Something wicked this way comes : the Russian delegation at the 1931 Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology
The 1931 Second International Congress of the History of Science has acquired an iconic status in the modern discourse, yielding a plethora of misinterpretation and myth that serves to obscure the genuine significance and meaning of the event. While many historians have viewed the congress from the perspective of the present, assuming a 'quiet meeting of historians of science' of standard academic character, its context and construction were nothing of the kind. Following the philosophical motivations of the organizing committee, especially the crucial figure of Charles Singer, the congress was designed to launch a public intellectual movement for the history of science. Singer sought press exposure, public participation and the support of various pillars of the British establishment for a scientific congress devoted to enunciating the tenets of the 'new humanism'. The delegates were overwhelmingly eminent scientists from across the globe with members of the public also attending. The debates were carefully sequenced to demonstrate the contemporary and philosophical relevance of the history of science. This thesis outlines Singer's strategy and motivations. On the first day of the congress, a Russian delegation led by Nikolai Bukharin entered the arena. With a complex and multifaceted social background, the motives of the Russian delegation have been consistently underestimated in the subsequent decades. Its composition reflected the fluid and complicated political situation facing Russian science, politics and philosophy during this period. There followed a series of debates on the relevance of the history of science and clashes on the political and social significance of the subject between the congress 'mainstream', the scientific left and the Russian delegation. While some of this has been analysed in publication, there has never been detailed examination or even recourse to the proceedings record. The most serious historical reinterpretation occurred regarding the Special Session, allegedly dedicated to the Russian delegation's papers, which witnessed the crescendo of the confrontation between the Russians and Charles Singer. This thesis outlines the developing controversies of the congress and an alternative account of the clash. The final level that reveals the unique character and timing of the congress is the social context of the event. Britain in the summer of 1931 was in the grip of a political and economic maelstrom that affected every aspect of the congress. The presence of the Russian delegation exacerbated this tension and brought the political crisis to the floor of the Science Museum. The thesis analyses the stream of social contexts affecting the event and the political consciousness of those present.