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Journal Articles Studies in history and philosophy of science Year : 2013

Scientists and their cultural heritage: Knowledge, politics and ambivalent relationships

Sébastien Soubiran
  • Function : Author


For many years, scientific heritage has received attention from multiple actors from different spheres of activity—archives, museums, scientific institutions. Beyond the heterogeneity revealed when examining the place of scientific heritage in different places, an authentic patrimonial configuration emerges and takes the form of a nebula of claims and of accomplishments that result, in some cases, in institutional and political recognition at the national level, in various country all around the world. At the international level, the creation of the international committee dedicated to University Museums and Collections (UMAC) within the International Council of Museums (ICOM) certainly testified from this raising interest in academic heritage and the existence of a specific community concern with it. This article presents numerous initiatives for the preservation of scientific heritage in France, with the goal of analysing the relationship scientists have with their heritage. We argue that scientific communities have a special relationship with heritage, which is characterized by a number of ambiguities. We show that such ambivalences allow analysis of identity, discipline, professional, and social issues operative in defining heritage and being redefined by heritage. To explore these dimensions, we have chosen to present three different case studies. The first traces the institutional uses of heritage by a scientific institution, the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA), through the transformation of the first French atomic reactor (ZOE) into a museum. The second example describes the initiatives of French astronomers from the mid-1990s to construct a national programme for the protection of astronomy heritage. Lastly, we recount the case of universities, with the example of the Université de Strasbourg.
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hal-00932248 , version 1 (16-01-2014)



Soraya Boudia, Sébastien Soubiran. Scientists and their cultural heritage: Knowledge, politics and ambivalent relationships. Studies in history and philosophy of science, 2013, 44 (4), pp.643-651. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsa.2013.07.002⟩. ⟨hal-00932248⟩
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