Making the Modern World

The Science Museum in London last year opened its largest historical gallery. Timothy Boon, its Deputy Project Director, explains the roles of history within the display.

In History Today in May 2000, Ludmilla Jordanova argued that ‘public history’ is a subject worthy of renewed debate. This broad field of history outside the Academy, which she defined as encompassing broadcasts, museums, heritage attractions and popular publications, might, she suggested, benefit from the modern historiographical approach, which deals with what questions we should ask about the past, and what approaches should be used to answer them. The ‘history of science’, including the histories of technology and medicine, has been in the vanguard of this historiographical turn ever since the 1970s when it promoted the crusade against Whiggish approaches. Even Herbert Butterfield, celebrated critic of Whiggery in political history, had believed that science was the exception to the rule, and in his Origins of Modern Science (1949) he retained a place for reading the history of science ‘backwards’.

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