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History as a Tool for Natural Science: How Ernst Mach Applied Historical Methods to Physics

ten Hagen, Sjang L. (2022) History as a Tool for Natural Science: How Ernst Mach Applied Historical Methods to Physics. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 52 (1). pp. 40-79.

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Abstract

Historical methods have long been put to use in the making of natural knowledge. In this article, I examine the use of historical methods by nineteenth-century physicists, focusing on the Austrian researcher Ernst Mach in particular. I argue that Mach applied methods characteristic of the then-dominant historical and philological disciplines to his own discipline of physics. He construed history as a tool for the physicist. On the basis of a study of his notebooks and correspondence with the chemist-turned-historian Emil    Wohlwill, I explain what he sought to achieve by means of this tool, and reconstruct the practices characterizing his historical research. These practices included the reading, ordering, and comparison of textual sources. Moreover, Mach appropriated the historical-philological method of source criticism. I show that prominent fellow physicists of Mach, including Johann Poggendorff and Hermann von Helmholtz, made use of similar historical methods, even though their aims were different. Together, the cases of these history-writing physicists illustrate how history and natural science continued to intertwine in a time of increasing disciplinary fragmentation.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
ten Hagen, Sjang L.s.l.tenhagen@gmail.com
Keywords: knowledge integration, physicists, historians, the source-critical method, Ernst Mach, Emil Wohlwill, Johann Poggendorff
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
Depositing User: Dr. Sjang L. ten Hagen
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2022 04:10
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2022 04:10
Item ID: 20411
Journal or Publication Title: Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Publisher: University of California Press
Official URL: https://online.ucpress.edu/hsns/article/52/1/40/12...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2022.52.1.40
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
Date: 1 February 2022
Page Range: pp. 40-79
Volume: 52
Number: 1
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20411

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