Geert Somsen

Geert Somsen

Marie Curie Fellow; Adjunct Senior Research Scholar



Ph.D. – Utrecht University, 1998
M.Sc. – Free University, Amsterdam, 1992

Interests and Research

Geert Somsen is a Marie Curie research fellow (an EU stipend) at the history departments of Columbia University and Maastricht University, the Netherlands, 2014-17. He specializes in the history of science and international relations in the twentieth century.

His fellowship project “Science and World Order” investigates how science has been taken as a model for international relations, from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The idea that science’s universality can help to transcend national rivalries goes back to the early-modern period. But in the twentieth century it was given wide-ranging political usage, and played an important role in plans for international institutions like the International Court of Arbitration, the League of Nations, and UNESCO. The project studies how these uses developed – from the pre-1914 arbitration movement, through interwar liberal and socialist internationalisms, and into the era of the UN. It also considers ‘dead ends’, such as the active Italian promotion of “Scienza Universale” as a guide to a fascist new order. The analysis seeks to expose both the power and the political versatility of beliefs in universal science.

Somsen’s earlier work has also focused on idealizations of science as a model for government. He has written about the promotion of ‘scientific planning’ as a political instrument in the inter- and postwar periods. He has worked on the association of science to democracy in British World War II propaganda. And he has co-edited a volume on the coproduction of scientific and political neutrality after World War I: Neutrality in Twentieth-Century Europe: Science, Culture and Politics after the First World War (with Rebecka Lettevall and Sven Widmalm, Routledge, 2012).

Selected Publications


Pursuing the Unity of Science. Ideology and Scientific Practice from the Great War to the Cold War, co-edited with Harmke Kamminga (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate / New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).

Neutrality in Twentieth-Century Europe: Intersections of  Science, Culture and Politics after the First World War, co-edited with Rebecca Lettevall and Sven Widmalm (New York and London: Routledge, 2012).

De Doorbraak van de Experts: Wetenschap en Maatschappelijke Vernieuwing rond 1945 (Rotterdam: Erasmus Publishing, 2001).

‘Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek en Algemeen Belang’. De Chemie van H.R. Kruyt, 1882-1959 (Delft: Delft University Press, 1998).

Scholarly Articles

“Universalism in Action: Ideals and Practices of International Scientific Cooperation”, European Encounters. Intellectual Exchange and the Rethinking of Europe, 1918-1945, Carlos Reijnen and Marleen Rensen, eds. (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2014), 123-137. 

“Wetenschap als Werelderfgoed: George Sartons Internationalistische Geschiedschrijving” (on George Sarton’s internationalist historiography of science), Geschiedenis is Overal, Frank Huisman, Nico Randeraad & Georgi Verbeeck, eds. (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2013), 104-121.

with Wouter Van Acker, “A Tale of Two World Capitals: the Internationalisms of Pieter Eijkman and Paul Otlet”, Beyond Belgium: Encounters, Exchanges and Entanglements, 1900-1925, Daniel Laqua, Christophe Verbruggen & Gita Deneckere, eds., special issue of Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire / Belgisch tijdschrift voor filologie en geschiedenis 90 (2012) (4), 1389-1409.

“‘Holland’s Calling’: Dutch Scientists as International Mediators in the Interwar Period”, Neutrality: Science, Culture and Politics after the First World War, Sven Widmalm, Geert Somsen & Rebecka Lettevall, eds. (New York and London: Routledge, 2012), 45-64.

“Science, Medicine and Arbitration: Pieter Eijkman’s World Capital in The Hague”, Utopianism and the Sciences, 1880-1930, Mary Kemperink & Leonieke Vermeer, eds. (Leuven: Peeters Publishing, 2009), 125-144. Reprinted with small revisions as “Global Government through Science: Pieter Eijkman’s Plans for a World Capital”, Information Beyond Borders: International Cultural and Intellectual Exchange in the Belle Époque, Boyd Rayward, ed. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), 201-219.

“A History of Universalism: Conceptions of the Internationality of Science, 1750–1950”, Minerva 46 (2008), 361-379. (free access).

“Value-Laden Science: Jan Burgers and Scientific Politics in the Netherlands”, Minerva 46 (2008) 231-245. 

“De Politiek van de Wetenschapsjournalistiek. De Socialistische Agenda van de Britse ‘Scientific Journalists’” (on the socialism of early British science journalists), Leonardo voor het Publiek. Een Geschiedenis van Wetenschaps- en Techniek­communicatie, Frans J. Meijman, Stephen Snelders & Onno de Wit, eds. (Amsterdam: VU University Press 2007), 124-134. 

“De Metawetenschap van H.G. Wells” (H.G. Wells’ Meta-Science), Gewina. Tijdschrift voor de Geschiedenis der Geneeskunde, Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Techniek 29 (2006), 293-305.


“Politics of Science. Interview with Geert Somsen” by Pankaj Sekhsaria, Frontline (October 23, 2009) 130-133. (Frontline is a national magazine in India, with a print run of 1 million copies). See


Geert Somsen is on leave from Maastricht University, the Netherlands, where he works in the History Department and the Science and Technology Studies research program. He has been academic coordinator of its Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, and, more recently, PhD Training Coordinator of the national Graduate School in Science, Technology and Modern Culture. He will spend the first semester of 2016-17 at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany.