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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea beforehand from 3pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Mary Brazelton and Marta Halina.

13 October Robbie Duschinsky and Sophie Reijman (Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge)
'Patterning within the disturbance of coherence': the practical work of measuring and classifying infant disorganised attachment
'Disorganised attachment' (Main and Solomon 1990) is a classification made of infant-caregiver relationships in the Ainsworth Strange Situation, and is among the most influential assessments of infant mental health. It is made on the basis of observations of out-of-context, unexpected, or anomalous behaviours shown by an infant on reunion with their caregiver after a brief separation. This classification has received a high degree of interest, from researchers, clinicians and social workers, as well as policy makers. Disorganised attachment has primarily been understood through the lens of the Hesse and Main's concept of 'fright without solution', taken to mean that an infant experiences a conflict between a desire to approach and flee from a parent who frightens them. This talk draws from a wider project, funded by an Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust, studying debates around disorganised infant attachment and their implications for clinicians and social workers. The specific focus of the paper will be on the practical work of measuring and classifying infant-caregiver attachment relationships, drawing on interviews, archival research, and participant observation. The paper will reflect particularly on the significance of sharp disparities found between conventional, circulating accounts of disorganised attachment and coders' practical theories of behaviour and relationship processes.
20 October Harry Collins (Cardiff University)
Some sociological aspects of the detection of gravitational waves
What is the sociologist, who has spent years demonstrating the interpretative flexibility of claims to have detected gravitational waves, to make of a detection that no-one will question? And where did the confidence in that detection come from – not quite where you think!
27 October Emma Tobin (UCL)
Mechanisms and natural kinds
In the classification literature, there has been much discussion of the no-overlap principle, which allows a categorical distinction between natural kinds from a realist perspective. However, cases of crosscutting natural kinds in scientific practice provide a serious challenge to the no-overlap principle (Khalidi, 1998, Dupre 1993, Tobin 2010). The HPC view of natural kinds has emerged in order to accommodate the fuzzy boundaries we associate with clusters of properties, by the introduction of a homeostatic regulating mechanism. Craver (2009) claims that there is a difficulty in deciding where a particular mechanism begins and another ends. The strategy of lumping and splitting is designed in order to accommodate the no overlap principle; namely if you find that a single cluster of properties is regulated by more than one mechanism, then because there can be no overlap between mechanisms, then we must split the natural clusters. However, a closer analysis of dynamic mechanisms in scientific practice reveal that the overlap problem re-emerges with the strategy of lumping and splitting in that there is an assumption that once a mechanism is found to be responsible for a property cluster, that this is sufficient for delineating the boundaries of that cluster. Scientific practice reveals that there might be multiple causal routes that could result in a similar functional output. Moreover, there might be different kinds of mechanisms, which produce the same property cluster and depending on which one we are using, the decision to lump or split may be different. The paper concludes with some observations about the implications for the classification of mechanisms and to the additional question as to whether mechanisms are themselves natural kinds.
10 November Giovanna Colombetti (University of Exeter)
Embodied and situated moods
There is a certain tendency, among affective neuroscientists, to present the brain as the physical basis, or 'core machinery', of moods (sometimes even to claim that moods are 'in the brain'). In my talk I will criticise this brain-centric view of moods. Empirical evidence shows that brain activity not only modulates, but is in turn continuously modulated by, physical activity taking place in other parts of the organism (such as the endocrine and the immune system). It is therefore not clear why the core machinery of moods ought to be restricted to the brain. I propose, accordingly, that moods are best conceived as embodied rather than just 'embrained', i.e., their physical basis should be enlarged so as to comprise not just brain but also bodily activity. Second, I emphasise that moods are situated in the world. By this I do not just mean that moods are influenced by the world (an uncontroversial claim), but that they are complexly interrelated with it, in at least three different ways: i) they are shaped by cultural values and norms, ii) they are materially and intersubjectively 'scaffolded', and iii) they can even come to 'experientially incorporate' parts of the world, i.e., include the experience of parts of the world as parts of oneself.
17 November Richard Powell (University of Oxford)
The hubris of youth? Oxford, Cambridge and the Arctic, c.1920–1940
During the interwar period, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge sent successive expeditions to the Arctic, mainly focusing on Nordauslandet (North East Land in the Svalbard archipelago) and Greenland. These expeditions have been rather neglected by historians, save for some celebratory work by former protagonists. This paper investigates some of their legacies, both in terms of their scientific contribution and in their impacts on particular Inuit communities. It focuses specifically on psychological experiments conducted on the people of Illorsuit in the late 1930s. In investigating this, some of these expeditionary activities complicate a number of historiographical assumptions about the nature of Greenlandic governance, the role of universities in the field sciences and the wider development of the disciplines of Arctic study.  This discussion also provides for heuristic reflection in recent attempts to de-colonise the curriculum at both universities.
24 November Twelfth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine
Alexandra Minna Stern (University of Michigan)
Eugenic sterilization in California: from demographic analysis to digital storytelling
From 1909 to 1979, California sterilized more than 20,000 patients in state homes and hospitals. This lecture draws from new interdisciplinary research into the history of sterilization, presenting both overarching demographic trends that illustrate the intersectional racial, gender, and diagnostic biases of compulsory reproductive surgery, and the experiences of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this medical intervention. These new findings are drawn from a dataset that I and my team created after digitizing more than 50,000 microfilm documents that had been long forgotten in the file cabinets of state agencies in Sacramento, California. This lecture asks how an in-depth interdisciplinary study of patterns and experiences of sterilization confirms and challenges historical understandings of eugenics, and highlights the value of epidemiological and demographic methods in historical analysis. The presentation also provides an overview of the digital archive we are creating that will feature data visualization and digital storytelling.

Twentieth Century Think Tank

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

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

Organised by Richard Staley, Mary Brazelton, Helen Curry and Susanne Schmidt.

This term we explore a variety of perspectives on global studies and histories of science and technology, and Think Tank presentations will be complemented by readings on related topics in the Twentieth Century Reading Group, which meets on alternate Thursdays.

6 October Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford)
Images as artefacts: film, photography and repatriation in Kenya
This discussion focuses on the conceptual and methodological issues at play when working with images from the past. Utilising a photographic case study from East Africa, we consider historical context, provenance, and intent. A series of photographs taken or obtained by Canadian psychiatrist Edward L. Margetts in Kenya in the 1950s allow for a broad discussion of what photographs mean; for the photographer, the viewer, and most poignantly, the photographic subjects. We will work through a set of images of the ancient surgical practice of trepanning the skull which was still being performed controversially in the 1950s in one region of Kenya. The traditional practice, often extreme in its medical outcomes, was filmed, photographed and even immortalized in soap stone carvings. The wildly divergent uses and interpretations of one set of images prompts us to ask questions about the use, re-use and misuse of images over time.
Suggested reading: Sloan Mahone, '"Hat-on, Hat-off": Trauma and Trepanation in Kisii, western Kenya', Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2014.
20 October Matei Candea (Social Anthropology, Cambridge)
Comparative uncertainties: comparing comparisons in anthropology and animal behaviour science
Much has been made in recent years of the way in which anthropological confrontations with alterity can generate productive conceptual uncertainty. This methodological device can be thought of as a type of 'frontal' comparison in which a 'them' position is confronted to an 'us' position. This paper contrasts frontal comparison with lateral comparisons, in which different cases are laid side by side. Frontal and lateral comparisons produce different and complementary dynamics of conceptual uncertainty and productive doubt. This anthropological pair is in turn compared with and read through two different ways of managing uncertainty in a different discipline: the study of animal behaviour.
27 October David Munns (John Jay College)
A controlled environment: phytotrons, Cold War life science, and the making of the experimental plant
My talk tells of the quest to gain scientific and technological mastery over the environment in the life sciences. Because living things are a product of their genes and their environments, alongside the famed discovery of genes there was the simultaneous discovery of the biological environment. To experiment on the biological environment plant scientists built wonders of twentieth century life science and environmental engineering: now forgotten laboratories called 'phytotrons'. To create phytotrons, biologists became technologists because to learn about plants and animals meant learning about the technological systems that replicated and monitored their development. In the Cold War they revealed the shape of the environment, the limits of growth and development, and the limits of control over complex systems. There is no better time to remember the science of the biological environment amid the challenge of climate change. When Los Angeles choked on smog in the 1940s, city officials turned to the new phytotron at Caltech for answers. Experiments proved the harmful effects of smog on plants and people which lead to the initial efforts to curb air pollution. Now, a half century later, the phytotron's successors called biotrons and ecotrons are discovering connections between life and a changing environment. I can only hint at the larger history of 'trons' that replicated the worldview of the Cold War era in both phytotrons, biotrons, climatrons, and ecotrons as well as in cyclotrons, cosmotrons, and bevatrons. Indeed, from the algatron to the zootron, the history of science since 1945 is a world of trons.
17 November Shinjini Das (CRASSH, Cambridge)
A science in translation: homoeopathy in colonial Bengal
Over the years, robust and divergent strands of South Asian scholarship have studied the relationship between science, medicine and colonialism. The translation of western medical texts into South Asian vernacular languages under the patronage of the colonial state has received considerable attention. What has not been explored adequately, however, is the participation of Indians themselves in processes of scientific translation. As an instance of a western science that the colonial state attempted to censor, the popular practices of translation around homoeopathy provide a distinct narrative of western science's colonial reception. This paper traces the efforts of some late nineteenth-century Indian pharmaceutical-firms to translate homoeopathy for a vernacular Bengali audience. It explores the domestication and indigenisation of homoeopathy, with its roots in Germany, in Bengal, through such acts of scientific translation. The paper shows that at one level translation reified the power and superiority of western science and language (mostly English) as global and universal categories. Simultaneously, these Bengali translations contested the universal status of western science by reinterpreting homoeopathy as profane, local and indigenous to Bengal.
1 December Hanna Lucia Worliczek (University of Vienna)
Imaging the cytoskeleton – re-defining a biological entity with fluorescent antibodies
This paper traces a substantial visual end epistemic change in cell biology research in the early 1970s, initiated by the adoption of fluorescence microscopy, using antibodies for labelling proteins, from diagnostic research on viral and bacterial pathogens. With the first paper applying this method to cytoskeleton research, published 1974 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, a new kind of visual evidence got established in a field, which until then was dominated by electron microscopy as the most important imaging technique. As I will show, the application and establishment of fluorescence microscopy not only re-defined the cytoskeleton as a biological entity of similar importance as other already well-described organelles like the nucleus, the Golgi apparatus or the endoplasmic reticulum. It furthermore facilitated a new iconography of the cell and a significant epistemic change: it was now possible to stain proteins specifically in fixed cells, allowing the visualization of the molecular architecture of various cell components in situ. Based on manuscripts, published articles and textbooks, editorial archives, papers of the American Society for Cell Biology, as well as interviews with researchers, technology developers and editors, I aim to reconstruct and understand how a new kind of image could be established as central evidence for findings and hypotheses and how the associated visual knowledge shaped the field of cell biology.

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.

During Michaelmas Term 2016 we will continue to meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm in Seminar Room 2. Further information and reading materials will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) if you would like to be included on the list.

7 October Peter Woodford (Faculty of Divinity) and Arik Kershenbaum (Department of Zoology)
A philosopher among the scientists: a dialogue on the evolution of cooperation and cognition
21 October David Teplow (Professor of Neurology and Director of Biopolymer Laboratory, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles)
The black hole of philosophy of science: how the light of understanding is captured by natural kinds
18 November Elizabeth Murchison, Annabelle Bates, Andrea Strakova (Department of Veterinary Medicine), and David Feller (Research Operations Office)
The history of canine transmissible cancers

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 in Seminar Room 1. You are welcome to bring your lunch with you.

Organised by Edwin Rose (edr24).

10 October Matthew Wale (University of Leicester)
'Why do entomologists want a weekly newspaper?': periodicals and the practice of nineteenth-century natural history
'Why do entomologists want a weekly newspaper?' was a question posed by the first issue of the Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer in April 1856. Established and edited by the eminent entomologist Henry Tibbats Stainton, this was the first weekly periodical dedicated to the study of insects. Stainton pointed to the advantages of such a publication, citing speed and efficiency of communication, surpassing the slower and more laborious task of personal correspondence. To this end, the bulk of the Intelligencer's contents consisted of notes and observations received from a host of insect collectors around the country, establishing an entomological community unprecedented in size and scope. The nineteenth century saw a rapid increase in the number of periodicals dedicated to the varying branches of natural history, and this paper will seek to address the wider implications of this through detailed study of the Intelligencer. It will draw upon Stainton's extensive correspondence archive, in addition to the periodical itself, in order to demonstrate the complex relationship between the periodical and the practice of natural history, focusing on such activities as field work, collecting and correspondence. Particular attention will be given to the ways in which such periodicals allowed for much wider participation in the creation and circulation of scientific knowledge, with Stainton himself actively encouraging the pursuit of entomology amongst the working-classes.
17 October Jessica Ratcliff (Cornell University and Yale-NUS College)
The natural history of the Napoleonic Wars: collecting at the East India Company c. 1798–1820
At the turn of the nineteenth century, at its headquarters in the City of London, the East India Company established a new museum. By mid-century, the museum at India House had grown to contain one of Europe's most extensive collections of the natural history, arts and sciences of Asia. This talk uses the museum's early natural history collections to explore the material relationship between scientific practice and imperial conflict. I will first describe some of the ways in which the Asian theatres of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars would shape the scope and scale of the East India Company's collections. I will then consider one particular case: the British invasion of Dutch Java (1811) the collecting activities of Thomas Horsfield and Stamford Raffles, and the uses to which those Javanese collections were put. Such cases raise the question of how and why the practices of war came to encompass natural history surveys during this period. I will conclude by offering a few tentative answers to that question.
24 October Annual Fungus Hunt
31 October Jordan Goodman (UCL)
After Cook: Joseph Banks and his travelling natures, 1787–1810
The death of Captain James Cook in February 1779 deprived Britain of one of its finest navigators but the voyage continued. For Joseph Banks, the voyage of the Resolution and the Discovery, in which he had a part, was the beginning of a new relationship with the Admiralty and a new chapter in the history of botanical knowledge.

Banks never went to sea again after 1773. For the rest of his life the sea was at the heart of what he loved to do most. From 1778, when he was elected President of the Royal Society, Banks intervened in all of the Admiralty voyages of exploration making them his kind of scientific project: he selected vital personnel, including gardeners, botanists and artists; he wrote out instructions for commanders; and most importantly, he changed the architecture of the ships by commandeering space, by turning them into 'floating gardens', moving plants from one part of the world to the other, and supplying King George III's Royal Gardens at Kew with exotic plants unique in Europe. But it wasn't just Admiralty ships that saw the visible hand of Banks. In 1798, the East India Company agreed to let Banks use one of their ships to move plants between Kew and Calcutta, an unprecedented and successful project. With similar techniques, Banks moved plants between Kew and Canton from 1803 and 1810.

This paper on the world of Banks and his travelling natures will draw on two Admiralty voyages and one East India Company voyage.

7 November David Harris Sacks (Reed College)
Learning to know: the educations of Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Harriot
Richard Hakluyt (1552?–1616), cosmographer and clergyman, and Thomas Harriot (1560–1621), ethnographer, mathematician, natural philosopher and polymath, were explorers and discovers in their era's newly-opened territories of study. Both were consumers of learning and producers of knowledge and both sought the truth insofar as human reason could grasp it. Both also contributed to the formation of what we know as modern science with its distinctive ethos of debate and proof. This paper focuses on their educations and experiences, mainly in Oxford, as they began their careers of inquiry into the 'Book of Nature'. Along with considering the role played by humanist learning in shaping their studies of the natural world, attention will be given to Oxford's conflicted religious and cultural climate relates and how it relates to their goals, which Hakluyt defined as 'the certain and full discovery of the world'. For Hakluyt the 'world' was the earth as divinely created. For Harriot, who contributed to a diversity of fields, the 'world' was the universe, a new usage in the period, which took in the heavens as well as the earth. Both men shared an eirenical religious outlook, encouraged by their experiences in Oxford as well as their teachers, and both came to understand their studies of nature to represent a realm of intellectual peace where doubts could be overcome, disagreements could be reconciled, and it would be possible to know the truth with certainty using the senses as well as reason.
14 November Anja-Silvia Goeing (Visiting Fellow, Harvard University)
Conrad Gessner, the Zurich Lectorium, and the study of physics and medicine in the early modern world
Conrad Gessner's approach towards the world and mankind was centred on his preoccupation with the human soul, an object of study that had challenged classical writers such as Aristotle and Galen, and which remained as important in post-Reformation debate.⁠ Writing commentaries on Aristotle's De Anima (On the Soul) was part of early-modern physics education at university and formed the preparatory step for studying medicine. I will use the case study of Gessner's commentary on De Anima to explore how Gessner's readers prioritised De Anima's information. Gessner's intention was to provide the students of philosophy and medicine with the most current and comprehensive thinking, whether in physics or in medicine. His readers' responses raise questions about evolving discussions in physics and medicine, and Gessner's part in helping these develop.
21 November Lisa Skogh (Victoria & Albert Museum)
The mine as a subterranean Kunstkammer
Similar to how the princely gardens and its collections should be seen as an outdoor extension of the Kunstkammer, so could also the princely mines be interpreted. They all formed part of the over-all concept of an early modern elite setting where the mines were central in its association to the display of power, knowledge and rulership. This paper will present the connection between collecting and mining represented in the Kunstkammer from the perspective of the learned male ruler as well as his learned consort. Material wealth provided not only the possibility to create a Kunstkammer it directly influenced how the mineral resources were reflected in the patronage, hence it played a crucial role as an economic platform. As such, the idea of the mines as a subterranean Kunstkammer opens up different areas of collecting and sources of knowledge not the least in reference to the early modern Fürstin as a patron and collector.
28 November Daniel Simpson (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Ethnographic collecting and the despotism of Joseph Banks
While Joseph Banks is generally thought to have been an effective scientific patron, things were not always so. In 1784, several disaffected members of the Royal Society printed a remarkably angry pamphlet which accused Banks, their president, of numerous acts of 'despotic' behaviour quite unwarranted in a man who, in their opinion, possessed only 'puny pretensions' to his position. While Banks might make 'a very good Clerk', they offered, 'the man who is to fill the place of President, should be something more'.

In this talk, I explore such thinking on Banks' very particular brand of scientific patronage in terms of its impact upon the development of a subject which he did not much like. Although an avid collector of artificial curiosities on board the first expedition of Captain Cook, there is little evidence that Banks encouraged the subsequent development of object collecting as a subset of natural history, or as a means of colonial knowledge; in fact, he seems to have done much to frustrate the all-embracing mode of natural historical enquiry in which such study found legitimacy. By focusing in particular upon Banks' relationship and correspondence with colonial officials and scientific elites in late eighteenth-century Australia (the continent, perhaps, in which he was most invested), I argue that the nascent ethnographic studies favoured by imperial administrators as well as amateur explorers were gradually undermined by the enduring appeal of collecting according to the Banksian hierarchy. Our understanding of early Aboriginal Australia, I conclude, has never quite recovered.

History of Medicine Seminars

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

Other History of Medicine events

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Mary Brazelton, Helen Anne Curry and Nick Hopwood.

11 October Claas Kirchhelle (University of Oxford)
The Colindale typers: bacteriophage and the British Public Health Laboratory Service
8 November Ed Juler (Newcastle University)
The life of forms: biology and modernist sculpture
29 November Susanne Schmidt (HPS, Cambridge)
The anti-feminist construction of the 'midlife crisis'

Early Medicine

Organised by Lauren Kassell and Dániel Margócsy.

25 October Anna Winterbottom (University of Sussex)
The foreigner's disease: global perspectives on syphilis in early modernity
15 November Pierre-Etienne Stockland (Columbia University)
From Petite Chimie to industrial chemistry: insecticides in France from the Old Regime to the Industrial Revolution (1750–1830)
22 November Dániel Margócsy (HPS, Cambridge)
Reading Vesalius 700 times: the problem of generation and the reception history of De humani corporis fabrica

Generation to Reproduction

These seminars are funded by our Wellcome Trust strategic award in the history of medicine. Organised by Nick Hopwood and Lauren Kassell.

18 October Aya Homei (University of Manchester)
Bringing together family planning and parasite control: Cold War collaborations between Japan and South Korea
1 November Leah Astbury (HPS, Cambridge, and TORCH, Oxford)
Making pregnancy public in seventeenth-century England


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 Brian Pitts (jbp25). If you have any queries or suggestions for other activities that CamPoS could undertake, please contact Huw Price, Jeremy Butterfield or Anna Alexandrova.

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

Further details of the composition and activities of CamPoS

12 October Georgina Statham (Philosophy, Cambridge)
Using organic chemistry to probe the limits of interventionism
19 October Arif Ahmed (Philosophy, Cambridge)
Belief and statistical evidence
26 October Johanna Thoma (LSE)
Risk aversion and the long run
9 November Cancelled
16 November James Weatherall (University of California, Irvine)
What makes econophysics distinctive?
23 November Kirsten Walsh (University of Nottingham)
Newton's laws and epistemic amplification
30 November Stephan Hartmann (LMU, Munich)
Assessing scientific theories

Cambridge Masterclass in Philosophy of Physics

Saturday 12 November, Trinity College
'Structure and Equivalence in Physical Theories', with James Weatherall, Adam Caulton and Eleanor Knox

More information

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Nick Jardine, Hasok Chang and Cristina Chimisso; Mondays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 24 October (6 sessions)

These six graduate seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. In the first NJ will give an overview of the formation of history of science as a discipline. Then HC and NJ will debate the problems of anachronism faced by historians of science. Subsequent meetings will address the historiography of the French historian of chemistry Hélène Metzger (Cristina Chimisso, Open University), the uses of case-studies in the history of science (HC), the roles of sympathy and antipathy in historical biographies (NJ), and approaches to the history of cross-cultural communication in the sciences (NJ).

Those participating in these seminars are likely to find interesting the meetings of the History and Theory Reading Group.

24 October
Nick Jardine: The formation of history of science

This first session will start with a sketch the ways in which history of science became established as a discipline. There will then be an overview of some of the main approaches that have dominated the field over the past century: positivist narratives of scientific progress, social histories of the sciences, cultural histories, and global histories.


  • On the formation of history of science as an academic discipline:
    • A. Thackray, 'History of science', in Durbin (ed.), A guide to the culture of science, technology and medicine (New York, 1980).
    • A. Mayer, 'Setting up a discipline: conflicting agendas of the Cambridge History of Science Committee, 1936–1950', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 31 (2000), 665–685.
  • Specimens of divergent approaches to the history of science:
    • A standard 'positivist' history of science: C. Singer, A short history of scientific ideas (Oxford, 1959).
    • A standard social(ist) history: J. D. Bernal, Science in history (London, 1954).
    • Social construction of science (SSK) and actor network theory (ANT): D. Bloor, Knowledge and social imagery (London, 1976); S. Shapin and S. Schaffer, Leviathan and the air pump (Princeton, 1985); B. Latour, Science in action (Milton Keynes, 1987).
    • Cultural and global histories of science: M. Biagioli, Galileo courtier (Chicago, 1993); P. Smith, The business of alchemy  (Berkeley CA, 1994); S. Schaffer et al., eds, The brokered world: Go-betweens and global intelligence, 1770–1820 (Sagamore Beach MA, 2009).
  • On uses of histories of the sciences:
    • L. Graham, W. Lepenies and P. Weingart, eds, Functions and uses of disciplinary histories (Dordrecht, 1983).

31 October
Hasok Chang and Nick Jardine: Anachronism

There are obvious problems with writing about the past from the perspective of the present. But can the historian escape the present completely? Can anachronism ever be put to productive uses?


  • H. Chang, 'We have never been whiggish (about phlogiston)', Centaurus, 51 (2009), 239–264.
  • Q. Skinner, 'Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas', History and Theory, 8 (1969), 3–53.
  • N. Jardine, 'Uses and abuses of anachronism in the history of the sciences of the sciences', History of Science, 38 (2000), 251–270.

7 November
Cristina Chimisso: Hélène Metzger on the methods and aims of history of science

Can the historian understand past texts just as readers who lived at the time when the texts were written did? Should this be the historian’s aim? Is history of science relevant to current philosophy and science? These are some of the questions that the historian of chemistry Hélène Metzger (Chatou, France, 1889 – Auschwitz, 1944) aimed to answer. This session will discuss her innovative historiography of science.


  • Hélène Metzger, Chemistry [1930], transl. C. V. Michael, (West Cornwall CT, 1991), chapters 2 and 3.
  • C. Chimisso, 'Hélène Metzger: The history of science between the study of mentalities and total history', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 32A (2001), 203–241.
  • Moro-Abadía, Oscar, 'Beyond the Whig history interpretation of history: lessons on "presentism" from Hélène Metzger', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39 (2008), 194–201.

14 November
Hasok Chang: Case-studies

Are historians condemned to a choice between studying particular cases without general implications and making unsound  generalisations from an inevitably insufficient number of cases? How else can we learn from case-based thinking?


  • J. Forrester, 'If p, then what? Thinking in cases', History of the Human Sciences, 9/3 (1996), 1–25.
  • H. Chang, 'Beyond case-studies: history as philosophy', in S. Mauskopf and T. Schmaltz, eds, Integrating history and philosophy of science: Problems and prospects (Dordrecht, 2012), 109–124.

21 November
Nick Jardine: Sympathy and antipathy in historical biographies of scientists

Many accounts of historical interpretation assign central roles to empathetic re-enactment of past agents' motivations and reasonings.  This session will address, with examples, the strengths and weaknesses of sympathetic and antipathetic engagement by historians of science with their subjects.


  • N. Jardine, 'Kepler = Koestler:  on empathy and genre in the history of the sciences', Journal for the History of Astronomy, 45/3 (2014), 271–288.
  • A sympathetic biography: A. Koestler on Kepler in The Sleepwalkers (London, 1959).
  • An antipathetic biography: G. L. Geison, The private science of Louis Pasteur (Princeton NJ, 1995).

28 November
Nick Jardine and Geoffrey Lloyd: Histories of cross-cultural communication in the sciences

Global circulation of scientific knowledge is a, if not the, currently fashionable field in the history of science.  This session will consider some of the theoretical frameworks that have been employed in such studies.  It will be suggested that the term 'global' is potentially misleading, given that many of the most significant studies have focussed on local negotiations and exchanges. In conclusion, it will be argued that the focus on communication and exchange of knowledge rather than the establishment of consensus has led to historiographical and philosophical confusion.


  • J. Secord, 'Knowledge in transit', Isis, 95 (2004), 654–672.
  • G.E.R. Lloyd, Disciplines in the Making, chapter 8 'Science'.
  • The vast recent literature includes articles in: S. Schaffer et al., eds, The brokered world: Go-betweens and global intelligence, 1770–1820 (Sagamore Beach MA, 2009); Global histories of science, Focus, Isis, 101 (2010) (ed. S. Sivasundaram); Global currents in national histories of science, Focus, Isis, 104 (2013) (ed. S. McCook).

Science in Print I: Book Production in the Hand Press Period

Roger Gaskell and Anna Jones; Wednesdays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 9 November (4 sessions), Whipple Old Library, except session 3

Using examples from the Whipple Library's rare book collections, these sessions will explore some bibliographical techniques to identify and describe the structure and production of printed material from the hand press period (16th–18th centuries). Understanding the book as a physical object is a vital complement to the study of the text, helping to locate its economic and social context, its audience, and ultimately its historical significance. Although the focus will be on scientific texts and illustrations, these sessions will be of interest to book historians in all disciplines, and all are welcome. The series will be structured as follows:

  • Survey of the hand press period I (Roger Gaskell)
  • Survey of the hand press period II (Roger Gaskell)
  • Hand press book production and its implications (in UL Historical Printing Room, led by Roger Gaskell)
  • Bibliographies, catalogues and online resources (Anna Jones)

For further information and to book a place, please contact Anna Jones (ahr23).

Casebooks Class

Lauren Kassell; Tuesday 22 November, 10am–12noon

Between 1596 and 1634 Simon Forman and Richard Napier recorded 80,000 astrological consultations. This is one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history. While the majority of the cases are about medical questions, matters of health and well-being, personal affairs, romantic interests, worldly affairs, and the occult sciences are also represented. This is a rich resource for the history of dynamics between patients and practitioners and experiences of illness and healing. The Casebooks Project presents a digital edition of Forman's and Napier's records, an image archive of the original manuscripts, and innovative facilities for searching and sorting the corpus. This class introduces these 400-year-old manuscripts and tutors students in using digital humanities to understand them.

HPS Philosophy Workshop

Would you like to get feedback on your work-in-progress in a friendly and supportive atmosphere? Texts will be circulated one week in advance and discussed over tea and biscuits in Seminar Room 1 on alternate Wednesdays, 5–6pm. Share a draft of your MPhil essay, PhD chapter, potential article, or any research-in-progress in the philosophy of science, broadly construed.

Organised by Hardy Schilgen and Stijn Conix.

Twentieth Century Reading Group

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

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

In Michaelmas, we'll be reading:

13 October

Sebastian Conrad, What is Global History?, Princeton 2016
Chapters 4 and 10 ('Global history as a distinct approach', 'Global history for whom? The politics of global history')
With an introduction by James Poskett

3 November

Vanessa Ogle, Global Transformation of Time, 1870–1950, Cambridge, MA 2015
Chapters 3 and 7, and Conclusion ('From National to Uniform Time around the Globe', 'One Calendar for All')
With an introduction by Mary Augusta Brazelton

10 November

Christophe Bonneuil, The Shock of the Anthropocene, London 2015
Preface, and Chapters 2 and 3 ('Thinking with Gaia: Towards Environmental Humanities', 'Clio, the Earth and the Anthropocenologists', with Chapter 1, 'Welcome to the Anthropocene' recommended for those unfamiliar with the idea of the Anthropocene)
With an introduction by Helen Curry

24 November

Michael Gordin, Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English, Chicago 2015
Chapters 7 and 9 ('Unspeakable', 'All the Russian That's Fit to Print')
With an introduction by Jonnie Penn

History and Theory Reading Group

We meet on alternate Fridays, 11am–12.30pm in the Board Room.

Scholarly Practice, Style and the Digital

What has the arrival of digital and network technologies done to styles of scholarship? This question has been asked of scientific practice by historians of science – by Jon Agar, Bruno Strasser and others. But technological change affects historians just as much as it does scientists, and so we wish to extend the analysis to our own practice. Using the concept of research 'style', we will discuss texts that reflect on scholarly practice, that deal with the arrival and development of digital and networked technologies, and that combine the two. To give structure to the year's reading we will follow the life-cycle of a piece of scholarly work, looking at Research in Michaelmas, Production/Authorship in Lent, and Audience/Users in Easter.

Organised by Boris Jardine (bj210) and Daniel Wilson (dcsw2).

Session 1: 14 October

C. Wright Mills, 'On Intellectual Craftsmanship', in The Sociological Imagination (Penguin, 1959), pp. 215–248

Markus Krajewski, 'Paper as Passion: Niklas Luhmann and His Card Index', in Lisa Gitelman (ed.), 'Raw Data' Is an Oxymoron (MIT Press, 2013), pp. 103–120

Session 2: 28 October

Jon Agar, 'What Difference Did Computers Make?', Social Studies of Science, 36 (2006), pp. 869–907

Bruno J. Strasser, 'The Experimenter's Museum: GenBank, Natural History, and the Moral Economies of Biomedicine', Isis, 102 (2011), pp. 60–96

Session 3: 18 November

Ian Hacking, '"Style" for Historians and Philosophers', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 23 (1992), pp. 1–20

Session 4: 2 December

Carolyn Steedman, 'After the Archive', Comparative Critical Studies, 8 (2011), pp. 321–340

Alan Liu, 'The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique', Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 11 (2012), pp. 8–41

Science and Literature Reading Group

Meetings take place on Monday evenings at Darwin College from 7.30–9pm. All are welcome to join in our wide-ranging and friendly discussions! The group is organised by Melanie Keene and Charissa Varma. For recaps, further readings, news, and other updates, please visit our blog.

This term the Science and Literature Reading Group is on fire. Our four themed sessions will explore flames elemental and personal, spiritual and experimental, spontaneous and accidental. As usual, we will read a diverse range of sources, including ancient philosophy, comic poetry, diary entries, experimental reports, and serialised fiction. This term an additional optional piece of scholarship/commentary has also been suggested on each reading list.

17 October: Cosmic Fire

31 October: Sensitive Fire

14 November: Bodily Fire

28 November: Fighting Fire

Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group

We are starting a reading group dedicated to new and old problems in philosophy of medicine. This term our focus is on inductive risk as it is manifested in healthcare and on personalized medicine. All are welcome.

Meetings take place on Tuesdays, 1–2pm, in Seminar Room 1.

Conveners: Tim Lewens, Stephen John, Jacob Stegenga, Anna Alexandrova

Week 1 (11 October): Inductive risk and diagnosis

Biddle, J. 'Inductive risk, epistemic risk and the overdiagnosis of disease' Perspectives on Science 24(2)

Week 2 (18 October): Inductive risk and population health interventions

Plutynski, A. (forthcoming) 'Safe, or Sorry? Cancer Screening and Inductive Risk' forthcoming in Exploring Inductive Risk (will be pre-circulated subject to author's approval)

Week 3 (25 October): Inductive risk: which consequences matter?

Scarantino, 'Inductive risk and justice in kidney allocation' Bioethics Volume 24 Number 8 2010 pp 421–430

Week 4 (1 November): Personalised medicine: mapping the terrain

Gamma, Alex, (forthcoming) 'Personalized and Precision Medicine' in Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine (ed., Solomon, Simon, and Kincaid), Routledge

Week 5 (8 November): Personalised medicine: the social and the personal

Green and Vogt. 2016. 'Personalizing Medicine: Disease Prevention in silico and in socio' Humana.Mente Journal of Philosophical Studies 30: 105-145

Week 6 (15 November): Personalised medicine: redefining disease

Vogt, H., Hofmann, B., & Getz, L. (2016) 'Personalized medicine: evidence of normativity in its quantitative definition of health' Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 1-16.

Week 7 (22 November): Personalised medicine: inferring individual effects

Teira, David. 'Testing oncological treatments in the era of personalized medicine', in G. Boniolo & M. Nathan, eds., Philosophy of Molecular Medicine, Routledge, forthcoming

Week 8 (29 November): TBA

Reading to be announced

Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

The Philosophy and History of Physics reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.00pm to 6.00pm in the Board Room. Organised by Jeremy Butterfield and Richard Staley.

The theme for the term is the history and philosophy of spacetime theories, especially relativity. This is chosen partly with a view to a one-day conference being held in Trinity College on Saturday 12 November. The main book will be the Cambridge Companion to Einstein (CUP), ed. M. Janssen and C. Lehner. There is University-wide access to the ebook version, so Reading Group members should be able to read it online.

The proposed readings for the first few dates are as follows. We will of course adjust in the light of people's interests, especially in later weeks.

11 October Chapters by D. Howard and J. Norton: on Einstein's philosophy of science, and on special relativity, respectively.
18 October Chapter by Janssen: on Einstein's quest for general relativity.
25 October Oliver Pooley, 'Substantivalist and relationist approaches to spacetime', in R. Batterman ed., The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics (OUP, 2013), and available on the Pittsburgh philosophy of science archive.  
1 November Chapters by Ryckman and Friedman (both on post-Kantian themes).

Casebooks Therapy

Organiser: Leah Astbury
Sponsor and tutor: Lauren Kassell

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

The aim of the reading group is the improve the palaeography skills of those who attend, as well as to provide guidance about how to make sense of Forman's and Napier's records. No familiarity with medieval or early modern handwriting is necessary, and the group is open to all. Attendees are invited to suggest a particular page or case from the Casebooks that they have trouble reading to work through collaboratively. Participants should bring a laptop. Please email Leah Astbury (la320) if you are planning to attend.

Meetings are held on Wednesdays, 4.30–6pm in the Department.

Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet on Fridays, 4.00–5.30pm in the Board Room, to translate and discuss a text from the history of science, technology or medicine, with the help of our Latin tutor, Maria Ramandi. 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 Tillmann Taape (tt311).

More about Latin Therapy

Manchu Therapy

The Manchu Therapy group meets fortnightly on Tuesdays, from 3.00 to 4.00pm, in the Board Room.

Manchu Therapy is an informal group for beginners and more experienced readers who would like to improve their skills. (See this brief description of the Manchus and the Manchu language.) Every other week, we will meet to discuss grammar and read a short text together.

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

Arabic Therapy

The Arabic Therapy group meets every Tuesday, from 3.00 to 4.30pm, in Room P19.

We are an informal group for beginners and more experienced learners who want to improve their Arabic language. Each week we spend a little time discussing some light grammar, before reading through a text together. For more information, or to be added to the mailing list, please contact Seb Falk.

Greek Therapy

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

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

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