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ABSTRACT After a productive start in the 1980s, laboratory history is now surprisingly neglected—not lab science, but the lab as social institution. To restart interest, I suggest that we see labs as period specific (early modern, modern, postmodern) and of a piece with each era's dominant social institutions and practices. In the modern era, for example, labs have become powerful and ubiquitous because their operating principles are those of the nation-state and its consumerist political economy. Their educational function is crucial: labs have authority because they are an effective vehicle for educating en masse for life in modern states; they provide general entry to careers in scores of disciplines and a thousand occupations; and they embody prevailing ideals of a meritocracy of competence, transparency (through publication), and a universalistic logic of objectivity. An older microhistory of laboratory practices may thus be reborn as a systematic, macrosocial history of the lab.
© 2008 by The History of Science Society. All rights reserved. 0028‐9904/2008/9904‐0004$10.00