Copenhagen and beyond, 2 – Niels Bohr Archive

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Niels Bohr Archive > Calendar > 1999-2011 > Copenhagen and beyond, 2

Copenhagen and beyond, 2:
Drama meets history of science

British dramatist Michael Frayn's highly successful play Copenhagen suggests in dramatic form what may have transpired between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen in September 1941. Frayn's drama, which in its published version includes a Postscript, provoked reactions from the history of science community, whereupon Frayn willingly engaged in the debate on the historians' terms. The purpose of the symposium was to use Copenhagen as a starting point for a more general discussion about the relationship between the work of dramatists and historians dealing with issues and events from the history of science. Central questions included: To what extent may common ground be found between history of science and drama dealing with scientific issues? How may the two fields be encouraged to cooperate? What effect may such cooperation have on the respective fields? The symposium was a continuation and expansion of a seminar held at the NBA in November 1999.

The first day provided the dramatical and historical background, when Frayn met with several historians of science who had written about the events dealt with in Copenhagen and/or had commented on the play. The second day started with a broader discussion, involving historians of science who had worked with drama, and dramatists who had drawn on historians of science and their field. Another session was devoted to the role of drama in the dissemination of natural science to a wider public. The symposium then reverted to Frayn's play, with a session comparing different productions, particularly in Scandinavia, and discussing how history of science and their representatives have been brought in at the production stage. Actors from Danish and Swedish productions of Copenhagen provided added verve to the symposium.

The first day of the symposium took place at the Niels Bohr Institute, where Niels Bohr and his family lived from 1921 to 1932 and where also Werner Heisenberg lived and worked in the mid-1920s. The second day was spent in the former Carlsberg Honorary Residence (now the Carlsberg Academy), where Niels and Margrethe Bohr lived from 1932 to 1962 and where the action of the play takes place. The format was informal, with brief talks of maximum 15 minutes' duration followed by panel discussion by invitation. A detailed programme includes links to presentations of the speakers (written at the time of the sympoium) as well as to abstracts and transcripts of some of the lectures.

The event was made possible with funding from the Danish Ministry of Research, the Science Faculty of the University of Copenhagen and the Carlsberg Foundation.