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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

Seminars take place on Zoom on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm UK time unless otherwise stated.

Organised by Helen Anne Curry and Sam Robinson.

21 January
Christopher Clarke (CRASSH Cambridge and Erasmus University, Rotterdam)
How does process tracing work?

Political scientists working in the qualitative tradition claim to be using a method that they call process tracing. They claim that process tracing is a method of causal inference similar to that used by historians, a method that has a distinct logic from the statistical logic used by social scientists working in the quantitative tradition. But it's unclear what this logic is. I suggest that there are two types of process tracing: (a) process tracing to test a 'start-end' hypothesis, and (b) process tracing as an end in itself. While the logic of this first type of process tracing is easy enough to uncover, the logic of this second type of process tracing is more mysterious. I make some tentative proposals. The upshot is that, although process tracing is indeed a distinctive method of causal inference, it has much more in common with quantitative/statistical inference than its advocates currently recognize.

28 January
Polly Mitchell (King's College London)
Truth and consequences

In his 1987 paper 'Truth or Consequences', Dan Brock candidly describes his experience working as an in-house philosopher with the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine. Brock asserts that there is a deep conflict between the goals and virtues of philosophical scholarship and public policymaking; whereas the former is concerned with the search for truth, notwithstanding the social consequences thereof, the latter must be primarily concerned with promoting good consequences. He argues that when philosophers are actively engaged in policy-making, they must shift their primary goal from truth to the policy consequences of their actions. I will argue that while Brock is right to highlight the tensions between scholarly and public philosophy, his conclusion that these tensions amount to a 'deep conflict' reflects a needlessly pessimistic view of the possible shape and nature of applied philosophy. I will sketch out an account of applied philosophy which denies the need to choose between truth and consequences. Consideration of the nuance and complexity of the political and social landscape in which philosophical practice takes place is not distinct from philosophical practice but, on the contrary, a crucial part of applied philosophy. Applied philosophy, far from representing a dilution of gold-standard philosophical methods, can be understood to embrace a distinctive way of doing philosophy – one which sees truth and consequences as compatible ends.

4 February
Josie Gill (University of Bristol)
Race, science and literary studies in the 21st century

In this talk I will consider the ways in which narratives from genetic science have been used to frame approaches to race in literary studies. I will interrogate the presumed anti-racism of this framing, and how this use of science disrupts contemporary theoretical assumptions about the relationship between the disciplines- namely that literary scholars tend to be critical or sceptical of science. I will argue that reading contemporary fiction alongside, rather than in opposition to, genetic science, enables us to apprehend the biofictional nature of race itself, and the cultural and literary contexts in which racial scientific ideas – including those that are situated as anti-racist – arise.

11 February
Sixteenth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine
Sasha Turner (Johns Hopkins University)
Doctors v. midwives: Caribbean medical encounters in the age of pronatal abolition

Note: this will take place from 4.00 to 5.30pm

Measuring, experimenting on, and dissecting sick and dead black bodies, physicians, scientists and naturalists claimed expertise to prove and document racial differences. Racial science bolstered slavery's social order and white medical authority by scientifically rendering blacks as inferior to whites and therefore incapable of contributing much to society beyond brute labour. Uncovering the invention of racial science remains important to disrupting the tendency to ignore the bonds between medicine and slavery. And yet, how do we acknowledge the debt modern medicine owes to Africans and their descendants when the archive from which we are to produce knowledge of such debt was designed in exclusionary terms? How do we reconnect medicine to transformative transatlantic social and cultural interactions when it untethers itself from the quotidian? This methodological reflection explores how we might approach non-traditional medical history sources, specifically plantation slavery and abolitionist records, to reveal how politics and culture shaped medicine. It examines how the debates to end the slave trade and the interaction between enslaved midwives and learned, expatriate physicians influenced medical practice, ideas and regulation.

18 February
Tiago Saraiva (Drexel University)
Guerrilla warfare as sampling: Amílcar Cabral, African independence and the writing of transnational history of science

The paper follows the convoluted transnational historical trajectories of sampling techniques in the 20th century between the United States, Southern Europe and West Africa. It makes the case for acknowledging the historical relevance of statistics in imagining political alternatives to capitalist and colonial forms of relating to the land. Sampling first embodied emancipatory promises in the New Deal enabling the reform of American agriculture to serve wider constituencies and restore the land it relied on. The first part of the text explores the emergence of sampling techniques in the Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State University and the process through which the extended federal network of the United States Department of Agriculture made such methods into the watermark of a major experiment with American democracy in the late 1930s. The second part follows the trajectories of sampling out of the US into Southern Europe after World War II through the work of American experts that transitioned from New Deal agencies into FAO (the UN food organization) advancing statistics as the basis for European reconstruction under American hegemony. The paper ends by discussing how sampling methods learned by Amílcar Cabral in Portugal from UN experts and later applied in the agricultural survey of the colony of Guinea Bissau became instrumental for his role as leader of the guerrilla that would lead to the country's independence in 1973.

25 February
Chiara Ambrosio (University College London)
Drawing processes

In their recent manifesto for a processual philosophy of biology, John Dupré and Daniel Nicholson (2018) propose a shift – at least as far as biology and the life sciences are concerned – from substances to processes. Recent work across art, biology and process ontology (Anderson, Dupré  and Wakefield, 2019) has begun to build a visual epistemology of processes by bringing the practice of drawing, as a pathway to process thinking, back into the laboratory. In this talk, I contribute to this emergent line of philosophical inquiry, and in particular I propose a pragmatist epistemology for drawing processes. Pragmatism, which I consider in its original delineation by the philosopher and scientist Charles S. Peirce, is uniquely placed – as a processual philosophy with a strong grounding in scientific practice – to contribute to this new area of investigation. My argument will focus on the simplest building block of drawing: the humble line. Combining an established body of literature in the field of visual studies (Ingold 2007, 2015; Faietti and Wolf 2015) with theoretical pragmatist writings as well as examples of drawings by Peirce himself, I will argue that the activity of 'making visible' through line drawing counts as a form of experimentation in a distinctively Peircean, pragmatist sense –  and it does so in a way that cuts across the dichotomy between 'static' entities or mechanisms and 'dynamic' processes. 

4 March
Richard Noakes (University of Exeter)
Messaging Mars and the dead: technology and fiction in Britain, 1900–1939

In his 1948 novel No Highway, Nevil Shute featured a protagonist Theodore Honey who, like Shute himself, was a British aeronautical engineer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. When not researching aircraft design, Honey also dabbled in the spiritualist practice of automatic writing which ultimately helped him locate a plane that had crashed owing to a fatal design flaw about which he had been warning his employers. Both Honey and Shute capture aspects of early twentieth British engineering culture overlooked in the historiography, not least engineers' interest in writing fiction and in other-worldly communication (both planetary and spiritual varieties). We tend to associate this convergence of engineering, other-worldly communication and fiction in the 1920s and '30s with cheap American magazines or 'pulps' that came to define science fiction as literary genre. As John Cheng has argued, these serials encouraged readers to write their own fiction and pursue more speculative lines of scientific and engineering research typically neglected by professionals. Although Britain didn’t have its dedicated science fiction magazines until the late 1930s there were many British authors writing novels and short fiction featuring science and engineering in the three decades after H. G. Wells's 'scientific romances' of the 1890s. This paper analyses the careers of those authors with strong engineering and scientific backgrounds and what insights this yields into questions of the functions of the technological imagination, the relationships between 'amateur' and 'professional' engineering, and the foundation, in 1933, of the British Interplanetary Society.  

11 March
David Teira (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia)
Data agnosticism in medical emergencies: a tale from the past

Historians of statistics have mostly focused on the algorithms for data analysis in clinical trials. We do not know much yet on the history of those data: for instance, how the data should be formatted to be considered credible. Our claim in this paper is that without prior agreement on what counts as proper data, not even 100 years of hindsight will close a controversy on a medical treatment. Our case study will be Jaime Ferrán's three submissions to the Prix Bréant, an award of the French Academy of Sciences to incentivize research on cholera. Ferrán, a Spanish independent physician, claimed to have discovered a vaccine in 1884. The following year, he tried it on thousands of patients during the cholera outburst in Valencia. The results of his trial sparked a controversy in Spain and abroad on the vaccine's efficacy, that continues today. Some historians consider Ferrán's experiments persuasive enough and accuse the Academy of chauvinism for not awarding him the Breant. Our counterfactual question is: what sort of data would have closed the debate? Drawing on archival records of the award, we suggest that Ferrán failed to format his data in a way that conformed to the emerging standards for data presentation at the Academy. This led the Bréant jury to remain agnostic about Ferrán's vaccine efficacy. As the controversy on Ferrán's vaccine shows, this epistemic agnosticism is rarely appreciated. Furthermore, with an unfolding emergency, it is often considered morally indefensible. Yet, our lack of agreement on Ferrán suggests that, without a prior agreement on what counts as proper data, no amount of moralizing will bring about a consensus on experimental outcomes.


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, 3.30–4.30pm, with informal conversations before and after the formal session for those who are interested. Further information, reading materials and links for the online meetings will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) or Marta Halina (mh801) if you would like to be included on the list.

We are also pleased to continue coordinating our activities with the new 'Coffee with Clinicians' series, organised by the 'Talking as Cure?' research network at CRASSH. For more information about this network, please contact Sahanika Ratnayake (tsr31).

29 January Coffee with Clinicians
Anastasios Dimopoulos (Locum Consultant in General Adult Psychiatry, East London NHS Foundation Trust)
Intersubjectivity as a unifying philosophical drive for mental health practice in the 21st century
12 February Rick Welch (HPS, Cambridge)
Life: A study in words
26 February Coffee with Clinicians
Sophie Ellis (Criminology, Cambridge)
What is forensic psychology?
12 March John Krakauer (Neurology and Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University) and David L. Barack (Neuroscience, Columbia University)
Two views on the cognitive brain


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.

Seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm on Zoom. Organised by L. Joanne Green (ljg54).

1 February
Sarah Easterby-Smith (University of St Andrews)
Enlightenment science in Surat? Interpreting the collections of Anquetil de Briancourt and family (1773–1779)

This paper examines the personal collection of books and scientific instruments formed by Étienne Jean Anquetil de Briancourt (1727–1793) during his residence in Surat, Gujarat. De Briancourt, younger brother of the more famous French orientalist Anquetil Duperron, was French consul at the comptoir from 1773 until 1779. Like all consuls, his official duties were concerned with the management of mercantile matters. He also interceded – somewhat dramatically – within local politics. However, an inventory of de Briancourt's personal effects tells a very different story: together with his family, De Briancourt compiled a scholarly collection that was more characteristic of a Parisian intellectual than of a merchant living on the north-east coast of India. Working with the evidence contained in the inventory, this paper asks what it meant for a French family to compose a 'European' scholarly collection in a trading post such as Surat, and it examines the relationship between the de Briancourt collecting activities and the scientific aspirations of the Absolutist French state.

15 February
Alexander Etkind (European University Institute at Florence)
A natural history of evil

Based on his forthcoming book, Nature's Evil: A Cultural History of Natural Resources (Polity Press), Alexander Etkind will talk about non-human agency of sugar, fur, hemp, oil and other natural resources in their relations with the changing character of the state. In their interaction with technology and labour, different natural resources lead to different social institutions. Revising the contemporary perspectives on the classical problem of evil, this bottom-up narrative constitutes the new subdiscipline that Etkind calls Cultural History of Natural Resources.

22 February
Kaleigh Hunter (University of Wuppertal)
Gardens in ink: engraved title-pages of botanical treatises from 1450 to 1700

The broad aim of this project is to explore the relationship between natural history and visual methods of communication through the engraved title-pages of early modern European printed books. More specifically, my research will focus on the roles that these images played in the development of botany as a field of study, focusing on the rise and decline in popularity of the printed herbal in the early-1500s to late-1600s. In this talk, I will give an introduction to this ongoing research project and a look into the types of themes that can be seen on these title-pages.

1 March
Edwin Rose (University of Cambridge)
Books, botany and the organisation of nature in 18th-century Cambridge

In July 1760 Dr Richard Walker of Trinity College transferred £1600 to the University of Cambridge for the purpose of founding 'a public Botanic or physic garden'. These funds purchased the old Augustinian Priory and its grounds, what we now know as the New Museums Site, land occupied by the Cambridge Botanic Garden between 1760 and 1846. In 1762 Thomas Martyn (1735–1825) was appointed as the third Professor of Botany who immediately embarked upon arranging the Botanic Garden according to the Linnaean system of classification; the first institution of its kind to be founded on Linnaean principles in Britain.

In this talk I examine how printed books and herbarium specimens, many of which are still held by Cambridge University Library and Cambridge University Herbarium, were used to manage information on the living plants in the Cambridge Botanic Garden between 1760 and 1820. This was the responsibility of Martyn and a succession of curators who navigated between the living plants, dried specimens and an annotated library of approximately 1000 volumes used to identify, classify, describe and arrange species represented in the garden and the specimens held in Martyn's Botanical Museum. This system for managing information was designed to accommodate the increasing numbers of living plants, specimens and seeds Martyn and his curators received from a global network extending across the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, many of which they cultivated in the Cambridge Botanic Garden and arranged according to the Linnaean framework.

8 March
Chris Wingfield (Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas)
Dithipa: (re)collecting animals and their depictions from southern Africa's Missionary Road

The association of ethnography and natural history collections in the museum of the London Missionary Society during the early 19th century has been interpreted as suggestive of a European vision 'of people who lived in unity with nature'. Through a focus on southern Africa, this paper asks whether these collections can also provide an insight into the ways in which animals were understood in the contexts from which they were collected. Can we read the predominance of large mammals from southern Africa as indicative of the significance of large mammals for precolonial southern African societies, or are they simply indicative of European concerns? It will be suggested that a consideration of artefactual forms, and in particular the carved ivory handled knives, dithipa, suggest a precolonial cultural significance for wild animals that was significantly altered by the ecological transformations associated with missionary and colonial encounters.

15 March
Andreas Weber (University of Twente)
Governance of and by paper: natural history and the Dutch Empire in Southeast Asia, 1800–1850

The unruly materiality of 'paper' is an intriguing vehicle to examine the relationship between natural history, chemistry and governance in the early 19th-century Dutch Empire. Owing to high costs for imported raw materials, changing patterns of consumption and trade restrictions, civil servants, printers, suppliers of writing equipment, and owners of paper mills were forced to find ways to secure the circulation of paper between Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as between colonial outposts in the far-flung Malay Archipelago. While government officials in The Hague and Batavia tried to streamline paper flows in offices and print shops, engaged citizens, entrepreneurs, naturalists and chemical savants such as Adriaan Rogge, Jan Kool and Petrus Johannes Kasteleyn started to tinker with and reflect upon domestic and colonial surrogates which were supposed to replace costly raw materials (e.g. linen rags) from elsewhere. By conceptualizing governance as the evolving consequence of the circulation of paper-related actors, expertise and materials, this paper works towards a history of paper in which a 'mentalist' and a 'materialist' (Latour) approach is combined.


History of Medicine Seminars

Seminars, supported by Wellcome, are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm on Zoom. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Lauren Kassell.

19 January Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress
9 February Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress
23 February Jack Hartnell (University of East Anglia)
Wound Man: three early modern afterlives of a medieval surgical image
9 March Anna Bonnell Freidin (University of Michigan)
Birth, fate, and Roman futures
Joint meeting with Generation to Reproduction

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Mary Brazelton, Helen Curry and Staffan Müller-Wille.

26 January Amir Teicher (Tel Aviv University)
The concept of 'disease carrier' in Western medicine
16 February Elizabeth Hoover (University of California, Berkeley)
Seed sovereignty and 'our living relatives' in Native American community farming and gardening
16 March Aro Velmet (University of Southern California)
The making of a Pastorian empire: tuberculosis and bacteriological technopolitics in French colonialism and international science, 1890–1940

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani and Lauren Kassell.

2 February Mackenzie Cooley (Hamilton College)
Renaissance eugenics
2 March Elizabeth O'Brien (Johns Hopkins University)
As small as a grain of barley: the Bourbon state and the caesarean operation in New Spain, 1771–1810s
9 March Anna Bonnell Freidin (University of Michigan)
Birth, fate, and Roman futures
Joint meeting with Early Science and Medicine



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 fortnightly on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm on Zoom.

10 February
Adrian Erasmus (HPS, Cambridge)
P-hacking: its costs and when it is warranted

P-hacking is a misuse of analytic techniques that may lead to exaggerated experimental results. While it is widely condemned, some have suggested that there are some contexts in which the practice may be warranted. I have three aims in this paper. First, I provide a sorely needed definition of p-hacking. Second, I use philosophical tools from decision theory to articulate the prevalent position on p-hacking and illustrate how serious its effects on statistical results can be. And third, I defend the view that there are scenarios in which p-hacking may be warranted, with a particular focus on non-epistemic judgements.

24 February
Kourken Michaelian (Université Grenoble Alpes)
From authenticism to alethism: against McCarroll on observer memory

In opposition to the natural view that observer perspective memory is bound to be inauthentic, McCarroll (2018) argues for the surprising conclusion that memories in which the subject sees himself in the remembered scene are, in many cases, true to the subject's original experience of the scene. By means of a careful reconstruction of his argument, this paper shows that McCarroll does not succeed in establishing his conclusion. It shows, in fact, that we ought to come to the opposed conclusion that, while it may be possible in principle for observer perspective memory to be authentic, this is unlikely ever to happen in practice. The natural view, in short, is more or less right.

3 March
Lena Zuchowski (University of Bristol)
What kind of models are deep learning algorithms?

I will introduce a novel conceptual framework for the analysis of scientific modelling. The framework will be used to distinguish and comparatively analyse three different ways of model construction: vertical from covering theory and empirical knowledge about a given target system; horizontal through the systematic variation or transfer of existing models; and diagonal through a combination of vertical and horizontal construction steps. I will then apply this framework to analyse the construction of deep learning algorithms and will argue that they can be interpreted as the automated, vertical, bottom-up construction of a sequence of scientific models. Furthermore, I will maintain that the practice of transfer learning can be interpreted as horizontal model construction.

17 March
Ellen Fridland (King's College London)
Practical intentions, action schemas, and strategic control in skill

While much of skilled action happens 'under the radar' it is important to acknowledge that a significant portion of skill also involves good old-fashioned thinking. For instance, there is no way to be a skilled tennis player, if you don't know that you have to, e.g., pick up the racket and swing it towards a ball. But not all personal-level knowledge about skill is of this kind. In this talk, I'll argue that skills are organized and structured by embodied, strategic, personal-level intentions that guide skill instantiations. These intentional structures, on my account, are action schemas that function both to represent and guide skilled action. Relying on the mental practice literature, I'll maintain that skilled agents uniquely possess strategic, practical, organizing intentions that guide their skilled actions in appropriate and effective ways. It follows that skilled agents are better than novices not only at implementing the intentions that they have but also at forming the right intentions. That is, skilled agents have strategic control.


The Dialectic

The Dialectic is a new, experimental seminar series premised on the idea that the format of a constructive dialogue (not: debate) is uniquely well-suited for the exposition and analysis of unorthodox/contentious views in the history and philosophy of science (broadly construed).

Each session shall take the form of a dialogue between a Proponent and an Opponent. The Proponent shall advance a thesis, about which they will be questioned by the Opponent. The Opponent may seek to rebut the Proponent's thesis, defend their own counter-thesis, or simply question the Proponent so as to better understand their reasoning.

In the academic year 2020–2021, The Dialectic will be held on a termly basis. For questions, please contact the organiser: Bobby Vos (bfmv2).

19 February, 11am–12.30pm, Venue: Zoom
Discussants: Henry Shevlin (proponent) and Tom McClelland (opponent)
Thesis: Conscious AI will be with us by the end of this century


The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene (Climate Histories) offers alternating sessions in the related fields of climate history and Anthropocene studies. Meetings will involve a mix of invited speakers and reading group sessions held fortnightly on Thursdays, 1–2pm UK time on Zoom, meeting on the odd weeks of term. All are welcome!

Note: Most resources are available online through the University Library; if you have trouble locating them, please contact the organisers.

Organised by Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

21 January: Living with Gaia

  1. Latour, Bruno, and Timothy M. Lenton. 'Extending the Domain of Freedom, or Why Gaia Is So Hard to Understand.' Critical Inquiry 45, no. 3 (2019): 659–80.
  2. Todd, Zoe. 'An Indigenous Feminist's Take On The Ontological Turn: "Ontology" Is Just Another Word For Colonialism.' Journal of Historical Sociology 29 (2016): 4–22.

4 February: Dania Achermann (University of Bern)
'Going deep and scaling up: How ice core research has shaped climate understanding'

Much of today's knowledge about global climate behaviour draws on studies about past climate changes. Ice cores have become key study objects to reconstruct the climate changes of the last hundreds of thousands of years. Unlike sea sediment cores or tree rings, they can provide high temporal resolution of climate information and thus fill the otherwise vague deep past with concrete climatological events. Therefore, since its advent in the 1950s, ice core paleoclimatology contributed significantly to a temporal and spatial expansion of climate understanding far beyond human time scales. However, it has taken enormous technological, logistical and financial efforts to drill vertically into remote polar glaciers, transport the ice safely to the laboratories and translate proxy data into climate information. In my presentation I will shed light on the disciplinary and theoretical origins of this new vertical glaciology, discuss how it changed glaciological and climatological research practice, and analyse how it has shaped the temporal concept of global climate and climate change.

18 February: Science fiction and ecotopias

  1. Garforth, Lisa. 'Environmental Futures, Now and Then: Crisis, Systems Modeling, and Speculative Fiction.' Osiris 34, no. 1 (2019): 238–57.
  2. Kyle P. Whyte. 'Indigenous science (fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral dystopias and fantasies of climate change crises.' Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1 (2018): 224–242.
  3. Morgan, Ruth. 'Imagining a Greenhouse Future: Scientific and Literary Depictions of Climate Change in 1980s Australia.' Australian Humanities Review 57 (2014): 43–60.

Optional science fictions:

  1. Delillo, Don. Ch. 21, 'The Airborne Toxic Event,' pp. 107–56 in White Noise (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998 [1985]) (An online copy is available here – the chapter in question is on pp. 51–75)
  2. Ballard, J.G. 'The Illuminated Man,' (1987) from The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (New York: Norton, 2009)

4 March: Multispecies histories

  1. Tsing, Anna. 'The Buck, the Bull, and the Dream of the Stag: Some Unexpected Weeds of the Anthropocene'Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 42 vol 1 (2017): 3–21.
  2. Adams, Matthew, 'Between the whale and the kauri tree: multi-species encounters, indigenous knowledge and ethical relationality in the Anthropocene' in Anthropocene Psychology: Being Human in a More-than-human World (London: Routledge, 2020).


  1. Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt, Andrew S. Mathews, and Nils Bubandt. 'Patchy Anthropocene: Landscape Structure, Multispecies History, and the Retooling of Anthropology.' Current Anthropology 60, no. S20 (2019): S186–S197.
  2. Wolfe, Cary and Vincaine Despret. 'Foreword,' and 'Afterword: It is an entire world that has disappeared,' in Extinction Studies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).


The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse is a meeting place for students and researchers interested in the history and sociology of plants, food, agriculture and environment to explore how science and technology shape what we grow and eat.

The regular programme of papers and discussions is curated in junction with the project From Collection to Cultivation, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

We meet fortnightly on Thursdays, 1–2pm, via Zoom. All welcome! If you're outside the Department and keen to join us, please email

Organised by Helen Anne Curry and Jessica J. Lee.

Week 2 (28 January)

This week, we'll discuss a broad range of readings on plant classification, invasion ecologies, and 'weeds'.

Further reading (optional):

Week 4 (11 February)

This week, we'll discuss readings on Indigenous food sovereignty (in advance of HPS guest speaker Elizabeth Hoover).

Week 6 (25 February)

This week, we'll discuss readings on plant health, quarantine, and epidemics, ahead of our speaker Stuart McCook on 11 March.

Week 8 (11 March)

Speaker: Stuart McCook

This week, we'll hear from speaker Stuart McCook from the University of Guelph, with a talk titled 'A Fragile Abundance: The Roots of Unsustainability in the Global Coffee Industry'.


Scientific Creativity Reading Group

This reading group will meet fortnightly on Fridays at 10am on Zoom. If you are interested in attending, contact the organiser Milena Ivanova (mi342).

5 February

  • Hills, A. and Bird, A. (2018). 'Against Creativity', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
  • Sánchez-Dorado (2020) 'Novel and Worth: Creativity as a Thick Epistemic Concept', European Journal for Philosophy of Science.

19 February

5 March

19 March


Decolonise HPS Working Group

The Decolonise HPS Working Group is a staff-student collaboration that considers issues surrounding decolonisation in the Department and the field(s) of HPS more broadly, as well as related issues. Discussion includes such topics as curriculum reform, inclusive pedagogy, and collaborations on similar projects with other such groups in the University. The group currently meets every other Friday at 2pm on the 'Decolonise HPS' channel of Teams. All students and interested members of the University are welcome to attend; contact Mary Brazelton with any questions.


Power and Identity in Philosophy of Science

The Power and Identity group meets every two weeks on Mondays at 2pm on Teams. Organised by Rory Kent (rdk32).

We will discuss the following readings:

1 February

Sharyn Clough, 'Charity, Peace, and the Social Epistemology of Science Controversies', in Social Epistemology and Relativism, eds. Natalie Ashton, Martin Kusch, Robin McKenna, and Katharina Sodoma (London: Routledge, 2020). Available online.

15 February

Nancy S Jecker, 'Nothing to Be Ashamed Of: Sex Robots for Older Adults with Disabilities', Journal of Medical Ethics (forthcoming). Available online.

1 March

Frances Hemsley, 'Reading Heredity in Racist Environments: Epigenetic Imaginaries in Bessie Head's The Cardinals', Medical Humanities (forthcoming). Available online.

15 March

Nokuthula Hlabangane, 'Can a Methodology Subvert the Logics of its Principal? Decolonial Medications', in Perspectives on Science 26, no. 6 (2018).


Science Communication Reading Group

The Science Communication Reading Group will examine the intersection between issues in HPS and science communication, looking at themes including the history and sociology of science communication, the recent emergence of the 'science' of science communication, and various moral and ethical issues brought about by the complex relationship between science, scientists and society. Each term we will adopt a particular focus on this broad topic. This term's focus will be Science Communication in Practice.

Meetings are held on Mondays, 4–5pm on Zoom. Organised by Grace Field (gef30) and James Dolan (jad67).

Week 1 (25 January)

Dudo, A., Besley, J. C. Making Science Communication More Strategic. Webinar.

Week 2 (1 February)

Jensen Eric A., Gerber Alexander. 2020. 'Evidence-Based Science Communication'. Frontiers in Communication 4: 78.

Week 3 (8 February)

Rubega, M. A., Burgio, K. R., MacDonald, A. A. M., Oeldorf-Hirsch, A., Capers, R. S., Wyss, R. 'Assessment by Audiences Shows Little Effect of Science Communication Training'. 2020. Science Communication.

Week 4 (15 February)

Cave, S., Dihal, K., Drage, E., Mackereth, K. Presentation on 'In His Image: Gendered Representations of AI Scientists and Engineers in Film and Television 1920–2020'.

Week 5 (22 February)

Firestein, Stuart. 2021. 'Sharing the Resources of Ignorance' [Revised second edition; to be circulated.]. In Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies. ed. Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. Abingdon: Routledge. [With Stuart Firestein in attendance.]

Week 6 (1 March)

Bell, Alice R. 2011. 'Science as "Horrible": Irreverent Deference in Science Communication'. Science as Culture 20 (4): 491–512. [With Melanie Keene in attendance.]

Week 7 (8 March)

Vint, Sherryl. 'The Culture of Science'. In The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, ed. Rob Latham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 305–316.

Week 8 (15 March)

Riesch, Hauke. 2015. 'Why Did the Proton Cross the Road? Humour and Science Communication'. Public Understanding of Science 24 (7): 768–75. [With Hauke Riesch in attendance.]



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.

AD HOC has been meeting in various configurations since the summer of 2004, first at UCL and then also in Cambridge since 2010. Since 2008 our activities have been generously supported by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC).

This term we will be continue with the format of online discussion meetings. The focus will be on the latest work on the history of early chemistry and alchemy, and each time we will be joined by the author herself or himself in the discussion.

We will be meeting on Mondays at 5.00–6.30pm. Please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) if you would like to be on the mailing list of the group. Those on the list will receive the links for joining the online meetings, the exact specification or copies of the readings, and all updates on future activities.

1 February Discussion of Jennifer Rampling (Princeton University), The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300–1700
15 February Discussion of Marina Banchetti (Florida Atlantic University), The Chemical Philosophy of Robert Boyle
8 March Discussion of Michael Bycroft (University of Warwick), 'Gems and the Chemical Revolution'


Integrating the History and Philosophy of Science

This intensive reading group aims to discuss how the History and Philosophy of Science can be pursued within an integrated framework. We aim to learn from different approaches that scholars have taken to IHPS and discuss broader methodological questions surrounding them. Our focus equally lies on the general fruitfulness of IHPS as a methodology and its particular potential in different areas of science, history, and philosophy. Participants are required to prepare a significant amount of reading material, which covers a diverse range of contexts, questions, and scientific disciplines.

Meetings are on Mondays, 5–7pm unless otherwise indicated

Organised by Hasok Chang (hc372), Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459), Oscar Westerblad (ow259), and Katy Duncan (ksd37).

Note: During Lent Term, all of our speakers and some of their colleagues will be present during the discussion of their work.

18 January

Jutta Schickore,
(i) About Method: Experimenters, Snake Venom, and the History of Writing Scientifically (Chicago UP, 2017), Introduction and chapters 1–3 and 5–6.

8 February

Theodore Arabatzis,
(i) 'What's in It for the Historian of Science? Reflections on the Value of Philosophy of Science for History of Science', International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 31:1 (2017). 69–82.
(ii) 'Hidden entities and experimental practice: renewing the dialogue between history and philosophy of science', in S. Mauskopf and T. M. Schmaltz (eds.), Integrating History and Philosophy of Science: Problems and Prospects (Springer, 2012).
(iii) Representing Electrons: A biographical approach to theoretical entities (Chicago UP, 2006), chs. 3 and 9.

22 February

Friedrich Steinle,
(i) Exploratory Experiments: Ampère, Faraday, and the Origins of Electrodynamics (Pittsburgh UP, 2016); selections TBC.

Friday 5 March, 1pm

Teru Miyake,
(i) 2017. 'Magnitude, Moment, and Measurement: The Seismic Mechanism Controversy and Its Resolution.' Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Vol. 65–66 (Oct–Dec 2017), 112–120.
(ii) (with George E. Smith). Forthcoming. 'Realism, Physical Meaningfulness, and Molecular Spectroscopy.' In Contemporary Scientific Realism and the Challenge from the History of Science, Timothy Lyons and Peter Vickers, eds., Oxford University Press.
(iii) Forthcoming. 'Residual Phenomena and Nineteenth Century Optics.' In On the Question of Evidence: A Celebration of the Work of George Smith.

All unpublished papers will be circulated through the mailing list.


Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on history and philosophy of social sciences.

The meetings take place on Tuesdays, 2–3pm UK time on Zoom. Organised by Christopher Clarke and Anna Alexandrova.

All are welcome to join, but participants undertake to read the articles ahead of time.

26 January

Greenfield, Patricia M. 'Cultural Change Over Time: Why Replicability Should Not Be the Gold Standard in Psychological Science'. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2017 Sep;12(5):762–771.

Recommended also: 'Why Replication Is Overrated', Uljana Feest, Philosophy of Science 2019 86:5, 895–905.

2 February

O'Neill, J. and Uebel, T. (2004), 'Horkheimer and Neurath: Restarting a Disrupted Debate'. European Journal of Philosophy, 12: 75–105.

9 February

Marion Godman, The Epistemology and Morality of Human Kinds, Routledge 2020 (selections, probably ch 4).

16 February

O'Neill, J. and Uebel, T. (2004), 'Horkheimer and Neurath: Restarting a Disrupted Debate'. European Journal of Philosophy, 12: 75–105.

23 February

Osborne, T. and Rose, N. (1999), 'Do the social sciences create phenomena?: the example of public opinion research'. The British Journal of Sociology, 50: 367–396.

2 March

Chris Clarke book draft 'Chapter 1 – Introduction'

In this introductory chapter, I do three things. First, I identify four questions that lie at the heart of the long-standing controversy between quantitative and qualitative political science about how to hunt causes in the political world. To answer these four questions would be to give an account of the rationale behind quantitative and qualitative causal inference in political science. Second, I introduce the idea of conceptual engineering. I explain how I think conceptual engineering ought to proceed, and why a conceptually engineered concept of causation will be a good basis upon which to build an account of the rationale behind causal inferences in political science. Since conceptual engineering runs contrary to more traditional 'conceptual analysis' in philosophy, this gives political scientists reason to doubt much of the philosophical literature on causation, on which political science methodologists presently rely. Thirdly, I argue that there are good prima facie reasons to think that the role that the concept of causation plays in our reasoning can only be described by using quantitative mental states. So qualitative researchers who want a concept of causation that best serves their aims should be prepared to talk about mental states in quantitative terms.

9 March

Chris Clarke book draft 'Chapter 3 – Causal Reasoning as a Guide to Propensity'

This chapter will define causation in terms of propensities. But I will not define causation as 'probability raising', nor will I define causation in terms of 'interventions'. Instead, my definition will look to the quantitative social sciences for inspiration in defining causation. I will define the meaning of causal hypotheses by showing how causal knowledge can be gained from knowledge of propensities, and of how causal knowledge can then be used to further one's knowledge of propensities. Thus causal reasoning allows one to take knowledge of propensities as an input, and then produce knowledge of propensities as an output. I will show how this overall system of reasoning is a striking innovative and informative one, rather than being unproductively circular. Namely, this overall system of reasoning with causation enables a sophisticated form of inference about propensity that I call intersecting cross-case projection.

16 March

Chris Clarke book draft 'Chapter 4 – Causation and Decision Making'

Chapter 3 examined the role that causal knowledge can play in measuring propensities. Chapter 4 will examine a seemingly distinct role for causal knowledge, namely the role that causal knowledge plays in guiding one's actions when one is making a decision about what action to take. I will argue that this latter action-guiding role is not distinct from the former propensity-measuring role: in fact, this action-guiding role is just a special case of this propensity-measuring role. So, yes, the meaning of causal hypotheses can in part be defined by the role that causal knowledge has to play in guiding an agent's actions. But this decision-guiding role for causal knowledge in no way competes with this propensity-measuring role. Rather it depends upon it. Therefore one cannot point to the action-guiding role of causation as an objection to my argument in Chapter 3.


Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

This reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.30pm to 6pm UK time on Zoom starting on Tuesday 19 January. Organised by Jeremy Butterfield, Matt Farr and Bryan Roberts.

This term, we will alternate draft chapters of Bryan Roberts' Time Reversal book (begun last term) with some readings that are relevant/adjacent to the book chapter themes. For 19 January, we will read Bryan Roberts' book, Chapter 4, on Time, Symmetry and CPT. On 26 January, we will read N. Dewar, 'Sophistication about symmetries' (British Journal of Philosophy of Science 2019). On 2 February, we will read Bryan Roberts, Chapter 5, on Time Reversal Symmetry Violation.

Further information and readings


Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress

This is a forum, supported by the Wellcome Trust, for early career scholars to discuss their work-in-progress. We are open to everyone with a connection to the Department. We usually read work by postdoctoral fellows and advanced doctoral students. The group works best if participants attend on a regular basis.

If you would like to participate, please email the organiser, Dr Carolin Schmitz (cs2003).

Convened by Prof. Lauren Kassell, Dr Silvia De Renzi (OU) and Dr Dániel Margócsy (on leave 2020–21).

Meetings this term will be held virtually:

  • Tuesday 19 January, 5.00–6.30pm
  • Tuesday 9 February, 5.00–6.30pm


Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group

The Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group will be meeting fortnightly on Wednesdays, 3.00–4.30pm on Google Meet. Organised by Ali Boyle (asb69) and Henry Shevlin (hfs35).

Subscribe to our mailing list

27 January 'Which animals matter? Comparing psychological approaches to psychological moral status in non-human systems' (presented by Henry Shevlin)
10 February 'The invention of consciousness' (presented by Nick Humphrey)
24 February 'Intelligence and uncertainty: implications of hierarchical predictive processing for the neuroscience of cognitive ability' (Matthew J. Euler)
10 March 'Group agency and Artificial Intelligence' (Christian List)


Ethno-Science Reading Group

'Ethno-Science' is a reading group dedicated to programmatic and critical texts on the relationship between scientific and local, 'indigenous' or 'native' knowledges. Our starting point will be eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany and zoology as an important strand of nineteenth-century natural history relying on systematic surveys of national and colonial territories, and the eventual consolidation of 'ethno-' disciplines in the twentieth century. The aim is to understand the relationship between reifications and reinterpretations of 'savage', 'indigenous', 'native' or 'primitive' knowledge and corresponding field practices of interrogation and interaction with local informants. We are interested in the putative shifts towards an increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of 'traditional' knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

The meetings take place on Wednesdays from 3 to 4pm. The organisers are Raphael Uchôa and Staffan Müller-Wille.

20 January: Eighteenth-Century Travel Instructions

  • Carl Linnaeus, 'Instructio Peregrinatorum', in Caroli Linnaei Amoenitates Academicae, Seu Dissertationes Variae Physicae, Medicae, Botanicae Antehac Seorsim Editae Nunc Collectae et Auctae, Vol. 5. Stockholm: Laurentius Salvius, 1759), pp. 298–313. An English translation will be provided.
  • Gascoigne, John. 'The Royal Society, Natural History and the Peoples of the "New World(s)", 1660–1800'. The British Journal for the History of Science 42, 4 (2009): 539–62.
  • Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, ch. 1.

17 February: Economic Botany and Zoology in the Nineteenth Century

  • Hooker, William J. 'Botany' in John F. W. Herschel (ed.), A Manual of Scientific Enquiry: Prepared for the Use of Her Majesty's Navy and Adapted for Travellers in General, London: John Murray, (1849): 400–422.
  • Brown, Robert. 'On the vegetable products, used by the north-west American Indians as food and medicine, in the arts, and in superstitious rites'. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh IX (1868): 378–396.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 2007.

17 March: Birth of Ethno-Science around 1900

  • Harshberger, John W. 'The Purposes of Ethno-Botany'. Botanical Gazette 21, no. 3 (1896): 146–54.
  • Castetter E.F. 'Uncultivated native plants used as sources of food'. Ethnobiological Studies in the American Southwest I, Biological Series 4, no. 1 (1935): 1-44. (= University of New Mexico Bulletin 266, Albuquerque).
  • Osseo-Asare, Abena Dove. 'Bioprospecting and Resistance: Transforming Poisoned Arrows into Strophantin Pills in Colonial Gold Coast, 1885–1922', Social History of Medicine, 21.2 (2008), 269–90.


HPS Workshop

Wednesdays, 5–6pm on Teams: HPS Workshop
History sessions organised by Yijie Huang (yh397)
Philosophy sessions organised by Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459)

HPS Workshop seeks to break the isolation of postgraduate 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.

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.

17 March Arthur Harris
Explanation through composition of causes in Greek science


Postgraduate Seminars

The Postgraduate Seminars offer a sustained and systematic introduction to specific cutting-edge areas of research, led by leading experts in those areas.

Images of Science

Thu 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars)
Sachiko Kusukawa (leader)

These 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.

Images of Science on Moodle

Ideologies of Science

Thu 12noon, weeks 5–8 (4 one-hour seminars)
Nick Jardine (leader)

These seminars will explore rival conceptions of the nature of science and of its social and political roles. Ideological conflicts to be considered include: radical agnostic John Stuart Mill vs conservative Anglican William Whewell on the methods of natural science and its proper place in education; 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, feminism and democracy.

18 February Nick Jardine
Introduction, followed by Science and Education: Whewell vs Mill; Mach vs Duhem
25 February Mary Brazelton and Richard Staley
Freedom and Planning in Science
4 March Nick Jardine
The Two Cultures: Huxley vs. Arnold and Snow vs. Leavis
11 March Stephen John and Cristian Larroulet Philippi
Science, Democracy and Feminism in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy of Science

Ideologies of Science on Moodle