Centre for the History of Sciences and Humanities

The Centre for the History of Sciences and Humanities is a specialized workplace of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in which a systematic study of history is made with a view to explaining the development of the various sciences. The complex of empirical, theoretical and practical findings that has led the scientific community, through the use of scientific methods of enquiry, to new discoveries is presented as a specific area in intellectual and social history. Indeed, since the 1980s this field of research has gained more and more importance. Other closely-related disciplines would be the history of technology and the philosophy of science, to mention two in particular. The great advances in “modern science,” as it is termed, in the 19th and 20th centuries can be largely attributed to the enormous growth in professionalization, institutionalization and internationalization, both in general and within individual scientific fields.

The chronological frame within which the research is conducted, however, is necessarily broader and ranges from attempts to harmonize scientific exactitude with cosmological principles during the Middle Ages, through an analysis of the intellectual legacy of the early modern “res publica literaria,” right through to the difficult and ambivalent relationship between science and politics in the 20th century.

The long-term objective is to focus primarily on scientific development during the period of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938/39) and on changes to the scientific community in the Czech lands during totalitarian rule. Particular emphasis is placed on the trans-national, multicultural intellectual environment which developed in the new republic, when Czech, Slovak and German scholars were joined by many of their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as a result of the emigration that followed the Bolshevik seizure of power in their homeland. In the period of the Second World War (1939–1945) and that of the post-February 1948 communist regime (1948–1989), those wielding power were confronted with the question of how an ill-defined and ambivalent science policy might be enforced in a totalitarian state and with the issues that stemmed from the misuse of science and the distortion of scientific methods for ideological and pragmatic reasons. The plight of the scientific community itself likewise merits consideration: decimation during the period of National Socialism followed by a complete and violent shake-up by the Communist regime, all of which resulted in the gradual social degradation of scientists, in communist times indeed to that of de facto proletariat, and their relegation to a role of subservience to power-political interests and the production-technological state monopoly. Not surprisingly, these developments led to a substantial increase in politically motivated emigration by Czech scientists and other intellectuals, a consequence that has come to be known as the “scientific exile.” A whole chapter, in fact, might be devoted to the fate of the Jewish intelligentsia from the Czech lands, who, in addition to undergoing the horror of their Second World War experience, were subjected to varying degrees of repression and coercion during the communist dictatorship.

In order to map out and illustrate the changes that occurred to the scientific community in the 20th century, all the main scientific disciplines are explored and analysed. These include the primary sciences, such as nuclear physics, the biological, such as genetics, as well as the chemical and biochemical. In addition, selected social sciences and humanities are also examined, with historiography foremost among them.

For more information, see the web pages of the Centre for the History of Sciences and Humanities.

Research Team

head: Kostlán Antonín
Hadravová Alena, Šimůnek Michal

Thematic webs