The Centre for the History of Science at the University of Graz is a unique research centre within the academic landscape of Austria. It is dedicated to the phenomenon of “science”, its historical depth and in its changes. One of the Centre for the History of Science’s focuses is therefore to research the history of science and medicine in the Renaissance, Early Modern Period and the 18th century as decisive phases in the formation and institutionalisation of modern science concepts. These may only really be understood in the light of later developments in science and technology along with the questions and problems arising from them. The history of the natural sciences and humanities in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the disciplinary history of History and Philosophy of Science in the 20th and 21st centuries are further research core areas.
In recent decades, the history of science has been subject to intense methodological debate practically up to the present day. After the professionalisation and internationalisation of History of Science since the 1950s, various competing science-historical concepts and analysis perspectives on science have developed. From a methodological-historiographical point of view, it is becoming increasingly clear that an appropriate approach to the subjects of the history of science as well as current science research can only be conducted meaningfully if competences are interdisciplinarily connected in ways facilitated by a possible cooperation of humanities and cultural, social and natural sciences. Recent research trends also show that history and philosophy are forward-looking integrating methods for the subject area. Furthermore, the history of science has opened up to globalisation, and thus the study of the genesis and development of scientific knowledge in the context of the global development of cultures and civilisations has become another area of additional research interest.
There is no doubt that science and technology play a key role in modern societies. Understanding science and technology requires scientific expertise that responds to these continuously changing phenomena, their objects, and their concepts in a socio-historical context. Since the 1960s at the latest, the international research community of both natural sciences and humanities has become aware that the sciences, especially natural sciences, have not developed according to a continuous, cumulative progress without alternatives. It has also become clear that scientific theories, e.g. theories in physics, are not abstract concepts that can easily be described by their axiomatics or their logical and language structure. Rather, theories in physics – or the objects and concepts of the natural sciences in general – are historical entities, the full assessment of which requires a clear analysis of their historical character and context.
Accordingly, research on the history of science aims at a scientific examination of the natural sciences and technology, taking their historical character into account. In principle, data, events, episodes etc. are referred to as, or in the context of the history of science. However, since historical data, episodes, events, etc. do not have an explicative force of their own, scientific historiography is required to provide a description or explanation for them. An important realisation in the historical examination of natural sciences and technology was that their subjects (theories, concepts, objects, epistemic practices, etc.) cannot be grasped in the abstract, but are instead founded and represented in texts or other artifacts. Central research areas of the history of science include: a) the identification of sources as data carriers for scientific theories, concepts, practices, etc., which are available in the form of texts, books, notebooks, manuscripts, letters, images, objects, instruments, etc. and are kept in archives, libraries, estates, museums, laboratories, etc. as well as occasionally stored in digitised form on Internet databases; b) the description or explanation of such sources by means of explanatory models in which historical data is presented, analysed and evaluated; c) the embedding and contextualisation of historical data in larger social, political, cultural and economic contexts.
Furthermore, the recent methodological debate within the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) has shown that the HPS confrontation model, i.e. the testing of theoretical concepts based on standardised historical episodes, is highly problematic and should be discarded. Instead, current academic discourse is oriented towards an Integrated History and Philosophy of Science (&HPS) and a Philosophical History of Science (PHS), whose problems and perspectives have been properly identified. However, an adequate description and explanation of the relationship between the history of science and the theory of science still requires detailed conceptual, methodological and historical research work. This re-orientation amongst the international research community holds enormous potential regarding the development of innovative theories, methods, approaches and concepts in the area of &HPS and PHS. At this methodological level, the Centre for the History of Science strives to conduct innovative research by means of suitable cooperation with representatives from other disciplines – primarily from the areas of philosophy and sociology – and to promote the development of interdisciplinary research projects.