Call for Papers: History of Science From Below

Université du Maine, Le Mans, France 5-7 June 2013

Deadline, 30 September 2012

“History from below” emerged in Britain around 1960 as a new
historiographic project. It intended to substitute the history of
practices and of forms of popular resistance for the more traditional
history of institutions and great men, and therefore to confer a new
legitimacy on the former. One important outcome of this new historical
standpoint has been to take into consideration forms of knowledge and
behaviours formally disregarded as marginal or irrational. Focusing on
“modest” or “lay” agents, and reconsidering their role in history, this
historical trend has greatly contributed to the renovation of social and
political history.

History of science, notably history of medicine, did not remain
uninfluenced by these new historical perspectives. In 1985, Roy Porter
advocated a departure from a monolithic history of discoveries and medical
glories neglecting popular practices as part of the cure. Olivier Faure
has since showed how crucial were the patient’s point of view and
initiative. New research grounded on new sources, such as private or first
person writings and letters kept in the archives of physicians (for
example the Swiss Samuel Tissot), has highlighted the patient’s viewpoint
and have contributed to revising the classical history of medicine “from
below.” Now studied from multiple angles, the process of a linear and
univocal, solely professional and academic, medicalization is rendered
more complex, and the autonomous strategic aptitude of lay actors is

In the history of experimental sciences, the practical skill and knowledge
of craftsmen – “the knowledge from the hand”, according to Robert Halleux
in 2009 – generate practices which can be considered as forms of trial,
even as forms of experiment. During the eighteenth, nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, botany and zoology evolved by taking into account
this practical knowledge of gardeners, breeders, amateurs and collectors.
Learned societies, botanical gardens, rose gardens and orchards were
meeting points where scientists and non-scientists alike would observe
plants and try to explain and master plant growth and heredity.
Observations made by amateurs have often been collected and used by
academic scientists in theoretical debates over evolution.

Nowadays, the nature and the extent of “scientific cultures” among the
general public is an important political and social issue. It is an issue
in the growing role played by associations of patients or relatives in the
field of medicine. It is also an issue in the “public consultations” which
are regularly held on technical and scientific policy. Therefore it seems
promising to extend the perspectives of “history from below” to all human
and natural sciences, and to emulate discussions on its methodological and
theoretical implications. Such is the aim of this conference.

Papers should focus on the eighteenth – twentieth centuries, corresponding
to the period of emergence of the human and natural sciences in their
modern institutional form. Papers dealing with contemporary subjects will
be accepted as long as they include some historical perspectives.

The following topics could be favoured:

Outsiders from the main academic institutions (general practitioners,
technical staff, artisans, amateurs, etc.), and practises at the margins.

Mediators, and modes of dissemination of scientific knowledge
(associations, networks, general and popular press, dictionaries and
cyclopaedias, publishers, etc.)

History of experimental “subjects” and the public as actors of science,
and not solely as material or audience of scientific discourses coming
from “above”

Appropriations of science (adaptation, resistance, etc.)

The aim of this conference is also to stimulate exchanges on
methodological issues, such as:

Sources. What kind of sources can be used to write a history “from below”
(oral sources, private letters, first person writings, etc.)?

What should be the limits of the history of science “from below?” Which
categories of actors, which groups, which forms of knowledge should be
included, or excluded? And how to take them into account? General
practitioners are an interesting example.

How and when did they cease to be part of the history of medicine “from
above?” And how to write their history “from below?”

What should be the right scale for the history of such actors and
practices? One could for example question the relationship between the
history of science “from below” and microhistory.

Collective discussion on methodological issues is still scarce regarding
history of science “from below.” It should therefore be central to this

How to submit a paper?

Abstracts (300/500 words), with formulation of methodological issues, and
a short bio-bibliographical notice (100 words), should be sent to the
organizing committee before September 30, 2012. Results of the selection
process will be announced by November 2012.

Conference languages: French and English (translation will not be provided
during the conference).

Conference venue:

Université du Maine, Le Mans, France (Le Mans, France,

This conference is sponsored by the Centre de Recherches Historiques de
l’Ouest (CERHIO, CNRS UMR 6258,

Organizing committee and contacts:

Cristiana OGHINA-PAVIE (CERHIO, Université d’Angers)
[email protected]com
Hervé GUILLEMAIN (CERHIO, Université du Maine) [email protected]
Nathalie RICHARD (CERHIO, Université du Maine)
[email protected]fr