The Cultural Alchemy of the Exact Sciences: Revisiting the Forman Thesis at the University of British Columbia

Friday - Thursday
23 Mar - 25 Oct 2007

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Paul Forman’s article “Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927” (Forman 1971) permanently changed the disciplinary landscape of the history and philosophy of science. Commonly called the Forman thesis, it profoundly affected the work of a generation of historians and philosophers of physics. As a classic essay in the “externalist” history of science, it contributed just as significantly to the appeal of the new sociology of scientific knowledge. It helped define the cultural history of science that spread through the field in the 1980s and 1990s, and it has been a touchstone for general historians of Germany and continental Europe seeking contact with science.

Although one of the most frequently cited works in the field, the Forman thesis nevertheless cannot be considered universally accepted. On the contrary, it remains as controversial as it is famous, the subject of polarized opinions and scholarly positions. Indeed, its contested nature is responsible for its ongoing influence, as it continues to spark methodological discussion and inspire new empirical studies. The current state of that debate, including some exciting recent contributions of younger scholars, leads us to propose our conference as a venue where different lines of research and reflection can be brought into productive exchange. Its tangible products will be two cohesive collections of conference papers, in both English and German, to serve the discipline at large.

Speakers in the conference included UC Berkeley’s John L. Heilbron and Cathryn Carson.

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