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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 are refreshments after the seminar at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

19 October Charu Singh (University of Cambridge)
Genres of prediction: astrology between Sanskrit and Hindi print in colonial north India
Bringing together the histories of science, print, language and empire, this paper examines the circulation of jyotiḥśāstra, the Sanskrit astral sciences, in British India. By the late nineteenth century, jyotiṣa was a widely read and published genre of Sanskrit knowledge in print, appearing in a range of publishing formats in bilingual editions with Hindi translation. The paper reconstructs the social world and knowledge communities of astrology (phalit jyotiṣa) by studying the changing textuality and linguistic practices of Hindi readers, writers, publishers and translators in the burgeoning print culture of colonial north India.
26 October Robin Scheffler (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
A contagious cause: the search for cancer viruses and the growth of American biomedicine
Throughout the twentieth century, successive generations of medical, scientific and organizational advances confronted, and were confounded by, the challenge of cancer. Few theories of cancer embodied this cycle of hope and frustration better than the idea that cancer might be caused by an infectious agent, particularly a virus. Following cancer viruses through the twentieth century allows us to understand the political ground upon which biology and medicine merged together to form biomedicine in America, as well as the impact that this new political formation had on the capacity of biologists to reimage the nature of life in molecular terms. In considering this path, I also offer some more general points as to how historians of science and medicine should think about the relationship between experimental and political systems and the relevance that this relationship has for our understanding of 'failed' scientific endeavours.
2 November Sandra Harding (UCLA)
Yet another unity of science? Latin American challenges to history, philosophy and social studies of scientific knowledge
Recently there has appeared an explosion of writings in English focused on perspectives on science, technology and society from Latin America. These have met with varied responses from Northern 'international' history, philosophy and social studies of science and technology. Here I suggest that many of the most positive and welcoming such responses nevertheless tend to replicate the now long discredited Unit of Science program. They do so insofar as they propose, often enthusiastically, to include the Latin American issues and arguments into their existing conceptual frameworks for the history, philosophy or social studies of science. Yet many of the Latin American accounts overtly resist such inclusion. Rather they insist on foregrounding the different worlds assumed by such Latin American work, and, consequently, what they regard as valuably persisting conflicts and tensions between these worlds. They advocate for parochializing Northern history, philosophy and social studies of science, and thus for ontological as well as epistemological pluralism in these fields.
9 November John Brewer (California Institute of Technology)
Reforming Naples/how to use a network: Vesuvius and savants in the two kingdoms of Sicily
This paper shows how an international interest in Vesuvius was exploited by reformist savants in nineteenth-century Naples to promote a modernizing agenda for the Kingdom. It focuses on one key figure, Teodoro Monticelli, secretary of the Royal Scientific Academy, who connected reformers in Naples, concerned with public health, ecology, education and infra-structural development to an international network of scholars (from Brazil to Russia) studying the volcano. Monticelli not only worked in Naples with figures such as Davy, Humboldt, Biot, Babbage, Buckland and Lyell, and put together collections of Vesuvian rocks and minerals for Academies in Europe and the Americas, but with his colleagues used these international connections and recognition to push a reforming agenda within the kingdom itself.
16 November Adrian Currie (University of Cambridge)
A bold hypothesis about pursuit
Many decisions in science are not about how well-confirmed or otherwise some hypothesis is, but about which hypotheses or investigations should be chased up. This is the context of pursuit. I'm developing an account of pursuit which is built around a bold hypothesis: that questions of pursuit best turn on the biproducts rather than the products of scientific investigations. I'll start by motivating my analysis via a discussion of the pursuitworthiness of morphological phylogenetics in paleontology. I'll make a pessimistic bet that the central product of such investigations – knowledge of the ancestral relationships between extinct taxa – are unlikely to be forthcoming. But I'll then argue that a biproduct of such investigations, knowledge of the evolutionary and developmental nature of characters, is forthcoming and underwrites the pursuitworthiness of the practice. With this in place, I'll then provide an account of a practice or investigation's 'products' and 'biproducts' which turns on investigations themselves (as opposed to merely scientists) having aims (I'll co-opt some recent work by Hasok Chang to do this). I'll close by considering some possible arguments in favour of the bold hypothesis, and briefly considering two possible circumstances where the hypothesis might break down: investigations involving inductive risk, and some highly controlled experimental contexts.
23 November Saul Dubow (University of Cambridge)
Before the big bang of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): 250 years of astronomy in South Africa
South Africa is in the process of building the world's largest radio telescope as part of a major international consortium. When the Square Kilometre Array begins to operate (around 2021) it is envisaged that the telescope, comprising hundreds of linked dishes, will offer exceptional image resolution quality and allow astronomers to catalogue radio sources with unprecedented speed and range. The promoters of the SKA stress the benefits that will accrue to the 'rainbow nation'. In doing so, they rely heavily on South Africa's remarkable history of astronomical activity – a story that goes back to Nicolas-Louis de La Caille's pioneering work in the mid-eighteenth century, as well as the role of the Royal Astronomers at the Cape and the scientific contributions of John Herschel. My own survey of this history seeks to contextualise astronomy more broadly in South African history as part of a contribution to discussions about the developmentalist objectives and political implications of the SKA project and the role of 'big science' in Africa.

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, Joseph Martin and Jesse Olszynko-Gryn.

5 October Jahnavi Phalkey (King's College London)
German émigré scientists and engineers and aeronautics in India
I wish to explore the stories of German émigré scientists and engineers in India through the history of India's first jetfighter, Marut – HF 24. For this, I selectively study three separate waves of German emigration to India from the 1930s to the 1950s and trace their links to the development of facilities for advanced research and education in aeronautics and aerodynamics, and eventually to manufacturing of aircraft. Two aspects of this story are significant: the transnational networks of German speaking aeronautical engineers and scientists, including that of Indian students trained in Germany, and the constraints of Cold War geopolitics as they shaped the conditions under which the aircraft could be manufactured. I make two arguments: the first concerns the nature of state power in India after independence; and the second is about the specific configuration of the military-industrial-academic complex in India, an idea that is yet to receive substantial attention.
19 October Eglė Rindzevičiūtė (Kingston University)
A struggle for the Soviet future: the birth of scientific forecasting in the Soviet Union
This paper argues for the importance of Soviet forecasting and scientific future studies in shaping Soviet governmentalities in the post-Stalinist period. The de-Stalinization of Soviet governance not only involved the abolition of Iosif Stalin's personality cult but also led to wider intellectual changes in conceptions of the nature, possibilities, and tasks of governance. Some of these changes, such as the impact of cybernetics after its rehabilitation in 1956, have been explored by historians of science and technology. However, although cybernetic control is based on prediction and therefore principally oriented toward the future, a new branch of scientific governance, scientific forecasting, has been overlooked, despite its transformative role as an applied policy science. Scientific forecasting sought to generate knowledge about the future states of the Soviet economy and society, becoming a field of reform, innovation, and power struggle, one that needs to be rediscovered by scholars. This paper (recently published in Slavic Review) lays the groundwork for such rediscovery, outlining a brief history of Soviet scientific forecasting and drawing out its relation to east-west intellectual and governmental interaction.
9 November Bernhard Leitner (University of Vienna)
Neuro-empire: rise of a medical-scientific discipline in modern Japan
The foundation of the Institute for Anatomy and Physiology of the Central Nervous System in Vienna in the year 1882 marks without a doubt the birth of neurology as a science based medical discipline. This paper attempts to answer the question why already after a short period of time a significant number of Japanese scholars visited the renowned Viennese laboratory. I argue that the appropriation of cutting-edge scientific knowledge by Japanese medical professionals not only altered the trajectories of adjacent medical disciplines like psychiatry, but at the same time promised solutions to a range of problems of the young modern Japanese nation on a national as well as international scale. Historians of science have extensively studied German influences on the formation of academia in Meiji-Japan (1868–1912), but have consistently overlooked an Austrian institution and the vital role it played in this process, a role possibly concealed in a tacit dimension.
16 November Paul A. Roth (University of California, Santa Cruz)
The structure of structure: how Kuhn establishes that science requires historical explanation
As is well known, Kuhn restricts a designation of 'normal science' to those disciplines with accepted research practices. What makes for normal science, of course, shifts with changes in paradigms on Kuhn's account. Now this way of specificying normal science has a whiff of circularity inasmuch as it defines normal science by reference to 'scientific research', but that can be overlooked. Sufficient for my purpose will be to take as a 'science' whatever comes to pass as such. In this respect, given the century old controversy regarding history's status as a science, I propose focusing rather on the question of how whatever passes as 'normal science' comes to achieve that status. My argument will be that any answer to a question about how normal science comes to be, i.e., one that develops a non-a priori causal/explanatory account, will have to utilize what I term an 'essentially narrative explanation'. In other words, my account shows how in SSR Kuhn crafts a narrativized account of normal science. This will count as naturalistic in a minimalist sense inasmuch as it does not begin with any philosophical definition of what is or is not a science, and utilizes in its explanation nothing more than facts narratively ordered so as to explain (in the sense of revealing how a later point time results from earlier ones) how what comes to be called science achieves that status. Understanding Kuhn's work in this way helps naturalize narrative explanation through a form of mutual containment — since narrative helps constitute any understanding of what counts as normal science, that narrative becomes a part of any account that comes to be viewed as science. It would be highly ironic then to reject an explanation form that in fact proves unavoidable for purposes of revealing why what passes as science at a particular time does so.

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, with the exception of the special lecture-demonstration held on Thursday 19 October at 11am – 12.30pm in the New Gallery, Whipple Museum. You are welcome to bring your lunch with you to the Monday seminars.

Organised by Sebestian Kroupa (sk796).

9 October Nicholas Thomas (Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge)
On Tupaia Street: the travels of artefacts from Cook's first voyage
This presentation reviews the history of collections and particularly ethnographic collections made during Cook's voyages. The field has been much studied over the last 50 years and it might be assumed that the histories of extant artefacts and other records are now well established. Taking as examples the travels of textiles and the misidentification of Australian artefacts that have recently become highly controversial, the talk explains why not, and why new complexities have emerged that point to a fresh programme of cross-disciplinary research.
16 October Lachlan Fleetwood (History, Cambridge)
'The motion of the blood is in fact a sort of living barometer': altitude sickness, poisonous plants and instrumentalised bodies in the Himalaya, 1800–1850
Motivated by both science and empire, European explorers increasingly ventured into the high Himalaya after 1800, where they encountered the insidious yet little understood effects of altitude sickness. They did not, however, do so alone. Tensions arising from the highly unpredictable distribution of symptoms were exacerbated by the way explorers were dependent on pre-existing networks of expertise and labour, which forced them to measure their minds and bodies against those of their Asian guides and porters. In this talk, I examine altitude physiology in the early nineteenth century, largely overlooked by scholars in favour of the systematic and often institutionally-sponsored scientific studies of the later period. I consider the way travellers presented their bodily debility in relation to their guides in published accounts, their examination of the indigenous explanation for altitude sickness (resulting from the Bis or poisonous miasmas from plants), and their experimental approaches around quantification and the instrumentalisation of bodies. I use these to examine expedition sociability and agency, and bring into focus the practical, everyday aspects of intermediary relationships. Throughout, I situate this story within the context of the constitution of the Himalaya as the northern borderlands of British India. I also show that grappling with the problem of altitude was an intrinsically comparative process for the European actors, drawing on perceived and actual differences with the Alps and the Andes, and argue that this allows us to examine the formulation of what was an inherently global science.
Thu 19 October
11am – 12.30pm
Brian J. Ford
Complex constructs from the simple microscope
This extended session is co-organised with the Whipple Museum and Library and includes demonstration from the speaker.
Conventional academic accounts reiterate a standard view of early microscopes – they were capable only of low magnification and inferior resolution, and museum displays perpetuate the notion that they generated images that were distorted by chromatism and spherical aberration. Popular presentations emphasise that the pioneers crudely tore their specimens open to peer uneducatedly at what lay within.

The deficiency lies, not in the microscopes, but the in present-day neglect by scholars of the need for technical precision and investigative originality. Surprisingly, single-lens microscopes from the seventeenth century can be used to provide images that were within a factor of four of the maximum theoretical resolution of a conventional optical microscope. Today we will revisit the work of the pioneers, and we can personally experience how they used their instruments.

The dawn of microscopy underpinned the era of the scientific enlightenment, yet present-day interpretations can mislead the unchaperoned enthusiast. Here we will witness how microscopical discovery was made.

23 October Annual Fungus Hunt
30 October Andrew Lacey (Making & Knowing Project, Columbia University)
Experimental reconstruction of the bronze life-cast lizard of the Renaissance
The technique of recreating objects or processes to gain deeper understanding has been used widely in the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology. Complex multi-staged processes with a verifiable material outcome offer the greatest scope for this method of analysis. As such, the anonymous sixteenth-century French artisanal and technical manuscript (MnF MS. Fr.640 for short) currently being explored by Pamela Smith with The Making and Knowing Project offers numerous opportunities for such an investigation. One particular chapter discusses life casting in exquisite detail, involving the sacrificial loss of the subject consumed by the fire and replaced by the bronze. These cremated animals included snake, salamander, toad and crab. Such macabre yet beautiful objects offered the Renaissance scholar a meditation on natural history and the cycle of life and death through technical virtuosity.

This paper focuses on one particular passage from the chapter dedicated to the life-casting of a lizard in MnF MS. Fr.640. The solid bronze lizard experimentally recreated here from this text, was dissected and subject to x-ray analysis for comparison with similar museum artefacts. However, by embodied experience of the recreation one may go beyond the material and gain unique insights that may not be reached otherwise. Consider that the anonymous author of the text lived in a time when material transformations were observed and governed by the senses. The author's internal thoughts, hesitations and warnings given in notes, diagrams and marginalia are made visceral when experienced directly through the senses. We may then understand more of the unspoken tacit knowledge underpinning the text.

6 November Catarina Madruga (Universidade de Lisboa)
What's in a name? Negotiations of credibility and authority in the naming of the giant otter shrew (Potamogale velox)
The nineteenth century is commonly associated with the growth of imperial trade routes and a 'deluge' of specimens that is said to have flooded natural history museums and collections together with a surge in the number of known biological species. However, the practice of naming new species continued to pose a challenge to an increasingly larger, more international, and more specialized community of naturalists.

This paper introduces the context behind the numerous names and descriptions of the elusive giant otter shrew (Potamogale velox), a small African mammal with a laterally compressed tail, aquatic feeding, and elusive behaviour that challenged its first scientific descriptions. In his travel accounts in 1861, the French-American explorer Paul Du Chaillu provisionally called the animal that he had caught in Gabon – and that he thought was a new species of carnivore – Cynogale velox. After observing the specimen, John Edward Gray, the keeper of the British Museum, called the animal Mythomys, a figment of the explorer's imagination. When new and more complete specimens arrived in Europe some years later, the Portuguese zoologist and museum director José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage, proposed to review it as the insectivore Bayonia angolensis, while almost at the same time, the Scottish professor George J. Allman named it Potamogale velox, referring back to Du Chaillu as the original describer.

The problematic characteristics of the actual animal were reflected in the confused description, publication, and nomenclature process. Beyond the specimens themselves, this paper demonstrates that the naturalists' practices of negotiation of credibility and authority were just as problematic, as these experts put forward their claims for what constitutes a credible name and an appropriate description, and fought over who should have the credentials to name new species. This paper shows how the Code for Zoological nomenclature, the nature of which was being discussed in the community at the time, was not sufficient to assure standardization of practices when so little information was available and, especially, when credit, authority, and reputation were at stake.

13 November Jenny Bulstrode (HPS, Cambridge)
Iron holds the whale
Just past noon, on 30 January 1839, a fight broke out in the Admiralty Library. On the one side, an official committee of savants in magnetic surveying, appointed to reform the Navy's dangerously defective compasses; on the other, the Reverend William Scoresby, a whaler turned clergyman who ministered to his congregation of mariners from a floating pulpit. While the committee and the former captain shared a common evangelism, they differed in its expression; a conflict that erupted over knowledge of iron.

A household name for his whaling journals and Arctic natural histories, in 1836 Scoresby caused a stir among the magnetic community for his remarkable mastery of the properties of iron. In particular, his 'compound needle' drew envious eyes, so light, and so powerful it would surpass the finest variation compass. In spring 1838, the committee solicited Scoresby's help; a year later they pulled him, and his compound needle, apart in a heated contest of disputed ownership. Through the early nineteenth century, revolutionary changes in the means of production transformed the nature of iron, rendering its properties in flux and uncertain. The right to make, manipulate, and assess iron became the stuff of ferocious contest for savants of the survey sciences, as it was for combinations protesting the depreciation of their work under the changing labour economy. Scoresby staked his claim to knowledge of the metal by drawing on the labour law of the whale-boats, a culture peculiarly preoccupied with the properties of certain materials, ink and skin, parchment and iron. Extant collections of Scoresby's iron in Greenwich and Whitby are the traces of a battle between ways of knowing this protean metal; 'not down in any map; true places never are'.

20 November Alex Aylward (University of Leeds)
From natural histories to man-made futures: the origins and ends of R.A. Fisher's Darwinism
The Modern Synthesis in evolutionary biology (ca. 1930–1950) is supposed to have provided a unified and comprehensive approach to the study of life, its diversity, and its evolution. However, several naturalists and historians have complained that natural history has been routinely side-lined – scientifically, institutionally, and historiographically – from the story. One means of rectifying this situation is to examine the constructive and critical roles of self-describing naturalists in the making and shaping of the synthesis. Another is to examine the role(s) of natural history – its practices, insights, and style of thought – in the work of the recognised synthesis 'architects'.

In focusing upon Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890–1962), the present paper takes the latter approach. A trained mathematician and principal founder of theoretical population genetics, his 1930 work The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection is cited by many as the most important evolutionary work since Darwin's Origin. Several commentators have puzzled over Fisher's unwavering commitment to Darwinism, given his training in a context (pre-war Cambridge) in which the stock of the gradualist doctrine stock was low, and Mendelian-saltationist accounts of organic change held sway. Nevertheless, in comparing Fisher's evolutionary world-view with that of the American geneticist Sewall Wright (1889–1988), historian Bill Provine influentially cites the 'Importance of Traditions in Natural History and Taxonomy' in understanding their differing visions of organic change. We hear that the tradition to which Fisher was a neo-Darwinian, adaptationist one, whilst Wright's challenged such a view. This paper will explore (and ultimately contest) the historical accuracy and historiographic utility of accounting for Fisher and Wright's theoretical divergences by reference to their immersion in opposing natural historical and taxonomic 'traditions'. It turns out that, more than describing and accounting for life's past and present diversity and adaptedness, Fisher's particular reimagining of Darwinism allowed the tantalising possibility of remaking and remodelling life – and particularly human life – for the future. From this perspective, we can begin to understand the ways in which Fisher drew upon natural historical resources, material and conceptual, whilst at the same time extricating them from their bases in both 'Nature' and 'History'.

27 November Katalin Pataki (Central European University, Budapest)
A silent servant of natural knowledge: the herbarium of 'The Flying Monk' Brother Cyprian
The herbarium of Brother Cyprian (1724–1775) is a unique collection of 283 medicinal herbs and other plants that the Camaldolese lay brother, nicknamed 'The Flying Monk' for his legendary Daedalic exploits, collected in the surroundings of the so-called Red Monastery (Červený Kláštor, Slovakia) in the Pieniny and Tatra Mountains at the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom and Poland. Brother Cyprian was in charge of the infirmary of the monastery, as well as providing medical services to the inhabitants of the nearby settlements, and his herbarium contains valuable records about his medical experience and observations. Although Cyprian's work has attracted the attention of historians of medicine and botanists, who pointed to his receptivity to current trends in natural knowledge, no written evidence has been found that would inform about his ambitions to use his knowledge in long-distance networks of intellectual or material exchange. For this reason, my research focuses on two alternative ways to learn about his strategies and attitudes to acquire and use his natural and medical expertise. On the one hand, I explore his personal interactions with other intellectuals in the region as potential mediators, who shaped his interests and ways of observations. On the other hand, relying on the inventories of the monastery, I will reconstruct Cyprian's working environment and investigate the making and the use of the herbarium in the context of the material culture in which it was created.


AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) is a group dedicated to history of chemistry. While our main focus is historical, we also consider the philosophical, sociological, public and educational dimensions of chemistry. This term's theme is 'Order in Chemistry'. The group meets on Mondays at 5pm in Seminar Room 1. Coordinated by Karoliina Pulkkinen.

25 September Klaus Ruthenberg (Coburg University of Applied Sciences)
The history of the glass electrode for pH measurement
2 October Alex Mankoo (UCL)
Ordering public bodies in wartime through chemical control: gas tests in WWII Britain
23 October Cancelled
30 October Stephen Irish
The corundum stone and crystallographic chemistry
6 November Konstantin Kiprijanov (University of Leeds)
Challenging chemical chaos during the Cold War: the case of the BelousovZhabotinsky reaction
13 November Jean-Pierre Llored (Visiting Scholar, Linacre College, Oxford; Associate Researcher, Laboratory SPHERE, Paris 7 University)
How do chemists order their knowledge and know-how?

History of Medicine

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

Other History of Medicine events

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Lauren Kassell and Dániel Margócsy.

10 October James Clifton (MFA, Houston)
Joachim Wtewael and the human body
24 October Maaike van der Lugt (University of Versailles)
Individual complexion and personalized care in medieval medicine
21 November Erica Charters (University of Oxford)
Knowing numbers, counting men: paper technology and manpower in the eighteenth century

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Mary Brazelton and Nick Hopwood.

7 November Kathleen Vongsathorn (University of Warwick)
The place of birth: mothers, midwives, birth attendants, and choices about childbirth in twentieth-century Uganda
14 November Stuart Hogarth (Sociology, Cambridge)
Regulatory regimes for diagnostic devices
28 November James Stark (University of Leeds)
The cult of youth: rejuvenation in interwar Britain

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Nick Hopwood and Lauren Kassell.

17 October Nicole Bourbonnais (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)
Spreading the good news around the world: international family planning prophets in the mid-twentieth century
31 October Boyd Brogan (HPS, Cambridge)
Generation, demons and disease: rethinking gender in the Denham exorcisms, 1585–86


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 (unless otherwise noted) in Seminar Room 2.

Further details of the composition and activities of CamPoS

11 October
Carlo Rovelli (Aix-Marseille University)
What is quantum theory actually telling us about the world? The 'relational' interpretation
18 October Jacob Stegenga (with Zoë Hitzig) (HPS, Cambridge)
The perils of p-hacking and the promise of pre-analysis plans
25 October Sam Fletcher (University of Minnesota)
The principle of stability
1 November Eric Martin (Baylor University)
'The battle is on': Lakatos, Feyerabend and the student protests
8 November Melissa Fusco (Columbia University)
Causal decision theory and tragic evidence: Death in Damascus revisited
15 November Paul A. Roth (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Reviving analytical philosophy of history
22 November Harvey Brown (University of Oxford)
Quantum Bayesianism: the ineffable reality behind 'participatory realism'
29 November Alisa Bokulich (Boston University)
Representing and explaining: The eikonic conception of explanation
6 December Emily Thomas (Durham University)
What's the point of Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World?

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Nick Jardine, Geoffrey Lloyd, Hasok Chang and Cristina Chimisso; Mondays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 23 October (6 sessions)

These graduate seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. In the opening sessions NJ will give an overview of the formation of history of science as a discipline and of the range of recent approaches. 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 roles of sympathy and antipathy in historical biographies (NJ), and approaches to the history of cross-cultural communication in the sciences (GERL & NJ).

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

23 and 30 October
Nick Jardine: Formation and transformations of history of science

These two opening sessions will 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 socialist 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 histories of science: M. Biagioli, Galileo courtier (Chicago, 1993); P. Smith, The business of alchemy  (Berkeley CA, 1994).
    • Global histories of science: S. Schaffer et al., eds, The brokered world: go-betweens and global intelligence, 1770–1820 (Sagamore Beach MA, 2009); S. Sivasundaram, 'Science and the global: on methods, questions and theory', Isis, 101 (2010), 146–158.

6 November
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', History of Science, 38 (2000), 251–270.

13 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, 32 (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.

20 November
Nick Jardine: Emotional engagement in scientific biographies

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, antipathetic and ironic 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).
  • An ironic biography: Donna Haraway's account of the life and works of Carl Akeley in Primate visions: gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science (London, Routledge, 1989), ch. 3.

27 November
Geoffrey Lloyd and Nick Jardine: 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.


  • G.E.R. Lloyd, Disciplines in the making (Oxford, 2009), especially ch. 8 'Science'.
  • J. Secord, 'Knowledge in transit', Isis, 95 (2004), 654–672.

Further readings:

  • 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); P. Manning and D. Rood, Global scientific practice in an age of revolutions (Pittsburg PA, 2016).

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

Roger Gaskell; Wednesdays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 8 November (4 sessions), Whipple Old Library, except session 2

Understanding how the book is made is vital to the study of its contents, helping to locate its economic and social context, its audience, and ultimately its historical significance. Using examples from the Whipple Library's rare book collections and the University Library's Historical Printing Collection, this workshop series will explore some bibliographical techniques to identify and describe the structure and production of printed material from the hand press period (16th–18th centuries), and consider the uses and abuses of online derivatives. 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.

  • 8 November: Survey of the hand press period I
  • 15 November: Hand press book production and its implications (in the Historical Printing Room at the University Library)
  • 22 November: Survey of the hand press period II
  • 29 November: Analysing books from the hand press period

The sessions are open to all (undergraduates, graduates, visitors and beyond), but places are limited to ensure all have full access to the examples. Please contact Dawn Kingham (dm313) to register your interest. The sessions are conceived as a series, but it is possible to sign up for individual sessions to suit your interests if you can't make them all. Please indicate when booking which session(s) you would like to attend.

Philosophy of Biology Reading Group

The aim of the group is to discuss important, recent ideas in the field of the philosophy of biology, especially ones not under the purview of other reading groups. For Michaelmas 2017, readings have been fashioned primarily around 3–4 different themes including (but not limited to): Populations, Evolutionary Ethics, Evolutionary Contingency, and Cultural Evolution. All are welcome. Organised by Azita Chellappoo and William Wong.

We meet on Thursdays, 11am to 12noon, in the Board Room.

26 October

Stegenga, J., 2016. Population Pluralism and Natural Selection. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 67, pp. 1–29.

2 November

Sterner, B., 2017. Individuating population lineages: a new genealogical criterion. Biology and Philosophy, 32(5), pp. 683–703.

9 November

Deem, M., 2016. Dehorning the Darwinian dilemma for normative realism. Biology and Philosophy, 31(5), pp. 727–746.

16 November

Heyes, C., 2017. Enquire Within: Cultural evolution and cognitive science. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences.

23 November

McConwell, A., & Currie, A., 2017. Gouldian arguments and the sources of contingency. Biology and Philosophy, 32(2), pp. 243–261.

30 November

Burch-Brown, J. & Archer, A., 2017. In defence of biodiversity. Biology and Philosophy. (Available Online)

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 Mary Brazelton, Joe Martin and Richard Staley.

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

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

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

Week 2 (16 October)

Haraway, D. (1984). 'A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century'.

Week 3 (23 October)

Harding, S. (2004). 'A socially relevant philosophy of science? Resources from standpoint theory's controversiality', Hypatia, 19(1), 25–47.

Week 4 (30 October)

Chapter from 'Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research Into Homosexuality' by Simon LeVay (to be circulated).

Week 5 (6 November)

Chapter from 'Philosophy of Science and Race' by Naomi Zack (to be circulated).

Week 6 (13 November)

Roberts, D. (2008). 'Is Race-Based Medicine Good for Us? African American Approaches to Race, Biomedicine, and Equality', Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, 36: 537–545.

Week 7 (20 November)

O'Donovan, M. (2013). 'Feminism, Disability, and Evolutionary Psychology: What's Missing?', Disability Studies Quarterly, 33(4).

Science and Literature Reading Group

This term the Science and Literature Reading Group gets down to earth. We will complete our cycle of themes based on the four elements by exploring how different authors have tackled terrestrial topics, from muddy slimescapes to sublime mountain-top. We are delighted to meet in an appropriate new venue: the Watson Gallery of the Department of Earth Sciences, home to the John Watson Building Stones Collection.

All are welcome to join in our wide-ranging and friendly discussions, which take place fortnightly on Monday evenings from 7.30–9pm. The group is organised by Melanie Keene and Charissa Varma.

For recaps, further readings, news, and other updates, please follow us on Twitter @scilitreadgrp or visit our blog.

16 October – Stone

30 October – Ground

13 November – Mountain

27 November – Mud

Read as many poems from our muddy anthology as you'd like:

Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group

This reading group is dedicated to new and old problems in philosophy of medicine. All are welcome.

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

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

This term, we will focus our readings on philosophical issues arising in cancer research, treatment and prevention. These readings also allow us to cover a range of fundational questions in the Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine, including the goals of medical research, the harms of overdiagnosis, the nature of disease, the social epistemology of medical knowledge, and the broader relationships between science and society. In December, there will also be a major, one-day International conference on the Philosophy of Cancer, which group members are all invited to attend.

Week 1: Researching cancer 1: reductionism or organicism?

Marcum, J. A. (2005). Metaphysical presuppositions and scientific practices: reductionism and organicism in cancer research. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 19(1), 31–45.

Week 2: Researching cancer 2: integration or pluralism?

Plutynski, A. (2013). Cancer and the goals of integration. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44(4), 466–476.

Week 3: Diagnosing cancer 2: defining and naming disease

Reid, L. (2017). Truth or Spin? Disease Definition in Cancer Screening. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, online-first.

Week 4: Diagnosing cancer 3: diagnosing or predicting?

Schwartz, P. H. (2014). Small tumors as risk factors not disease. Philosophy of Science, 81(5), 986–998.

Week 5: Screening for cancer 1: the epistemology of screening

Solomon, M. (2015). A developing, untidy methodological pluralism. Chapter 9 of her Making medical knowledge. Oxford University Press, USA.

Week 6: Screening for cancer 2: the ethics of screening

Fleurbaey, M., & Voorhoeve, A. (2013). Decide As You Would with Full Information!. In Eya, Hurst, Norheim and Wikler (eds) Inequalities in Health: Concepts, Measures, and Ethics. Oxford University Press, 113–128.

Week 7: Screening for cancer 3: the ethics of screening

Justman, S. (2012). Uninformed consent: mass screening for prostate cancer. Bioethics, 26(3), 143–148.

Week 8: Cancer in, and cancer as, society

Sontag, S (1978) Chapters 1, 2, 8 and 9 of Illness as Metaphor. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Additional event

13 December 2017: One Day Workshop on Philosophy of Cancer; HPS. Speakers include Anya Plutynski, Justin Biddle, Lynnette Reid, Alex Voorhoeve. For more information, contact Stephen John (sdj22) or Joseph Wu (jw895).

Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

The reading group meets on Tuesdays, 4.30pm to 6.30pm in the Board Room. Please contact Richard Staley (raws1) or Jeremy Butterfield (jb56) if you would like access to a copy of the readings.

The theme for the term is Symmetry and Explanation in Physics. We suggest the following readings for the first three sessions, and list some other possible readings. But at the first one or two sessions, we will plan later sessions in the light of participants' interests, and we finish the term with a visit from Alisa Bokulich.

10 October

  • Ernst Mach, 'On Symmetry', in Popular Scientific Lectures (Chicago/London: Open Court/Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co. 1898 [1871]), pp. 89–106; and
  • Ernst Mach, The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of its Development, transl. by Thomas J. McCormack, 4th ed. (Chicago/London: Open Court, 1919 [1883]), pp. 8–14.

17 October

  • Shaul Katzir, 'The Emergence of the Principle of Symmetry in Physics', Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 35 (2004): 35–65.

24 October

  • Gordon Belot, 'Notes on Symmetries', in K. Brading and E. Castellani, Symmetries in Physics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

For later weeks, we are considering reading (not necessarily in this order):

28 November

Alisa Bokulich (University of Boston)
'Losing sight of the forest for the Ψ: a call for a successor to the realism question'

Traditionally the realist project in quantum theory has taken one of two forms: First, defending one of many different possible interpretations of quantum theory as the one true depiction of reality. Second, defending what has been termed wavefunction realism, according to which ordinary space is an illusion and we in fact live in a 3N-dimensional configuration space, where N is the number of particles in the universe. Neither of these projects has managed to produce a broad consensus, in striking contrast to the near universal agreement that quantum theory is one of the most successful theories ever devised. In recent years there has been a shift in the physics community away from a focus on the search for a 'theory of everything' towards an emphasis on the importance of effective theories. In this talk I explore how this effective-theory mindsight might help us transform our philosophical debates about realism. As a way of regaining sight of the proverbial 'forest', from what I argue has been an excessive focus on the Ψ, I will examine hydrodynamic representations in physics across many scales. In particular, I will focus on the different representations of the quantum state that one finds in both Eulerian and Lagrangian quantum hydrodynamics. I conclude that the largely stagnant project of depiction realism in quantum theory should be replaced with the pluralist project that I label inferential realism.

Casebooks Therapy

Organiser: Lauren Kassell

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

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

Meetings are held on occasional Wednesdays, 5.00–6.30pm in the Department, beginning 25 October. If you are interested in attending, please email Lauren Kassell (ltk21).

Latin Therapy

Latin Therapy is an informal reading group. All levels of Latin are very welcome. We meet on Tuesdays, 3.30–5.00pm in Room P19, 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 Boyd Brogan (bb320).

Greek Therapy

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

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

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