Speaking Scientific Internationalism

Michael D. Gordin, Princeton University

Thursday, February 23, 2017 -

6:00pm to 8:00pm

Chemical Heritage Foundation

315 Chestnut StreetPhiladelphia, PA 19106

How did a group of natural scientists construct universal languages to make communication in the field easier?
Between 1870 and 1945 the scientific community was growing increasingly diverse. Several international scientific organizations were established, library and information management was expanding, and the sciences were becoming more interdisciplinary. These changes meant a wider range of nationalities was being drawn into the scientific community, which had previously centered on English, French, and German speakers. This increased diversity presented a new problem: how would they communicate?
This presentation focuses on solutions proposed by an array of natural scientists to create “international languages.” They adapted an information-management technique, known today as the Dewey Decimal System, to enable scientific communication and prevent a neo-Babel within the field. Languages like Esperanto, Ido, Novial, Gloro, Interglossa, and Latino sine flexione created a bridge across the various sciences at this internationalizing moment.
This free, public keynote address and reception kick off the symposium “The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age.” The program will continue on Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25, at the University of Pennsylvania.