A great (Scientific) divergence: synergies and fault lines in global histories of science

Helen Tilley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historians of science have a lingering Europe (and U.S.) problem, even as the field has undergone its own transnational, imperial, and global turns that have broadened its scope. Likewise, area studies scholars have a lingering science problem, in spite of the growing chorus of voices insisting that non-European peoples’ knowledge and innovations warrant a place in global histories about science, technology, and medicine. This essay examines these two fault lines using the biochemist-turned-historian Joseph Needham as a point of departure. Needham’s studies of science in China not only decentered Europe but also raised central questions about how science and its companions, reality and reason, would be defined. The essay takes a closer look at debates arising from these fault lines and urges scholars to experiment with polycentric histories of science that are coterminous and intersecting. It also underscores the need for new syntheses of research on the ways intellectuals, bricoleurs, and polities the world over have generated and transformed ideas and tools, and set them in motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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