Jorrit Smit (Leiden): Mediation, meddling or missionary work?

Neutral internationalists in interwar chemistry

26.11.2015 16:00 Uhr – 18:00 Uhr

wann: Donnerstag, 26. November 2015, 16-18 Uhr

wo: Historicum, Schellingstr. 12, Raum 026

Vortrag im Rahmen des Oberseminars "Perspektiven der Wissenschaftsgeschichte"

What did scientific internationalism mean after the First World War, in which poison gas and political manifestos destroyed naïve beliefs in a universal science for the benefit of humanity? In this presentation I address this question through the eyes of ‘neutral’ chemists who performed as mediators on the stage of international chemistry in the interwar period. By a focus on the concept of ‘neutrality’ the scientific, political and moral connotations of internationalism come to the fore. I will compare the rhetoric and actions of the Swede Svante Arrhenius and the Dutchman Ernst Cohen as they self-assuredly moved around in the international network of chemistry. Although the “poisonous clouds” of the ‘chemist’s war’ were hard to dissolve especially in chemistry, it was the first scientific community to achieve full restoration before the 1930s. What role was there for the neutral chemists; were they mere meddlers, true mediators or obnoxious missionaries? What did neutrality mean, and how was it used both in defense of internationalist ideals and cultural nationalism? In this way we will get a grasp of the principal role of neutral ‘mediators’ in the 1920s and a perspective on the cultural and political developments that shape scientific internationalism.