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Abstracts for Twentieth Century Think Tank

The Twentieth Century Think Tank offers broad coverage of 20th- and 21st-century topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place on Thursdays over lunch.

Think Tank meetings are held on Thursdays, 1–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All welcome!

Organised by Richard Staley, Mary Brazelton, Helen Curry and Susanne Schmidt.

Easter Term 2017

Show overview

4 May Lena Springer (Needham Research Institute)
Shifting formats, changing priorities in the modern Chinese materia medica genre: from Zhao Yuhuang's single items to drugs in acupuncture channels
Materia medica are a written genre which has a long cultural history in Chinese. It has continuously integrated vernacular names for medicinal materials and drugs from orally transmitted practice. Furthermore, in the twentieth century, a fundamental shift occurred in modern science when 'old' and 'new' studies were combined in China to list single items of materia medica as an esteemed contribution to world science. Journal articles and early reference works serve as material in Lena Springer's talk to demonstrate how broad the range of options for selected content in the scientific entries was during the Republican period until the 1930s. A second change took place when the craze for particularly Chinese medicine drugs in the 1950s added another layer to the political claims and meanings attached to the materia medica entries: now scientists and historians regarded the well-tried Chinese drugs as a promising model for world revolution. As a model for ethnic development anywhere, the previously disregarded Chinese theory, of acupuncture channels for instance, returned into the scientific literature.
11 May Ruth Wainman (University of Kent)
Listening to scientists' stories: using the British Library's 'An Oral History of British Science' archive
The British Library's 'An Oral History of British Science' (OHBS) was created in 2009 to address the dearth of oral history archives dedicated to capturing the personal experiences of British scientists. This paper examines the implications of using an oral history archive to write about scientists' identities during my doctoral research and for historians of science more generally. The advantages of using life history interviews from the archive to explore scientists' narratives are situated within the longer historiographical trajectories of the 'history from below' approach of oral history and the 'great men' foundations of history of science. In addition, this article reflects on the process of using a recent oral history archive that has not only allowed for an almost unprecedented access into the personal and working lives of recent scientists but also afforded a greater insight into the creation and aims of the OHBS itself.