PHYSICS AT THE FIN DE SIECLE
5 pm, Thursday 4th December 2003. Fin de Siecle Seminar Series Wolfson College, Oxford University
Dr. Richard Staley (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin; University of Wisconsin-Madison) will be giving a talk entitled:
On the Co-creation of Classical and Modern Physics
All are welcome to attend, and to join us afterwards for discussion and for a glass of Wolfson College’s excellent vintage wine.
Details of Talk: Historians of science have built up a detailed understanding of the development of quantum theory and relativity, most often presented as resulting from the breakdown of classical physics with its mechanical foundations and deterministic causality. This paper stems from the observation that despite the power and ubiquity of this overthrow narrative, we have very little sense of when and why contemporaries began to think in terms of a contrast between classical and modern theory. I will argue that the two terms were introduced into physics contemporaneously, circa 1900, and that specification of particular principles as classical was in part determined by and in part shaped constructively the new research programs themselves. If a general contrast with prior physics was important to both theories, the dynamics of their relationship with the past differs significantly, a point that highlights the specificity and cultural significance of their common recourse to the language of the classical/modern divide.
About Dr. Richard Staley: Since completing his Ph.D. in history of science at the University of Cambridge in 1992, Richard Staley has held research and/or teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is now Assistant Professor for the History of Physics. His publications – on the history of relativity, Albert Michelson, and CTR Wilson’s cloud chamber – can be found in the British Journal for the History of Science Isis and, Instruments, Travel and Science: Itineraries of Precision from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 2002). He is currently a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and is writing a book on Physics circa 1900: Einstein’s Generation and the Relativity Revolution.