Networks of power: Electrification in Western society, 1880–1930
(Baltimore, 1983); Daniel J. Kevles, In the name of eugenics: Genetics and the uses of
human heredity (New York, 1985).
66. Daniel Little, “Explaining large-scale historical change”, Philosophy of the social sciences, xxx
(2000), 89–112, for commentary on Hughes’s analysis of electrification.
67. Gerald L. Geison, “Scientific change, emerging specialties, and research schools”, History of
science, xix (1981), 20–40.
68. Sal P. Restivo, “Joseph Needham and the comparative sociology of Chinese and modern science”,
Sociology of knowledge, sciences, and arts, ii (1979), 25–52; Margaret Lock, “L’homme-
machine et l’homme microcosme: L’approche occidentale et l’approche japonaise des soins
médicaux”, Annales ESC, xxxv (1980), 1116–36; in Islam and the Medieval West: Aspects of
intercultural relations, ed. by Khalil I. Semaan (Albany, 1980): George Makdisi, “On the origin
and development of the college in Islam and the West”, 26–49, and Albert Dietrich, “Islamic
sciences and the Medieval West: Pharmacology”, 50–63.
69. Jonathan Harwood, “National styles in science: Genetics in Germany and the United States
between the world wars”, Isis, lxxviii (1987), 390–414; Erik Baark and Andrew Jamison (eds),
Technological development in China, India, and Japan (New York, 1986); Andrew Jamison,
“National styles of science and technology: A comparative model”, Sociological inquiry,
lvii (1987), 144–58. Harwood has subsequently compared broad-thinking or comprehensive
geneticists to more focused or pragmatic geneticists in early twentieth-century Germany.
Harwood, Styles of scientific thought: The German genetics community 1900–1933 (Chicago,
1993), chap. 7.
70. Louis Barry Rosenblatt, “Fossils and myths: A comparative study of geology and classical
history in early Victorian England”, Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1984,
448–9: “The parallels between early Victorian geology and classical studies do not imply
an explicit connection or migration across these two domains. Rather, they speak to the
dynamics of historical criticism.” In Rosenblatt’s view, the analogy points to a deeper set
of shared values.
71. Jens Høyrup, “Varieties of mathematical discourse in pre-modern sociocultural contexts:
Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Latin Middle Ages”, in In measure, number, and weight: Studies
in mathematics and culture (Albany, 1994), 1–87, p. 1. The essay originally appeared in
Science and society, xlix (1985), 4–41.

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72. Susan Sheets-Pyenson, “Low scientific culture in London and Paris, 1820–1875” Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Pennsylvania, 1976; Susan Sheets–Pyenson, “Popular science periodicals
in Paris and London: The emergence of a low scientific culture, 1820–1875”, Annals of
science, xlii (1985), 549–72.
73. Susan Sheets-Pyenson, Cathedrals of science: The development of colonial natural history
museums during the late nineteenth century (Montreal, 1988), 21.
74. Joseph Needham, Science in traditional China: A comparative perspective (Hong Kong, 1981),
quotations on pp. 25–26, 56, 79–80, 105.
75. Shigeru Nakayama, Academic and scientific traditions in China, Japan, and the West, transl. by
Jerry Dusenbury (Tokyo, 1984), 31, 45, 59.
76. Toby E. Huff, The rise of early modern science: Islam, China, and the West (Cambridge,
1993), 32, 337, 341.
77. Edgar Zilsel, The social origins of modern science, ed. by Diederick Raven and Wolfgang
Krohn (Dordrecht, 2000).
78. In East Asian Science: Tradition and beyond, ed. by Keizô Hashimoto, Catherine Jami, and Lowell
Skar (Osaka, 1995): Nathan Sivin, “Comparing Greek and Chinese science”, 23–32; Karine
Chemla, “Algebraic equations East and West until the Middle Ages”, 83–90; Jianjun Mei and
Tsun Ko, “A comparison of ancient metallurgy in India and China”, 233–42; Hans U. Vogel,
“Chinese and Western scientific explanations of Sichuan brine and natural gas deposits prior
to 1900”, 479–88. The unusually vague and to my eye unfathomable paean to postmodernism:
Morris Low, “Beyond modernisation: Towards a post-modern history of East Asian science
and technology”, 147–54.
79. David B. Wilson, Kelvin and Stokes (London, 1987); R. D. Harvey, “Pioneers of genetics: A
comparison of the attitudes of William Bateson and Erwin Baur to genetics”, Notes and records
of the Royal Society of London, xlix (1995), 105–17; Alan J. Rocke, “Organic chemistry in
comparative perspective: Liebig, Dumas, and Berzelius, 1811–1837”, in Instruments and
experimentation in the history of chemistry, ed. by Frederic L. Holmes and Trevor H. Levere
(Cambridge, Mass., 2000), 273–310, pp. 300–1.
80. Russell McCormmach, “Albert Einstein and Hermann Broch: Science and art in a world in crisis”,
in Disciplines and interdisciplinarity in the new century, ed. by Lewis Pyenson (Lafayette, La.,
1997), 1–19, on pp. 1, 16, 17, 18, quoting George Steiner.
81. Elisabeth Crawford, Nationalism and internationalism in science, 1880–1939 (Cambridge,
82. Lewis Pyenson, “The relativity revolution in Germany”, in The comparative reception of relativity,
ed. by Thomas Glick (Boston, 1987), 59-111. Stephen G. Brush has reconsidered the chapters
in Glick’s volume, explicitly invoking national comparison: Brush, “Why was relativity
accepted?”, Physics in perspective, i (1999), 184–214.
83. Susan Sheets-Pyenson, “Civilizing by nature’s example: The development of colonial museums
of natural history, 1850–1900”, in Scientific colonialism: A cross-cultural comparison, ed.
by Nathan Reingold and Marc Rothenberg (Washington, D.C., 1987), 351–78; Richard A.
Jarrell, “Differential national development and science in the nineteenth century: The problems
of Quebec and Ireland”, in Scientific colonialism, 323–50. In Roy MacLeod and Richard
Jarrell (ed.), Dominions apart: Reflections on the culture of science and technology in Canada
and Australia 1850–1945 (Concord, Ontario, 1994) [Scientia Canadensis, xvii, nos 1 and
2]: Richard Jarrell, “Measuring scientific activity in Canada and Australia before 1915:
Exploring possibilities”, 27–52; James Hull, Ian Rae, and Andrew Ross, “The development
of chemical industries in Australia and Canada, 1850–1950”, 205–54; David Zimmerman,
“The Royal Australian and Canadian navies and high technology in the Second World
War”, 255–68.

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84. David S. Landes, The unbound prometheus: Technological change and industrial development in
Western Europe from 1750 to the present (Cambridge, 1969). Ian Inkster has continued Landes’s
promising approach to make global comparisons: “Motivation and achievement: Technological
change and creative response in comparative industrial history”, Journal of European economic
history, xxvii (1998), 29–66. Inkster’s earlier comparison, “Made in America but lost to
Japan: Science, technology and economic performance in two capitalist superpowers”, Social
studies of science, xxi (1991), 157–78, illustrates the hazards of dealing with recent events;
one might imagine that an interpretation of the relationship through the early years of the
new millennium could reverse the roles.
85. Colin A. Russell, Science and social change, 1700–1900 (London, 1983), 91.
86. Zhu Weizheng, Coming out of the Middle Ages: Comparative reflections on China and the West,
transl. and ed. by Ruth Hayhoe (Armonk, NY, 1990).
87. Yosio Kawakita, Shizu Sakai, and Yasuo Otsuka (eds), History of epidemiology (Tokyo, 1993).
88. Michel Paty, “Comparative history of modern science and the context of dependency”, Science,
technology, and society, iv/2 (1999), 171–204, p. 178. Notwithstanding the call, Paty’s text
refers to only a handful of explicitly comparative studies; most of the comparisons derive from
generalization of studies on univalent topics.
89. Yakov Rabkin and H. Inhaber, “Science on the periphery: A citation study of three less developed
countries”, Scientometrics, ii (1979), 261–74; Jacques Gaillard, Scientists in the Third World,
transl. by Tilly Gaillard (Lexington, Ky., 1991).
90. R. W. Home and Masao Watanabe, “Physics in Australia and Japan to 1914: A comparison”,
Annals of science, xliv (1987), 215–35, p. 216; Home and Watanabe, “Forming new physics
communities: Australia and Japan, 1914–1950”, Annals of science, xlvii (1990), 317–45.
91. Jaime Larry Benchimol and Luiz Antonio Teixeira, Cobras, lagartos & outros bichos: Um história
comparada dos institutos Oswaldo Cruz e Butantan (Rio de Janeiro, 1993), 103.
92. Peter S. Biegelbauer, 130 Years of catching up with the West: A comparative perspective
on Hungarian industry, science and technology policy-making since industrialization
(Aldershot, 2000).
93. David Barling, “Regulating GM foods in the 1980s and 1990s”, in Food, science, policy and
regulation in the twentieth century: International and comparative perspectives, ed. by David
F. Smith and Jim Phillips (London, 2000).
94. John Connelly, “The foundations of diversity: Communist higher education policies in Eastern
Europe, 1945–1955”, in Science under socialism: East Germany in comparative perspective,
ed. by Kristie Macrakis and Dieter Hoffmann (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 000–00, p. 137;
related matters in J. Kozlowski, S. Radosevfic, and D. Ircha, “History matters: The inherited
disciplinary structure of the Post-Communist science in countries of Central and Eastern Europe
and its restructuring”, Scientometrics, xlv (1999), 137–66.
95. Etel Solingen (ed.), Scientists and the state: Domestic structures and the international context
(Ann Arbor, 1994).
96. John M. MacKenzie, “European imperialism: Comparative approaches”, European history
quarterly, xxii (1992), 415–29.
97. David Turnbull, Masons, tricksters and cartographers: Comparative studies in the sociology of
scientific and indigenous knowledge (Amsterdam, 2000), 1, 46, 40.
98. Marx understood ideology as false consciousness. George Lichtheim, “The concept of ideology”,
in Studies in the philosophy of history, ed. by George H. Nadel (New York, 1965), 148–79.
Paul Forman is uncomfortable with idealist formulations in the history of science. Forman,
“Independence, not transcendence, for the historian of science”, Isis, lxxxii (1991), 71–86. A
summary of the evolution of “ideology” from the time of its first formulation under Antoine

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Destutt de Tracy to Karl Marx in Eric R. Wolf, Envisioning power: Ideologies of dominance
and crisis (Berkeley, 1999), 25–34.
99. Peter Weingart, “Science and political culture: Eugenics in comparative perspective”, Scandinavian
journal of history, xxiv (1999), 163–77, pp. 173, 175. The cottage industry of comparative
eugenics continues to flourish.
100. Brigitte Chamak, “The emergence of cognitive science in France: A comparison with the USA”,
Social studies of science, xxix (1999), 643–84.
101. H. C. Bolton and Alan Roberts, “On the comparison of literary and scientific styles: The
letters and articles of Max Born, F.R.S.”, Notes and records of the Royal Society of London,
xlix (1995), 295–302.
102. Patrick Carroll, “Science, power, bodies: The mobilization of nature as state formation”, Journal
of historical sociology, ix/2 (1996), 139–67, p. 140.
103. George Sarton, “East and West”, in The history of science and the new humanism (1931; New
York, 1956), 59–110, pp. 66 and 108.
104. “Emic statements refer to logico-empirical systems whose phenomenal distinctions or ‘things’
are built up out of contrasts and discriminations significant, meaningful, real, accurate, or
in some other fashion regarded as appropriate by the actors themselves.... Etic statements
depend upon phenomenal distinctions judged appropriate by the community of scientific
observers.” Marvin Harris, The rise of anthropological theory (New York, 1968), 571, 575.
We might extrapolate that emic statements refer to local knowledge; etic statements posit
generality. If emic is gemeinschaftlich in the formulation of Ferdinand Tönnies, then etic
would be gesellschaftlich.
105. George Sarton, “Incubation of W. Culture in the Middle East”, manuscript consulted at York,
Maine, in the papers of May Sarton, since removed to Houghton Library, Harvard University.
The published version approved by Sarton appeared in Arabic: The incubation of the Western
culture in the Middle East, transl. by Omar A. Farrukh (Beirut, 1952); an illuminating treatment
of progress and development in Antiquity is found in Victor Davis Hanson’s comparative
reflections, “Agricultural equilibrium, ancient and modern”, Journal of the Historical Society
[Boston], i (2000), 101–33.
106. Joseph Needham, The grand titration (London, 1969).
107. Francesca Bray, “Technics and civilization in Late Imperial China”, Osiris, xiii (1998),
11–33, pp. 14–15.
108. A generation ago, Paul Forman emphasized how difficult it was to contextualize while maintaining
causal explanations. He began his study of Weimar uncertainty by insisting that “the historian
cannot rest content with vague and equivocal expressions like ‘prepared the intellectual climate
for,’ or ‘prepared, so to speak, the philosophical background for,’ but must insist upon a causal
analysis, showing the circumstances under which, and the interactions through which, scientific
men are swept up by intellectual currents”. He ended by capitulating to contextualization. His
sociological model “provides a general framework, and seems to work especially well in certain
extreme cases. But in order to account for its special applicability to some physicists and its
special inapplicability to others one must invoke precisely those factors which are excluded
from the model — individual personality and intellectual biography. The mechanism advanced
for the entrainment of the German physicists and mathematicians by the Zeitgeist is thus clearly
not sufficient”. Forman, “Weimar culture” (ref. 58), 3, 114.
109. Rossetti’s opinion is related in an electronic publication by George P. Landow of Brown
110. The ecumenical orientation of Joseph Needham’s Science and civilisation in China is evident
in his wide choice of collaborators, from Francesca Bray to Christoph Harbsmeier. Yung Sik
Kim, “Towards a ‘comparative history of the foundations of science’: Language and logic in

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traditional China”, Annals of science, lvi (1999), 451–60. Kim points out that Harbsmeier
shares many of Needham’s perspectives.
111. David Cosandey, Le secret de l’Occident: Du miracle passé au marasme présent (Paris, 1997),
312–13, 125, 248.
112. Charles C. Gillispie, commenting in Technology and culture, xxxix (1998), 742.
113. G. E. R. Lloyd, Adversaries and authorities: Investigations into ancient Greek and Chinese science
(Cambridge, 1996), 5, 116, 184, 214, 226–7.
114. John R. R. Christie, “Recent and contemporary trends in science historiography”, in L’étude social
des sciences: Bilan des années 1770 et 1980 et conséquences pour le travail. Journée d’étude du
14 mai 1992, Communications, ed. by Dominique Pestre (Paris, [1992]), 87–94.