Rethinking 20th Century Cosmology

Coordinadors: Silvia De Bianchi i Xavier Roqué Rodríguez (CEHIC)


In the occasion of the centennial celebration of Einstein’s general relativity theory and his cosmological hypothesis, this workshop aims at exploring the development of 20th-century cosmology from different perspectives and by using different approaches.

Recent studies in technology and global history, such as Edgerton’s (2011), Nye’s (2006), and Siddiqi’s (2010) suggest to look for the technological devices deployed for other purposes, such as those of space science (e.g. satellites) that thanks to their diffusion, allowed the testability and the reproducibility of experimental results concerning relativity theory and fostered the research of the evidence for cosmological models. This approach throws a fresh-light on our historical understanding of the theory of relativity and suggests to deepen it, by including the debate on cosmology during the Cold War within the context of global history. Another approach consists in considering the dialectic cooperation/competition between state-Nations as a key-concept in order to understand the processes at stake in the space race, but also the ideological implication of strategic choices in national space science programs that anyway implied an International cooperation behind them.

By framing cosmology within the context of technological advancement produced during the Cold War, it can be shown not only how and why the experimental testability of the general theory of relativity had been made possible. Furthermore, it can be investigated how Soviet science reacted to the increase of experiments confirming general relativity theory from 1960 onwards.


Thursday, 12 May 2016


PLENARY LECTURE (Institut d’Estudis Catalans):

Prof. Helge Kragh (Aarhus University):


“The Universe, the Cold war, and Dialectical Materialism”

During parts of the Cold War period cosmology in general and finite cosmological models in particular were regarded as politically incorrect in the Soviet Union. Not only did such conceptions of the universe contradict dogma of dialectical materialism, they were also accused of introducing religious concepts in science. The result of the ideological campaign against Western-style cosmology was that very few Soviet scientists contributed to cosmological research. The communist propaganda and suppression of cosmological theories lasted longer and was more pervasive in Red China, where finite-age theories were de facto forbidden until the late 1970s. The development in the two countries provides an instructive case study of the intervention of political ideology in twentieth-century physical and astronomical science.


Friday, 13 May 2016


ONE-DAY WORKSHOP (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, CEHIC):

Prof. Erhard Scholz (Wuppertal): Weyl on cosmology (1918 — 1930): representing the world in the large”.

Prof. Antoni Roca Rossell (UPC): Catalonia and Spain on the scientific stage. Hermann Weyl in Barcelona and Madrid in 1922”.

Dr Silvia De Bianchi (UAB): The hot stage of the Cold War. General relativity, cosmology and the space race”.

Dr Matteo Realdi (Amsterdam): The question of the origin of the universe. Georges Lemaître and the debates on the primeval atom hypothesis (1931-1952)”.

Prof. Xavier Roqué (UAB): The Universe, the Cold War, and Nationalcatolicism”.