“Science and World Order”: Uses of science in plans for international government, 1899-1950

This Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship project (2014-2017) involved a collaboration between MUSTS, Columbia University, New York City, and the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. It was funded by the EU’s FP7’s People Programme, and brought Geert Somsen, the PI, to the latter two institutions for two and a half years.

The project moved between STS, history of science, and international history. It sought to understand the role of science in plans for international government in the first half of the twentieth century. In an era of two world wars, permanent international crisis, and rampant nationalism, the rationality, neutrality and efficiency of science seemed to offer the most promising guide to better international relations to many political thinkers. Belief in a scientific world order informed an array of initiatives, including the influential British writer H.G. Wells’ campaign for a World State, the creation of UNESCO, and the Scienza Universale manifestation at the World Exhibition in Mussolini’s Rome.

Using case-studies as the empirical basis, this project uncovered and historicized a number of these initiatives across the political spectrum and in different national contexts. For this purpose it combined the PI’s background in the history of science with training in international history at the Center for International History of Columbia University, New York.