Physics and the Rise of Scientific Research in Canada


203 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0823-6
DDC 530'.072071




Translated by Peter Keating
Reviewed by Hannah Gay

Hannah Gay is a history professor at Simon Fraser University.


This book studies the formation of the Canadian physics community, which
the author claims was the first organized scientific community in this
country, becoming the model for other academic disciplines. The
theoretical models of Pierre Bourdieu and Luc Boltanski are applied in
this study and have directed Gingras to link a number of areas usually
studied in isolation: scientific institutions, scholarship programs,
engineering and technical education more generally, research funding,
organization, and so on.

Gingras tracks a generation of scientists who came to see themselves
more as researchers than as teachers, and explores how this change in
socialization occurred. He begins by describing the emergence of
research practice from a teaching milieu in the late nineteenth century.
The debates surrounding the promotion of scientific research in the
1870s mirror debates in England at the same time, but not until the
twentieth century does the functionality of research receive the broad
cultural recognition in Canada that allows it to grow. Gingras is
interested in how research-minded individuals reformed their own
institutions to conform to a new image, and how they developed a common
voice such that research activity became the norm in universities. The
kind of education needed by engineers was useful here in that it set a
pattern for specialization, and, in allowing specialities into the
universities, the patterns of liberal education began to crumble. This
development, too, followed the European pattern. At first the public
promotion of science entailed the provision of a few scholarships or
grants to individuals. Gradually the vision of a select few—associated
with either the Royal Society of Canada, The National Research Council
(NRC), or the National Conference of Canadian Universities—promoted
the lobbying for research funds on a larger scale. By 1927 the NRC could
look back on its first decade and see concrete results. European
attitudes toward the role of the state in science, the importance of
science to industrial development, and the production of human resources
for the latter were copied. This was especially the case after World War
I brought an awakening awareness of the usefulness of science. Science
then came to be included in the reports of the major universities, and
publication lists became important.

This book, in focusing on these early developments, is useful in
showing how the ethos of research and the collective voice of physics
were established well before the major expansions of the universities in
the 1940s, when many Ph.D. programs were first introduced.


Gingras, Yves., “Physics and the Rise of Scientific Research in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,