Copenhagen and beyond: Drama meets history of science
Copenhagen 22 and 23 September 2001

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 has provoked reactions from the history of science community, whereupon Frayn has willingly engaged in the debate on the historians' terms. The purpose of the symposium is 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 will include: 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 is a continuation and expansion of a seminar held at the NBA in November 1999, which has been fully transcribed.

The first day will provide the dramatical and historical background, and Frayn will meet several historians of science who have written about the events dealt with in Copenhagen and/or have commented on the play. The second day will start with a broader discussion, involving historians of science who have worked with drama and dramatists who have drawn on historians of science and their field. Another session will be devoted to the role of drama in the dissemination of natural science to a wider public. The symposium will then revert 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 will provide added verve to the symposium.

Among the several people who have so far agreed to take part may be mentioned: Michael Frayn and other dramatists who have written drama drawing on the history of natural science, several historians of science with knowledge of the issues and events dealt with in Frayn's play as well an interest in the relationship between drama and their own field, the organisers of a large symposium at the City University of New York in connection with the opening of Copenhagen on Broadway; and various directors and actors in several productions of the play.

The first day of the symposium will take 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 will be 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 will be informal, with brief talks of maximum 15 minutes' duration followed by panel discussion and questions from the audience. Participation as speaker or panel discussant is by invitation. A detailed programme has now been posted on this site.

The symposium is open to the public and tickets will be required. Specifics about how to obtain tickets as well as about the developing programme and other details have now been posted on this site. The event is made possible with funding from the Danish Ministry of Research, the Science Faculty of the University of Copenhagen and the Carlsberg Foundation.

Questions may be directed to the Niels Bohr Archive,

Last updated: August 2001