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Pietro Corsi

University of Oxford United Kingdom

Pietro Corsi, D Phil., has been awarded research and teaching positions at Oxford University, The King’s College, Cambridge, Harvard University, the University of Geneva, the University of Cassino, and Paris 1 University. He is currently Chair Professor of the History of Science, University of Oxford, and  Directeur d’Etudes at the E.H.E.S.S., Paris.

His research interests include the relationship between science, politics and religion in nineteenth century Europe, the history of evolutionary theories from the XVIII Century to the present, the relationship between science and the state in contemporary Italy and Europe, with particular reference to the history of Geological Surveys. He has been “Editor for science, 1600-2000”, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, 64 vol. He has organized science exhibitions in Italy, France, Spain, the Unites States, Denmark, and is the author of websites designed to enhance the modern scientific heritage (,,


Project: The history of evolutionary theories suffers from several shortcomings, which can be summed up under two headings: anachronism and provincialism. As far as anachronism is concerned, this is on the whole typical of much of the history of science. We assume the present state of affairs as the yardstick against which to judge the past, without attempting to understand it in its own terms. Thus, we have created highly mythical reconstructions of Lamarckian doctrines defeated by Darwin, and have paid no attention to the intense debate on life and its potential for change, that characterized the decades 1800-1860. Moreover, historians have rarely tried to reconstruct the European and Western dimension of these debates. The European circulation of books, encyclopaedias, periodicals as well as of scientific personnel and specimens has been systematically ignored, each national research tradition appearing concerned only with its own past. This way of looking at the past raises important question on our own intellectual and scientific practices. The thick description of the past inevitably questions our assumptions concerning present-day local distributions of intellectual authority, always and perhaps inevitably represented as universal standards.

Stay period: FEB 2016 - JUL 2016