Core and Fringe

In the case of the fringe-nations, the aftermaths of the break-up of empires, the cultural elites have tended to be 'verbal' and not to understand the importance of science in their nation-building processes. Their scientific communities tend to be marginalised on their home ground, and to look to the core-elites for peer-esteem.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a sort of transitional state between the core and the fringe of science in the German sphere of influence. This has been analysed by Crawford(14). The British situation, with Ireland included, was in some ways analogous to Austro-Hungary. De Valera appears to have picked this up, without I think fully understanding its significance, when he imposed an Austro-Hungarian model on the Irish system via Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. It is often disastrous to implant or copy slavishly institutional models from abroad.

Elisabeth Crawford was one of the co-editors with Bernhard of a symposium on the history of the Nobel Prize.

She subsequently(14) used the Nobel Prize awards as a method of analysis of the role of nationalism and internationalism in science. In this context she provides some further insights into centre-periphery relations.

The periphery here is eastern and central Europe, primarily the Austro- Hungarian Empire and successor-States. She makes use of Ben-David's model(16) for her analysis, with some critical addenda. I dwell on this because it suggests a possible approach to the analysis of science in Ireland viewed as peripheral to Britain as core, against the background of which its role in the emerging national consciousness can be assessed. The elite-defining status in this case would be the FRS.

PIoneering work by Alphonse de Candolle(17) concluded that 'the more the sciences progress, the more difficult it is for peripheral or newly civilised countries to do battle with the ones at the centre'. This early insight emerged again a century later as the main theme of the Ben-David analysis.

In eastern Europe the educational system was already modelled on the German. Crawford looks at the institutional arrangements for research, the intellectual innovations produced at the periphery, the recognition they got at the centre, and the emergence of specialities and work orientations specific to the periphery.

To do this she takes as raw material the 81 Nobel Prize nominators and nominees for physics and chemistry in Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia from 1901 to 1939. Note that she does not take the actual winners; this would be too small a population. Those who made it to nominator or nominee status however form an accepted elite and a larger population.

It would not be feasible to do this for Ireland, as the numbers, in the Nobel Prize context, would be too small. It would however be possible to devise an analogous selection process in the context of the award of the status of FRS, of which in Ireland in the 1890s-1900s there were a significant number. This I suggest is on the historical agenda for the understanding of the dynamics of the scientific component of the Irish proto-national elite.

Perusal of the indexes of books on the history of science or technology enables analysis of the perceived importance of specific 'international luminaries' in the consciousness of the the scientific community.

I have done this, and picked up the fact that in the British situation those 'luminaries' with Irish origins or connections are always claimed as British, while those originated in Scotland are always credited as such. This suggests a residual respect among historians in Britan for the role of the Scottish Enlightenment, which supplied science to the Industrial Revolution, at a time when Oxbridge was steeped in mediaevalism.

In contrast, the perception in Sweden (for example) is such that fringe scientists are credited as such, wherever they come from. It is possible to get a feel for the 'universal acclamation' status of Irish-based scientists, at the time of the formation of the modern Irish national elite. In Bernhard et al(13) who looked systematically at science at the time of Nobel; Fitzgerald counts as a world-figure, along with Maxwell. A similar count in Olby et al(6) would rate Maxwell along with Bohr and Einstein.

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