Lorentz Center - Cold War Science from 16 Dec 2013 through 20 Dec 2013
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    Cold War Science
    from 16 Dec 2013 through 20 Dec 2013



Scientific Report


1.    A concise version of the description and aims of the workshop, including what were the most important scientific questions motivating the workshop

Our main goal was to establish, for a wide variety of disciplines, how the Cold War affected the circulation of knowledge between the United States and Europe. How did the Cold War condition local practices and decisions? In particular, how was western European science reshaped after the American mold by US relief efforts aimed at reconstructing Europe? Reversely, we would also like to address how American science was affected by exchanges of knowledge across the Atlantic, under the Cold War conditions of sharing and secrecy.

Several interesting case studies of local practices have been presented (Greenland, Finland, the Netherlands and West Germany), in which the ‘Cold War conditions’ determined the scientific endeavors in different ways. Our main perspective – the existence of something as a ‘Cold War Science’ proved to be fruitful for some of the cases presented. Some speakers have challenged this notion, suggesting that internal developments and continuity with prewar scientific practices had a more significant and autonomous impact on the development within that science. In some other cases different historical perspectives (modernization, European integration, decolonization) were put forward as alternative frame.

  1. Is a tangible outcome of the workshop expected? If so, please mention – even if it is, as yet, at the level of intention.


The Dutch publishing house Brill has agreed to publish a volume with selected conference papers, which will appear by the end of 2014.

At a very practical level, a number of Dutch scholars (in the field of history of mathematics, history of economics, history of physics and history of astronomy) have decided to start a discussion-group on Cold War science in the Netherlands. The meetings are thematically structured and held on regular basis. Already in the first week of 2014 some of the Lorentz-conference participants came together for an initial meeting. Finally, we should point out that we also had a number of participants from outside the academic world: these were policy makers and analysts working in the Dutch defense complex, who have, through our workshop, connected to scholars academia, to each other’s mutual benefit. So, we hope that our workshop may also pay broader, social dividends in terms of informing policy and national security analysis. 

  1. Where there any developments which could, already, be termed a (beginning) scientific breakthrough? If yes, please tell about it shortly.


Within the relative young field of the history of cold war science, scientific breakthroughs are not the most obvious aims. However, we have had comprehensive discussions on the nature of this growing discipline: what kind of questions should we be asking ourselves and what kind of sources do we need for answering them? Which perspectives would contribute to a better understanding of the sources and the available interpretations? One could thus say that this workshop actively shapes the discipline.

  1. Did you, or to your knowledge any of the participants, experience notable “Aha” moments (for instance, separate scientific communities realizing that they have significantly more in common than they had thought)?


Eureka moments were experienced by different scholars from different parts of the world that have been doing research on the same topics - broad themes like classification of knowledge, or specific international organizations like NATO. These moments were not only triggered by the kinship of their research topics, but also by the deeper insights that were gained in shared research-problems, discussed during the conference. It should also be pointed out that at least two key participants (John Krige of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Simone Turchetti of the Univeristy of Manchester) became aware of the particular role and dilemmas of Dutch scholars (and other small European nations) operating in the Cold war context; in turn, most local scholars were confirmed through the feedback received at this event that their work is very much on the right track to making a valuable contribution to the recently opened up field of Cold war science historiography.  



  1. How did you experience the format of the workshop (the structure of the program, lectures vs discussion time etc.)? Did you try something new (different kind of discussions for instance)? If so, how did it work out? Would you do it again or advise it to others?


Both the formal structure (five days, several lectures a day) and the numerous more informal meetings during the coffee and lunch breaks generated an interaction between the participants which was very productive. The fact that a substantial part of the participants came from abroad reinforced the natural coherence, which was based on the shared focus on Cold War Science.

  1. Other comments, suggestions and/or criticism for the Lorentz Center, the scientific advisory boards and/or future organizers.


First of all we would like to thank both the advisory boards and the Lorentz Center staff for helping us to improve our proposal and for creating such a fertile setting for intellectual debate. In all these respects you did an excellent job. Many of our foreign participants commented on the unique and stimulating format of the conference, both with respect to its interdisciplinary character and the large amount of time reserved for discussion. All we can say is: keep up the good work!