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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

All events take place on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm UK time.

Organised by Anna Alexandrova and Helen Anne Curry.

Introductory seminars

These two sessions function as an introduction to members of staff for incoming students. They are open to members of the Department.

8 October: What does HPS mean to me?
Short answers by Anna Alexandrova (chair), Hasok Chang, Staffan Müller-Wille, Simon Schaffer, Matt Farr, Marta Halina, Sam Robinson, Salim Al-Gailani.

15 October: What does HPS mean to the world?
Short answers by Helen Curry (chair), Nick Hopwood, Lauren Kassell, Tim Lewens, Mary Brazelton, Jacob Stegenga, Stephen John, Josh Nall.

22 October
Henrice Altink (University of York)
Linking the global and the local: the double burden of child malnutrition in Jamaica, c. 1960–2020

Following independence in 1962, successive governments in Jamaica tried to reduce the high rate of child malnutrition. Malnutrition was the result of a lack of protein and calories, also called PCM – Protein Calorie Malnutrition – and was a leading cause of death. Since the 1990s, however, the island has witnessed a nutrition transition with child malnutrition declining and child obesity increasing. Based on, amongst others, medical journals, newspaper reports, ministry papers, and reports of international agencies, this paper first of all explores how child malnutrition was measured and analysed; the various proposals put forward and implemented to reduce it; and the success rate of these policies. It will show that over time child malnutrition and the solutions proposed became increasingly localised; that is, greater attention was paid to the socio-economic and cultural context of pre-school children and their families and there was less reliance on outside agencies to reduce PCM. The paper will then move on to trace the rise in child obesity levels and show that contrary to the UK, US and many other western countries, child obesity in Jamaica is largely associated with higher income groups. Although child obesity has rapidly increased – in 2017 some 10.3% of children were obese – very few attempts have so far been made to localise the problem. The paper will explain why only recently campaigns – both government and NGO funded – have been started to address child obesity.

29 October
Michela Massimi (University of Edinburgh)
The history of the electric charge c. 1897–1906 through the lenses of perspectival realism

Scientists often disagree both that something is and about what it is. This kind of scientific disagreement is of great interest to historians of science, who might want to establish who really discovered some entity – e.g. whether it was Joseph Priestley rather than Antoine Lavoisier who discovered what we now call 'oxygen'; or, whether it was George J. Stoney or J.J. Thomson who really discovered the electron, given that in his Nobel Prize speech Thomson was still calling his entity a 'corpuscle'. But, historiographical debates aside, disagreement that something is and about what it is also raises pressing questions for philosophers with realist leanings. How are we to spell out the realist commitment in cases where scientists disagree about the nature of the entity? What is it like to be a realist in the face of scientific disagreement? This paper takes some steps towards answering this question by looking at the case of the electric charge. As it happens, at the turn of the last century, there was a disagreement about the nature of the electron as the bearer of the electric charge. And there were also different views about the electric charge and the reasons why it is a 'natural unit'. Digging (briefly for limits of space here) into the history of this scientific disagreement around 1897–1906 is instructive for two different reasons. First, it helps elucidate the nature of disagreement. This was rooted not in scientists accepting or denying pieces of evidence, but rather in the way in which pieces of evidence, or, better, data, were embedded in different scientific perspectives and used for inferring a variety of phenomena, from which the electric charge could in turn be inferred. Second, a brief foray into the history of the electric charge can help us understand the exact nature of the realist commitment that is compatible with what I call 'perspectival disagreement'.

5 November: Anita McConnell Lecture
Jim Bennett (University of Oxford, emeritus)
A material history of 16th-century astronomy?

I first encountered the history of science in Cambridge in the later 1960s, when a prominent narrative in the curriculum at HPS was something called 'the astronomical revolution'. The thread to be followed in this narrative was planetary theory and it led to an understanding of historical 'cosmology'. This was terrific – intellectual and technical stimulation, sustained by a compelling storyline and offering a fresh start for my flagging engagement with science. I may have emerged ignorant of the astrolabe and knowing little more about even the armillary sphere, but I was switched on to the history of science. Might it have been different? Could we write an account of 16th-century astronomy based on objects? Probably not, but for an hour or so, it's worth a try.

12 November
Noémi Tousignant (University College London)
Africa, race and the most expensive vaccine yet: stakes of hepatitis B immunisation research in Senegal and the Gambia

Among the earliest and most ambitious experiments of hepatitis B vaccine happened in West Africa from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. Yet both plasma and recombinant vaccines for this virus, which hit the market as the most expensive vaccines yet, were not widely provided in Africa until the 2000s. In this paper, I examine relations and disjunctions between the politics of experimentation and those of vaccine distribution across spaces (and times) of economic, epidemiological and racialised difference. My focus is on the planning of a research programme partially implemented in Senegal from the late 1970s, and another launched in 1986 as the Gambia Hepatitis Intervention Study. I show how the logics underpinning this research – to use vaccination as an experimental device for generating aetiological evidence of viral cancer causation – made it acceptable to test a technology that was expected to remain 'too expensive for Africa' in the foreseeable future, and discuss how not just patterns of accessibility but their modes of rendering acceptable were racialised.

19 November
Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (Birkbeck, University of London)
Do we live in a post-truth era?

Have we entered a 'post-truth' era? The present paper attempts to answer this question by (a) offering an explication of the notion of 'post-truth' drawn from recent discussions; (b) deriving a testable implication from that explication, to the effect that we should expect to see decreasing information effects – i.e. differences between actual preferences and estimated, fully informed preferences – on central political issues over time; and then (c) putting the relevant narrative to the test by way of counterfactual modelling, using election year data for the period of 2004–2016 from the American National Election Studies' (ANES) Times Series Study. The implication in question turns out to be consistent with the data: at least in a US context, we do see evidence of a decrease in information effects on key, political issues – immigration, same-sex adoption and gun laws, in particular – in the period 2004 to 2016. This offers some novel, empirical evidence for the 'post-truth' narrative.

26 November
HPS Virtual Conversation: How to study animal minds

Organised by Marta Halina

A great deal of work in comparative psychology – the study of human and nonhuman animal minds – is dedicated to the question of how to avoid bias. How do we ensure researchers are not anthropomorphising (or oversimplifying) their subjects? In her new book, How to Study Animal Minds (2020), Kristin Andrews argues that comparative psychologists should aim to integrate a wide range of approaches for studying animal minds, rather than focus on avoiding bias. This Virtual Conversation brings together four scholars working at the intersection of HPS and comparative psychology to explore the question, 'how should we study animal minds?'.

Speakers: Kristin Andrews (York University), Mike Dacey (Bates College), Ali Boyle (University of Cambridge), Marta Halina (University of Cambridge)


Coffee with Scientists

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

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–5.00pm. Further information, reading materials and links for the online meetings will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) or Marta Halina (mh801) if you would like to be included on the list.

This term we are also pleased to coordinate our activities with the new 'Coffee with Clinicians' series (first event on 13 November), organised by the 'Talking as Cure?' research network at CRASSH. For more information about this network, please contact Sahanika Ratnayake (tsr31).

16 October Stuart Firestein (Columbia University)
How science invented optimism – twice
30 October James Dolan (King's College, Cambridge)
Scientists, metascientists, and the nature of science: is there a role for improvised comedy?
13 November Coffee with Clinicians
Alistair Gaskell (Cambridge Stepped Care Therapies Service for Older People)
Beyond beliefs – understanding the relational context of mental health in later life: a Cognitive Analytic Therapy approach
20 November Corina Logan and Natalia Fedorova (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) and Grace Smith Vidaurre (New Mexico State University)
Understanding urban history from an ecological perspective
27 November David Teplow (University of California, Los Angeles)
Doing science thoughtfully


Cabinet of Natural History

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

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

12 October
Catarina Madruga (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & University of Lisbon)
Piecing together the 19th-century Lisbon zoological collections through catalogue lists, specimen tags and paper slips

Amidst the permanent scent of alcohol evaporating from glass jars and the surreptitious presence of beady glass-eyes on mounted specimens, a great part of a 19th-century naturalist's work was surrounded by paper. Scientific books and catalogues, journal issues and offprints, specimen tags and notebooks filled with drawings and measurements were but a few of the paper items essential for the work inside a zoology museum.

Paper technologies played a considerable role in the daily routines of museum workers and influenced the organisation of physical specimens in shelves and drawers. On the other hand, writing articles and books, revising, and finally publishing them was supported by an intense use of paper notes, index cards, and constantly updated manuscript catalogues.

This paper will analyse the diversity of the script and printed materials of the zoological museum of Lisbon and exemplify some of the paper tools of the trade behind the publication of catalogues, scientific books, and journal articles. While the 19th-century Lisbon zoological collections no longer exist today, unpublished sources from the historical archive will be used to illustrate the use of paper in a variety of ways.

19 October
Elaine Ayers (New York University)
Death, decay, rot and ashes: the 'discovery' of the corpse flower and the politics of loss in colonial botany

During the summer of 1818 in the mountains of Sumatra, British naturalist Joseph Arnold found himself face to face with what would be called the 'prodigy of the vegetable world': the giant corpse flower, later named Rafflesia arnoldii. Despite his team's attempts at collecting and preserving this flower, whose size, smell, and unusual characteristics upended blurred the lines between plant and animal, the specimen quickly rotted into a pulpy mess, resisting all attempts at 'normal' practices of preservation. Within two months, Joseph Arnold was dead. Indeed, such narratives of loss haunt narratives of the 'discovery' of the corpse flower by colonial naturalists – men perished, collections went up in flames or were consumed by ants, specimens rotted, and, through it all, the 'monstrous' plant remained, resistant to all attempts of scientific control. Tracing the history of this plant in its Sumatran rainforest home, this paper unravels constructions of political and affective loss in tropical colonial botany, arguing for the prevalence and centrality of decay in natural history collecting and collections.

26 October
Dominik Hünniger (University of Hamburg)
Visible labour? Productive forces and imaginaries of participation in European insect studies, ca. 1680–1830

Spatial and material conditions of scholarly labour in 18th-century natural history collections have received growing attention recently, as have the contributions of artisans to the development of natural history. Visual sources have been instrumental in reconstructing and analysing these contributions and conditions. Inspired by recent studies on the visual culture of science as well as the role of labour in natural history, this presentation will analyse the diversity of the 'productive forces' in European insect studies, ca. 1680–1730 and expose the social imaginaries of participation by looking at frontispieces of entomological books and periodicals and their depiction of labour. How did artists present their work? What skills, instruments, tools and spaces were depicted? What do we learn about collaborative practices in natural history knowledge formation? Are there hidden figures who come to the fore when looking closer at and magnifying digitised images? Answers to these questions will provide a richer picture of the production processes and the producers of knowledge on insects in the long 18th century.

2 November
Christopher Preston
Discovery of Britain and Ireland's bryophytes

The bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) have never been as popular with naturalists in Britain and Ireland as birds, butterflies or flowering plants, but they have nevertheless been studied by enthusiasts since the late 17th century. The number of species (as currently defined) has increased from two in Gerard's Herball (1597) to 1069 mapped in the latest Atlas of Bryophytes (2014). We have compiled a database of the details of discovery of each species (date, location, discoverer, place of publication). In the seminar we will look at the history of discovery over the last 400 years, examining the changing patterns of discovery in relation to places where they were found, the characteristics of the bryophytes themselves, the people who found them and the publications in which their finds were published.

9 November
Miles Kempton (HPS, Cambridge)
'Congo' the TV chimpanzee and the 'biology of art' at London Zoo, 1956–62

In April 1956, the Zoological Society of London signed an unlikely contract with Granada TV, Britain's newly established commercial television franchise for the North West. The result, a resident film and TV unit in the grounds of London Zoo, was a world first. The unit is best remembered today for producing Zoo Time (1956–68), the weekly children's show that gave Desmond Morris his big break on television. This paper focuses on a Zoo Time personality – not Morris, but a young chimpanzee dubbed 'Congo' by the programme's audience. Congo became the mainstay of Zoo Time's success in its first years on air, endearing himself to millions and earning an international media following for his remarkable ability to paint and draw. Morris, who first handed Congo pencil and paper, made him the subject of a systematic investigation into the evolutionary basis of art, spawning an academic film, a widely publicised exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and Morris's first academic monograph, The Biology of Art (1962). In this paper, I use the story of Congo to exemplify how the complex media ecosystem of the Granada/ZSL Film and TV Unit could be pressed simultaneously into the service of commercial television, publicity for the world's oldest scientific zoo, and the burgeoning discipline of ethology. I suggest how these domains shaped one another and put this in the context of the dynamics of science communication on British television in the 1950s and 1960s.

16 November
Leonardo Carrio Cataldi (LMU Munich)
A magnetic world: understanding the lodestone in the early modern Iberian empires

There is a well-known historical narrative about magnets that ranges from Petrus Peregrinus's findings (1269) to William Gilbert's earth-magnetic theory (1600). That is, broadly speaking, from one of the first systematic descriptions of the magnet and the magnetic compass to the idea that the Earth itself behaves as a giant magnet, with two opposite poles. In my talk I will propose a different approach to this topic by addressing the question of how the lodestone was understood, used and commercialized in the early modern Iberian empires. Drawing upon sources from different domains (natural history, literature, legal disputes) my aim will be to discuss how the global expansion of Iberian empires challenged the understanding of the magnet and its uses. A more general question might arise from this discussion: what would a new social and intellectual history of such a key 'stone' look like, seen from the perspective of early modern Iberian empires?

23 November
Max Long (Faculty of History, Cambridge)
Tuning into nature in interwar Britain: biology and natural history on the BBC

The history of science in the mass media of early 20th-century Britain remains relatively unexplored. In particular, the place of radio within a broader assemblage of mass media technologies, including print and film, deserves closer attention. Science broadcasts were fundamental to the BBC's commitment to 'public service broadcasting', and programmes about natural history, biology and agriculture appeared frequently on the BBC's schedule practically from its inception.

Natural history broadcasts were an ideal vehicle for education and were often the focus of children's programmes and School Broadcasts. Of these, David Seth-Smith's 'Zoo Man' features were perhaps the most popular. The BBC's output during this time also included adult talks about the life sciences by Julian Huxley, J. Arthur Thompson, Charles Elton and E. Kay Robinson, among many others. On some occasions, these broadcasts sought to experiment with the possibilities offered by new technologies, such as Ludwig Koch's birdsong recordings, or the cellist Beatrice Harrison's famous nightingale broadcasts.

This paper argues that these broadcasts, which reached millions of listeners every week, were an indispensable feature of the cultural space occupied by the life sciences in interwar Britain. Situating scientific knowledge as an indispensable characteristic of modern citizenship, they helped to shore up late-imperial Britain's self-styled scientific hegemony. By selecting representative examples of natural history and biology broadcasts from interwar Britain, this paper will explore how scientific knowledge was produced and circulated on radio at this time.


History of Medicine Seminars

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

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Lauren Kassell.

6 October Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress
20 October Anna Marie Roos (University of Lincoln)
The first Egyptian society
3 November Karen Harvey (University of Birmingham)
The body whole and quotidian: experiencing the body in 18th-century Britain
24 November Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

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

13 October Grace Redhead (University College London)
Seeing like a welfare state: sickle cell disease, medical racism and patient advocacy in the National Health Service, 1975–1993
Commentary: Ayesha Nathoo
10 November Victoria Lee (Ohio University)
Microbe smiths: engineering microbial control in 20th-century Japan
Commentary: Mary Brazelton
1 December Rana Hogarth (University of Illinois)
The shadow of slavery: measuring miscegenation in the early 20th century
Commentary: Jenny Bangham

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Nick Hopwood and Lauren Kassell.

27 October Maud Bracke (University of Glasgow)
Europe in the global rise of reproductive rights: abortion and transnational feminisms (1960s–80s)
This seminar is organised in association with the Strategic Research Initiative on Reproduction.
17 November Leah DeVun (Rutgers University)
Gender and generation in premodern Europe: a discussion of Leah DeVun's The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance (2020) with the author



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

Seminars are held fortnightly on Wednesdays, 1.00–2.30pm on Zoom.

21 October
Adrian Currie (University of Exeter)
Science and speculation

Despite wide recognition that speculation is critical for successful science, philosophers of science have attended little to it. When they have, speculation has been characterized in narrowly epistemic terms: a hypothesis is speculative due to its (lack of) evidential support. These accounts provide little guidance to what makes speculation productive or egregious, and how to foster the former while avoiding the latter. I examine how scientists discuss speculation and identify various functions speculations play. On this basis, I provide an account which starts with the epistemic function of speculation. This analysis grounds a richer discussion of when speculation is egregious and when it is productive, based in both fine-grained analysis of the speculation's purpose, and what I call the 'epistemic situation' scientists face.

4 November
Petri Ylikoski (University of Helsinki)
Learning from case studies

The case study is one of the most important research designs in many social scientific fields, but no shared understanding exists of the epistemic import of case studies. One of the perennial challenges of case study research has been the problem of generalization. Social scientists expect to learn something more general from case studies, but articulating how this 'generalization' works has proved to be difficult. From early on, there has been an agreement that case studies cannot produce statistical generalizations and that statistical measures of representativeness are not adequate for the purposes of case study research. However, a generally acceptable alternative view has failed to emerge. Sociologist Howard S. Becker argues in his What About Mozart? What About Murder? Reasoning from Cases (2014) that case study research is about learning about social mechanisms. Rather than being about timeless generalizations about relations between variables, case studies help us to learn about social mechanisms, or logics of situation, that produce great variety of social experiences depending on contextual details. My aim is to provide a philosophical reconstruction of this idea. For Becker, the notion of a mechanism is basically a useful metaphor that captures salient dynamical features of some recurring social situations. I suggest that a more systematic idea about mechanism-based theorizing developed within so-called analytical sociology could be employed to make sense of case studies.

18 November
Haixin Dang (University of Leeds)
Epistemic responsibility and scientific authorship

Epistemic responsibility is a central concept in the social epistemic practices of science, but the concept has often been left unanalyzed. The paper reporting the mass of the Higgs boson had over 5,000 listed authors. To what extent are these authors epistemically responsible for the discovery of the mass of the Higgs boson? We need to clarify the concept of epistemic responsibility which can ground our determination of who should be acknowledged or rewarded for scientific discovery and also who should be sanctioned when a scientific claim turns out to be false or erroneous. Questions over epistemic responsibility in science are intimately tied with issues over scientific authorship. In face of collaboration, some philosophers of science have argued that there is no responsible agent or responsible author in large scientific teams (Huebner 2014; Huebner, Kukla, and Winsberg 2017; and Winsberg, Huebner, and Kukla 2014) and others (Wray 2006, 2018) have argued that only a group agent can be said to be responsible for collective outputs as a group author. Both of these existing accounts are inadequate for scientific practice. I argue that we ought to reject both these views of scientific authorship. Instead, I offer an alternative account and show how we can coherently locate epistemic responsibility to individuals. Every collaborator will be responsible but be responsible in different senses. I argue that we ought to look for a more fine-grained analysis of epistemic responsibility. There are questions about who is properly connected to the scientific claim (attributability), who can answer for and give reasons for a particular scientific claim (answerability), and who should be held accountable for or praised for scientific claims (accountability). In conclusion, I discuss how my analysis bear on current reforms as scientists and journal editors look for new models of scientific authorship.

2 December
Ariane Hanemaayer (Brandon University and CRASSH, Cambridge)
Nominalism in the social sciences: promises and pitfalls

Nominalism is typically defined in philosophical analysis as a metaphysics that rejects the existence of universal and abstract entities. It emerged during a period of unrest in medieval Europe in response to criticisms within theology. There is a lesser known set of nominalist commitments, however, that have been inflected into social science theories and practice: a split between words and things, and the romantic specter of the Will. This presentation discusses work from two forthcoming co-authored projects (with Ronjon Paul Datta, Windsor) that posit nominalism as the defining commitments of the social sciences. Insufficient attention has been paid to these commitments by social theorists and philosophers, I argue, since nominalism offers critical sensibilities while also raising serious questions regarding theoretical coherence. I discuss two key classical theoretical terrains and conclude with the normative pitfalls of holding nominalist commitments.


The Dialectic

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

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

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

2 December, 10am–11.30am, Venue: Zoom
Discussants: Darrell Rowbottom (proponent) and Alexander Bird (opponent)
Thesis: Scientific discourse about unobservable things shouldn't be taken as literally as scientific realists typically suggest


The Anthropocene

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

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

Organised by Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

8 October: Introductions

Introductory discussion on themes and guiding questions for the year, including reading group topics and speakers of interest for Lent and Easter terms.


  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 'Anthropocene Time'. History and Theory 57, no. 1 (2018): 5–32.
  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 'Arts of Noticing', in The Mushroom at the End of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015): 11–26.

Optional background reading:

22 October: Anthropos and the global

Examining the role of the 'global' in climate history and the significance of scale for the conceptual utility of Anthropocene scholarship.


5 November
Vladimir Janković (University of Manchester)
A climate spacebridge: digital diplomacy and Greenhouse Glasnost during the Reagan-Gorbachov era

This paper looks at the world's first online teleconference on climate change – Greenhouse Glasnost: The Coming Global Greenhouse Warming – organized between 1985 and 1988 by a group of the Soviet and American scientists. The meeting took place on ONMET with the express intention to bypass the visa and clearance bureaucracy involved in the organization of face-to-face meetings during the post-Afghanistan cooling of the US-USSR relationship. The idea was originally floated in 1985 by Walter Orr Roberts, sun-earth scientist, past president of NCAR and AAAS and one of the most influential scientific entrepreneurs in post-war America. Roberts introduced the idea in one of his Climate Provocations – a series of vignettes published on the electronic bulletin board of the Western Behavioral Science Institute in La Jolla – arguing that an asynchronous mode of communication via telemail could encourage the Soviets to get on board for a bilateral approach to research and policy considerations while defusing possible tensions and preventing any losses of meaning likely to arise in live, non-edited dialogues on the issues involving the nature, magnitude and security risks associated with the global rise of GHGs.

In organizing the event – which in part drew on experiences from a series of telecom 'spacebridges' between Moscow's Gosteleradio and the San Francisco intentional communities such as the Esalen Institute – Roberts was joined by the Apollo astronaut Russell Louis 'Rusty' Schweickart – founder of the Association of Space Explorers – and by Roald Sagdeev, a prominent nuclear physicists and Director of the Soviet Academy's Institute for Space Research. The project received funding from the Russian Institute for Space Research, the US University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation but at least 36 other governmental, private and non-governmental organizations took part in supporting the event, testifying to an unprecedented appeal of 'cyber-climatology' among the scientists working on international projects during the 1980s. Two follow-up face-to-face meetings took place in 1989 at Berlin under the auspices of Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies and at the Institute for Resource Management in Sundance, Utah, presided by the Hollywood actor and environmentalist Robert Redford. In December that year, the Sundance participants were joined by major scientists and public figures in the New York Times's 'Open Letter to Our Presidents' – sponsored by singer John Denver's Windstar Foundation – outlining an international climate policy that was echoed in US President George Bush speech at the historic Malta Summit in November 1990.

In this presentation I look at the activities surrounding the organization of the Greenhouse Glasnost conference to discuss the relationships between an emerging scientific understanding of the anthropogenic climate change and the constellation of interests that the greenhouse crisis helped promote among communities involved in the organization of the meeting. First, I wish to provide a brief account of the activities that brought together the American and Russian academics, environmentalists and public influencers at a virtual table of discussion on the security issues emerging in US and USSR at the dawn of anthropogenic climate change. This adds a new dimension to the history of bilateral cooperation between US and USSR by helping us us to compare the governmental programs (such as the Environmental Bilateral's Working Group 8) with the relatively independent and privately funded projects that have hitherto escaped the historical analysis. Second, I address the issue of climate diplomacy during the late Cold War in relation to the role of citizen diplomacy in promoting bilateral agendas and the so-called 'global' environmental issues. Third, I provide a further perspective on the early climate change science by taking into account the technologically assisted communication and digital diplomacy as fundamental to establishing a shared cognitive platform with which it became possible to work with climate as if it were a global phenomenon. Fourth, the paper highlights a need to understand these efforts as intrinsic to the purpose and outputs of the project rather than as mere matters of organizational routine, in which I follow Susan Leigh Star's work on articulation. And finally, I Iook into the role of alternative cultures animating the spirit of the project and creating a heterogenous community of scientists, engineers, educators and cultural entrepreneurs interested in blending of the spiritual and environmental Globality.

19 November
Nanna K.L. Kaalund (University of Cambridge)
Josephine D. Peary's constructions of humanity and environment in the high Arctic

In the history of polar exploration, Josephine Diebitsch Peary is remembered primarily for travelling as part of her husband Robert's attempts to reach the North Pole, and for giving birth to their daughter while in the high Arctic. Peary published a travel narrative, My Arctic Journal in 1893, followed by two children's books, The Snow Baby (1901), and Children of the North (1903). As with other women science writers in the nineteenth century, Peary drew on and navigated the styles of authorship open to her. She mobilized her embodied difference to the orthodox persona of the male explorer as a way of garnering attention for her lecture tours and publications. As the publisher's note to My Arctic Journal stated, 'She has been where no white woman has ever been'. Peary also contrasted herself with Inughuit and Kalaallit in North Greenland, including the women she lived with for extended periods. In this paper, I seek to unpack the complex interactions between gender, race, and environment in the colonial 'contact zone' as constructed through Peary's writings. Peary's descriptions of Arctic Indigenous peoples were highly racialized, paternalistic, and embedded within the broader anthropological debates of human developmentalism and nature-nurture. When Peary described Inughuit and Kalaallit, she narrated them as part of the natural environment, an environment she in turn described as inherently foreign and hostile. Peary's books were highly popular, and were part of shaping visions of the Arctic and Arctic Indigenous peoples in the imaginations of American children. By taking seriously her books as significant ethnographic texts, I aim to consider how popular literature influenced perceptions of extra-European peoples and environments within the context of white imperialistic expansionism.


The Greenhouse

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

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

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

Organised by Helen Anne Curry and Jessica J. Lee.

15 October

For our first meeting, we'll discuss:

29 October

For our second meeting, we'll hear from Dr Jessica J. Lee, part of the From Collection to Cultivation team. She'll speak about her recent book Two Trees Make a Forest, giving a short talked entitled 'Gaps in Translation: On Taiwan's Plants, Language and Literature'.

12 November

For our third meeting, we'll be reading:

26 November

For our fourth meeting, we'll hear from Dr Katie Dow, a Cambridge research associate in sociology. She'll speak about her recent ethnographic work on seed saving, with a talk entitled 'Seed-Saving in London: Slow Ethnography in Times of Crisis'.


Scientific Creativity Reading Group

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

23 October

  • Gaut, B. (2010). 'The Philosophy of Creativity', Philosophy Compass, 5(12), 1034–1046.
  • Klausen, S. H. (2010). 'The Notion of Creativity Revisited: A Philosophical Perspective on Creativity Research', Creativity Research Journal, 22(4), 347–360.

6 November

20 November

  • Boden, Margaret A., Dimensions of Creativity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), ch. 4 'What is creativity?'.
  • Novitz, David, 'Creativity and Constraint', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 77 (1999): 67–82.

4 December

  • Gaut, Berys, 'Creativity and Imagination', in B. Gaut and P. Livingston, eds., The Creation of Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 148–73.
  • Hills, A. and Bird, A. (2018). 'Against Creativity', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.


Decolonise HPS Working Group

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

In this context, we understand 'decolonise' to refer to a spectrum of attitudes and practices concerned with confronting and critiquing the colonial legacies that have shaped and continue to shape global academic cultures. In other words, so-called decolonise movements are those that criticise and provide solutions to the prevalence of colonial logics and worldviews that function to determine the scope and purpose of academic discourses. We recognise that the choice of terminology here is a complex and sensitive issue; we do not intend to make direct equivalencies between the violence of colonial expansion and contemporary academic practices. However, the use of 'decolonise' in this context has an immediate precedent in student movements in various parts of the Global South, especially in Southern Africa and Latin America, as well as amongst Indigenous scholars and activists. Furthermore, other working groups within the University, such as those in the Department of Sociology and the Faculty of English have chosen to use 'decolonise' to refer to their work. It is in following these movements that we take up this term.

The group was formed in 2018 by students and staff in the Department. In past years it has hosted seminars, reading discussions, and teaching-focused workshops. As mentioned above, it is one of a number of Decolonisation-aligned groups in the University; others exist in Sociology, English, the University Library, and other faculties. Several of the group's members also participate in a Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine working group, History of Science in Asia: Decolonizing the History of Science, which meets monthly to discuss relevant issues.

Introductory readings (subject to change)

These are some readings that group members have found helpful in providing an orientation to concepts of decolonisation and their relevance to the history and philosophy of science.

Harding, Sandra. Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Seth, Suman. 'Putting Knowledge in its Place: Science, Colonialism, and the Postcolonial.' Postcolonial Studies 12, no. 4 (2009): 373–88.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. 'Decolonization is not a Metaphor.' Decolonization 1, no. 1.(2012).

Deb Roy, Rohan, 'Decolonise Science: Time to End Another Imperial Era', The Conversation (April 2018).

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Zed Books, 2013), esp Ch 1.


Power and Identity in Philosophy of Science

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

We will discuss the following readings:

19 October

S. M. Campbell and J. A. Stramondo, 'The Complicated Relationship of Disability and Well-Being', Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 27(2), June 2017

2 November

Monica Aufrecht, 'The Context Distinction: Controversies over Feminist Philosophy of Science,' European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1(3), 2011

16 November

G. Garvey, et al., 'Is there an Aboriginal Bioethics?', Journal of Medical Ethics 30(6), 2004

30 November

John Harfouch, 'A Subaltern Pain: The Problem of Violence in Philosophy's Pain Discourse', Eidos 3(3), 2019


Science Communication Reading Group

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

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

This term we plan to concentrate on the ethics of science communication, addressing questions such as:

  • Should scientists be held morally responsible for communicating their research to the public?
  • In what circumstances, if any, is it permissible for scientists to knowingly mislead the public in order to attain some desired collective action?
  • Are the codes of conduct for performing scientific research appropriate for the communication of that same science to various audiences?

Week 1 (12 October)

Gregory, Jane, and Simon Jay Lock. 'The Evolution of "Public Understanding of Science": Public Engagement as a Tool of Science Policy in the UK'. Sociology Compass 2, no. 4 (July 2008): 1252–65.

Week 2 (19 October)

Royal Society. The Public Understanding of Science. London: Royal Society, 1985.

Week 3 (26 October)

House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. Science and Society. London: HMSO, 2000.

Week 4 (2 November)

Peters, Hans Peter. 'Scientists as Public Experts: Expectations and Responsibilities'. In Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology, edited by Massimiano Bucchi and Brian Trench, Second edition. London; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Week 5 (9 November)

Nordmann, Alfred. 'The Ethos of Science vs. Ethics of Science Communication: On Deficit and Surplus Models of Science-Society Interaction'. In Successful Science Communication: Telling It Like It Is, edited by David Bennett and Richard C. Jennings. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Week 6 (16 November)

Doubleday, Robert. 'Ethical Codes and Scientific Norms: The Role of Communication in Maintaining the Social Contract for Science'. In Practising Science Communication in the Information Age: Theorizing Professional Practices, edited by Richard Holliman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Week 7 (23 November)

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. 'The Need for a Science of Science Communication: Communicating Science's Values and Norms'. In The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication, edited by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dan M. Kahan, and Dietram Scheufele. Oxford Library of Psychology. New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Week 8 (30 November)

Davies, Sarah R. 'Scientists' Duty to Communicate: Exploring Ethics, Public Communication, and Scientific Practice'. In Ethics and Practice in Science Communication, edited by Susanna Hornig Priest, Jean Goodwin, and Michael F. Dahlstrom. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.



AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) is a group dedicated to the history of chemistry. While our main focus is historical, we also consider the philosophical, sociological, public and educational dimensions of chemistry.

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

This term we will be holding online discussion meetings. Each week we will discuss an article from a recent volume of Ambix, the official journal of SHAC and the premier periodical in the world dedicated to the history of chemistry and alchemy.

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

12 October

Discussion of Amy Fisher, 'Robert Hare's Theory of Galvanism: A Study of Heat and Electricity in Early Nineteenth-Century American Chemistry', Ambix 65:2 (2018), 169–189.

26 October

Discussion of William R. Newman, 'Bad Chemistry: Basilisks and Women in Paracelsus and Pseudo-Paracelsus', Ambix 67:1 (2020), 30–46.

9 November

Discussion of Angela Creager, 'A Chemical Reaction to the Historiography of Biology', Ambix 64:4 (2017), 343–359.

23 November

Discussion of Sharon Ruston, 'Humphry Davy: Analogy, Priority, and the "True Philosopher"', Ambix 66:2–3 (2019), 121–139.


Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group

Tuesdays at 1pm – HPS Teams Channel 3.09 ('Philosophy of Medicine Reading Group')

Organisers: Anna Alexandrova, Stephen John and Tim Lewens. Please send any questions/comments to Stephen John (sdj22).

We meet each week to discuss papers in the Philosophy of Medicine, broadly construed. We are open to students and staff in HPS and other departments. Participants are expected to read papers before the session, although normally a session leader gives a short introduction to that week's reading.

This term, our papers are around the theme of philosophical responses to the Covid-19 pandemic: this includes discussions of modelling, of evidence, and ethics. There is obviously a good reason for this focus, but also a cost, that most writing is in the form of shorter opinion pieces or blogposts, rather than fully developed articles. Therefore, a recurrent theme will be what philosophers can or should say about such rapidly moving events. We discuss this topic explicitly in Week 6.

Week 1 (13 October): Models

Week 2 (20 October): Facemasks: expertise, science and uncertainty

Week 3 (27 October): Costs and benefits

Week 4 (3 November): Lockdown: the young and the old

  • Savulescu, J., & Cameron, J. (2020). 'Why lockdown of the elderly is not ageist and why levelling down equality is wrong.' Journal of Medical Ethics. (See also the reply by Jonathan Hughes.)

Week 5 (10 November): Lockdown: the young and the old (again)

Week 6 (17 November): Stay at home (philosophers)?

Week 7 (24 November): TBC based on group discussion

Week 8 (1 December): TBC based on group discussion


Calculating People

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

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

All are welcome!

13 October

20 October


27 October

  • Christopher Clarke, 'Giving Propensities a Chance', draft chapter from The Value of Causation: From Abstract Metaphysics to Concrete Social Science.

This chapter asks what a theory of propensity ('objective chance') would have to look like if propensities are to do meaningful work in the sciences. It then argues (against skeptical qualitative social sciences) that there are propensities in the social world.

3 November

10 November

  • Kirun Sankaran, 'What's new in the new ideology critique?', Philosophical Studies 177, 1441–1462 (2020).

17 November

  • Rosie Worsdale, article draft 'Radical feminism and sex work research: from feminist ideology critique to a critique of feminist ideology'.

24 November

  • Glynos and Howarth, 'Causal Mechanisms', Chapter 3 of The Logic of Critical Explanation. Routledge 2007.

1 December

  • Christopher Clarke, 'How Causation Constrains Propensity' 'Causation and Decision Making', draft chapter from The Value of Causation: From Abstract Metaphysics to Concrete Social Science.

This chapter asks what a theory of causation would have to look like if causation is to do meaningful work in the sciences. It argues against the standard view that the most fundamental role for causation is as a guide to effective decision-making. The alternative view I offer, unlike the standard view, makes sense of the fact that (social) scientists often appeal to Reichenbach's principle of the common cause.


Philosophy and History of Physics Reading Group

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

This term, we will spend the first five weeks reading Neil Dewar's draft book, Structure and Equivalence, which is about the individuation of (criteria of identity for) physical theories: which has recently been a hot topic in philosophy of physics. The book is pedagogic, with illustrations from Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism. At the first session, Tuesday 13 October, Butterfield will introduce the book, and its issues. In the following four sessions, we will read successively the four parts of the book (each is about 25 pages). From the second session (20 October), we will be joined by Neil Dewar.

After these first five weeks, we plan to read Bryan Roberts' draft book on the philosophy and physics of time-reversal.


Early Science and Medicine Work-in-Progress

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

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

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

Meetings this term will be held virtually:

  • Tuesday 6 October (note that this is week 0), 5.00–6.30pm
  • Tuesday 24 November, 5.00–6.30pm
  • Tuesday 8 December (week 9), 5.00–6.30pm


Kinds of Intelligence Reading Group

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

14 October

Francois Chollet (2019), On the measure of intelligence

28 October

Liz Irvine (forthcoming), Developing valid behavioural indicators of animal pain

11 November

Murray Shanahan et al. (forthcoming), Artificial intelligence and the common sense of animals

25 November

Jacob Beck (2019), Perception is analog: the argument from Weber's Law


HPS Workshop

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

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

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

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

The session is comprised of two parts: 20 minutes where the speaker outlines their work in progress (indicating areas that they would like feedback to be based upon) and 40 minutes of discussion.

11 November Oscar Westerblad
Scientific understanding as practical understanding
25 November Rory Kent
Feyerabend's critique of scientific ideology: a Marxist interpretation


Postgraduate Seminars

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

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Thu 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars) on Zoom
Nick Jardine (leader)

These seminars will consider aspects of the history, aims, methods and current problems of the history of science. The opening session will give an overview of the formation of history of science as a discipline and of the range of recent approaches. Subsequent sessions will discuss uses of histories of the sciences by scientists, the pioneering work of Hélène Metzger on the purposes of history of science, and the relations between history and philosophy of science.

8 October Nick Jardine
Formation and transformations of history of science
15 October Cristina Chimisso and Nick Jardine
Hélène Metzger on the methods and aims of history of science
22 October Jeff Skopek and Nick Jardine
Scientists' uses of history
29 October Hasok Chang and Nick Jardine
Philosophers' uses of history of science

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences on Moodle

Science Communication

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

All science is grounded in communication, but the literature in this field has not been as central to the history and philosophy of science as it should be. These seminars will examine a series of key topics in the sociology, philosophy and history of communication: scientific rhetoric and argumentation; genres and material forms; models of communication; audiences and reception; translation and cross-cultural communication. The seminars will be led and presented by Jim Secord, with occasional additional contributions from others. Each session will feature a 20-minute presentation from the organiser, with the rest of the session devoted to discussion and questions based on short readings.

Science Communication on Moodle


Language Groups

German Therapy

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

To be added to the mailing list, or to suggest a text, please contact Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3) and Carolin Schmitz (cs2003).

In Michaelmas Term 2020, the group meets fortnightly on Fridays, 10–11am, on Zoom. The first meeting will be on 23 October, the last meeting on 4 December 2020.

Manchu Therapy

The Manchu Therapy group meets fortnightly on Fridays, starting on 30 October, from 11am to 12noon on Zoom.

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

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

Latin Therapy

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

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

We meet weekly, Fridays from 3.00 to 4.30pm, on Zoom. The first meeting will be Friday 9 October.