abstract-knudsen – Niels Bohr Archive

Henrik Knudsen, University of Aarhus, Denmark
Pursuing common cultural ideals: Niels Bohr, neutrality, and international scientific collaboration during the inter-war period

During the 1920s Niels Bohr’s new institute of theoretical physics in Copenhagen rose to prominence as an international center of excellence attracting many of the finest talents from the new generation of young physicists. The talk addresses Bohr’s ideals and ideas about international scientific collaboration, and links them to the internationalist policy of science and culture that was cultivated and spearheaded by the Danish government and the country’s social-liberal intellectual elite in the wake of the First World War. This new policy of science was institutionalized in 1919 with the creation the Rask-Ørsted Foundation and carefully designed to help bridge the emerging cultural divide between the victors and losers of the war and to rebuild the traditions of international scientific collaboration. Bohr’s attempts to counter the totalitarian threats of the 1930’s by interpreting the cultural and intellectual history of Denmark on the basis of these internationalist cultural ideals are also discussed. Parallels are drawn between these efforts to construct an anti-totalitarian, open-minded, and pluralist cultural-political identity and Bohr’s own successful practice as a transnational institution builder.