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Science in Europe – European Science? A Study of European Integration and Europeanization through the Lens of the European Science Foundation

Funded by the EUI Research Council, 2019/20

Director: Corinna R. Unger

Image Science in Europe

"The Future of Europe is Science” the 2014 report of the European Commission’s Science and Technology Advisory Council stated programmatically. In discussions about Europe’s future position in the world, concepts like the ‘knowledge economy’ and the European Research Area play a central role. Politicians, experts, and entrepreneurs call for increased intra-European scientific cooperation to make Europe more competitive internationally. With these efforts in mind, it seems important to gain a more precise understanding of the factors that encourage, promote, or impede scholarly cooperation on a international level. To do so, the project Science in Europe – European Science? investigates the emergence of scientific cooperation mechanisms on the European level and the ways in which they have, or have not, produced new forms of knowledge and knowledge production that can be considered an expression of European integration and/or Europeanization processes.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) serves as the nodal point of the project. The ESF was established in 1974 in response to a political initiative to increase cooperation between scholars in different parts of Europe and to develop a common European science policy. Many scholars and science organizations responded favorably to the idea, expecting additional funding and new opportunities to promote their research agendas. Others were more skeptical. They worried that the establishment of an international science organization would weaken existing structures, or that political goals would override scholarly interests. The fact that the ESF was granted independent status reflects these concerns. The history of the founding of the ESF offers a micro-perspective on the tension between cooperation and competition, between national, transnational, and international interests, and between governmental and non-governmental actors on a European level.

Apart from re-constructing the ESF’s organizational history, the project aims to study the effects the organizational Europeanization of research structures had on the production and nature of scientific knowledge. What kind of research did the ESF initiate and support, and which expectations were connected to its support? Were some fields considered more relevant from a European perspective than others, and if so, why? Did the researchers involved in the ESF projects carry out genuinely European research, and how could it be defined as such? In short, to which degree can we observe the Europeanization of research in qualitative terms, and how does this phenomenon (or its absence) relate to or challenge the history of European integration as we know it?

To answer these questions, archival research will be carried out in the Historical Archives of the European Union, which house the papers of the ESF. In addition, the project will draw on the archives of other organizations involved in the founding and the activities of the ESF, among them the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Centre National de la recherche scientifique, the British Academy, and the Max Planck Society. In addition to the archival research, several oral history interviews with some of the actors involved in the creation and the work of the ESF will be conducted



  • Corinna R. Unger (project leader)
  • Anna-Katharina Wöbse (associated member)
  • Kalliopi Geronymaki (research assistant)


  • “Making Science European: Towards a History of the European Science Foundation,” Contemporanea 23.3 (2020): 363-383.
  • Inaugural workshop, EUI, January 23, 2019.
  • Project presentation at a conference on the history of EURATOM, Università Roma Tre, May 9-10, 2019.
  • "Swamp diplomacy: An environmental history of European wetlands" (EUI Climate Workshop #4), lecture by Anna-Katharina Wöbse (University of Gießen), January 16, 2020.
  • Presentation: “Making Science European: The Establishment of the European Science Foundation”. Science Studies Colloquium, ETH Zürich, October 28, 2020.

Page last updated on 26 October 2020

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