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Talk by Michael D. Gordin (Princeton University): “Scientific Babel: English, German, and the Fall of Polyglot Natural Science”

Foredrag — On 28 January 2019, Michael D. Gordin from Princeton University will give a talk at the Niels Bohr Archive History of Science Seminar. In his talk, titled “Scientific Babel: English, German, and the Fall of Polyglot Natural Science,” Gordin will present his research on the history of the languages of communication in the natural sciences from ca. 1850 to today.


Date & Time:

Auditorium A, Niels Bohr Institute, Blegdamsvej 17, 2100 Copenhagen

Hosted by:
Niels Bohr Archive


Communication, especially publication, in the natural sciences today takes place almost exclusively in English. This phenomenon is relatively recent, with a strong shift toward monoglot natural science taking place roughly half a century ago. This talk offers an account of the transformation of communication in the natural sciences from a primarily trilingual situation in 1850 (English, French, and German) to a bilingual situation after the Second World War (English primary, Russian secondary), to the monoglot system of today. In particular, the significant and sudden decline of German, due to political upheaval during the twentieth century (especially the First World War) and cultural processes within the scientific community, was the primary condition for the transformation of a polyglot linguistic system in the natural sciences to a monoglot one.

Michael D. Gordin is Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and Director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at Princeton University, where he specializes in the history of modern science. He came to Princeton in 2003 after earning his A.B. (1996) and his Ph.D. (2001) from Harvard University, and serving a term at the Harvard Society of Fellows. In 2011 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and was named a Guggenheim Fellow. He has published on the history of science, Russian history, and the history of nuclear weapons.

More information can be found here.