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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea and coffee before the seminar at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and there are refreshments afterwards at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

17 January Fourteenth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine
Marta Hanson (Johns Hopkins University)
Heaven and Earth are within one's grasp: the healer's body-as-technology in classical Chinese medicine
Tea at 3.30pm; lecture at 4pm
Some 16th to 17th-century Chinese medical scholars used the phrase 'Understanding is within one's grasp' (liaoran zaiwo 燎然在握) to emphasize how their readers could use 'hand mnemonics' (zhangjue 掌訣) to master the cosmic patterns relevant for medical care. These authors included instructions for potential healers to use their hands to think with, for example, by prognosticating based on seasonal cycles, predicting epidemic periods, and differentiating aberrant from normal pulses. To have something 'within one's grasp' (zaiwo 在握), in Chinese as well as in English, metaphorically meant to understand (liaoran 暸然). Early modern Chinese healers instrumentalized their bodies in complex ways as diagnostic instruments and measuring units as well as time-keeping, mnemonic, and calculating devices. Understanding how classical Chinese medical texts recorded the healers' body-as-technology illuminates the range of knowledge about Heaven and Earth early modern healers were expected to use their hands as well as their minds to master. This lecture will use select examples of the healer's body-as-technology in classical Chinese medicine and suggest that the field of extended cognition within cognitive science offers some productive insights into this historical phenomenon.
24 January Lina Jansson (University of Nottingham)
Newton's methodology meets Humean supervenience about laws of nature
Earman and Roberts [2005a,b] have argued for Humean supervenience about laws of nature based on an argument from epistemic access. In rough outline, their argument relies on the claim that if Humean supervenience is false, then we cannot have any empirical evidence in favour of taking a proposition to be a law of nature as opposed to merely accidentally true. I argue that Newton's methodology in the Principia provides a counterexample to their claim. In particular, I argue that the success or failure of chains of subjunctive reasoning is empirically accessible, and that this provides a way of gaining empirical evidence for or against a proposition being a law of nature (even under the assumption that Humean supervenience fails).
31 January Ruth J. Salter (University of Reading)
Bathing, bloodletting and bed-rest in the high medieval monastery
Focusing on 12th-century English monastic communities, this paper considers three practical applications of healthcare undertaken within medieval monasteries. While the great monastic libraries would have contained medical manuscripts, the collection of such items varied from house to house and, more importantly, such materials would not have been accessible to the majority of the cloistered community. The practices of bathing and bloodletting, and the allowance for bed-rest, however, would have been experienced and witnessed first-hand by many of the community. As such, these practical applications have the potential to offer us insight into the healthcare within the monastery, and into monastic understandings of health and the body.

Within this paper, the three practices will be taken in turn to consider their uses, and concerns about their abuses, in order to draw attention to the practicalities of claustral healthcare, and to pose questions regarding medical practices within the monastery. The questions raised by this paper are also key to my next proposed research project; a project that intends to consider the experiences, understandings and practicalities of monastic healthcare within the Anglo-Norman world.

7 February Leah McClimans (University of South Carolina)
Patient reported outcome measures are different
Since the 1970s epidemiological measures focusing on 'health-related quality of life' or simply 'quality of life' have figured increasingly as endpoints in clinical trials. Before the 1970s these measures were known, generically, as performance measures or health status measures. Relabelled as 'quality of life measures' they were first used in cancer trials. They were relabelled again in the early 2000s as 'patient-reported outcome measures' or PROMs, in their service to the FDA to support drug labelling claims. To the limited degree that the philosophical literature addresses these measures, it tends to associate them with two of the major theories of well-being: subjective well-being and capability approach to quality of life. My general argument in this paper is that philosophers ought to treat quality of life measures/PROMs as distinct from these theories of well-being with their own theoretical commitments, values and epistemic concerns.

The primary reason I will give for this argument is that we cannot separate the rise in popularity of quality of life/PROMs from their role in representing and amplifying patients' perspectives. The nature of this representation is due to a historical context in medicine that emphasizes patient autonomy and patient expertise. I will argue further that these measures are 'patient-centred' to the degree they are patient directed and inclusive. Finally, I will end by suggesting that the theory quality of life/PROMs needs is not an attribute theory or a theory of prudential value, but an epistemic theory that governs patient and others contributions to the construct.

14 February Pratik Chakrabarti (University of Manchester)
Past unlimited: the canal of Zabita Khan
This paper shows how deep time superseded various other forms of historical imaginations in India. In doing so, it critiques the conceptions of deep history, of the ways it overwrites other histories. It traces this process through the history of the canal of Zabita Khan. In the early 19th century, the British began one of their most ambitious irrigation projects in India. As British engineers started to dig the Doab canal, they realised that there existed an medieval system of canal networks. In the course of the excavations, ancient canals appeared indistinguishable from old riverbeds and geomythical rivers and the lines between the monument and the terrain or the 'natural' and the 'historical' become imperceptible. Rivers moved, legends moved with them; dead riverbeds became canals, canals became natural channels of water and mythical rivers were traced in the landscape. In the process, the landscape, the legends, and the monuments became part of this colonial antiquarianism in which the history of a medieval canal was recounted as one of deep history.
21 February Hasok Chang (HPS, Cambridge)
Beyond correspondence: realism for realistic people
In this paper I lay down some groundwork for a pragmatist scientific realism, which will be fully consonant with actual scientific practices. Scientific realism demands that our best scientific theories should give really true descriptions of the world. Truth here is usually conceived in terms of a 'correspondence' between theory and reality – ultimate, metaphysical, and mind-independent reality. However, this idea is useless in practice because such reality is inaccessible to us, and the alleged correspondence only makes sense as a metaphor based on actual representational activities, in which both the 'model' and the 'target' are accessible. This metaphor appears to make literal sense only because we take part in the illusion of the 'ready-made world', according to which reality, independently of any conceptions we impose on it, already has well-defined parts and relations between the parts. Abandoning the illusory metaphor, I propose that realists should accept pragmatism in relation to 'primary truth', which does not consist in agreement with other things that we already know to be true. Primary truth is based on the 'operational coherence' of activities that we engage in; if some coherent activities rely on a certain proposition, then that proposition is true within the domain of those activities. Once we have some primarily true propositions, then correspondence to them defines the secondary truth of other propositions. However, the picture I propose is not a foundationalist one in the traditional sense: a given proposition may be true in a primary or a secondary way, or even both. 'Truth happens to an idea' (William James), and the manner of that happening depends on the contingent contexts of truth-making and truth-finding activities.
28 February Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University)
History of S&T need an oil bath: oil, scarcity and technoscience in the 1970s
Oil is everywhere in the history of science and technology, yet nowhere. In almost all of our disciplines' subfields one can find stray and often puzzling references to oil firms' contributions, yet few of these have been examined carefully, much less connected together. There is a long history of such 'oil spillovers', but they become more pronounced as one approaches the 1970s and the emerging technologies about which governments and investors were most optimistic in that era: nuclear (fission and fusion) and solar power, biotechnology, microelectronics, and scenario planning/resource forecasting. I argue that oil firms' investments in all of these technologies were a response to the resource scarcity debates of the early 1970s. That's perhaps unsurprising, but the involvement of 'oilmen' in the environmentalist organizations propelling that debate is not well known. Oil firms' motivations for intervening in environmental debates are generally assumed to be cynical, but I offer evidence that their calculations were more complex, at least before the collapse in the price of oil in the early 1980s.
7 March Sharon Crasnow (Norco College/Durham University)
V-Dem: measuring democracy
Indices of democracy (measurement of democracy) raise a variety of concerns. First, the latent concept of democracy needs to be clarified in order for coding to proceed and measures to be determined. Second, the multiple purposes for which we might seek measures of democracy suggest that multiple measures are needed, each differently suitable and dependent on the purposes for which they are needed. Questions of aggregation and disaggregation of the components of democracy – many of which differ among the different indices – depend on decisions about indicators of the concept 'democracy' and vary among indices. Third, the belief that measurement serves only as an intermediate step in the process of testing hypotheses limits discussion of the role of measurement in other aspects of knowledge production.

V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy), a project that began roughly 10 years ago, explicitly addresses many of these concerns through greater transparency about methodology and a fine-grained disaggregation of indicators of democracy. 'We provide a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles' (V-Dem project website). In this talk, I explore the claims made for V-Dem, the question of what it means to measure an abstract concept like democracy, and whether this project can tell us about the measurement of such concepts in the social sciences more generally.

14 March Charlotte Bigg (CNRS Paris)
The view from here, there and nowhere? Situating the observer in the planetarium and in the solar system
The projection planetarium has probably been the most important single device for communicating astronomy since the early 20th century. I look at the ways in which early planetariums encouraged the rehearsal by spectators of different spatial positions and bodily relationships with regards to (models of) the solar system. Acquiring a proper understanding of the solar system did not simply require participants to adopt 'the view from nowhere' but involved a spatial, physical and sensory journey through multiple viewpoints that often also rehearsed an idealised history of astronomy. Widely praised for its illusionistic rendering of the night skies, the modern planetarium was also a showcase for the precision technology of its maker Carl Zeiss, offering an experience simultaneously of simulated Nature, of astronomy and of technological mastery. Astronomy, the quintessential science of space and time, afforded in the planetarium an occasion for reflecting in broader ways on individuals' and humans' place in the modern world. Planetariums may be understood as materializing and promoting particular epistemological and pedagogical conceptions of the knowing subject; while they partook in the collective reflection on Nature, science and technology in modernity.

Twentieth Century Think Tank

The Twentieth Century Think Tank offers broad coverage of 20th- and 21st-century topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place on Thursdays over lunch.

Think Tank meetings are held fortnightly on Thursdays, 1–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All welcome!

Organised by Mary Brazelton, Joseph Martin and Richard Staley.

17 January Mary Brazelton, Simon Schaffer, Charu Singh and Richard Staley (University of Cambridge)
Decolonising the history of science curriculum
Together with a notorious #ScienceMustFall video circulating on social media, #RhodesMustFall and Fees Must Fall protests in the University of Cape Town of 2015–16 have helped inspire a widespread movement calling for the decolonisation of education. What does this mean for science and the history of science? What should it mean for the curriculum and our courses? Here we discuss questions raised by the colonial history of science and the possibility of decolonisation, considering aims, strategies and experiences gained in teaching the history of science in Cambridge and elsewhere.
31 January Freddy Foks (History, Cambridge)
Constructing the field: power, persona and paper tools
How did inter-war social anthropologists go about trying to understand a 'whole society'? This paper draws on archival sources to reveal the research methods, political contexts and inter-personal relations that contributed to the construction of 'the field' in East and Central Africa during the 1930s. By doing so, the paper contributes to a long-running discussion carried on by historians, philosophers and anthropologists about the nature of observation and understanding in the modern social sciences. The paper argues that knowledge produced 'in the field' led to the formation of a distinctive and authoritative scholarly persona in the British social sciences (the figure of the 'social anthropologist'). This persona was constituted by extending the lessons learnt at Bronislaw Malinowski's seminar at the LSE into the politically and socially uneven terrain of Britain's African colonies.
14 February Audra J. Wolfe (Independent Scholar)
A political history of apolitical science
The Cold War ended long ago, but the language of science and freedom continues to shape public debates over the relationship between science and politics in the United States. From the late 1940s through the late 1960s, the US foreign policy establishment saw a particularly American way of thinking about 'scientific freedom' as essential to winning the Cold War. In this presentation drawn from her new book, Freedom's Laboratory, historian Audra J. Wolfe will focus on a crucial moment of this story, the late 1950s, when US policymakers explicitly articulated what it meant to describe science as apolitical, objective and international, all in the name of the intensely political goal of Cold War supremacy. A particularly troubling part of this story involves the government's decision to funnel its propaganda efforts, whenever possible, through nongovernmental organizations of scientists. How should historians understand groups of non-state actors doing the state's work? Does the concept of 'transnational science' even make sense for the Cold War?
28 February Paolo Heywood (Social Anthropology, Cambridge)
Making difference: queer activism and anthropological theory
This paper examines two paradoxes. The first is ethnographic: queer activists in Bologna, Italy are concerned with defining themselves in opposition to fixed categories of identity and forms of politics based on them. In so doing however, they must engage with the risk that this endeavour of difference-making itself becomes as fixed and uniform as the identities to which it is opposed. The second paradox is theoretical: a range of anthropologists have recently argued that the relationship between theoretical and ethnographic material should be one of identity or correspondence. Yet such arguments, though highly conceptually stimulating, often reproduce in form what they refute in content: abstraction and metaphysical speculation, thus re-inscribing the difference between our concepts and our data. This paper simultaneously connects these respectively ethnographic and theoretical questions, whilst also deliberately holding them apart. The beginnings of an answer to both, it suggests, lie in an explicit attention to the boundaries and differences, rather than simply the isomorphisms, between theory and ethnography.

Coffee with Scientists

The aim of this group is to explore and enhance the interface between HPS and science. Though many of us in HPS engage closely with science and scientists, we could benefit from more explicit discussions about the relationship between HPS and science itself, and from more opportunities for HPS-scholars and scientists to help each other's work.

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm in Seminar Room 2. Further information and reading materials will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) if you would like to be included on the list.

18 January Sir Harry Bhadeshia (Dept of Materials Science & Metallurgy, Cambridge), hosted by Karoliina Pulkkinen
The first bulk–nanostructured metal
22 February Prof. Chang-Hoon Nam (DGIST, South Korea; Visiting scholar in HPS, Cambridge), hosted by Hasok Chang
'Wise reasoning' in science education
1 March Lucy Cheke (Department of Psychology, Cambridge) and Matthew Crosby (Department of Computing, Imperial College London), hosted by Marta Halina
The animal-AI Olympics

Cabinet of Natural History

This research seminar is concerned with all aspects of the history of natural history and the field and environmental sciences. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place over lunch on Mondays. In addition, the Cabinet organises a beginning-of-year fungus hunt and occasional expeditions to sites of historical and natural historical interest, and holds an end-of-year garden party.

All seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm in Seminar Room 1. Please feel free to bring your lunch.

Organised by Laura Brassington (lb685).

21 January Jack Ashby (Museum of Zoology, Cambridge)
Tour of the recently re-opened University Museum of Zoology and an insider's guide to natural history museums
Meet outside the Whale Hall (main entrance of the Museum of Zoology) by 1pm
The Cabinet of Natural History is invited to a private, guided tour of the recently re-opened University Museum of Zoology, led by myself, the Museum Manager. As well as sharing stories from the history of the museum and highlights from its world-leading collection, the session will explore some of the insights used to develop a critical eye for visiting natural history galleries elsewhere. By using examples from the Museum, I will discuss the relationship between how natural history museums aim (successfully) to inspire wonder in the natural world, and the extent to which museums accurately represent nature in their displays.

Exhibits will range from dodos to whales, as well as giant wombat-relatives and four-tonne sloths. I will discuss the research of the Museum and seek to answer questions, such as the extent to which specimens in natural history museums are authentic and represent the species they are intended to exemplify and what kinds of human biases have been introduced and why. I will argue that museums are a product of their own history and the societies in which they are embedded.

Museums are not apolitical or value-free: if we know what to look for, we might spot evidence of speciesism, the patriarchy and colonialism when we next visit a museum gallery.

28 January Genie Yoo (Princeton University)
Advijsen, old and new: the life span of VOC natural-historical information within the Dutch East Indies
In the last decades of the 18th century, VOC administrators in Ambon dug deep into their own provincial archive in Casteel Victoria to unearth bundles of natural-historical papers written almost a century earlier. Among these late-17th and early-18th century papers were reports and assessments – often labelled advijs – written by and for individual administrative officials who sought answers to specific questions; in this case, questions pertaining to the controlled extirpation of plants in the Maluku islands. Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627–1702) was one among several other 17th-century administrators whose written assessments would come to inform administrative decisions almost a century later, in the last, twilight decades of the Company which witnessed heightened inter-imperial competition and a severe economic downturn that had far-reaching consequences in Company posts across the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. This paper attempts to historicize how administrators gauged the life span of natural-historical information within this context and looks at VOC practices of recording and retrieving information on one island across time. How did officials' own practices of reading and interpreting the papered past inform their understanding of contemporary problems and solutions? How did they register a century's worth of time and practice in the papers of those whose practical urgencies differed from their own? Did they ever consider information to be outdated and how did they assess the risks of resuscitating old natural-historical methods for new use? This paper attempts to answer these broader questions while also reflecting on the power of the archive for historical actors whose own prognostications were based on fragments of mediated information from a wildly different past.
4 February Edwin Rose (HPS, Cambridge)
Printing, publishing and circulating books across Joseph Banks's empire
The publication Joseph Banks (1743–1820) is remembered for is the Florilegium, a series of copperplates that represent the plants he and Daniel Solander (1733–1782) collected during the Endeavour voyage to the Pacific (1768–1771), which remained unpublished until the 1980s. However, from the early 1780s, Banks published and oversaw the production of several works concerning the botany of the West Indies, Japan, India, China, Africa and species cultivated in Kew Gardens.

This talk concentrates on two of Banks's books, Reliquiæ Houstounianæ (1781), on the plants of the West Indies, and Icones Selectæ Plantarum (1791), on the plants of Japan. Initially, I examine the processes employed to produce a work of natural history in the late 18th century. Banks's publications were privately printed, using the highest quality materials and most skilled craftsmen available in London. Secondly, I examine the distribution of these materials. Banks had a small number of copies printed that he circulated to a specific group within the Republic of Letters and to those undertaking fieldwork in Asia and the West Indies. An analysis of these publications from their inception to distribution gives a new understanding of the methods and incentives for producing and circulating a work of natural history in late 18th-century Britain.

11 February Sebestian Kroupa (HPS, Cambridge)
Georg Joseph Kamel (1661–1706): natural knowledge in transit between the Philippines and Europe
When stationed in Manila at the turn of the 18th century, the Jesuit pharmacist Georg Joseph Kamel found himself engaged in encounters between European and local traditions of knowledge. Based on his local experience, he produced extensive treatises of Philippine flora, which were later printed in Europe. Focusing on the practices involved in Kamel's knowledge production, this paper will explore Kamel's strategies in translating Philippine nature from local to European contexts. I will open with an examination of Kamel's plant classification system, which reveals categories of knowledge inspired by Filipino indigenous traditions and shows entanglements between European science and local exigencies. However, upon arrival in Europe, these hybrid categories found little understanding among sedentary European naturalists and became lost in translation. Kamel was more successful in his attempts to transplant Philippine medicinal herbs. Through building associations with plants described by canonical authors of the Old World, Kamel sought to 'Galenise' Philippine medicinal plants – that is, to incorporate them into the Galenic medical tradition. In this manner, Kamel endowed plants with clear theoretical foundations comprehensible to European experts and customers and paved the way for their deployment on both local and global scales and markets.
18 February Elena Romero-Passerin (University of St Andrews)
Students, tourists and farmers: the publics of botanic gardens in the 18th century
This talk will look at the visitors of publicly funded botanic gardens in Edinburgh, Florence and Pisa in the second half of the 18th century. Taken together, those three cities hosted five publicly funded botanic gardens. Botanic gardens were originally created to teach botany to university students. However, by the 18th century, the audience for botanic gardens in general had diversified. This paper will show the diversity of the publics of botanic gardens. Botany had become a popular hobby for the elite. Botanic gardens were recognised as important attractions for tourists going on their Grand Tour in Italy. Even the lower classes of society were now invited to wander around the gardens.

Only two of the gardens studied here were university gardens, two were managed by learned societies, and the last one belonged to a museum of natural history. Each of them had different target audiences and different rules about access. This paper will analyse the rules and testimonies about visitors of the gardens to understand what people wanted when they visited a botanic garden as well as what the institutions themselves wanted from their audience. Ultimately it will argue that the gardens' relationship to the public was an important part of what defines them as 'spaces of knowledge'.

25 February John Tweddle (Natural History Museum, London)
Building knowledge of the natural world: the historical and contemporary contributions of citizen science within the UK
Since the 19th century, volunteer communities of amateur-expert naturalists have played a central role in generating scientific understanding of the UK's natural environment, through observing and documenting the natural world. This long and illustrious tradition continues today, with much of our knowledge of the plant and animal species that occur in the UK deriving from the expertise and passion of these long-term networks of volunteer naturalists.

Set against this continuity, the first part of the 21st century has seen a rapid expansion of the broader field of citizen science. Driven by the emergence of digital technologies, pressing scientific need and rising public interest, citizen science has increased in profile and prominence to become a popular pastime and a distinct academic field. Each year, over a million people from across the UK contribute their time, expertise and enthusiasm to an ever growing diversity of research projects relating to the UK's wildlife and environment. For many contributors, this involvement represents their first direct experience of the process of science.

In this talk I will consider the changing landscape of citizen science and highlight some of the opportunities and challenges that this is presenting for both the field of science and the citizen scientists themselves.

4 March Anna Svensson (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm)
The 'dye herbarium': capturing colour in botanical collections
There is an anomaly among the old herbaria in Uppsala. Tucked away on a lower shelf, a smaller collection yields unexpected contents: page after page present colourful skeins of silk and wool samples dyed from lichens. They are the colour samples of the Johannes P. Westring's printed dyer's manual, Svenska Lafvarnas Färghistoria, eller Sättet att använda dem till färgning och annan hushållsnytta (Stockholm, 1805). What is this textile collection doing in the herbarium?

Pondering the relevance of dye-related collections and specimens to the history of botany brings the role of colour to the fore: colour, that fleeting quality of the plant that is soon lost from the preserved specimen. The question of how to capture colour is an old problem, reflected in early modern experiments with different ways of preserving and representing them, including painting specimens and making nature prints. The juxtaposition involved in what we might call the 'dye herbarium' is an opportunity for comparison that highlights shared challenges of working with plants as distinctly local and temporal organisms. Both are concerned with preserving particular elements of plants, which given their transience requires accurate labels and systematic procedures.

These observations are a venture into unfamiliar ground for me as a historian, as they have been informed by my own forays into natural dyeing. Methodologically, this has made me more aware of tensions within hierarchies of knowledge shaping my own interpretive frameworks, broadly informed by the material turn in the history of science.

11 March Patrick Anthony (Vanderbilt University)
Meeting nature halfway: Georg Forster, mining, and the aesthetics of artifice
In 1784, Georg Forster travelled through mining-landscapes in Germany's Harz and Ore Mountains. There he encountered 'a new and rejuvenated Nature'. Steeped in the teachings of the mining elites who guided him, Forster came to see water-, horse- and man-powered industry as a noble human effort to participate in the 'workshop of Nature'. His journals oscillate between hubris and humility: keenly aware of the awesome power of nature evidenced by mine collapses, Forster understood mining as a project of 'fitting', even 'completing', natural landscapes. Following Forster's journey, this talk elucidates the unfamiliar sentimental world of late-18th-century resource extraction, which beguiles two dichotomous historiographical traditions. While some scholars describe the extractive ethos of Forster's generation as a wholesale 'oeconomization of nature', another tradition identifies the turn of the 19th century, with its embrace of holism, as a wellspring of ecological thinking. Indeed, the curious nature of this moment is captured by the fact that so many romantic figures participated in Germany's mining industry – from poets like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Hardenberg ('Novalis') to savants like Henrik Steffens and Alexander von Humboldt. Forster, to whom Humboldt attributed his own holism, helps us dwell in the alterity of a worldview whereby human dominion over nature was to be 'shared with nature'. To that end, this talk grounds the lofty aesthetic meditations of Forster and his contemporaries in the 'working world' of mining, specifically in the hydraulic systems (dams, aqueducts, pumps and hydro-powered ore presses) that epitomized their philosophy of nature.


AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) is a group dedicated to the history of chemistry. While our main focus is historical, we also consider the philosophical, sociological, public and educational dimensions of chemistry. The group meets on Mondays at 5pm in Seminar Room 1. Coordinated by Hasok Chang, and funded by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC).

28 January Karoliina Pulkkinen
Prediction and the periodic table
18 February Stephen Irish
The recognition of pseudomorphism: mineral chemistry as a historical science
11 March Agnes Bolinska and Hasok Chang
Protein structure, X-ray crystallography, and pluralism (discussion of a paper by Sandra Mitchell and Angela Gronenborn)

History of Medicine

Seminars are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm in Seminar Room 1. Tea and biscuits are available from 4.40pm. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Dániel Margócsy.

5 February Hannah Murphy (King's College London)
Surface thinking: skin in early modern medicine
19 February Anita Guerrini (Oregon State University)
Giants and national identity in early modern Europe
12 March Gabor Gelleri (University of Aberystwyth)
Ladies at sea: seasickness and the female body

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Jenny Bangham, Mary Brazelton and Nick Hopwood.

22 January Salim Al-Gailani (HPS, Cambridge)
Folic acid between science, policy and the market: mainstreaming pre-conceptional vitamins in the 1980s and '90s
12 February Elizabeth Hallam (University of Oxford)
Anatomy museum on the move
26 February Mathias Grote (Humboldt University, Berlin)
Total knowledge? Handbooks and encyclopedism in the 20th-century life sciences

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Nick Hopwood and Dániel Margócsy.

29 January Carolin Schmitz (HPS, Cambridge)
From cures to courts of justice: medical encounters, the issue of generation, and social order in early modern Spain
5 March Sally Sheldon (University of Kent)
Changing understandings of the human fetus over five decades of legal abortion


CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) is a network of academics and students working in the philosophy of science in various parts of the University of Cambridge, including the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy. The Wednesday afternoon seminar series features current research by CamPoS members as well as visitors to Cambridge and scholars based in nearby institutions. If you are interested in presenting in the series, please contact Matt Farr (mwef2). If you have any queries or suggestions for other activities that CamPoS could undertake, please contact Huw Price, Jeremy Butterfield or Anna Alexandrova.

Seminars are held on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm in Seminar Room 2.

23 January Lina Jansson (University of Nottingham)
Explanatory directionality
In this talk I will argue that being careful about conditions of application provides a way of recovering explanatory directionality even in the presence of seemingly non-directed physical laws. I will show how this solution can be extended to some unexpected cases such as why we might take certain symmetries to explain conservation laws without taking conservation laws to explain the symmetries. Finally, I will consider whether this approach can be used in the case of, so-called, distinctively mathematical explanations of physical phenomena and argue that it can.
30 January Agnes Bolinska and Joseph Martin (HPS, Cambridge)
Negotiating history: contingency, canonicity and case studies
Objections to the use of historical case studies for philosophical ends fall into two categories. Methodological objections claim that historical accounts and their uses by philosophers are subject to various biases. We argue that these challenges are not special; they also apply to other forms of philosophical reasoning. Metaphysical objections, on the other hand, claim that historical case studies are intrinsically unsuited to serve as evidence for philosophical claims, even when carefully constructed and used, and so constitute a distinct class of challenge. We show that attention to what makes for a canonical case can address these problems. A case study is canonical with respect to a particular philosophical aim when the features relevant to that aim provide a reasonably complete causal account of the results of the historical process under investigation. We show how to establish canonicity by evaluating relevant contingencies using two prominent examples from the history of science: Eddington's confirmation of Einstein's theory of general relativity using his data from the 1919 eclipse and Watson and Crick's determination of the structure of DNA.
6 February James Nguyen (UCL)
Non-literal model interpretations
I suggest that the representational content of a scientific model is determined by a 'key' associated with it. A key allows the model's users to draw inferences about its target system. Crucially, these inferences need not be a matter of proposed similarity (structural or otherwise) to its target, but can allow for much more conventional associations between model features and features to be exported. Although this is a simple suggestion, it has broad ramifications. I point out that it allows us to re-conceptualise what we mean by 'idealisation': just because a model is a distortion of its target (in the relevant respects, and even essentially so), this does not entail that it is a misrepresentation, even with respect to the features it distorts. Rather, we should focus on interpreting the distorted aspects of such models non-literally. I investigate various ways of doing so, and demonstrate that for at least some idealised models, the result is that they are not misrepresentations after all, thereby diffusing various puzzles associated with their use in science.
13 February Peter Epstein (Philosophy, Cambridge)
Spatial experience: more than mere structure
According to a widely-held view of spatial experience known as structuralism, perceptual representations of spatial features are merely structurally isomorphic to abstract Euclidean geometry; they do not themselves comprise substantive Euclidean concepts. Building off of a distinction between geometrical and merely metaphorical spaces developed by Tim Maudlin, I show that this structuralist view fails to explain the way in which we apply our Euclidean concepts to the spatial features we perceive. For, on the structuralist picture, the results of Euclidean geometry would be equally applicable in perception to any set of features isomorphic to Euclidean space. Colours are one such set of features: their variations along the dimensions of hue, saturation and brightness can be used to generate a (metaphorical) colour 'space' that maps onto the structure of Euclidean space. But we do not perceive colours, in spite of their being isomorphic to the features we reason about in Euclidean proof, as instances of Euclidean spatial relations – we do not see groups of objects as, say, square in virtue of their colour properties. It is only when we perceive the literal spatial features of objects – for example, when we see a chessboard as a square – that we take our geometrical concepts to be applicable. This shows that, unlike in the case of colour, the connection between our spatial experience and our geometrical reasoning is more than merely structural.
20 February Milena Ivanova (HPS, Cambridge)
Beauty, truth and understanding
In this paper I explore the epistemic justification of aesthetic values in scientific practice. It is well documented that scientists use aesthetic values in the evaluation and choice of theories they employ. Aesthetic values are not only regarded as leading to practically more convenient theories, but are very often taken to indicate the likelihood of a theory to be true. That is, often scientists place epistemic import on the aesthetic values of theories, deciding whether to commit to a theory in light of its beauty, especially in situation when the empirical data is not available to guide such decisions. The question then arises as to whether beauty can be trusted to be informing our epistemic attitudes towards scientific theories.

I outline some timely defences of the idea that beauty can be a guide to the truth and evaluate whether such defences have been successful. I turn to an alternative explanation for the relevance and importance of beauty in science. I argue that the employment of aesthetic values reflects our own intellectual capacities and provide heuristic guides to achieving understanding.

27 February Inkeri Koskinen (University of Helsinki)
Two types of success: epistemic exchange and societal impact in extra-academic research collaborations
My aim in this paper is to criticise an assumption that is sometimes made explicitly in science policy, but is usually implicit in the literatures on extra-academic expertise and the democratisation of science. According to this assumption, in research collaborations breaking the boundaries of science, success in creating the wanted societal impact requires successful epistemic exchange. I argue that this is not the case, and present a case study as a counterexample. It is possible to succeed in creating the wanted societal impact through extra-academic collaboration while failing in epistemic exchange.

I will begin with an overview of a large and complex development: the democratisation of science and the increase of research collaborations with extra-academic experts. After that, I introduce three measures of success relevant in this context, focusing on the latter two. Following Gibbons et al. (1994) I call the first measure scientific excellence as defined by disciplinary peers. The second is the created societal impact. Its importance is emphasised in virtually all of the literature on the democratisation of science and extra-academic expertise – though the understanding of the nature of societal impact varies greatly. The third measure is epistemic exchange. Researchers provide something to the extra-academic participants in a collaborative project, but also gain something: knowledge and skills from extra-academic experts, a better understanding of the values at stake from citizen participants, or new perspectives and useful criticism from stakeholders (e.g. Epstein 1995; Kitcher 2011; Wylie 2015). The creation of functioning trading zones (Galison 1997) or boundary objects (Star & Griesemer 1989) can be seen as indicators of success in epistemic exchange.

It is often assumed in the literature that success in creating the wanted societal impact requires successful epistemic exchange. I have conducted a case study where I followed a two-year research collaboration between social scientists, journalists and artists. I use the case as a counterexample, and argue that it is possible to create the wanted societal impact through extra-academic collaboration, even if the participants fail in epistemic exchange.

6 March Cancelled
13 March Maarten Steenhagen (Philosophy, Cambridge)
On a central puzzle in philosophical catoptrics
This paper will address one of the central puzzles of philosophical catoptrics, the philosophical study of the optical properties of mirrors. When you look in your bathroom mirror you see your own face. This seems obvious. However, it is also natural to say that what you see is a mirror image of your face. I will assess whether these claims are ultimately compatible. My main aim is to clarify our conception of the relation between mirror images and the reality of which they are images. This will contribute to our understanding of the optical properties of mirrors, but will also help refine currently dominant conceptions of images.

HPS Workshop

Wednesdays, 5–6pm, weekly from 16 January
Organised by Jules Skotnes-Brown, Eoin Carter, Peter Rees and Emilie Skulberg (History workshops); Katy Duncan, Céline Henne and Bobby Vos (Philosophy workshops)

HPS Workshop seeks to break the isolation of graduate research and encourage collaborative thinking by allowing students to present work in progress in a supportive seminar environment. The workshops will have alternate sessions focusing on Philosophy and History, but interdisciplinary presentations are always welcome. After each seminar, we will head to a local pub.

Students are invited to present on any aspect of their research that they are grappling with or desire feedback on, including:

  • Unpacking complicated sources, concepts, or archives
  • Presenting drafts of chapters, conference papers, or publications
  • Proposing new ideas or strategies towards HPS research

The session is comprised of two parts: 20 minutes where the speaker outlines their work in progress (indicating areas that they would like feedback to be based upon) and 40 minutes of discussion. Students interested in presenting in a Philosophy workshop should contact Bobby Vos (bfmv2). Those interested in presenting in a History workshop can contact Peter Rees (pr381).

Images of Science

Lent Term: Wednesdays, 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 23 January (6 sessions)
Sachiko Kusukawa, with Dániel Margócsy, Nick Jardine, Nick Hopwood and Boris Jardine

These graduate seminars will focus on the role of images in the history of science. Images have been central to observational practices, fieldwork, professional identities and scientific arguments. They contribute to our historical understanding of the sciences within visual culture, material culture, collecting and making, and the history of the book. Each seminar will be led by researchers who have worked extensively with images, and will be an opportunity to examine both primary and secondary sources.

  • Session 1: Historiography (Sachiko Kusukawa)
  • Session 2: Art and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (Dániel Margócsy)
  • Session 3: Comely Frontispieces (Nick Jardine)
  • Session 4: Media (Nick Hopwood)
  • Session 5: Paper Instruments (Boris Jardine)
  • Session 6: Student presentations/Round-table discussion (SK and others)

Images of Science on Moodle

Ideologies of Science

Lent Term: Mondays, 11.30am–1pm, weekly from 4 February (6 sessions)
Nick Jardine, with Anna Alexandrova, Mary Brazelton, Stephen John and Richard Staley

These graduate seminars will explore rival conceptions of the nature of science and of its educational, social and political roles. Ideological conflicts considered will include: radical agnostic John Stuart Mill vs conservative Anglican William Whewell on the methods of natural science and its roles in education and politics; liberal Ernst Mach vs conservative Catholic Pierre Duhem on the history and prospects of the sciences; the Society for Freedom in Science vs socialist visions of the functions of science; the 'two cultures' controversy sparked off by C.P. Snow, champion of science education, and F.R. Leavis, champion of literary education; Philip Kitcher and his critics on science and democracy.

Ideologies of Science on Moodle

Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group

The Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group meets biweekly on Thursdays during term time from 11am to 12noon in the Board Room. Readings are focused on topics in cognitive science, biology and philosophy of mind, with topics including learning, memory, consciousness and artificial intelligence, understood from an interdisciplinary perspective. Participants from all disciplines are welcome. Organised by Matthew Crosby, Henry Shevlin, Karina Vold, Lucy Cheke and Marta Halina.

24 January

'Designing for motivation, engagement and wellbeing in digital experience' led by Karina Vold

7 February

'Priors in animal and artificial intelligence: where does learning begin?' led by Matthew Crosby

21 February

'What kind of kind is intelligence?' led by Henry Shevlin

7 March

'What can associative learning do for planning?' led by Lucy Cheke

Twentieth Century Reading Group

The group discusses books and papers relating to the history and historiography of 20th-century science, technology and medicine, broadly construed. We meet on Thursdays, 1pm to 2pm in the Board Room. Organised by Andrew Buskell and Richard Staley.

Everyone is welcome – feel free to bring along your lunch.

This term the Twentieth Century Reading Group focuses most of its meetings on the ontological turn in anthropology, featuring a visit from Martin Holbraad on 24 January and linking to presentations at the Twentieth Century Think Tank from Freddy Foks and Paolo Heywood. (On 7 February, we prepare for Audra Wolfe's visit to the Think Tank.)

Please contact Andrew Buskell (ab2086) if you are unable to access the readings.

24 January
The Ontological Turn, I. Introductions: A Cantabrigian Movement? (With Martin Holbraad)

Key readings:

  • Paolo Heywood. 2018. 'The ontological turn: school or style?' In Matei Candea (ed.) Schools and styles of anthropological theory. London: Routledge.
  • Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen. 2017. The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition. Ch. 1 'The Ontological Turn in Anthropology'.

Further readings:

  • Adam Reed. 2016. 'Postscript: Taking the Ontological Turn Personally'. In Bjørn Enge Bertelsen and Synnøve Bendixsen (eds.) Critical Anthropological Engagements in Human Alterity and Difference. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 295–301.

7 February
Political Histories of the Apolitical

  • Audra Wolfe. 2018. Freedom's Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, chap. 5.

21 February
The Ontological Turn, II. Methods of the Ontological Turn (With Matei Candea)

Key readings:

  • Amira Henare, Martin Holbraad, and Sari Wastell. 2007. 'Introduction: Thinking Through Things'. In Amira Henare, Martin Holbraad, and Sari Wastell (eds.) Thinking Through Things: Theorising artefacts ethnographically. London: Routledge, pp. 1–31.
  • Matei Candea. 2017. 'We Have Never Been Pluralist'. In Pierre Charbonnier, Gildas Salmon, and Peter Skafish (eds.) Comparative Metaphysics: Ontology After Anthropology. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

7 March
The Ontological Turn, III. STS, Anthropology and Actor-Network Theory

Key readings:

  • Anna Tsing. 2010. 'Worlding the Matsutake Diaspora: Or, Can Actor-Network Theory Experiment with Holism?' In Ton Otto and Nils Bubandt (eds.) Experiments in Holism: Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 47–66.
  • Steve Woolgar and Javier Lezaun. 2013. 'The wrong bin bag: A turn to ontology in science and technology studies?' Social Studies of Science, 43(3): 321–340.

Further readings:

  • Matei Candea. 2018. 'No actor, no network, no theory: Bruno Latour's anthropology of the moderns.' In Matei Candea (ed.) Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory. London: Routledge, pp. 209–223.

Philosophy of Psychology and Psychiatry Reading Group

We meet on Fridays, 11am–12noon in the Board Room. Organised by Riana Betzler and Joe Gough.

Our theme this term is 'Skills and Skill Acquisition'.

18 January

Ryle, G. (1946). Knowing how and knowing that. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 46, 1–16.

25 January

Stanley, J. & Williamson, T. (2001). Knowing how. Journal of Philosophy, 98, 411–444.

1 February

Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). Chapter 1: Five Steps from Novice to Expert (pp. 16–51). Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer. New York: The Free Press.

8 February

Fridland, E. (2014). They've Lost Control: Reflections on Skill. Synthese, 91(12), 2729–2750.

15 February

Ackerman, P. L. (2007). New Developments in Understanding Skilled Performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(5), 235–239.

22 February

Dreyfus, H. L. & Dreyfus, S. E. (2004). The Ethical Implications of the Five-Stage Skill-Acquisition Model. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 24(3), 251–264.

1 March

Annas, J. (1995). Virtue as a skill. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 3(2), 227–43.

8 March

Carraccio, C. L., Benson, B. J., Nixon, L. J., & Derstine, P. L. (2008). From the Educational Bench to the Clinical bedside: Translating the Dreyfus Developmental Model to the Learning of Clinical Skills. Academic Medicine, 83(8), 761–767.

The Intersection of Gender, Race and Disability with Philosophy of Science

This new reading group meets on Mondays, 2–3pm, in the Board Room. Organised by Azita Chellappoo (asc63).

Week 1 (21 January)

Kidd, I. J., & Carel, H. (2018). Healthcare Practice, Epistemic Injustice, and Naturalism. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, 84, 211–233.

Week 2 (28 January)

Howard, A., & Borenstein, J. (2018). The ugly truth about ourselves and our robot creations: The problem of bias and social inequity. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(5), 1521–1536.

Week 3 (4 February)

Delgado, A. N. (2018). Science, Politics and the Production of Biological Knowledge: New Trends and Old Challenges. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 49(3), 467–473.

Week 4 (11 February)

Weasel, L. H. (2004). Feminist intersections in science: Race, gender and sexuality through the microscope. Hypatia, 19(1), 183–193.

Week 5 (18 February)

Spencer, Q. (2015). Philosophy of race meets population genetics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 52, 46–55.

Week 6 (25 February)

Duster, T. (2015). A post‐genomic surprise. The molecular reinscription of race in science, law and medicine. The British Journal of Sociology, 66(1), 1–27.

Week 7 (4 March)

Almassi, B. (2010). Disability, functional diversity, and trans/feminism. IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 3(2), 126–149.

Week 8 (11 March)

'Poetry is not a luxury: Poetry as Epistemic Resource' (To be circulated)

Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

The reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.30pm to 6.30pm in the Board Room. Organised by Joe Martin (jdm205) and Matt Farr (mwef2).

This term, we will address the theme of time, focusing on two books:

Both are available at the Whipple, and as e-books through iDiscover.

22 January

Part 1 (pp. 3–52) of The Physicist and the Philosopher

29 January

Chapters 4, 12 and 15 of The Physicist and the Philosopher

5 February

Chapters 20, 24 and 25 of The Physicist and the Philosopher

12 February

Part 4 and the postface of The Physicist and the Philosopher

19 February

Chapters 1 & 2 of What Makes Time Special?

26 February

Chapters 3, 4 & 5 of What Makes Time Special?

5 March

Chapters 6, 7 & 8 of What Makes Time Special?

12 March

Chapters 11, 12, 14 of What Makes Time Special?

Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress

This is a termly forum for early career scholars to discuss their work-in-progress. We usually discuss two pieces of work at each session.

If you would like to participate, please email the organisers, Justin Rivest (jr723) and Carolin Schmitz (cs2003).

Meetings are held in the Board Room at the start of each term:

  • Tuesday 2 October, 5–8pm
  • Tuesday 15 January, 5–8pm
  • Tuesday 23 April, 5–8pm (TBC)

Convened by Lauren Kassell, Silvia De Renzi (OU), Elaine Leong (MPI) and Dániel Margócsy.

Casebooks Therapy

Organiser: Lauren Kassell

'Casebooks Therapy' is an informal reading group for those interested in using the manuscripts of Simon Forman and Richard Napier in their research.

The aim of the reading group is to improve the palaeography skills of those who attend, as well as to provide guidance about how to make sense of Forman's and Napier's records. No familiarity with early modern handwriting is necessary, and the group is open to all. Attendees are invited to suggest a particular page or case from the casebooks that they have trouble reading to work through collaboratively. Participants should bring a laptop.

If you are interested in attending, please email Lauren Kassell (ltk21).

German Therapy

German Therapy will be meeting weekly on Fridays, 10–11am in the Board Room starting on 22 February 2019 for the rest of Lent Term. Given enough interest, we will continue in the Easter Term (in a time slot to be confirmed). The focus will be on academic reading, combined with various other learning activities. Led by Carolin Schmitz, organised by Hasok Chang.

Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet on Fridays, 3.00 to 4.30pm in the Board Room, to translate and discuss a text from the history of science, technology or medicine. This is an opportunity to brush up your Latin by regular practice, and if a primary source is giving you grief, we'd love to help you make sense of it over tea and biscuits!

To be added to the mailing list, or to suggest a text, please contact Arthur Harris.

Manchu Therapy

The Manchu Therapy group meets fortnightly on Tuesdays, from 10.00 to 11.00am, in the Board Room. In Lent Term we meet on 22 January, 5 February, 19 February and 5 March.

Manchu Therapy is an informal group for those who have an interest in the Manchu language, or who are working with Manchu documents, to learn more and improve their reading skills. (See this brief description of the Manchus and the Manchu language.) Every other week, we will meet to read texts together. All are welcome.

For more information or to be added to the mailing list, please contact Mary Brazelton.

Greek Therapy

Greek Therapy meets every Wednesday during term time in the Board Room from 5.30 to 7pm.

We are an informal group for beginners and for experienced readers of Greek seeking to brush up their skills – all levels are welcome. Sessions usually involve a basic grammar session at the beginning followed by reading through a more advanced text. This term we will continue to read selections from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

For more information or to be added to the mailing list, please email Liz Smith.