Pedagogy and Research. Notes for a Historical Epistemology
of Science Education
1.1 Transmitting Scientific Knowledge
“Those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym.” Woody Allen’s scornful comment on the role of teaching in Annie Hall summarizes fairly well one very popular view. For many, there is a clear-cut distinction between the creative intellectual activity of research and the mere repetition of what someone else has produced to a classroom of students. To be sure, this view affects not only teaching and learning. Rather, it is more or less implicit in any occurrence of the exposition, communication, or transmission of scientific knowledge from the community of experts to the external world.
More importantly, this view is sustained by a certain model of science and its relations with society. The basic tenet of this model—sometimes attributed to
Although completely discredited by the scholarly work of the last thirty years, this model has maintained its grip on public representations of science. The main reason is that, even though successful in criticizing each of the tenets of the classical image, philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science have not been able to provide an alternative account that is as intuitive and all-embracing. This failure should not be exclusively ascribed to the contemporary tendency of scholars in science studies to insist on the disunity and locality of scientific culture (Galison and Stump 1996). It is also due to the fact that the several branches of specialized work on the transmission of scientific knowledge have grown at different paces. Thus, for example, popularization both aimed at the general public and at fellow scientists belonging to other disciplines received attention as early as the mid-1980s.2 About the same time, the works of
1.2 Creating Knowers, Creating Facts
However, one should notice that the attitude of scholars towards traditional views of scientific pedagogy has been complex and occasionally ambivalent. It is thus important to reconstruct some lines of development of this attitude.3 One important line of inquiry many scholars have followed concerns the role of pedagogy and textbooks in producing knowers, that is a professionally organized group of people explicitly trained to perpetuate a certain kind of knowledge. It was
Ironically, as he was giving new philosophical dignity to pedagogy,
Perhaps the most striking feature of scientific education is that, to an extent quite unknown in other creative fields, it is conducted through textbooks, works written especially for students. Until he is ready, or very nearly ready, to begin his own dissertation, the student of chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, or biology is seldom either asked to attempt trial research projects or exposed to the immediate products of research done by others—to, that is, the professional communications that scientists write for their peers. (Kuhn 1963, 350)
Moreover, textbooks also have a hidden agenda: to erase any trace of crisis, of instability, of change, of historical contingency, and to present the ruling paradigm as an established, consistent whole—as the truth revealed. This trait not only transforms textbooks into repositories of dead doctrines, but it also disqualifies them totally as historiographical tools. Historians should keep away from the image of science conveyed by pedagogical texts. In his later paper “The Essential Tension,”
[T]he various textbooks that the student does encounter display different subject matters, rather than, as in many of the social sciences, exemplifying different approaches to a single problem field. Even books that compete for adoption in a single course differ mainly in level and in pedagogic detail, not in substance or conceptual structure. Last, but most important of all, is the characteristic technique of textbook presentation, except in their occasional introductions, science textbooks do not describe the sorts of problems that the professional may be asked to solve and the variety of techniques available for their solution. (Kuhn 1977, 229)
Apart from his harsh judgement on the epistemological and historiographical role of textbooks,
Pedagogical practices can even lead to the establishment of “research schools” able to imprint a characteristic mark on subsequent research. The pioneering work of
Finally, and more significantly for the purpose of this volume, even the teaching of theoretical physics, which does not need, in principle, the work of laboratories, can be understood to fit within this historiography of hands-on practices, of the transmission of a particular type of craftsmanship, and of specific social values, as shown in the work of historians such as Sharon Traweek, David Kaiser, and Ursula Klein, to cite only a few examples (Traweek 1988; Klein 2003; Kaiser 2005).4
Prominent as it was,
The vademecum is therefore not simply the result of either a compilation or a collection of various journal contributions. The former is impossible because such papers often contradict each other. The latter does not yield a closed system, which is the goal of vademecum science. A vademecum is built up from individual contributions through selection and orderly arrangement like a mosaic from many colored stones. The plan according to which selection and arrangement are made will then provide the guidelines for future research. It governs the decisions on what counts as a basic concept, what methods should be accepted, which research decisions appear most promising, which scientists should be selected for prominent positions and which should simply be consigned to oblivion. (Fleck 1979, 119–120)
So far-reaching are the consequences of scientific training. Through the medium of the pedagogical text, both the self, and the world undergo a complete reconfiguration. This crucial insight has suggested to practitioners in science studies to look more carefully into the internal structures of these texts, the economy of their contents, and the communication techniques they deploy.5
Scientific textbooks were found to contain a large number of sentences of the stylistic form: “A has a certain relationship with B.” [...] Expressions of this sort could be said to be type 4 statements. Although the relationship presented in this statements appears uncontroversial, it is, by contrast with type 5 statements, made explicit. This type of statement is often taken as the prototype of scientific assertion. (Latour and Woolgar 1986, 77)
Accordingly, textbooks play an important role in sedimenting concepts, methods, experimental procedures, and orthodox interpretations. This aspect has been investigated by a number of scholars, for example Mary Smyth in her reconstruction of the function of textbooks in creating consensus in psychology (Smyth 2001) or Antonio García-Belmar, Josè Ramon Bertomeu-Sánchez, and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, who, in their comprehensive account of French chemistry textbooks, trace the way in which the atomistic hypothesis was received and sustained in the scientific community (García-Belmar et.al. 2006).
1.3 Towards an Epistemological Role for the Pedagogical Text
Reflection on scientific pedagogy and textbooks has hitherto generated an impressive amount of scholarly work, remarkable both in depth and in scope. A prime feature of this work has been the careful reconstruction of the pedagogical practices, the teaching procedures, the social negotiations, and the institutional settings involved in the transmission of knowledge from the scientific elite to those who are supposed to replace it in the near future. However, the fragmentation of this analysis into contingent and situated practices, does not restrict the ambition towards an encompassing model of knowledge transmission able to capture the rich material analyzed in a consistent view, and possibly to enlarge upon it. Quite the contrary, special interest has arisen in recent times in a more epistemological perspective able to illuminate persistent, long-term elements in scientific pedagogy, which tend to remain concealed in more detailed accounts. For this task, besides
In Discipline and Punish
Since the subject-matter as well as standards of proper conduct are handed down from the past, the attitude of pupils must, upon the whole, be one of docility, receptivity, and obedience. Books, especially textbooks are the chief representatives of the lore and wisdom of the past, while teachers are the organs through which pupils are brought into effective connection with the material. Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct enforced. (Dewey 1938, 18)
It is with these similarities in mind that Andrew Warwick and David Kaiser have argued in favor of a “Foukuhnian” position as a possible general framework for the study of scientific pedagogy. In essence, this position boils down to an attempt to further historicize
[F]irst by noting the compatibility of Kuhn’s emphasis on skill acquisition with Foucault’s insight that power is the form of social relations does not inhibit or conceal knowledge, but is necessary to its production; and, second, by building on Foucault’s claim that the minutiae of everyday practices have the power to generate new capabilities in human beings, thereby bringing about significant historical change. (Kaiser and Warwick 2006, 406)
This attempt at putting together the best of two worlds points us toward very interesting perspectives, but it still contains some fundamental difficulties. To begin with, the second point, referring to the production of historical change through everyday practices, seems to beg the question raised by the first. Kaiser and Warwick are certainly right in highlighting the similarity between
Furthermore, the daring combination of Kuhnian and Foucaultian insights seems at times to stretch too broadly and thinly the positions of both authors. On the one hand, as we noticed above,
[F]or me it was a matter of saying this: if, concerning a science like theoretical physics or organic chemistry, one poses the problem of its relations with the political and economic structures of society, isn’t one posing an excessively complicated question? Doesn’t this set the threshold of possible explanations impossibly high? (Foucault 1980, 109)
On the other hand, and more to the point of this volume, while
Finally, their other similarities notwithstanding, it should not be forgotten that
These considerations lead us to the conclusion that the Foukuhnian approach needs to be complemented by further insights. This complementation should, we believe, derive from an insistence on the “knowledge” horn of the Foucaultian power/knowledge duality. Only in this way can the practice-oriented approach hitherto developed lead to an analysis of scientific pedagogy able to encompass two crucial, and interrelated, requirements. First, textbooks should become legitimate historiographical tools, used to illuminate not only the history of pedagogical practices, but, occasionally, the history of science as a whole. This perspective challenges head-on
Key to this twofold extension are the conceptual resources of historical epistemology and the insights they can provide us on the dynamics of scientific knowledge.6 To begin with, by focusing upon the exploration of “the dynamics of scientific developments, as they can be extracted from an analysis of scientific texts and practices” (Feest and Sturm 2009, 3), historical epistemology has led to the conclusion that one should ease the Kuhnian distinction between normal science and revolutionary periods. Specifically, the historian of science should be entitled to look at textbooks not only as products of scientific change, useful only as tools in training regimes, but also as active agents in the creative process of scientific development. A new paradigm is not established overnight, and textbooks appear not only at the end-stages of scientific change.
These thoughts nicely complement
[T]o extend the claims to attention of local, discontinuous, disqualified, illegitimate knowledges against the claims of a unitary body of theory which would filter, hierarchize and order them in the name of some true knowledge and some arbitrary idea of what constitutes a science and its objects. (Foucault 1980, 83)
The studies in this volume aim exactly at de-black-boxing the process of construction of truth in textbooks during a period of crisis.
Second, and more generally, an important tradition of cognitive and epistemological studies on learning has led us to realize that research and pedagogy share the same epistemological fabric.
Students learning a scientific representation must also actively construct: they must form new concepts and new relations among existing concepts and integrate the new representation to such an extent that they can make use of it. […] [B]oth the nature of the changes that need to be made in conceptual restructuring and the kinds of reasoning involved in the process of constructing a scientific representation are the same for scientists and students of science. That is, the cognitive dimension of the two processes is fundamentally the same. (Nersessian 1989, 165)
Historical epistemology has internalized the piece-by-piece view of knowledge development that this tradition entails. New revolutionary ideas usually emerge at the boundary between different areas of knowledge as the result of internal tensions present in these areas. But a new idea, however radical, is not yet a scientific revolution or a new paradigm. Precisely because it stems from collisions at the boundaries between different theories, it belongs to none of them. At the beginning, innovative ideas are in ‘epistemic isolation.’8 The transition to a new science can be completed only through the long, intricate, and often tedious process of comparing the novel idea with the established body of knowledge (Renn 2006). This attempt at epistemic integration of novelty and tradition progressively unfolds the revolutionary potential of the new idea and generates the consensus about a new approach that characterizes a paradigm. Paraphrasing Kaiser’s catchy sentence quoted above: “revolutions are not born, they are made.” Interestingly, and at this point unsurprisingly, the same epistemological drive can be found in scientific pedagogy during a time of crisis, as the articles in this volume show extensively.
Since textbooks, by necessity, bring into contact tradition and novel approaches, they relentlessly explore the potentialities of older tools and their connection with newer ones. This process, which Kuhn interpreted as concealing the tracks of a revolution, recapitulates in reality the essence of the research process. We can see this dynamic instantiated in the books of Planck, Sackur, Sommerfeld or Reiche discussed in this volume.
Again, this insight adds another dimension to
Knowledge is established not only in relation to a field of statements, but also to objects, instruments, practices, research programs, skills, social networks, and institutions. Some elements of such an epistemic field reinforce and strengthen one another and are taken up, extended, and reproduced in other contexts; others remain isolated from, or conflict with, these emergent “strategies” and eventually become forgotten curiosities. The configuration of knowledge requires that these heterogeneous elements be adequately adapted to one another and that their mutual alignment be sustained over time. (Rouse 2005, 113)
It is on this complex process of combination of heterogeneous elements, of exclusion/inclusion, and of reconfiguration—a process typical of scientific research—that an investigation of “textbooks in flux” can provide illuminating insights.
1.4 Rethinking the History of Quantum Physics
This volume wants to contribute to the study of textbooks as agents of research by focusing attention on one specific episode in the history of scientific change: the so-called quantum revolution.9 The emergence of quantum theory, in particular, represents an ideal setting because it is a multidisciplinary, delocalized, and multi-actor phenomenon. The canonical account of this chapter in the history of science starts with the crisis of black-body radiation and the solution put forth by
The essays collected in this volume bring new light to this massive scholarship by concentrating upon early textbooks on quantum theory. This is one outcome of the large-scale, international project coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin, on the History and Foundations of Quantum Physics, that has worked to emphasize the importance of tradition and the conceptual reservoirs of classical physics in the establishment of the quantum revolution, thereby highlighting the continuous aspects within such a dramatic epistemological shift. The rationale behind this volume is that, since textbooks have seldom been treated either as relevant sources or as actors in the development of the new physics, it was worthwhile exploring the possibilities of treating some of these books as subjects around which to write new stories of the quantum.
A specific emphasis on the epistemological aspects of scientific pedagogy during the emergence of quantum physics can turn textbooks into useful research tools in two different senses. First, the study of how textbooks were conceived, projected, and written can elucidate many of the historical circumstances of the coming of age of the quantum revolution, aspects that remained hidden in the study of research papers. To begin with, it gives us access to the revolution on a different time scale because textbooks have a different life cycle from research articles. Furthermore, contrary to research works, pedagogical texts address a broader scope of topics, ranging from atomic theory to physical chemistry, and a wider audience, thus providing us with a wide-angle snapshot of the community involved in the quantum business.
Secondly, there is a particular character to the way textbooks are understood and composed that makes them especially useful for revealing some elements of the intrinsic dynamics of scientific knowledge. Textbooks, particularly in a moment of scientific turmoil, re-organize the inherited body of knowledge and try to integrate it with the emerging theories. This reflective process, which can involve new hypotheses, concepts, and assumptions, but also new formal techniques, procedures, and methods, is essential in igniting productive thinking. In other words, textbooks offer a privileged example of the systemic quality of knowledge, which seems to be a general feature of the transmission of knowledge in its globalizing dimension (Renn and Hyman 2012a).10
As the chapters in this book show, there are many different ways in which a textbook can become the subject in a history of early quantum physics, since the very process of writing a textbook, (i.e., of trying to organize a new doctrine in an accessible way for newcomers), together with its life as an object that is issued, used, changed, and abandoned, embodies the tensions between research and pedagogy developed in the first part of this introduction. Furthermore, the life of these textbooks can also help us better situate other actors in the history of quantum physics, by bringing into the picture the reasons, the context, the research agenda, and other aspects that cannot be seen in the publication of research papers or in the abundant correspondence between the main actors involved in the story.
Obviously, the first question to address was how to qualify a book as an early textbook on quantum matters. Contrary to the case of chemistry, where there is a longer tradition of textbook writing, going back to the nineteenth century, some of the instances studied in this volume qualify as textbooks, not because they were formally and explicitly written as such, but mainly because they were used as tools to teach quantum physics in higher education. As David Kaiser has recently pointed out, textbooks possess a peculiar plasticity with respect to their collocation, their genre, and their boundaries (Kaiser 2012). During scientific re-alignments this feature becomes even more prominent. Furthermore, the complexities and technicalities of the discussions involved narrow the public to which these books were addressed: only professional physicists and advanced students of physics could have a real interest in and ability to follow the nuances present in these books. We, therefore, exclude popular books. The ten case studies presented here include books from well-known actors in the development of quantum physics, like
The elaboration of an exhaustive list of textbooks is not easy, since, especially in the very early years, many books deal with established disciplines and include quantum matters only as solutions to specific problems. This introduces the disciplinary problem that some of the case studies in this volume illustrate. Where should quantum theory be pictured in the disciplinary division of the physical sciences at the beginning of the twentieth century? As is well known,
The examples mentioned above take us to the disciplinary boundaries of the emerging quantum physics. Another boundary seldom explored in the accounts of the quantum revolution is that of its publics. Contrary to the development of relativity, which was largely a one-man work, quantum physics evolved due to the creative interactions of a large number of actors. Even so, traditional historical accounts pay attention only to the community of scientists taking an active role in such developments, forgetting its ‘popularization’ for those professional physicists interested in the new science, but working in other areas of the discipline. In his interesting study on the popularization of the relativity revolution in France, Michel Biezunski argued that scientists from other disciplines wanted to catch up with the most revolutionary developments in order to maintain the socio-epistemic gap that separated them from the general public (Biezunski 1985). In their analysis of the cases of
Better known actors, such as
The dissemination of a particular perspective on quantum theory opens up the issue of the de-localization of scientific knowledge, that is its supposed universal character as opposed to national differences. Sommerfeld's extensive influence as a teacher both in time (on generations of students) and in space (through his extended trip in the United States) was crucial to the establishment of atomic theory and spectroscopy as the main problem of quantum theory in Germany and the world over. Van Vleck was implicitly highlighting this process of de-localization when he complained about the superabundance of attention given to spectroscopy at the expenses of other interesting problems, possibly closer to the American tradition. At the same time, though, some national figures stubbornly resisted the globalization of quantum theory. For instance, Cambridge scholars such as
From a different perspective,
Finally, many of the case studies discussed in this volume deal with books that were re-issued in subsequent editions. The evolution we find in these different editions shows the tensions embodied in the task of writing on quantum physics in a time of great change, to the extent that, as Eckert says, the book itself ceases to be one static entity but becomes a process.
1.5 About This Book
This book has a curious story. The idea to start a project on the role of textbooks in quantum theory came to the editors’ minds in early 2009, when they were both working in the History of Quantum Physics Project of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin. They thought that a good way to begin collecting ideas was to organize a four-speaker panel at the upcoming History of Science Society Conference. So they sent around a call for papers. The enthusiastic reaction of their colleagues surprised and almost overwhelmed the editors, who ended up submitting two special sessions of five speakers each.
The project gained momentum rapidly. To prepare the HSS conference, a workshop was organized between some of the presenters, members of the Quantum Project, colleagues, and visitors at the MPIWG. The workshop took place on 7 October 2009 and produced many exciting discussions. We would like to thank Arianna Borrelli, Jed Buchwald, Diana Kormos Buchwald, Ed Jurkowitz, Shaul Katzir, Christoph Lehner, Jürgen Renn, Arne Schirrmacher, Daniela Schlote and Dieter Suisky for their contributions to that meeting.
The two special sessions on textbooks in quantum physics eventually took place at the HSS Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ in late November 2009. On that occasions, talks were delivered by Massimiliano Badino, Michael Eckert, Clayton Gearhart, Don Howard, David Kaiser, Michel Janssen, Marta Jordi, Daniela Monaldi, and Jaume Navarro. Domenico Giulini could not make it for personal reasons. The sessions were a big success and we benefited tremendously from the discussion with the audience. Cathryn Carson and Richard Staley were especially generous in providing productive comments and encouragement to go ahead with our idea.
Back in Europe, we realized that it was time for the next step, that is the organization of our results into the form of an edited book. However, since we wanted more than just a bunch of papers tied together by a loose topic, but rather a new historiographical perspective on quantum physics, we took our time. The History of Quantum Physics Conference in Berlin was coming up and we decided that it was the ideal opportunity to define better our approach and to confront once again the community of historians which was our main intended audience. At the conference, in July 2010, the two editors of this book presented the definitive set-up of the project and discussed more thoroughly the structure of the volume with the authors, all of them in attendance at the conference.
From that moment the book project officially started. And, as any good editor or author knows all too well, it was just the beginning of another journey. Some of the original participants stepped down, some new joined in. In July 2011, we further discussed the structure of the book in a very interesting session devoted to scientific textbooks at the 11th Conference of the International History and Philosophy of Science Teaching Group in Thessaloniki. That experience was important for both of us. The ensuing process of writing, re-writing, re-discussing and negotiating the contributions and this introduction went on for many months. Of course, a series of technical problems cropped up, which were solved with commendable dedication by the editorial team (Irene Colantoni, Oksana Kuruts, Jonathan Ludwig, Marius Schneider, and Chandhan Srinivasamurthy) headed by Nina Ruge. Kai Surendorf took patient care of our requests concerning the fine-tuning of the LaTeX infrastructure and Jeremiah James did wonderful editing work at various stages of the production process.
The History of Quantum Physics Project at the MPIWG has been a stimulating common effort to look at the complex developments of quantum physics from new and sometimes unorthodox angles. For several years we have been discussing and exchanging ideas on a daily basis and it would be futile to isolate individual contributions to the overall setting of this volume. Therefore, we feel that we have to thank all colleagues whose various suggestions permeate this book: Alexander Blum, Arianna Borrelli, Shaul Katzir, Martin Jähnert, Jeremiah James, Christian Joas, Ed Jurkowitz, Christoph Lehner, and Arne Schirrmacher. Jürgen Renn represented an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Many readers will immediately perceive his presence lingering in this introduction. All the rest must be ascribed to (better: blamed on) the editors.
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Traweek, Sharon (1988). Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vicedo, Marga (2012). Introduction: The Secret Lives of Textbooks. Isis 103: 83-87
Warwick, Andrew (2003). Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Whitley, Richard (1985). Knowledge Producers and Knowledge Acquirers. Popularisation as a Relation between Scientific Fields and Their Publics. In: Expository Science: Forms and Functions of Popularisation Ed. by Terry Shinn, Richard Whitley. Sociology of the Sciences. Dordrecht: Reidel 3-28
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
See the 1985 Yearbook of Sociology of the Sciences edited by Terry Shinn and Richard Whitley and especially (Bunders and Whitley 1985).
This list of topics covered by the study of scientific pedagogy and textbooks does not aim to be exhaustive. Further interesting themes of research, together with a bibliography that includes studies in psychology and other human sciences, can be found in (Vicedo 2012, 85).
There are some studies concerning the transmission of knowledge during scientific change, such as the paper by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent on the emergence of the chemical revolution (Bensaude-Vincent 1990). However, no application of this analysis to the quantum revolution has so far been attempted.
By the same token, a re-evaluation of the epistemological role of textbooks is also necessary in terms of university policy making. A deep reorganization of the university curricula, essential to meet the challenges of the globalized society, requires a broader approach to how scientific knowledge is accumulated and how novelties have to be included in the pedagogical routine. On this topic see the project Vom lokalen Universalismus zum globalen Kontextualismus led by Yehuda Elkana and Jürgen Renn and its theoretical foundation in (Elkana 2012).