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Primary source seminars

Part II students' guide: Primary sources

Seminars are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science unless other arrangements are announced.

Michaelmas Term
The Board of Longitude: Materials and Documents
Simon Schaffer, Patricia Fara, Roger Gaskell
Fri 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Science and Print in Colonial India
James Poskett
Mon 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Lennart Nilsson's Photograph of an 18-week Fetus
Salim Al-Gailani, Nick Hopwood
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)
World Conservation Strategy
Helen Curry
Wed 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Duhem's Aim and Structure of Physical Theory
Jacob Stegenga, Nick Jardine
Wed 10am (weeks 1–4)
Doha Declaration and Novartis Ruling
Mary Brazelton, Stephen John
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Marta Halina, Anna Alexandrova
Mon 11am (weeks 1–4)


Edward Sherburne, The Sphere of Manilius

This series of seminars has been cancelled.

The Board of Longitude: Materials and Documents
Simon Schaffer, Patricia Fara, Roger Gaskell (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 2

The Board of Longitude was established in 1714 as a public agency to manage and award a prize for the discovery of longitude at sea. It was abolished in 1828. Its activities ranged from adjudication of rival methods for determination of position at sea, notably those using chronometers, almanacs and sextants, to a vast range of associated activities, including maritime and polar exploration, establishment of new observatories and appraisal of novel technical and instrumental schemes. Its rich and fascinating archive, available through catalogued papers of the Royal Greenwich Observatory held in the University Library Cambridge, is an impressively varied resource for making sense of fundamental questions in the history of 18th-century knowledge and technique: these include the development of public patronage of inquiry and technical change; models of scientific discovery and public test; and the significance of scientific exploration and voyaging.

Science and Print in Colonial India
James Poskett (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 3

  • Gleanings in Science (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1829–1831)

Science was intimately connected with colonialism in the 19th century. In this series of seminars, we will explore the scientific life of the British Empire in India. Gleanings in Science was one of the first English-language publications in South Asia devoted exclusively to the pursuit of knowledge. Founded by members of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, this monthly periodical covered a rich variety of topics, ranging from the natural history of the Ganges to engineering in the Himalaya. Opium traders, army surgeons, and East India Company officers all contributed articles. Together, they fashioned a unique source through which to study the major themes of 19th-century science from a colonial perspective.

Lennart Nilsson's Photograph of an 18-week Fetus
Salim Al-Gailani, Nick Hopwood (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 4

  • Lennart Nilsson's photograph of an 18-week fetus and other images from his photo-essay 'Drama of Life before Birth' (Life magazine, 1965)

The photograph of a human fetus on the cover of Life magazine proclaimed an 'Unprecedented photographic feat in color'. Published at the height of the space-race in 1965, Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson's pink, astronaut-like fetus has been compared in significance to seeing our blue planet for the first time. Extensively reproduced, in books teaching the facts of life, on placards opposing abortion, in critical feminist scholarship and in celebrations of science and art, it became one of the most famous and notorious images of the 20th century. Studying it will allow us to explore how and why a key icon of modern medicine and of modern media was made.

World Conservation Strategy
Helen Curry (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 4

  • World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (1980)

In 1980, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) released its World Conservation Strategy. This publication endeavoured to present a new vision for the conservation of nature in which the needs of people, especially those in developing countries, were placed at the centre. The World Conservation Strategy represented one of the first efforts made to codify 'sustainable development' – that is, the idea that the conservation of natural resources and the protection of wild plants, animals and places could not be achieved without simultaneously addressing the economic needs of non-industrial nations. This indicated a striking transition in environmental politics. Through the 1970s, the dominant concerns driving international environmental action had been those of the wealthy industrialized nations, which centered on containing industrial development through the creation of parks and reserves and the prevention of pollution. World Conservation Strategy indicated the arrival of a new perspective in which industrial development could be considered essential to achieving global conservation goals rather than a stumbling block. Through an investigation of the history of World Conservation Strategy, this seminar will provide an opportunity to explore key aspects of 20th-century science and technology, from conservation research to international environmental politics to theories of economic development.

Duhem's Aim and Structure of Physical Theory
Jacob Stegenga, Nick Jardine (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 5

  • Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 2nd ed., transl. P.P. Wiener (Princeton NJ, 1954)

In 1906 the French physicist and historian of science Pierre Duhem published The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. There, along with his provocative views on the roles of nationality and religion in the sciences, he addressed with remarkable clarity and originality a series of questions that have remained central to the philosophy of science: Do physical theories represent the real world? What roles do models and abstractions play in the sciences? How are observations, experiments and scientific laws related? By what criteria should choice be made between theories? How do the theories of the sciences relate to their histories?

Doha Declaration and Novartis Ruling
Mary Brazelton, Stephen John (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Paper 6

  • Doha declaration on the TRIPS agreement (2001)
  • Indian supreme court ruling on Novartis (2013)

In these seminars, we will read materials that consider the global politics of pharmaceutical companies and drugs. In 1996, the World Trade Organization enacted TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), an agreement that sets legal protocol for intellectual property protections. However, leaders of developing nations increasingly feared enforcement of the TRIPS agreement would impede the distribution of cheap generic medicines. The first document we will consider, the 2001 Doha 'Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health', attempts to address this conflict by providing a more flexible interpretation of the agreement to accommodate the needs of developing nations. The second document is a 2013 ruling by the Indian Supreme Court against the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis in which India denies a patent to Novartis for its leukaemia drug Glivec. We will use these documents to explore evolving ideas about drugs as intellectual property, the politics of biomedical research in the interactions between developed and developing nations, and conflicts between legal protections that facilitate new drug development and global access to medicines.

Marta Halina, Anna Alexandrova (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)
Relevant to Papers 4, 5 & 6

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), The American Psychiatric Association, 2013. The Preface pp. xli–xliv, Introduction and Use pp. 5–24 and other selections.

The latest edition of the DSM is currently the final word in psychiatry on how mental disorders should be classified and diagnosed. As such it is an enormously powerful document: doctors use it in order to determine whether their patients are ill, insurance companies use it for charging for healthcare, pharmaceutical companies develop drugs that will fit the DSM, and finally researchers study the mechanisms behind the disorders that the DSM specifies. Nevertheless the DSM is also heavily criticised: for reifying artificial categories, for medicalising phenomena that are in part socially constructed, for propping up the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. These seminars explore the history of the DSM-5 and some of its philosophical and ethical challenges.

Resources for the primary source seminars on Moodle