This essay examines genres of synthesis, by which I mean different modes for synthesizing the branches of knowledge through appeal to different representations (images, figures, framing devices, etc.) orienting scientific labor/research. These genres emerge simultaneously as concrete representations of the synthesis of knowledge on the one hand and organizational schemes for the achievement of that synthesis on the other. The article focuses on the synthetic work of two prolific scientists, astronomer Harlow Shapley and physicist George Gamow, attempting to give a sense of common aspects of their synthesizing visions and efforts. Extended attention is given to two central synthesizing genres operating within Gamow and Shapley’s long-standing projects, the scalar and the historical, demonstrating the changing importance of these schemes and their relation to historical contexts. Emphasis on their mid-century interest in “grammars of nature” allows comparison of their synthetic and historical commitments with the work of other synthetic efforts, in particular those of the Unity of Science movement. This history allows us to refine the concept of genres of synthesis further tying it to conceptions of the unknown, of popularization, and of meaning-making while at the same time providing an overview of Shapley and Gamow’s consonant network-building practices.
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