This morning I was reading a draft chapter by one of my talented PhD students, Laura Georgescu. Her (fascinating!) work is on the edge of my own expertise and so the bibliographic notes are (to me!) not standard, that is, they also involve citations to works that I sometimes would not have encountered before. As it happens one of these involved a reference to a paper published in 1943. This caught my attention because one rarely encounters citations to works published in the midst of war when would be researchers are drafted, rationing is in place, and censorship slows things down; not to mention that some of the stuff that gets published is no better than propaganda (or extremely discrete criticism).
Trained up as we are on the opposing trajectories of Heidegger (Nazi) (recall, but also here, and here) and, say, Russell (pacifist sent to jail), we tend to think of war and dictatorship as offering us stark choices. But, I am enough of a historian to know, that in practice many academics find a way to make their peace and muddle on the best they can. While there is little honor, and even some cowardice (sold as prudence or realism) in such a stance, I can't simply reject it because, as I noted yesterday in a different context, one of the great purposes of politics is to make the life of philosophy, the arts, sciences and all the other joyful activities that ennoble our existence possible.
Because the chapter was still in draft (and did not include the dissertation's full bibliography), "Chapman 1943" was all I got in notes 21 & 28. Some googling led me to Sydney Chapman's "Edmund Halley and Geomagnetism," published in Nature. According to the fine-print it was delivered at Oxford University on 28 may 1943 as the "annual lecture, commemorating Edmond Halley, a great son of Oxford, is devoted to astronomy and terrestrial magnetism." I was pleased to note that Halley (who was a graduate from Oxford) was being honored at Oxford, despite the fact that he failed to get an appointment there because of his (rather non-Christian Epicurean) religious views. Halley's heretical views are in evidence in the poem he attached to the front of Newton's Principia (see Albury's very fine paper, or my own work on the topic). I was even more pleased to see Chapman start his lecture with his own translation of Halley's poem.*
The lecture itself, which has not received the attention it deserves, is methodologically highly interesting because it is based on original research and mixes contextual, counterfactual, and retrospective analysis (especially, but not only, of Halley's magnetic theories). Some other time I hope to return to it (but first Laura needs to defend and get her own work on these matters in print.). I was a bit baffled that Chapman had such a subtle interest in the history of magnetism. (I was only familiar with his work on stochastic processes.) But a quick on-line search revealed that by 1940 he was one of the world's leading scholars of geomagnetism and one of the leading scientists of his age.
Much to my surprise, Chapman allows the war to intrude in his 1943 lecture in his closing lines, which I quote:
For two centuries Halley had no comparable successor in this field, and the magnetic survey of the globe was not renewed with his astounding zeal until in 1905 the young American, Louis Bauer, with the backing of a prince of industry, the one-time poor Scots lad Andrew Carnegie,** resumed the Sisyphean task.
A non-magnetic ship was built for the ocean magnetic survey: unfortunately this was lost by fire in 1929. Later the British Admiralty built another non-magnetic ship, the Research, which should by now have completed its first voyage had war not intervened. We may hope that when peace returns the great work with which Halley so well began will be taken up again with his own vigour.
These words give evidence of (what we may call) a spirit of scientific progress, (a modestly expressed) faith in victory of the Allies ("when peace returns"), as well as a subtle reminder of the opportunity costs of war (science is halted, etc.).
I could have stopped here. But I had a nagging feeling that I had seen Chapman's name before in a different context (see here). In WWI, Chapman was, like Russell, a pacifist (although unlike Russell, he was so on religious grounds). He had, in fact, been one of the signatures on the (rather mild) letter of protest sent to Trinity, Cambridge, to protest Russell's dismissal. After the war, Chapman was made to feel unwelcome at Cambridge for his stance and left. Eventually he succeeded Whitehead as the chair in mathematics at Imperial. Interestingly enough, by the time of WWII came around, Chapman gave up on his pacifism in order to combat fascism.***