Cities and Science Summer School

Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

School Report

By Erin Beeston

This summer, I escaped the drizzle of Manchester to attend a six day summer school on Cities and Science: Urban History and the History of Science in the Study of Early Modern and Modern Europe at the CEU in beautiful Budapest. Around twenty postgraduate students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds came from across Europe to participate in the programme. Here is my ‘school report’ on each day of the course.


The course began on 29 June with a discussion of key themes, using the ‘Science in the City’ edition of Osiris (vol. 18, 2003) as a starting point. We asked questions like: how can we think geographically about science? Why is there no scientific history of the city? We bore this discussion in mind throughout the week.

Next we had a seminar and lecture on the physical history of eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris the ‘Mineral Metropolis’ with Stephane Van Damme (European University Institute). In Van Damme’s class we analysed the approaches environmental historians have taken to science, nature and the city. We were encouraged to think about the longue durée and also to take a vertical approach to city history – what was underground and in the sky? This seminar made me think about my own research into Liverpool Road Railway Station, a new structure that affected the environment – from pollution to vibrations and excavation in Manchester in 1830.


Began with ‘Engineering the City and the Appliance of Science’ with Richard Rodger (University of Edinburgh). Rodger drew attention to the scientific knowledge and education systems that influenced networks of technologies in the city, which followed on nicely from the lateral physical history we considered with Van Damme.

Next we heard journal presentations, with information and advice for postgraduates wishing to publish. Every afternoon from Tuesday onwards, we were divided into two groups to present papers (prepared before the course) and workshopped the material with our peers and CEU Faculty members.

After group workshops, Richard Rodger gave a public lecture which built upon his morning seminar. Roger presented four ways of conceptualising science, technology and medicine in the city as: structural, natural, measurement and durable. I found the notion of durable technologies in the city especially interesting, as it is the durability of infrastructure which enabled the preservation of industrial sites like Liverpool Road Station in the later twentieth century.


The Hummusbar in Budapest was our favourite place for lunch!


Mid-week we soaked up some local history with a trip to the Hospital in the Rock museum, the site of an emergency hospital opened in 1944. The hospital was reused during the revolution of 1956 for casualties and for a period the rooms were maintained as a nuclear bunker. Displays in set-dressed rooms presented the different periods, many included original equipment from the hospital with some (slightly scary) illustrative mannequins!


The first class of the day was a seminar with Laszlo Kontler (CEU) on ‘Humanity on Display: Ethnographic Knowledge, Spectacle and Metropolitan Identity’ in the nineteenth century. Kontler introduced us to scientific and non-scientific agendas behind the public display of people of different races in European cities. We were encouraged to consider the variety of responses to the other in the city, particularly in countries that were not colonial powers.

In the afternoon workshop I presented a paper on ‘Liverpool Road Station and the Camp Field: At the Boundary of Industrial and Civic Space, 1840 to 1880’ based on material from my thesis. Feedback from my paper encouraged me to interrogate how I consider the space around the station, for example, can it be conceptualised as ‘contact zone’ as defined by Mary Louise Pratt?

Other papers presented in my group ranged from Animesh Chatterjee’s work on marketing electricity to India’s urban middle class to Ekaterina Rybkina’s ‘Radio in the City’ paper on the broadcasting of horse races in the streets of Leningrad. It was fascinating to hear papers on such a range of subjects, with the city as the anchor for research into the history of science, technology and medicine.

Later, Ulrike Spring (Sogn og Fjordane University College) gave a public lecture on ‘The Arctic in the City: reinventing Polar science in the public spaces of Vienna, Budapest and Prague in 1874’. Spring demonstrated that scientific knowledge of the expedition and the aurora was mediated by journalists and in scientific institutions influenced by local political, economic and social factors. Spring showed that the vagueness of knowledge of Arctic science facilitated the politicisation of Arctic discourse in different local and national contexts.


Ulrike Spring led our morning seminar in which we problematised ‘popular science’ and asked who ‘the public’ so often referred to by historians were. This followed on from Spring’s lecture and brought us up to date with contemporary historiography on historicising ‘popular science’. We were also encouraged to consider our own work in groups to see if we could ‘think geographically about science’. I particularly reflected upon the geography of Manchester and how this influenced the locations of institutions for learning.

In the afternoon we had a seminar and lecture with Mitchell G. Ash (University of Vienna). Here we considered the urban context of zoos and the relationship between the nineteenth century zoological garden and the use of this space for scientific investigation, in particular in the case of Carl Hagenbeck’s 1890s Panoramas.


Our final day began with a closing discussion in which the themes of the course were revisited and the class considered how we might consider using the Urban History/HSTM methodologies in our own work. Questions were raised about how approaches could be employed across disciplines, with some students wondering how the urban approach might work before the growth of urban centres or development of disciplinary boundaries in the modern period. I wondered how the reciprocal approach to urban development and scientific knowledge might play out after the events – in interpretation at heritage sites.


Class of 2015 in the courtyard of the Semmelweis Medical History Museum

Next we took a trip to the Semmelweis Medical History Museum, birthplace of Hungarian physician. Dr. Semmelweis (1818-1865). We had a guided tour of the collections which showed developments in Western medicine chronologically, including many nineteenth century obstetrical instruments from Dr. Semmelweis’ area of expertise. With a farewell lunch, the course was complete. It was time to part with the group, who I hope will all keep in touch!

I would like to thank the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, the University of Manchester’s Zochonis Special Enterprise Fund and the Science Museum Group for enabling me to attend Cities and Science.

If you are interesting in programme for 2016, please visit (from November 2015) for more details.

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