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Science in the ArchivesPasts, Presents, Futures$
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Lorraine Daston

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226432229

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226432533.001.0001

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The Immortal Archive: Nineteenth-Century Science Imagines the Future

The Immortal Archive: Nineteenth-Century Science Imagines the Future

(p.159) Six The Immortal Archive: Nineteenth-Century Science Imagines the Future
Science in the Archives

Lorraine Daston

University of Chicago Press

Big Science (and Big Humanities) were invented in the nineteenth century. Two huge, expensive, and long-lived projects, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) of the classical philologists and the Carte du Ciel of the astronomers, created disciplinary archives intended to serve future researchers for centuries and even millennia to come. The CIL would transcribe and publish all known Latin inscriptions from the length and breadth of the ancient Roman empire before they succumbed to the depredations of time. The Carte du Ciel would use the new methods of astrophotography to create a photograph of the sky as seen from the earth circa 1900, which future astronomers could use to detect phenomena that unfolded on a superhuman timescale. Both projects involved international cooperation, industrial-style organization, state funding, and disciplinary stamina on an unprecedented scale. Both raise questions about the investment of resources: why create the archives for future research instead of channeling energies and funds into present inquiry, especially when the topics of future research are uncertain? The answer lies in the melancholy realization of second-wave positivism that the price of progress was ephemeral scientific knowledge. Only the archives seemed to promise permanence.

Keywords:   Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Carte du Ciel, Theodor Mommsen, Big Science, sstrophotography, scientific archives, epigraphy, positivism, scientific progress

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