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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

Seminars take place on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm in Arts School Lecture Theatre A and on Zoom unless otherwise stated.

27 January
Eleanor S. Armstrong (Stockholm University / University of Delaware)
Exhibiting imperial entanglements in science museums

This talk contextualises the Whipple Museum's 'Astronomy and Empire' exhibition (opened in 2017) against other UK exhibitions on the development of physical sciences in global contexts. I unpack the presentation, pedagogies, and possibilities in exhibitions and galleries on histories of physical sciences in UK museums. Postcolonial STS theorists Pollock & Subramaniam (2016) argue all western sciences 'were an intimate and inextricable part of the colonial machinery' – and could be considered 'sciences of empire'. If so, how do museums – if they do at all – teach publics about these entanglements, especially of the physical sciences, in their displays?

3 February
Alexander Bird (Faculty of Philosophy, Cambridge)
On the value of the creative imagination in the arts and in the sciences

(Work with Alison Hills, University of Oxford)

We examine and reject the following claims:
(RI) The process of artistic or scientific creation is an exercise of the imagination, such that more imagination (both as regards the number of new ideas their degree of originality) is always more valuable (i.e. results in better works of art, scientific theories, etc).
(RII) The process of evaluation of artistic or scientific works is not per se a creative process and does not require the imagination in the same way as a creative process (and perhaps does not need it at all).

24 February
Katherine Furman (University of Liverpool)
Epistemic bunkers

One reason that fake news and other objectionable views gain traction is because they often come to us in the form of testimony from those in our immediate social circles; from those we trust. A language around this phenomenon has developed which describes social epistemic structures of 'epistemic bubbles' and 'epistemic echo chambers'. These concepts involve the exclusion of external evidence in various ways. While these concepts help us see the ways that evidence is socially filtered, it doesn't help us understand the social functions that these structures play, which limits our ability to intervene on them. In this paper, I introduce a new concept – that of the epistemic bunker. This concept helps us better account for a central feature of the phenomenon, which is that exclusionary social epistemic structures are often constructed to offer their members safety, either actual or perceived. Recognising this allows us to develop better strategies for mitigating their negative effects.

3 March: online only
Axel Gelfert (Technische Universität Berlin)
When models migrate: the epistemic pitfalls of model transfer

The transfer of scientific models across disciplinary boundaries has recently attracted a fair amount of interest from historians and philosophers of science. Whether in the form of 'model templates' or the transposition of whole 'modeling frameworks', model transfer has been variously credited with injecting new life into stagnant research programmes and recovering a (suitably qualified) notion of scientific progress. Approaching this debate from an epistemological point of view, I argue that the transfer of models carries with it considerable epistemic risks, not least that of falling prey to what has been called the 'illusion of depth of understanding' in science.

10 March
Richard Moore (University of Warwick)
Learning (to learn) from others

In this talk I argue that two skills identified as central to human cognitive uniqueness – pointing and imitation – may result from a common underlying cognitive shift in human or late hominin history. While they are typically argued to be the result of independent adaptations for cooperative communication and high-fidelity social learning, I will suggest that there are relatively weak grounds for thinking they derived from independent biological changes rather than a single cultural or ecological change.

I will argue that the development of both pointing comprehension and imitation likely resulted from an ecological change in our ancestral environment, which led our ancestors to look to each other, rather than to their environment, as sources of information about the world. I'll explain why both ape emulation and pointing failure can be thought of as resulting from individualistic information gathering strategies, and sketch a scenario that would have made such strategies non-viable. I'll also present some empirical data collected by my collaborators and I, and argue that it supports a new explanation of why great apes are typically poor at pointing comprehension – one in line with the hypothesis I develop here.

Finally I'll argue that since both pointing and imitation have been trained with enculturation, they should not be assumed to result from biological adaptations in the hominin lineage. I'll discuss scenarios in which adaptive explanations ought not to be our first recourse for explaining cognitive development and, with reference to studies of dog and wolf cognition, I'll consider whether patterns of human social attention are likely to be the product of adapation.


Coffee with Scientists

The aim of this group is to explore and enhance the interface between HPS and science. Although 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 (unless otherwise indicated), continuing the discussion after the end of the formal session for those who are interested. Further information, any reading materials, and links for 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 pleased to continue coordinating our activities with the 'Coffee with Clinicians' series, organised by the 'Talking as Cure?' research network. For more information about this network, please contact Hannah Blythe (hgb27).

21 January
Hybrid session: Seminar Room 2 (HPS), and on Zoom
Dr Olivier Morin (CNRS Chargé de Recherches, Institut Jean Nicod, Paris)
How much of human cognition is culturally evolved?
18 February Dr David Feller (Senior Contracts Manager for the School of Physical Sciences, Research Operations Office, University of Cambridge)
Money as culture: how science outcomes are affected by funding
25 February Online meeting, on Zoom
Coffee with Clinicians
Dr Nicola Walker (Teeside University)
Reflections on my experience of teaching trainee high intensity therapists over the last year


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 and in Seminar Room 2 unless otherwise stated.

Organised by Olin Moctezuma-Burns (om345).

24 January
Daniela Sclavo (HPS, Cambridge)
Interlaced spaces: the importance of fieldwork and presence on crop conservation histories

History is often imagined as an endeavour full of documents, of endless aisles crowded with archives and also – although less frequently – of formal interviews. In this talk I will touch on the role of fieldwork in the history of science, basing myself on my PhD research on the conservation of chili pepper in Mexico. In particular, I will highlight the importance of implementing informal and more horizontal conversations with our actors, as in many cases formal interviews are inappropriate, extractivist, and distrustful for our interviewees (especially when working in non-western settings). Thus, I will focus on the creation of spaces for the co-construction of stories, on sensitivity and bonding, and on giving actors autonomy for the narration of their own existence, as part of the process of history-making.

My project investigates the history of chili pepper conservation in Mexico 1970s-present by analysing the imaginaries and conceptualisations of different social groups (e.g. agricultural scientists, ethnobotanists, local peoples, industry) around chile and its relations to flavour, culture, heritage and senses of belonging. As part of this, I collaborate with the project 'Cocina Colaboratorio', created in 2016 as a joint effort between Wageningen University and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which seeks to improve local agro-alimentary systems by forging horizontal connections between communities, biologists, artists, chefs, anthropoligists, and historians. My research is set in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec in Oaxaca, Southern Mexico, where I work with a group of women who hold extensive local culinary knowledge.

31 January: Online only
Minakshi Menon (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
What's in a name? William Jones, 'philological empiricism' and botanical knowledge making in 18th-century India

'What is Indian Spikenard?', asked the 18th-century orientalist Sir William Jones in a famous paper, published in Asiatick Researches, Volume II (1790). The question serves here as a point of entry into Jones's method for creating culturally specific plant descriptions to help locate Indian plants in their Indian milieu.

This paper discusses Jones's philological method for identifying the jaṭāmāṁsī of the Sanskrit verse lexicon, the Amarakośa, and materia medica texts, a flowering plant with important medicinal properties, as the 'Spikenard of the Ancients'. Philology, for Jones, was of a piece with language study and ethnology, and undergirded by observational practices based on trained seeing, marking a continuity between his philological and botanical knowledge making. The paper follows Jones through his textual and 'ethnographic' explorations, as he creates both a Linnaean plant-object – Valeriana jatamansi Jones – and a mode of plant description that encoded the 'native' experience associated with a much-desired therapeutic commodity. The result was a botanical identification that forced the jaṭāmāṁsī to travel across epistemologies and manifest itself as an object of colonial natural history. In the words of the medic and botanist William Roxburgh, whose research on the spikenard is also discussed here, Jones's method achieved what 'mere botany' with its focus on the technical arrangement of plants, could not do.

7 February: Online only
Sophia Spielmann (Technische Universität Berlin)
Bernardino Gomes' quest for 'local knowledge': ipecacuanha in Brazil around 1800

In the 18th and 19th centuries, dried ipecacuanha root was highly sought after in Europe because of its medicinal effectiveness as an emetic, but little was known about its geographic origin and the plant itself. Bernardino Gomes (1768–1823), a Portuguese physician, was the first to describe in detail how the roots were collected and traded in Brazil while participating in a military expedition along the Atlantic coast between 1797 and 1801. His treatise (1801) also provided a comprehensive botanical description that was later translated into Latin and published in the Transactions of the Linnean Society by his colleague, Félix de Avelar Brotero (1744–1828). Gomes' observations can be analyzed in the context of Portugal's efforts to gain 'local knowledge' on the Brazilian territory and its resources. This entanglement of scholarly and economic interests is particularly visible in Gomes' concern about the plant's increasing rarity. Ipecacuanha was not systematically cultivated, but collected in the Atlantic Forest by predominantly indigenous collectors. The demand for the roots had grown significantly during the 18th century and already, the plant had become extinct in some regions. This talk examines where and by which methods Gomes acquired knowledge on ipecacuanha as well as the applications he envisioned for his findings. It is part of a larger ongoing project in which I aim to contribute to critical examinations of colonial science and commerce, especially regarding Europe's appropriation of plant resources and indigenous knowledge.

7 March
Svit Komel (University of Ljubljana)
The political anatomy of natural history: on Petty's contrivance of the Down Survey (1655–1659)

The Down Survey was a cadastral survey, initiated in 1655 during the Cromwellian occupation of Ireland to redistribute confiscated Catholic lands among Protestant soldiers. Charged with this colonial cataloguing was William Petty, principally known today as a political-economist and statistician. This talk will examine the Down Survey as an exercise in natural history. Petty not only used the Survey to amass natural-historical information, but conceived surveying itself as an object of natural history. Following Bacon, the history of trades or the systematic description of mechanical arts became a privileged sub-domain of natural history. The Hartlib Circle and Royal Society produced histories that codified the craft knowledge of such diverse arts as bog-draining, iron-working, husbandry, mining, etc. An affiliate of both these associations, Petty likewise managed the Survey by breaking down the art of surveying into individual operations, tools, materials and their costs. Thus implementing a meticulous division of labour, he composed hundreds of specialized laborers into a hierarchical surveying apparatus. In Petty's administration of the Survey, natural history emerged as a self-referential method for overseeing the process of observing Irish geography. I will argue that Petty's contrivance illustrates a broader contemporary shift in natural knowledge which displaced questions of method from logic, aimed at disciplining individual reasoning, to logistics, concerned with managing a collective body of workers. Petty's Irish stint further demonstrates that his later statistical writings were not simply an epistemological break in how he viewed data, but rather stemmed from the techniques he applied as a natural historian for organising surveying work and its intellectual products.

14 March: Online only
Emiliano Cabrera Rocha (Geography, Cambridge)
The Amazon Third Way and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: an attempt to overcome history through technology

In recent years, a group of natural and social scientists have been crafting a vision of economic development that pursues both industrialising and preserving the biodiverse Amazon forest. Baptised 'Amazon Third Way', this vision seeks to transcend what its proponents conceptualise as the binary opposition between the 'First Way' of tropical conservation and the 'Second Way' of extractivist development. Key to this vision is the role of so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology. In this talk, I will analyse how the abovementioned vision attempts to overcome historical inertias, and more broadly, I will situate it within longer histories of techno-economic and environmental imaginaries for the Amazon.


History of Medicine

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

Seventeenth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine

Thursday 20 January 2022, 4.00–5.30pm, Zoom

Gabriela Soto Laveaga (Harvard University)
Seeds, a dying river, and an experiment station: re-examining 1960s global solutions to hunger from Sonora, Mexico

High-yielding wheat seeds developed in research stations in Mexico helped launch the so-called Green Revolution in the 1960s. These seeds, often credited with averting a South Asian famine, transformed farming with the help of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation. The environmental degradation and social impact of this type of farming became clear only years later. While research has focused on the environmental impact of these seeds in South Asia and other parts of the world, little attention has been given to the impact in the region where these seeds initially emerged, the research station were these seeds were first tested. This talk examines the history of the region, the Yaqui Valley, and how a scientific discovery billed as the key to ending world hunger, transformed the lives of thousands of erstwhile farmers.

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Dániel Margócsy, Carolin Schmitz, Sebestian Kroupa and Christoffer Basse Eriksen.

1 February Philippa Hellawell (National Archives, UK)
Contagion and the politics of maritime quarantine during the Marseille plague (1720)
Arts School Lecture Theatre A
15 March Yijun Wang (New York University)
Migrant miners and empires: the social technology of tin mining in the age of global trade

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton and Helen Curry.

8 February Jessica Wang (University of British Columbia)
Insects and the infrastructure of Empire: tropical agriculture and biological control in early 20th-century Hawai'i
7 March Wayne Soon (Vassar College)
Global actuarial science in the making of the universal healthcare system in the Republic of China, 1935–2010
(Please note this seminar takes place on Monday, 5.00–6.30pm)

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Staffan Müller-Wille and Dániel Margócsy.

25 January Ayah Nuriddin (Princeton University)
Black eugenics and the politics of reproduction



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 on Zoom.

9 March
Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California, Riverside)
On the nonexistence of moralometers

If we're interested in studying morality scientifically – for example, to study the effectiveness of moral education programs or to study whether people who behave morally better tend to be happier than their naughtier counterparts – we should be interested in constructing an accurate and reliable means for measuring a person's overall moral character: a moralometer. Potential moralometers come in four varieties: self-ratings, informant ratings, behavioral observation, and physiological measures. I argue that there are practically insurmountable methodological problems with all four approaches to constructing a moralometer.


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 at 1pm on Zoom, unless otherwise specified. We meet on the odd weeks of term. All are welcome!

Organised by Harriet Mercer, Claire Oliver and Richard Staley. Please email the organisers for unlinked materials and Zoom links.

20 January

Writing for the Anthropocene I (reading group)

This is the first of two sessions focused on writing for the Anthropocene (the second in Easter Term will be oriented around workshopping participants' own writings). In this session, we will consider questions of audience and editing by comparing two iterations of the same article: an original piece written by Bruno Latour and the edited version of the same piece published in The Guardian.


Optional readings:

3 February

Bathsheba Demuth (Brown University)
Giving a Dam: Beavers, Law, and Making the Yukon River
(presentation and discussion)

We consider a very recent draft paper that takes both animals and what they do, and Indigenous understandings of how to relate to those animals and lands as sources of interpretive theory or perspective.

That is, I flatten some of the distinctions often made between ecological literature, Indigenous stories and histories, and traditional academic archives and perspectives as a method. Th[is] odd little essay [...] attempts to do this with a particular case and place I know well, about an event where I have enough sources to attempt it. Doing so let me starting thinking about legal orders and how they change a bit as well. But it is a standalone piece, and extremely preliminary, with many places I know more sources and depth exist once I can travel north again. I'm sure you will have questions. I certainly still do.

17 February

Meeting rescheduled for 17 March

3 March

Siobhan Angus (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Art, Yale University)
Extraction: ways of seeing/ways of knowing
(presentation and discussion)

Extraction is both a material process and a worldview. Extraction provides the raw materials that give our world form, it is a problem of material production. However, the systems that are built by extractive capitalism did not just reshape ecosystems, but significantly altered the types of worldviews that were possible: extraction is also a way of seeing. This presentation considers how visual culture shapes how we see, know, and value nature, theorized here through the lens of extraction, and in turn, how visual communication can be mobilized for climate change activism and resistance to resource extraction.

17 March

Climate Change Narratives (reading group)

A discussion of Alexis Wright's The Swan Book and the importance of fiction in expanding approaches to subjectivity, scale and violence in environmental scholarship.


  • Wright, Alexis. The Swan Book (London: Constable, 2013): 6–31.
  • Wright, Alexis. 'A Journey in Writing Place.' Meanjin, 2019.
  • Potter, Emily. 'Teaching climate change at the end of nature: post-colonial Australia, Indigenous realism and Alexis Wright's The Swan Book.' in Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities (Routledge, 2016): 250–257.

Optional readings:


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. In Lent Term 2022 we will meet on 28 January, 11 February, 25 February and 11 March. All students and interested members of the University are welcome to attend; contact Mary Brazelton with any questions.


Feminist HPS

Feminist HPS is a meeting place for students and researchers interested in feminist epistemology and methodology within history and philosophy of science. The reading group is open to all. We meet weekly on Fridays, 4–5pm to discuss chapters or articles. We're currently meeting via Zoom, with access information circulated prior to the sessions via our reading group mailing list. Write to us at to subscribe or visit our website.

Organised by Zsuzsanna Dominika Ihar.

Our theme for Lent Term 2022 is 'A Feminist Curriculum'.

28 January: Ethics and Philosophical Approaches

  • Brennan, Samantha. 'Analytical Feminist Ethics.' In The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Philosophy, pp. 291–305. Oxford University Press, 2021.
  • Gilson, Erinn. 'Continental Feminist Ethics.' In The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Philosophy, pp. 306–317. Oxford University Press, 2021.

4 February: Biomedicine and Reprogenetic Technologies

  • Deech, Ruth, and Anna Smajdor. 'Fertility Is a Feminist Issue.' In From IVF to Immortality: Controversy in the Era of Reproductive Technology. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Murphy, Michelle. 'Immodest Witnessing, Affective Economies, and Objectivity.' In Seizing the Means of Reproduction, pp. 68–101. Duke University Press, 2012.

11 February: Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Neuroscience

  • Wilson, Elizabeth A. 'Introduction: Depression, Biology, Aggression.' In Gut feminism. Duke University Press, 2015.
  • Wilson, Elizabeth A. 'Chapter 2: The Biological Unconscious.' In Gut feminism. Duke University Press, 2015.
  • Optional: Wilson, Elizabeth A. 'Organic empathy: Feminism, psychopharmaceuticals, and the embodiment of depression.' Material feminisms (2008): 373–399.

18 February: Physics and Disruptive Particles

  • Harrell, Maralee. 'On the possibility of feminist philosophy of physics.' In Meta-philosophical Reflection on Feminist Philosophies of Science, pp. 15–34. Springer, Cham, 2016.
  • Lee, Clarissa Ai Ling. 'Emmy Noether, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and their Cyborgian Counterparts: Triangulating Mathmetical-Theoretical Physics, Feminist Science Studies, and Feminist Science Fiction.' (2013).

25 February: Hidden Figures and Histories

  • Lascano, Marcy P. 'Margaret Cavendish and the New Science: "Boys that play with watery bubbles or fling dust into each other's eyes, or make a hobbyhorse of snow".' In The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Philosophy of Science, pp. 28–40. Routledge, 2020.
  • Detlefsen, Karen. 'Émilie Du Châtelet: Feminism, Epistemology and Natural Philosophy.' In The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Philosophy of Science, pp. 41–52. Routledge, 2020.

4 March: Disability Studies through a Feminist Lens

  • Hall, Kim Q. 'Reimagining Disability and Gender through Feminist Disability Studies: An Introduction.' In Feminist Disability Studies, pp. 1–10. Indiana University Press, 2011.
  • Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 'Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.' In Feminist Disability Studies, pp. 13–47. Indiana University Press, 2011.
  • Optional: Donaldson, Elizabeth J. 'The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness.' NWSA Journal 14, no. 3 (2002): 99–119.

11 March: Biology & Natural Sciences

  • Gray, Russell. '"In the belly of the monster": feminism, developmental systems, and evolutionary explanations.' In Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, pp. 385–413. Springer, Boston, MA, 1997.
  • Allen, Caitilyn. 'Inextricably Entwined: Politics, Biology, and Gender-Dimorphic Behavior.' In Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, pp. 515–521. Springer, Boston, MA, 1997.

18 March: Feminist Ecology

  • Resurrección, Bernadette P., and Rebecca Elmhirst. 'Introduction: Troubling gender expertise in environment and development: Voices from feminist political ecology.' In Negotiating Gender Expertise in Environment and Development, pp. 1–24. Routledge, 2020.
  • Mollett, Sharlene. 'Environmental Struggles are Feminist Struggles.' In Feminist Spaces: Gender and Geography in a Global Context, pp. 155–187. Routledge, 2017.


Measurement Therapy

Measurement Therapy aims to offer a thematically flexible and inviting space to discuss any historical or philosophical issues pertaining to measurement. Examples include the variety of material and cognitive practices of measurement, their historical change, their political significance, as well as concepts of measurement (precision, accuracy, uncertainty, quantification, reliability...), and the metaphysics of quantities. The idea is that we can collectively learn from and support each other, by sharing our particular disciplinarily and temporarily specific perspectives on measurement.

Please contact any of the organizers if you would like to present a draft or discuss some measurement-related issue. Contrary to standard reading groups, we will not be meeting weekly, but rather 'on demand' – we plan to meet whenever someone shares a reading or question that they would like to discuss (though the desire is to meet at least once a month). Meetings will (typically) take place on Fridays at 4pm.

Cristian Larroulet Philippi (cl792)
Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459)
Phillip Hintikka Kieval (pzhk2)


Pragmatism Reading Group

The Pragmatism Reading Group is held on Mondays at 11am–12noon online. Organised by Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459) and Oscar Westerblad (ow259).

The theme for Lent Term 2022 is 'Friends of Pragmatism in Philosophy of Science'.

Week 1: 24 January

Woodward, J. (forthcoming) 'Sketch of some themes for a pragmatist philosophy of science.' Preprint available on PhilSci Archive.

Week 2: 31 January

Torretti, R. (2000). '"Scientific realism" and scientific practice'. In E. Agazzi & M. Pauri (Eds.), The Reality of the Unobservable, Springer: 113–122. (PDF will be circulated.)

Week 3: 7 February

Mitchell, S. (2000). 'Dimensions of Scientific Law', Philosophy of Science, 67 (2): 242–265.

Week 4: 14 February

Grene, M. (1966/1974). 'Kant: The Knower as an Agent', ch. 5 of The Knower and the Known, University of California Press, 120–156. (Scan will be provided.)

Week 5: 21 February

Teller, P. (2021). 'Making Worlds with Symbols', Synthese, 198: 5015–5036.

Week 6: 28 February

Wilson, M. (1982). 'Predicate Meets Property', The Philosophical Review, 91 (4): 549–589.

Week 7: 7 March

Stokhof, M. (2019). 'Can Natural Language be Captured in a Formal System?', in Kjeldahl, E. M. (ed.) Introduction to Formal Philosophy, Springer: 273–288.

Week 8: 14 March

Hacking, I. 'On Not Being a Pragmatist: Eight Reasons and a Cause', in Misak, C. (ed.) New Pragmatists, Oxford University Press: 32–49. (Scan will be provided.)


Formal Methods in Philosophy of Science

This reading group meets on Mondays at 3pm on Zoom.

Organised by Charlotte Zemmel (ccz23) and Ina Jäntgen (ij271).

This term we will be reading: Steele, K., & Stefánsson, H. O. (2021). Beyond Uncertainty: Reasoning with Unknown Possibilities. Cambridge University Press.

We will also be working through some introductory works in decision theory. We encourage all those interested in learning about ways to deal with scientific uncertainty using formal tools to attend.

Week 1 (24 January)
Chapter 1: Introduction (online)

Background reading: Part 1 in Bradley, R. (2017). Decision Theory with a Human Face. Cambridge University Press.

Week 2 (31 January)
Chapter 2: Sequential Decision Models and the Test of Time (online)

Background reading: Part 1 in Bradley, R. (2017). Decision Theory with a Human Face. Cambridge University Press.

Week 3 (7 February)
Chapter 3: Modelling (Un)Awareness (online)

Additional reading: Karni, Edi, and Marie-Louise Vierø. (2013). '"Reverse Bayesianism": A Choice-Based Theory of Growing Awareness.' American Economic Review, 103 (7): 2790–2810.

Week 4 (14 February)
Chapter 4: Responding to Awareness Growth (online)

Additional reading: Pettigrew. 'How should your beliefs change when your awareness grows?' Preprint.

Week 5 (21 February)
Chapter 5: Awareness Rigidity (tba)

Additional reading: Chapter 12 in Bradley, R. (2017). Decision Theory with a Human Face. Cambridge University Press.

Additional reading: Mahtani, A. (2020). 'Awareness growth and dispositional attitudes.' Synthese 198 (9): 8981–8997.

Week 6 (28 February)
Chapter 6: Anticipating Awareness Growth (tba)

Additional reading: tba

Week 7 (7 March)
Chapter 7: Awareness Reflection (tba)

Additional reading: Roussos, J. (2021). 'Expert deference as a belief revision schema.' Synthese 199, 3457–3484.

Week 8 (14 March)
Chapter 8 + Discussion with H. Orri Stefánsson


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.

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

The theme for Lent Term 2022 is 'Science Communication for Science Policy'.

Week 1 (24 January)

  • Hopkins, A. et al. 2021. 'Section 1: Introduction.' In Science Advice in the UK. UK Science and Innovation Network.
  • Agar, Jon. 2019. 'Science policy since the 1960s.' In Lessons from the History of UK Science Policy. The British Academy.
  • Beddington, John. 2013. 'The science and art of effective advice.' In Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Whitehall. Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy.

Week 2 (31 January)

  • Pielke, R. A. 2007. The honest broker: Making sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge University Press. Chapter TBD.

Week 3 (7 February)

  • Hilgartner, S. 2000. 'Introduction.' In Science on stage: Expert advice as public drama. Stanford University Press.
  • Craig, C. 2019. 'How to ensure that when a minister meets a Nobel laureate they both have a great encounter.' In How Does Government Listen to Scientists? Palgrave Macmillan.

Week 4 (14 February)

  • Nisbet, M. C. 2014. 'Engaging in science policy controversies: Insights from the US climate change debate.' In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public communication of science and technology (Second edition). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Week 5 (21 February)

  • Wynne, B. 1992. 'Sheep Farming after Chernobyl: A Case Study in Communicating Scientific Information.' In B. V. Lewenstein (Ed.), When Science Meets the Public. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Week 6 (28 February)

  • Tyler, C. and K. Akerlof. 2019. 'Three secrets of survival in science advice.' Nature 566, no. 7743: 175–177.
  • Whitty, Christopher J. M. and Luke B. Collet-Fenson. 'Formal and informal science advice in emergencies: Covid-19 in the UK.' Interface Focus 11, no. 6.

Week 7 (7 March)

  • Douglas, H. 2008. 'The role of values in expert reasoning.' Public Affairs Quarterly 22, no. 1: 1–18.

Week 8 (14 March)

  • Peters, H. P. 2014. 'Scientists as public experts: Expectations and responsibilities.' In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public communication of science and technology (Second edition). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.



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).

Currently we are continuing with the format of online discussion meetings run from Cambridge. This term we will have more sessions studying recent work by members of the group, and each time joined by the author herself or himself in the discussion.

We will be meeting on Mondays at 5.00–6.30pm UK time. 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.

31 January Carmen Schmechel (Freie Universität Berlin)
Descartes on fermentation in digestion: iatromechanism, analogy and teleology
14 February Elli Papanikolaou (University of West Bohemia)
Paracelsus's matter theory
28 February Georgiana (Jo) Hedesan (University of Oxford)
Alchemy and Paracelsianism at the Casino di San Marco in Florence
14 March Chris Campbell and Chiara Ambrosio (University College London)
The chemistry of relations: Peirce, perspicuous representations and experiments with diagrams


Integrating the History and Philosophy of Science

This intensive reading group explores how historical and philosophical approaches to science can be brought together into an integrated framework. We aim to learn from different approaches that scholars have taken to integrated HPS, and discuss challenging methodological questions surrounding them. Our focus lies equally on the general fruitfulness of 'iHPS' as a methodology and on its particular potential in illuminating various scientific, historical and philosophical subject-matter.

For each meeting we invite a leading scholar of integrated HPS, and invite them to bring along some of their local colleagues. We make an in-depth study of the featured scholar's work before the meeting, and go directly into a discussion about it. Participants are asked to do a significant amount of reading, and we try for a diverse range of contexts, questions and scientific disciplines across the meetings.

We meet on Monday evenings, 5.00–6.30pm. We continue to meet online so that we can easily invite teams of scholars from around the world.

Organised by Hasok Chang (hc372), Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459), Katy Duncan (ksd37) and Oscar Westerblad (ow259), with the collaboration of Sarah Hijmans (Université Paris Diderot). If you would like to be on the mailing list for this group, please email one of us.

All readings will be circulated through the mailing list.

24 January

Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Cambridge)

7 February

Richard Staley (University of Cambridge)

21 February

Daniel Nicholson (George Mason University)


Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group

The Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group explores comparative and theoretical issues in the philosophy of psychology and cognitive science, with particular focus on the puzzles, insights and challenges presented by non-human intelligence. This term, the group will be led by Edward Young (ey245) on the topic of philosophy, psychology, and intuition.

We will be meeting remotely on Tuesdays, 11.00–12.00noon on a biweekly basis starting on 25 January. All meetings will take place on Google Meet.

All are welcome!

Subscribe to our mailing list

25 January

Whose Concepts Are They, Anyway? (Gopnik and Schwitzgebel)

8 February

Reflective equilibrium, analytic epistemology and the problem of cognitive diversity (Stich)

22 February

Principles of categorisation (Rosch)

8 March

The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgment (Haidt)

22 March

Beyond Point-and-shoot Morality (Greene)


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 conjunction with the project From Collection to Cultivation, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The reading group is open to all. We meet fortnightly on Tuesdays, 12noon–1pm to discuss papers or presentations. We're currently meeting via Zoom, with access information circulated prior to the sessions via our reading group mailing list. Write to us at to subscribe.

Organised by Helen Anne Curry, Jessica J. Lee and Ryan Nehring.

The theme for Lent Term 2022 is 'Traditional Knowledges'.

1 February: Land, Crops and Sovereignty

15 February: CANCELLED

1 March: Translation

15 March: Speaker Professor Andrew Curley, University of Arizona

Professor Andrew Curley from the University of Arizona School of Geography, Development & Environment will speak to us about Native infrastructures and colonialism.


Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on history and philosophy of social sciences. This term we concentrate on the changing practices in contemporary social sciences: the credibility revolution, the challenge of description and explanation of complex and politically sensitive phenomena, and interdisciplinarity. All are welcome to join, but participants undertake to do the readings ahead of time and endeavour to attend all meetings.

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

25 January

Goldman, Alvin I. 'Expertise.' Topoi, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 3–10.

1 February

Berk, Richard A., and David A. Freedman. 'Statistical assumptions as empirical commitments.' Law, punishment, and social control: Essays in honor of Sheldon Messinger 2 (2003): 235–254.

8 February

Eva Vivalt, 'How Much Can We Generalize From Impact Evaluations?' Journal of the European Economic Association, Volume 18, Issue 6, December 2020, 3045–3089.

15 February

Herzog, Lisa, and Bernardo Zacka. 'Fieldwork in political theory: Five arguments for an ethnographic sensibility.' British Journal of Political Science 49, no. 2 (2019): 763–784.

22 February

Fleck, Christian. A transatlantic history of the social sciences: Robber barons, the Third Reich and the invention of empirical social research. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011. Introduction and chapter 1

1 March

Nagatsu, Michiru, and Henrik Thorén. 'Sustainability science as a management science.' Global epistemologies and philosophies of science (2021).

8 March

Mandler, Peter (2019). 'The language of social science in everyday life.' History of the Human Sciences 32 (1): 66–82.


Ethno-Science Reading Group

'Ethno-Science' is a reading group dedicated to programmatic and critical texts on the changing relationship between scientific knowledge and what is variously called local, 'indigenous' or 'native' knowledges. Our starting point is the eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked naturalists to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany, zoology, ethnography, and other strands 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 increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of ‘traditional’ knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

The meetings take place monthly, on Wednesdays from 3 to 4pm on Zoom, in the 2021–22 academic year (7 meetings).

Organised by Raphael Uchôa (ru224) and Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3).

Please email the organisers if you're interested in joining. Zoom links to follow via email.

19 January: Translations between Field and Lab

  • Bravo, Michael T. The Accuracy of Ethnoscience: A Study of Inuit Cartography and Cross-Cultural Commensurability. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, 1996.
  • Shmuely, Shira. 'Curare: The Poisoned Arrow That Entered the Laboratory and Sparked a Moral Debate'. Social History of Medicine 33, no. 3 (2020): 881–97.

16 February: Ethno-scientist invited

16 March: Ethno-Science and historiography

  • Tilley, Helen. 'Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?' Isis 101, no. 1 (1 March 2010): 110–19.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. 'Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium Ayapana: Retro-Botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940'. The Journal of Asian Studies 73, no. 1 (2014): 65–87.


HPS Workshop

Wednesdays, 5–6pm in Seminar Room 2
History sessions organised by Yijie Huang (yh397)
Philosophy sessions organised by Ahmad Elabbar (ae423)

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.

16 February Miguel Ohnesorge
Pluralizing measurement: physical geodesy's measurement problem and its resolution, 1880–1924
23 February Oscar Westerblad
On the relationship between explaining and understanding
2 March Ahmad Elabbar
Varying evidential standards as a matter of justice
16 March Charlotte Zemmel
Holistic inductive risk management in clinical trials


Postgraduate Seminars

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: Philip Kitcher and his critics on science, feminism and democracy; the Society for Freedom in Science vs socialist visions of the functions of science; 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; and the 'two cultures' controversy sparked off by C.P. Snow, champion of science education, and F.R. Leavis, champion of literary education.

The seminars will be on Zoom, hosted by Boris Jardine.

17 February Anna Alexandrova and Stephen John
Science, democracy and feminism in contemporary analytic philosophy of science
24 February Mary Brazelton and Richard Staley
Freedom and planning in science
3 March Nick Jardine
Science, policy and education: Whewell vs Mill; Mach vs Duhem
10 March Nick Jardine
The two cultures: Huxley vs. Arnold and Snow vs. Leavis

Ideologies of Science on Moodle


Projects and Prospects

Tuesdays at 10am, Seminar Room 2

This series of hour-long seminars presents current research work and collaborative projects conducted by members of staff in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Several involve postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers. Each seminar includes a fifteen-minute summary of the research project followed by time for discussion with seminar members.

25 January
Nick Hopwood: The many births of the test-tube baby

To understand why the birth in 1978 of Louise Brown is recognized as the founding achievement of reproductive biomedicine, although she was far from the first 'test-tube baby' to be announced, it is important to consider the full web of communication over several decades. Studying the interplay between journals and newspapers, television and press conferences, symposia and magazines should make it possible to explain how shifting standards of evidence were caught up in new norms of publication that shape science to this day.

The Many Births of the Test-Tube Baby

1 February
Mary Brazelton & Dániel Margócsy: From Hansa to Lufthansa: Transportation Technologies and the Mobility of Knowledge

How do you get from one end of the globe to the other, and then back? If your vehicle breaks down on the way, what do you do? This project explores the emergence and co-construction of transportation technologies and travel infrastructures from the early modern period to the 21st century. We pay particular attention to how transportation technologies themselves have been transferred across the globe. Case studies include the repair of Dutch East Indiamen in the colonial ports of 17th-century Batavia and the establishment of transnational aviation infrastructures in Republican China.

From Hansa to Lufthansa: Transportation Technologies and the Mobility of Knowledge in Germanic Lands and Beyond, 1300–2018

8 February
Helen Curry and project members: From collection to cultivation – historical perspectives on crop diversity and food security

The genetic diversity of agricultural crop plants is essential to food security, present and future. But how this diversity makes its way into agricultural production – for example as more disease-resistant or nutritious crops – is not well documented. This poses problems for scientific and political decision making. Over a five-year period, the team of researchers working on From Collection to Cultivation is developing histories of the knowledge, labour, techniques, and tools used to transform plants gathered around the world into novel crop varieties destined for farms, markets, and, eventually, dinner plates. Focussing on crops in the twentieth century, they will follow plants as they circulated among agricultural explorers, plant pathologists, crop breeders, commercial farmers, and even allotment gardeners to better understand the histories of everyday foods, from maize to peanuts to chilli peppers and beyond. In tracking down these untold stories, they will together transform the history of how and by whom modern agricultural crops – and modern diets – have been made.

From Collection to Cultivation: Historical Perspectives on Crop Diversity and Food Security

15 February
Sarah Dry, Harriet Mercer, Simon Schaffer & Tom Simpson: Making Climate History

This project uses new historical, oral and material methods to analyse relations between making climates and knowing them, treating climate histories both as topic of inquiry and as systems of environmental and social connexion. Climates are never directly accessible to human experience: histories and geographies show the notion of climate has stabilised widely-varying cultural relations between humans and their weather. Climate maps and climate stories provide particularly important objects of study, as do issues raised by the importance of different cultures' and societies' encounters with and understandings of climates and their changes.

Making Climate History

22 February
Boris Jardine, Josh Nall & Liba Taub: Tools of Knowledge: Modelling the Creative Communities of the Scientific Instrument Trade, 1550–1914

Working with an interdisciplinary team, 'Tools of Knowledge' applies cutting-edge methods of digital analysis to data on almost four centuries of the scientific instrument trade in Britain. The project will provide highly accessible information on the history of science, specifically as it relates to commerce, industry, teaching, and geography; and it will provide quick information in addition to deep context on thousands of objects in museum collections around the world.


Language Groups

German Therapy

German Therapy is an informal reading group, and all levels are welcome. This is an opportunity, among other things, to understand how Germans turn verbs into nouns and adjectives and back again, create new concepts by combining words and adding various prefixes and suffixes, and always place the verb at the very end of long and complicated sentences made up from a hierarchy of clauses. We will be translating and discussing German sources chosen by participants as relevant to their research, 'bei Kaffee und Kuchen'.

To be added to the mailing list, or to suggest a text, please contact Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3).

The group will meet in Lent Term 2022 fortnightly on Fridays, 10–11am. The first meeting will be on 28 January, the last meeting on 11 March 2022.


Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet 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.

We meet weekly, Fridays from 11am to 12noon, on Zoom.


Greek Therapy

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. It's a very friendly and casual way to improve your Greek for new learners or to keep it active if you've already gone to the trouble to learn it! Students, if you're writing on Greek materials we're always very happy to go through research texts as a group. We meet on Wednesdays at 5.30pm during term time. Sessions will be on Zoom. For more information contact Liz Smith (els47).