The Laboratory Revolution
1850-1950. The Rise of the Laboratory and the Changing Nature of the University
Groningen | October 26-27, 2017
The laboratory is the ultimate place where knowledge is created. What had originally only been the workplace of alchemists and chemists, by the end of the nineteenth century had become a standard element in the infrastructure of science. The rise of the laboratory revolutionized the sciences in many ways and it continues to do so up to this moment. This is all common knowledge and well studied, but what is not so well known is that laboratories also had a tremendous impact on the universities, which in the nineteenth century were becoming the most common institution for science and scholarship. Simple lecture halls were replaced or out dwarfed by purpose built and impressive laboratories. Even academic disciplines that on the face of it had no need of a laboratory, like astronomy, psychology and linguistics, acquired their own laboratories. Also metaphorically, the laboratory became the paradigmatic site for scientific and scholarly research, as is shown by the historians who liked to compare their libraries to laboratories. Finally social life in the universities was tremendously changed by the rise of the laboratory, each of the laboratories becoming a small, self-contained community of professors, technical assistants, students and administrative personnel.
The conference ‘The Laboratory Revolution’ intends to bring together scholars from different backgrounds to further the study of how the rise of the laboratory changed both science and the university. By bringing together the expertise of historians of science and scholarship, historians of architecture, social historians, cultural historians and historians of the university, the organizers hope to create a better understanding of the revolution brought about by the laboratory – a revolution that is still going on.