The history of science: What is it and why?

history of science

No matter how far or distant they may seem, history and science have an indissoluble connection that is born at the very moment in which these fields of knowledge are constituted. That is why in the following lines I hope that the reader finds clarity regarding this interesting relationship, which is found in the work of the scientist. To begin we must understand what history is.

History as a discipline in the field of social sciences reconstructs the past from documents and evidence (material and oral) that are classified, valued, interpreted, questioned and connected with other facts, which are subjected to a critical analysis. with the intention of understanding and explaining the dynamics of past societies. The intention of the historian when executing this task is to answer very specific questions that arise from the present and arise from the needs of his time. Therefore, historiography (which is the history written from the investigation and reflection of the past) narrates, describes and explains the past in light of the present.


The history of science is not an account of chronologically related facts, nor is it a dialectic of problems and solutions of experimental practice, nor is it the description of conjectures and refutations, or the replacement of practices, theories, concepts or methods. It is a historiographical narrative that describes the process of transformation and evolution of human cognitive action. It details the historicity behind the experimentation and the theories that seek to understand, apprehend and intervene in the world from the criteria of scientific rationality. 1 In this sense, the history of science explains the trajectory that human beings have followed to find solutions to specific problems and learn about aspects of reality.

In the narrative of the history of science, epistemic and social interconnections are detailed that constitute a diachronic content where scientific and technological transformations are only explained by a network of relationships and causal successions of an economic, political, material, environmental, cultural, religious, spatial and epistemic.

In the explanatory character of the history of science, epistemology (which is the study of knowledge) incorporates a historical experience on the construction, institutionalization and legitimacy of the normative elements of science, its justification context, its claim to truth and practical, theoretical and methodological elements. Without leaving aside the sociocultural explanation of the banishment or permanence of new conceptual criteria. Therefore, the history of science is, in a broad sense, science itself.


Consciously or not, the scientist uses the history of science to situate himself at a specific point in the development of certain knowledge, to then start from there towards new postulates that lead to novel results and, eventually, paradigm changes. Therefore, the history of science has the capacity to reveal procedures that become confrontations that trigger the advancement of science.

In the 21st century, given the frenzy of scientific and technological development, society experiences uncertainty and disorientation in the face of the unlimited capacity of science and technology to intervene, modify and redesign the natural world. Even today it is clear that techno-scientific innovations (medical, telecommunications, food production and consumer goods in general) are causing severe environmental damage, especially given the vulnerability to control biotechnological innovations. Faced with this concern of the present, the history of science arrives to expose -from the past- the cultural, political, economic, spatial and material reasons or causes for which science and technology not only imposed themselves as valid knowledge for understanding and explaining the world, but also, to transform and market it. Thus, the present demands critical analysis and explanations from history that question the positioning of techno-scientific knowledge in today’s world.

The history of science also fulfills the function of safeguarding the heritage of local knowledge. This means that when the scientific past of a region or a country is pulverized or disappears, the history of science recovers and finds practices, theories, proposals and works from moments and places with the intention of locating originality, innovation and historicity of knowledge in a specific time and space.

In this same direction, it happens that in the history of science, the process of construction of a professional and scientific community is unraveled, for this reason, it has the capacity to awaken recognition and union identity. That is the reason why in the history of science one finds the ethos(behavior, character, identity) of the scientist, since in the history of science, as in history in general, a landscape is outlined where human beings find recognition and identity. This aspect is also related to the fact that the history of science is a mirror that reflects the terms with which science constructs the images of the future that it wishes to achieve in the universe of nature and human beings, hence it is useful to create and manage new higher education institutions and show the contents of each scientific profession and where one of the uses of scientific memory is found.

On the other hand, the history of science serves to make visible the way in which human beings have established our relationship with the natural world based on the criteria established by scientific rationality, so that theoretical, practical, discursive and even ontological the production of knowledge grants, in time and space, to living beings. Thus, the history of science accounts for how human beings have capitalized on and managed nature through the production of knowledge.


The history of science is, in short, science itself and the construction of its field as a discipline and profession. It explains how it came to be what it is, what role the scientist plays in society, how science and scientists have changed the world and what have been the factors by which science became a valid instrument to understand and measure it.

The history of science not only accounts for the cognitive, conceptual and experimental evolution of science but also, manifests the ability to explain how science has been inserted into society. In this sense, it does not divorce itself from a critical look at the factors that condition the trajectory of science, but it also does not stop narrating the feats of men and women who have made scientific knowledge the most effective tool to solve many of the great problems that face society.