Wednesday, October 22, 2014

European History, Day 17

19th century pseudo-science
Yesterday in European History Since 1648 at UNLV, we discussed another feature of nineteenth century society.  Our focus was on the connections between science and society, and so we began by using the Oxford English Dictionary to chart the changing definitions of “science” over time, and also talked about the concept of “scientism”, the application of scientific ideas and methods to the social sphere.

We used the theory of evolution to think about how nineteenth century science was a product of its times, which both influenced and was influenced by ideas like liberalism and the experiences of industrialization.  And so when Europeans turned to apply concepts from the scientific realm to the social realm—to explaining the societies they encountered in other parts of the world or the poverty they “discovered” at home—the two spheres became intertwined.

We discussed how Social Darwinism, scientific racism, eugenics programs, and the emergence of the social sciences all sought to address “social problems” confronting Europeans in their own countries and in their overseas empires.  And we thought about how liberalism’s emphasis on reforming the individual’s moral character led to the growth in civil society and international organizations, many of which look similar to those in our own world, or have even endured to the present.

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