Charles Coulston Gillispie

1997 Balzan Prize for History and Philosophy of Science

For the extraordinary contribution he has made to the history and philosophy of science by his intellectually vigorous, precise works, as well as his editing of a great reference work.

Charles Coulston Gillispie was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1918 (†2015). After scientific studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was called to arms for four years. He received his Ph.D. in 1949 from the University of Harvard, with a thesis on the relationships between science and religion in the years preceding Darwin (Genesis and Geology, 1951, 1969and 1996). His entire university career was carried out at Princeton University, from 1950 to 1987. He created a course for the History and Philosophy of Science which was a great success, and the guidelines followed therein are recapitulated in a work which was to become an immediate classic (The Edge of Objectivity. 1960, 1990, with translations in many languages). As a teacher, Charles Coulston Gillispie has contributed to the moulding of many historians and philosophers of science, the late Thomas S. Kuhn being amongst them. He also taught for many years in Paris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales).

We must acknowledge Charles Coulston Gillispie’s monumental Dictionary of Scientific Biography (16 volumes, 1970-80), of which he was the creator, organizer, and editor. This collection of approximately five thousand biographies is today the principal reference instrument of science historians. The crucial importance of the development of science in France, from the end of the Old Regime to the first decades of the nineteenth century, kindled the interest of the prize-winner. He dedicated many books of exceptional quality to the protagonists of this development: Lazare Carnot, Savant, 1971; Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime, 1980; The Montgolfier Brothers and The Invention of Aviation, 1983; Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1997.

Grouped together, these works allow for a better understanding of the relationships between science and society which were established in that period, and which have been prevalent up until our own times. International fame and numerous translations in many languages have crowned the meritorious career of Charles Coulston Gillispie. In 1997, he was called upon to chair the International Congress of the History of Science.

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