Speaking Scientific Internationalism

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The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age
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Gordon, Michael

The lecture began with a welcome by Carin Berkowitz, Director, Beckman Center, and opening remarks by Evan Hepler-Smith, Harvard University. Abstract: Speaking Scientific Internationalism The years between 1870 and 1945 were a watershed for the universalization of knowledge along several axes: the establishment of international scientific organizations, the rapid expansion of library and information management, and the striking cross-cutting among scientific disciplines (the unification of biology under genetics and natural selection, the grouping of the physical sciences under quantum theory, and more). A diverse group of European and North American scientists, however, perceived this same era as one of an incipient fragmentation caused by this very unification. They argued that as increasing numbers of nations and peoples, speaking a diversity of languages, were drawn into a scientific community that had been principally organized around the triad of English, French, and German, both the information sciences and the natural sciences faced a formidable, perhaps fatal, challenge. This presentation focuses on a set of solutions proposed by an array of natural scientists to adapt one technique of information management -- the constructed reference scheme (e.g., the Dewey Decimal System) -- into constructed "international languages" that would enable scientific communication during this oncoming Neo-Babel. Such constructed languages (Esperanto, Ido, Novial, Gloro, Interglossa, Latino sine Flexione, etc.) represent an often-neglected bridge across the various sciences of this internationalizing moment.

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