Research at the CAK
In keeping with the EHESS’ scientific and intellectual aims and organisation, the Centre Alexandre-Koyré is a unit dedicated to research and graduate training in research through research. It specializes in the study of the historically-situated configurations within which the objects of “science”, “technology” and “medicine” are constituted.
This shared project is carried out in the various fields of expertise of its members.
The Centre Alexandre-Koyré has taken part in and contributed to the intellectual impulses that, in the past thirty years, have profoundly transformed the study of science and knowledge. By promoting new approaches and methods and conducting investigations on new kinds of objects, the Centre has helped enrich and diversify the field, as its own research remit shifted towards a social and cultural history open to the sociology and anthropology of science, and attentive to developments affecting the human and social sciences as a whole. The range of actors under investigation at the Centre has broadened, practices, material cultures and spaces of knowledge have increasingly come under scrutiny; while critical investigations of the very notion of science have emphasized the historical and situated character of systems of knowledge.
With respect to the newest developments in the field, the Centre Koyré is particularly involved in the elaboration of critical approaches towards scales and tools of analysis, and the irruption of non-humans as objects of study, which all challenge historians of science and of knowledge to reconsider the epistemological and historiographical foundations of their practice.
Historiography-led reflexivity is a common concern of the Centre’s researchers beyond the great diversity of their areas of specialization. This concern arises from and is materialized in the questions that their investigations raise, in relation e.g. to the historicity of knowledge and more broadly the historically-situated nature of rationalities; temporal and spatial scales of analysis; the choice of periodization; the status of the materials used as sources; the framing of the objects under investigation; or concepts and categories of analysis that they deploy.
One of the major challenges for recent history of science has been the issue of the methods and scales of analysis.
Transnational histories of science contribute to this field in a crucial way. Though history of science as an epistemic field is often considered to have a universal purvew, it is often written within a national framework. The relatively understudied relationship between “modern” science and the rest of the world has commonly been conceived as a process of diffusion (including resistance to this diffusion) from the West to the “rest”. Drawing from contempory debates in colonial, postcolonial and world history and from the new objects and approaches developed within history of science, these investigations make use of the relational methods developed in the past decade (comparative, connected, circulatory, entangled.. histories) in order to study phenomena with a global perspective and paying attention to the multi-centered emergence of knowledge and practices as well as their differentiated appropriation in different places.
Beyond the choice of a level of analysis for carrying out specific investigations, the issue of scales raises the question of how these choices affect the analysis itself and its outcome. For instance, the revival of the biographical genre has given rise at the Centre Alexandre-Koyré to a reflexive study of biographical writings as sources and of biography as a tool of investigation for the study of science. Paying attention to the interplay of scales more generally helps reveal the specific dynamic processes of science and knowledge that navigate “macro” and “micro” approaches.
The study of science and knowledge has also been transformed by approaches focussing on the visual and material characteristics of the objects under investigation that have induced a historiographical reflection and testing of methodological tools borrowed from the history of practices, media studies, history of art and of the book and cultural history. The studies of material and visual culture carried out at the Centre imply a reconsideration of the nature of the “source” for the history of science, a field that has long relied primarily on written materials. These investigations closely focus on material ressources such as visual documents as well as the techniques involved in their manufacture, printing, organisation and circulation, and beyond the epistemologies that they materialize and that their uses engender.
Digital humanities have finally been another major field of expertise of the Centre Alexandre-Koyré since the 1990s. Alongside the realization of several digitalization projects in connection with the Centre’s digital platform, research was undertaken to investigate the constraints and the methodological issues raised by the specific nature of the sources used in the history of science, knowledge and technology. Here again, the Centre seeks to develop a critical reflection on digital technologies in a historical perspective, where scientific digital practices are studied in the light of the on-going development of the intellectual and material techniques of scholarship. Through this research, the Centre Alexandre-Koyré also works towards a better integration of digital humanities to teaching and research training programmes.
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