Easy Transit: Crossing Boundaries Between Physics and Chemistry in mid-Nineteenth Century France

  • Matthias Dörries
Part of the Science, Technology and Medicine in Modern History book series (STMMH)


Historians of science tend to think about disciplines in a geo-political sense, attributing to disciplinary entities, like countries on a map, characteristics such as shifting borderlines, various alliances, the birth of new states or the discovery of previously unknown territory. According to Robert Kohler, for example, ‘disciplines are political institutions that demarcate areas of academic territory. ... They are the infrastructure of science...’ Kohler’s geo-political conception of disciplines derives from the analogy he draws between discipline and nation: ‘If disciplines are to the political economy of science what nations are to the political economy of production and commerce, then it is no surprise that their domestic affairs may be profoundly influenced by a diverse traffic in ideas and problems with neighbouring disciplines’ (Kohler, 1982: 1, 7). More recently, Mary Jo Nye has suggested thinking about ‘disciplinary identity as a variant of the constitution of national identity’, assimilating ‘physical-chemical identity’ to — for example — ‘Irish-American’. Nye’s focus on ‘identity’ continues to evoke the geo-political picture: she speaks about ‘perimeters of the discipline’, ‘immigrations and emigrations’ and refers to Bourdieu’s conception of an ‘intellectual field’ (Bourdieu, 1969: 88-119, 1985: 195-220; Nye, 1993: 18, 28, 31).


Nineteenth Century Personal Style Steam Engine Chemistry Section Physics Section 
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  1. 1.
    Compare Kohler: ‘Disciplinary affiliation ... shapes scientific careers and discourse ...’ (Kohler, 1982: 19).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    According to Fox, Regnault started work on specific heat at the initiative of Dumas. I regard this choice rather to be in line with Regnault’s employment at the Étcole des Mines and his lasting wish to do laboratory work (Fox, 1971: 297).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Matthias Dörries

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