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Contesting Early Modern Globalisms: Exploring an Anti-Globalist Perspective in History of Science

Funded by the EUI Research Council, 2019

Director: Stéphane Van Damme

 Contesting Early Modern Globalisms

The idea of the globe was long in forming and emerged out of patient, careful work on the part of scientists to establish and maintain these long distance networks – work which was not without its failures. In the context of the environmental crisis, globalisation is viewed as discontinuous, with strong and weak phases in a world formed of mosaics and archipelagos, initiating a new dialogue with specialists in cultural regions. For a long time the grand narrative of science was Eurocentric and heroic. The global history of science has become a critical field abounding in debates that do not avoid controversy and reflexivity. Its approaches have become more solid and credible, even though they are regularly called into question in approaches ranging from the post-colonial to those of environmental studies, which regard the expansion of the world as the starting point of the anthropocene period. But while the analyses of historians of science avoid any whiff of teleology, globalisation tends to be described as a monolithic, irresistible and globally positive phenomenon linked to the growth of a scientific knowledge seen as universal. A second critique from within the history of science itself focuses on the solidity or fragility, failure and reversibility of these processes of globalisation. If the history of science has tended to focus on processes of capitalisation, accumulation and acclimatisation with regard to understandings of nature, it was the better to criticise the perspective of an economy of predation or bioprospecting that influenced the identification of both natural resources and people. However, investigations of the authority of nature have stressed the importance of negotiation in the maintenance of long-term networks and in transactions and dialogue with knowledgeable locals.

Global history of science tended in the last decade to replace the grand narrative of the Scientific Revolution by the process of globalisation, and therefore to fall into another teleological trap. This research project would like to explore other possibilities in terms of researching and writing history of European science in a global context. For instance, paying attention to the multiple ways and multiple practices, European sciences were challenged by other non-european traditions (and sometimes produced by these challenges), should lead to the dense descriptions of these practices of encountering, translating, circulating without the assumptions that these processes were obvious, irenical and always successful. The study of asymmetries, non-traductibilities, failed encounters are as important as the study of the trajectory of a world science, which succeeded to dominate the globe (and even producing the idea of globalization). Naturalists, natural philosophers, and traveling scholars warned against the dangers of a new catholic and absolutist orders of information, which tended to unify the imperial projects. They embodied in many ways an early modern form of anti-globalist perspective in terms of political philosophy based on different claims (political freedom, local customs, anti-despotism, etc).



  • Questioning the process of globalisation from inside by shedding light on anti-globalist actors, discourses and practices in Early Modern Europe.
  • Pluralizing the epistemologies of globalisation by analysing the practices of natural knowledge
  • Following anthropology of nature, we would like to explore the tensions between de-Globalization and multi-naturalism by bringing together history of science, history of knowledge and environmental history.




Page last updated on 22 March 2019

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