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Department of History and Philosophy of Science



Departmental Seminars

Seminars take place on Thursdays from 3.30pm to 5pm in Seminar Room 2.

Organised by Jacob Stegenga.

20 October

Eugene Richardson (Harvard University)
Coloniality, global health, and reparations

In Epidemic Illusions, Eugene Richardson, a physician-anthropologist, contends that public health practices – from epidemiological modeling and outbreak containment to Big Data and causal inference – play an essential role in perpetuating a range of global inequities. Drawing on postcolonial theory, medical anthropology, and critical science studies, he demonstrates the ways in which the flagship discipline of epidemiology has been shaped by the colonial, racist, and patriarchal system that had its inception in 1492.

Deploying a range of rhetorical tools and drawing on his clinical work in a variety of epidemics, including Ebola in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, leishmania in the Sudan, HIV/TB in southern Africa, diphtheria in Bangladesh, and SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, Richardson lays the groundwork for reparative approaches to global health equity.

27 October

Jo Wolff (University of Edinburgh)
The philosophical significance of the Representational Theory of Measurement: RTM as semantic foundations

The Representational Theory of Measurement (RTM), especially the canonical three volume Foundations of Measurement by Krantz et al., is a landmark accomplishment in our understanding of measurement. Despite this, it has been far from easy to pinpoint what exactly we can learn about measurement from RTM, and who the target audience for RTM's formal results should be. In what sense does RTM provide foundations of measurement, and what is the philosophical significance of such foundations? I argue that RTM provides semantic foundations of measurement and that their philosophical significance lies in a shift towards structural representation. This argument concedes much ground to recent critics of RTM as epistemic foundations, but defends RTM as a foundational theory of measurement, nonetheless.

3 November

Michael Diamond-Hunter (London School of Economics)
Population biology and the implicit scientific backing of the 'Human Biodiversity' movement

The 'Human Biodiversity' movement is one of the more recent iterations of purported racial science. According to various websites that are proponents of the movement, the intellectual history includes a number of prognosticators and commentators (de Gobineau), established academics – both contemporary and historical – who have professed racist views (Jensen, Morton, Spencer, Rushton), philosophers (Kant, Hegel, Hume), contemporary writers (Wade, D. Reich), historical figures central to the Eugenicist movement (Sanger, Fisher, Galton), and contemporary population biologists (Rosenberg, N. Reich, Burchard, Pemberton).

Directly after the release of Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance in 2014, population geneticists, biologists, and biomedical researchers wrote an open letter to the New York Times stating that 'We reject Wade's implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not' and that they 'are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade's conjectures.' Included in the signatories are Noah Rosenberg, Elad Ziv, David Reich, Neil Risch, Hua Teng, Marcus Feldman, and Trevor Pemberton, amongst others.

Given the open letter and their clear denunciation of the book released by Wade (and presumably other future developments in that vein), it seems that the furor should be over. This paper, however, argues otherwise. This paper makes the argument that a number of population geneticists, especially those listed above, have done enough work in their own reputable academic publications over the last two decades to provide fertile ground and academic justification for repugnant and racist views. This talk will provide evidence from a number of papers, teaching materials, and promotional materials for public and academic talks to argue that those population biologists and biomedical researchers are more than just neutral, value-free scientists whose work has been misappropriated. Rather, they are, through conceptual conflation and reification in their academic work, have actively provided a foundation for what can now be understood as the most recent iteration of race science.

10 November

Lewis Bremner (University of Cambridge)
A view of technological change through the magic lantern in Japan

The magic lantern was first recorded in Japan in the 1770s, roughly 100 years after its initial invention, and production of the device in the country began in the first decade of the 19th century. In this talk, Lewis Bremner explores the diverse and dynamic trajectories of technological change that followed.

By the end of the 1800s, the cultural scene around this projection technology was so entrenched and widespread that even the advent of motion-picture film could not supplant it. To explain this, we will look at technological innovations such as the handheld wooden magic lantern, re-examine the myth of state-driven technological progress, and trace the communities of practitioners, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs behind the history of the magic lantern in Japan.

17 November

Friedrich Steinle (Technische Universitaet Berlin)
Knowledge in science and beyond: historiographical challenges and the case of colour history

Knowledge about colour has been developed and used in all cultures for millennia. To study the history of such knowledge requires a broad approach that encompasses a variety of forms of knowledge, of communities, and of modes and media of transmission. Colour knowledge thus provides a significant case for studying the necessity, the merits and the limits of history of knowledge and its relation to history of science. In my talk, I shall focus on 18th-century Europe, a period in which different approaches to colour expanded their knowledge claims and came into conflict and sometimes fierce clash. These conflicts originated in different epistemic frameworks and practical goals, pursued in different groups of colour researchers. Studying their history is highly instructive for both enlightenment colour history and the historiographical challenges in doing history of knowledge.

24 November



Coffee with Scientists

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

We meet on Fridays, 3.30–4.30pm (unless otherwise indicated), continuing the discussion after the end of the formal session for those who are interested. This year we will be running a mixture of in-person and online meetings (but not hybrid). Further information, any reading materials, and links for online meetings will be distributed through the email list of the group; please contact Hasok Chang (hc372) if you would like to be included on the list.

We are pleased to continue coordinating our activities with the 'Coffee with Clinicians' series, organised by the 'Talking as Cure?' research network. For more information about this network, please contact Hannah Blythe (hgb27). The 'Clinicians' events are included in the list below.

14 October

In-person meeting: Seminar Room 1
Prof. Marcos Martinón-Torres (Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science, Institute of Archaeology, University of Cambridge)
Can complex technological systems be sustained through collective action?

4 November

Online meeting, on Zoom
Coffee with Clinicians
Prof. Giovanni Stanghellini (Full Professor of Dynamic Psychology, Department of Health Sciences, University of Florence; Profesor Adjuncto, Universidad 'Diego Portales', Santiago, Chile)
Prof. George Ikkos (Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust)
Varieties and power of images in psychiatry and mental health care

11 November

Online meeting, on Zoom
Coffee with Clinicians
Dr Fiona Peacock (Co-Lead, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counselling Programme, University of Cambridge)


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 2 in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Free School Lane, Cambridge, and online over Zoom.

It is no longer necessary to book in person attendance, but please follow the Department's general guidance for the safety of all participants. To join online, no booking will be required. Zoom links will be circulated beforehand.

Organised by Silvia M. Marchiori (smm218).

10 October

Annika Windahl-Pontén (Uppsala University)
The household of Carl Linnaeus: organisation and performative practices

In her PhD thesis, Annika Windahl-Pontén studies identity and materiality in the household of Carl Linnaeus. Using a combination of innovative sources like clothes, textiles, portraits, taxation lists, and more 'traditional' texts, such as dissertations, lectures notes, and letters, Windahl-Pontén has been able to explore the formation of Linnaeus' scientific persona. Here, she will shortly present Linnaeus' household and its organisation, and she will give some examples of performative practices occurring both in lectures about dietetics and in the everyday life of the household.

17 October

Eleanor Myerson (Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)
'Oute of araby cometh the best': imported jewels, Arabic science and crusading nostalgia in medieval English lapidary traditions

In this talk, Eleanor Myerson will show how imported jewels were received in medieval England as geological witnesses of the Christian nature of the Holy Land, both inviting and evading possession. The late medieval jewel trade bore the legacies of crusading trade: the European fashion for pearls has been linked to cross-cultural contact in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with Acre being a high-status pearl market. The geological origins of Syrian jewels implicated claims to their ownership in notions of the Holy Land as physical, possessable territory. The God-given natural agency of jewels became the basis for their widespread use in medicine – in combination with translated Arabic science. In medieval lapidaries, the catalogues of jewels in Exodus 28 and Revelation 21 are intertwined with economic and medicinal understandings of stones, in complex and contradictory ways.

24 October

Hasok Chang (HPS, Cambridge)
Re-enacting past experiments: how and why

In recent decades 're-enactment' has become an accepted, even fashionable, mode of historical work. In this presentation, Hasok Chang distinguishes different types of historical experiments (historical replication, physical replication, and extension), and discusses the different purposes that they serve. And then he will discuss his own line of work, which he calls 'complementary experiments', which seeks to recover lost scientific knowledge and further extend what has been recovered. The discussion will be illustrated with his own experience with the anomalous boiling of water, and experiments in 'galvanism' from the early 19th century. Chang will close by considering the functions of historical experiments for history of science, for science education, and for citizen science.

31 October

Nick Jardine (HPS, Cambridge)
Annual Fungus Hunt

No introduction needed.

7 November: online only

Fabrizio Baldassarri (Ca' Foscari University in Venice)
Descartes's history of nature: method and experiments in the study of particular bodies

After having described the principles of his philosophy in Parts 1 and 2 of the Principia philosophiae (1644), Descartes investigated nature through a short history of natural phenomena in Parts 3 and 4. By means of this original natural history, he attempted to combine a universal, demonstrative science – whose method is a mathesis universalis – with the study of particular bodies. Not an easy task indeed. Descartes buttressed this enterprise by means of observations and experiments, as well as through the exchanges and collaborations with his peers. His correspondence testifies to Descartes's engagement with particular objects at large, from floating and magic stones to brutes and diverse kind of animals. In this paper, Fabrizio Baldassarri will explore the ways Descartes dealt with such a various, rare, and curios whole of natural bodies, which attracted the attention of his contemporary and the curiosity of patrons. While challenging the disordered curiosity of scholars, Descartes reduced these bodies within the rational order of his method, aiming at encompassing the whole nature within a geometrico-mathematical pattern as he did with the rainbow. In particular, Baldassarri will focus on some specific case studies, the sensitive herb, the Bologna stone, fossils, and various animals. Although Descartes failed to provide a complete mechanization and mathematization of nature, he however engaged with the curiosities of his time that composed the cabinets des curiosités from a scientific perspective and proving the universal ability of his method to order nature and attain certainty.

14 November

Elisabeth Moreau (HPS, Cambridge)
From Gilead to Peru: balsam in late Renaissance medicine and alchemy

In late Renaissance pharmacology, physicians discussed the properties and provenance of simple drugs in reference to the ancient sources of materia medica. In this paper, Elisabeth Moreau will examine the case of balsam, which could designate an exotic vegetal ingredient, a fine oil obtained by distillation, or the Paracelsian notion of vital principle. To do so, Elisabeth will envisage a series of medical and alchemical texts that aimed to clarify the nature of balsam and its location in the East and West. As will be argued, these debates shed light on the issues of drug adulteration and alternative methods of pharmaceutical production, as well as the emergence of alchemical therapy as a 'balsamic' medicine rooted in biblical times.

21 November

Madeline White (University of Oxford)
Rebuilding collections and reconstructing science: using materiality of the du Bois Herbarium to understand early modern botany

The du Bois Herbarium, a collection of nearly 14,000 botanical specimens pristinely preserved within the Oxford University Herbaria, is a unique relic of early 18th-century science. Compiled by English East India Company treasurer Charles du Bois between 1680 and 1740, the Herbarium is closely tied to leading figures of 18th-century British botany, melding early British scientific and colonial histories into a single archive. Despite this rich potential, the Herbarium has remained largely unexplored by scientists and historians alike. In her talk, Madeline White will outline her work to reconstruct the Herbarium's original early modern organisation, and how these efforts help recast this scientific collection as an historical archive. When examined closely, she argues that it becomes clear how Charles du Bois crafted a physical record of the systems of intellectual and material exchange that characterized Britain's earliest botanical and imperial endeavours.

28 November

Lucy Havard (Faculty of History, Cambridge)
Domestic frontispieces and the knowledge of the early modern home, 1600–1750

The 17th century witnessed a huge boom in the publication of household recipe books and domestic manuals. Many of these books contain detailed frontispieces depicting domestic scenes, providing us with a rare glimpse of the 17th-century domestic landscape. As Amanda Herbert advises, the 'study of the impact and intent of early modern prescriptive literature must... include analysis of both the images and the text of these works'. This talk aims to establish what domestic frontispieces can tell us about the knowledge required to manage the early modern home. What can we glean about the nature and extent of this knowledge? How was such knowledge transferred and communicated? Were there clear gender divides in the knowledge possessed by women and men or was there significant overlap? Lucy Havard will argue that managing the early modern home was a complex and skilled undertaking, requiring an extensive knowledge base that is reflected in surviving 17th-century cookery books and domestic manuals today.

5 December

Hasok Chang & Joshua Nall (HPS & Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge)
Re-enactment session at the Whipple Museum

With the support of Joshua Nall, Hasok Chang will perform some experiments (Sulzer's experiment, the making of the Voltaic pile, and the silver tree experiment) with a small group of participants.


Classics of Cambridge HPS

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Department, the Classics of Cambridge HPS seminar series takes a commemorative look at some of the field-changing works produced by Cambridge scholars over the decades. We are inviting distinguished alumni of the department to present these works, in discussion with the authors themselves whenever possible.

Video recordings of these seminars are available online.

Tuesdays, 1–2pm, Seminar Room 2

11 October

Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation, presented by Tim Lewens

18 October

Anne Secord, 'Science in the Pub: Artisan Botanists in Early Nineteenth-Century Lancashire', presented by Stephen John, with comments by the author

25 October

James A. Bennett, 'The Mechanics' Philosophy' and 'Mr Harrison's Timekeeper', presented by Josh Nall and Boris Jardine, with comments (online) by the author

1 November

Mary Hesse, Models and Analogies in Science, presented by Nick Jardine

8 November

Patricia Fara, Science: A Four Thousand Year History, Q&A with the author

15 November

Geoffrey Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience, presented by Arthur Harris, with comments by the author

22 November

Andrew Warwick, Masters of Theory, presented by Richard Staley, with comments by the author


History of Medicine

Seminars, supported by Wellcome, are on Tuesdays from 5.00 to 6.30pm in Seminar Room 1 unless otherwise stated. All welcome!

Early Science and Medicine

Organised by Dániel Margócsy and Philippa Carter.

18 October, 5pm

Oded Rabinovitch (Tel Aviv University)
Authorship and mathematical skills between artisans and scholars: the geometries of Sébastien Le Clerc (1637–1714)

1 November, 5.30pm

Surekha Davies (Utrecht University)
Thinking with sea monsters: re-thinking early modern maps and epistemic images

15 November, 5.30pm

Sebestian Kroupa (HPS, Cambridge)
From indigenous panaceas to global drugs, or, how the Philippine plant igasud became the St Ignatius bean (c.1670–1750)

History of Modern Medicine and Biology

Organised by Salim Al-Gailani and Mary Brazelton.

11 October, 9am

Manabu Akagawa (University of Tokyo)
The Great Kanto Earthquake and the daily records (1923) kept by Professor Siota's surgeons at the Imperial University of Tokyo
Akihito Suzuki (University of Tokyo)
Doctors, patients and the two languages: case histories in Japanese with German in the earlier half of the 20th century

8 November, 5.30pm

Alma Igra (Van Leer Jerusalem Institute)
Eating with animals, eating animals, and eating like animals: scientific nutrition and cross-species methods in the 20th century

22 November, 5pm

Jenny Bangham (QMUL)
Humanising genetics: changing practices, emotions and identities of clinical genetics in the late 20th century

Generation to Reproduction

Organised by Staffan Müller-Wille and Dániel Margócsy.

25 October, 5pm

Tinne Claes (KU Leuven)
How silence became 'outdated': secrecy, anonymity and artificial insemination by donor, 1950s–1990s

29 November, 5.30pm

Sonia Wigh
Overcoming childlessness: (in)fertility in early modern North India



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. In the 2022–23 year, CamPoS is being organised by Jacob Stegenga (HPS) and Neil Dewar (Philosophy).

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

12 October

Samuel Fletcher (University of Minnesota)
Science in crisis? Reproducibility and the philosophy of science

For several years now, psychology and other sciences have been facing a crisis of confidence: many results and support for theories cannot be reproduced in new experiments. But why is reproducibility important in science, when it is? I will reveal how key ideas from the philosophy of science can help us answer this question, so that we can recognize, understand, and fix the real problems revealed.

19 October

Cathrine Holst (University of Oslo)
Worries about philosopher experts

Well-functioning modern democracies depend largely on expert knowledge and expert arrangements, but this expertise reliance also causes severe problems for their legitimacy. Surprisingly, moral and political philosophers have come to play an increasing role as experts in present-day policy-making, and this paper elaborates on and assesses the force of the epistemic and democratic worries raised by the presence of philosopher experts in contemporary governance, and suggest measures to alleviate them. It is argued that philosophers are likely to have some distinctive biases that may reduce the quality of their advice, and the characteristics of their expertise, and controversies around what their competences amount to, make it hard to distinguish proper from less proper philosopher experts. Reliance on philosopher experts may also intensify democratic worries not least due to the depoliticization pressures that the introduction of ethics expertise tends to give rise to. Still, philosophers have competences and orientations that policy discussions and democratic deliberations are likely to profit from. Worries about philosopher experts may moreover be mitigated by means of a proper design of expert arrangements. However, confronted with the genuine epistemic risks and democratic challenges of contemporary governance any quick fix is obviously unavailable.

26 October

Peter da Bolla (University of Cambridge)
'Put on my tomb: this is what she was trying for': the extraordinary life of Margaret Masterman

Between 1931 when a twenty-one year old student at Newnham College, Cambridge changed her degree subject from Modern Languages to Moral Sciences, and 1979 when the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association was founded a formidable presence at the edges of Cambridge collegiate and academic life ran riot, creatively embracing the ordinary language philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the rituals of Christian worship, the philosophy of science and its connection to religious belief, the very beginning of computational linguistics which she pioneered (at a time when access to the machines that could run computer programs was extremely limited), the very earliest attempts to develop functional machine translation and a powerfully imaginative and potentially summative theory of language and meaning that to this day has yet to be properly engaged with by researchers in fields that are now unavoidable for contemporary life: Artificial Intelligence, neuroscience, information science and computational linguistics. Unknown to almost all these researchers, and completely unacknowledged within widely disseminated and accessible accounts of the origins of these fields, her work was decades ahead of that of her contemporaries. Unknown perhaps to these researchers, but not unknown to members of HPS. She was Margaret Masterman, the author of a paper that has become canonical on the work of Thomas Kuhn, entitled 'The Nature of a Paradigm' which was published in the volume edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. She was also the wife of Richard Braithwaite, the Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy who, as is widely known to HPSers, had given his help in the early introduction of HPS into the natural sciences tripos in 1951 by providing lectures on the history of science.

This paper will provide an overview of Masterman's extraordinary achievements, taking in not only the two projects she founded, the Cambridge Language Research Unit and the Epiphany Philosophers, but also a brief account of some of her collaborators, almost all of them, like her, on the margins of 'official' Cambridge and in their own ways just as extraordinary. In this 50th anniversary year for HPS it seems appropriate to bring Masterman into the limelight as her interests in the philosophy of science and contemplative religious practice, coupled to her incredibly original approach to the philosophy of language and machine translation were deeply grounded in her intellectual formation during the 1930s in Cambridge, precisely the era of where Cambridge HPS finds its origins.

2 November

Alessandra Basso (University of Cambridge)
Perceived inequality and the strive for standardization

Social scientists are increasingly interested in studying lay perceptions of inequality, that is, people's beliefs about the extent of inequality in society. It is thought that subjective perception better explains the societal consequences of inequality than measurements of inequality which are objective but hardly accessible to the general public.

The empirical investigation of perceived inequality, however, has produced largely heterogeneous results, with no clear correlation identified between perceived inequality and social consequences such as demand for redistribution. To make progress, it is argued, the literature needs a clear conceptualization of perceived inequality and a standardized framework for measuring it.

I challenge this claim. This paper questions two assumptions underlying the standardized approach to measuring perceived inequality: first, that perceived inequality, when correct, should approximate measurements of actual inequality; and second, that perceptions can be studied independently of people's normative views about inequality. By questioning these assumptions, I suggest that the notion of perceived inequality does not allow for broad standardizations.

9 November

Tom McClelland (University of Cambridge)
Perceptual wronging and perceptual injustice

You can wrong people through how you treat them. You can wrong people through how you think about them. But can you wrong people through how you perceive them? I argue that you can, and that such perceptual wronging underwrites pervasive social injustices. This proposal relies on specific claims about perception and about wrongdoing. Regarding perception, I argue that perceptual content is rich and includes features such as salience, affordances and high-level kinds. Regarding wrongdoing, I argue that even though perceptual processes are relatively automatic, a subject can nevertheless be responsible for how they perceive the world. I then reflect on what this might mean for our understanding of structural injustice.

16 November

Jaakko Kuorikoski (University of Helsinki)
The division of cognitive labor and the structure of interdisciplinary problems
(with Samuli Reijula and Miles MacLeod)

Interdisciplinarity is strongly promoted in science policy across the world. It is seen as a necessary condition for providing practical solutions to many pressing complex problems for which no single disciplinary approach is adequate alone. In this paper we model multi- and interdisciplinary research as an instance of collective heuristic problem-solving. Our goal is to provide a basic representation of this type of problem-solving and chart the epistemic benefits and costs of researchers engaging in different forms of cognitive coordination. Our findings suggest that typical forms of interdisciplinary collaboration are unlikely to find optimal solutions to complex problems within short time frames and can lead to methodological conservatism. This provides some grounds both for reflecting on current science policy and envisioning more effective scientific practices with respect to interdisciplinary problem-solving.

23 November

Fiora Salis (University of York)
Imagination and mathematics in economic modelling

In this presentation we explore the hypothesis that constrained uses of imagination are crucial to economic modelling. We propose a theoretical framework to develop this thesis through a number of specific hypotheses that we test and refine through six new, representative case studies. Our ultimate goal is to develop a philosophical account that is practice oriented and informed by empirical evidence. To do this, we deploy an abductive reasoning strategy. We start from a robust set of hypotheses and leave space for the generation of further hypotheses and theoretical claims based on the qualitative analysis of new empirical data.


Episteme Group

The Cambridge Episteme Group is a collaboration across the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Faculty of Philosophy aiming to explore contemporary issues in analytic epistemology. The plan of the group is divided into two parts: in Michaelmas the reading group will explore new frames and tools of epistemology, aiming to move beyond typical framing in terms of truth, knowledge, and epistemic norms by exploring the limits of the doxastic, norms of inquiry, and consequentialist accounts of epistemic warrant. In Lent the group will apply these new frames to different topics, like non-propositional knowledge, thought-experiments, imagination, understanding, and so on. Overall, we want to equip philosophers interested in epistemology and philosophy of science with new tools for thinking about epistemic issues and inquiry.

We meet on Thursdays at 1pm in the Board Room, HPS. Organisers: Oscar Westerblad (ow259), Adham El-Shazly (ae497), Pablo Hubacher (ph539).

13 October

Crane, Tim and Katalin Farkas. (forthcoming) 'The Limits of the Doxastic', In Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind 2, Oxford: Oxford University Press: 36–57.

20 October

Flores, Carolina. (2021) 'Epistemic Styles', Philosophical Topics, 49 (2): 35–55.

27 October at 10am

Camp, Elizabeth. (2019) 'Perspectives and Frames in Pursuit of Ultimate Understanding', in Grimm, Stephen (ed.) Varieties of Understanding, Oxford: Oxford University Press: 17–46.

3 November

Friedman, Jane. (2020) 'The Epistemic and the Zetetic', The Philosophical Review, 129 (4): 501–536.

10 November

Steglich-Petersen, Asbjørn. (forthcoming) 'An Instrumentalist Unification of Zetetic and Epistemic Reasons', Analytic Philosophy.

17 November

Berker, Selim. (2013) 'The Rejection of Epistemic Consequentialism', Philosophical Issues, 23: 363–387.

Background: Dunn (2015) 'Epistemic Consequentialism', Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

24 November

Ho, Tsung-Hsing. (2020) 'Are there any epistemic consequentialists?', Episteme, 19 (2): 220–230.

1 December

Aronowitz, Sara. (2021) 'Exploring by Believing', The Philosophical Review, 130 (3): 339–383.


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 on Thursdays at 1pm–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All are welcome!

Organised by Harriet Mercer, Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

20 October: Seminar

Mathijs Boom (Utrecht University)
Fluvial timescales: imagining Earth's history in the 18th-century Rhine delta

3 November: Seminar

Patrick Anthony (University of Cambridge; Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
The geo-atmospherics of empire: Siberia and the Steppe

17 November: Seminar

Jessica Lee (University of Cambridge)
A thousand words for weather

1 December: Reading group session

'Ethical duties of historians in the Anthropocene'


Calculating People

Calculating People is a reading group on current and past social sciences with a special focus on their methodological controversies. All postgraduate researchers are welcome to join, but participants undertake to do the readings ahead of time and endeavour to attend all meetings. The format is in-person with a possibility of a Zoom link if it proves practical.

The meetings take place on Thursdays, 2–3pm in the Board Room. Organised by Anna Alexandrova.

6 October

Vazire, S., Schiavone, S. R., & Bottesini, J. G. (2022). 'Credibility Beyond Replicability: Improving the Four Validities in Psychological Science'. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 31(2), 162–168.

13 October

Birch, J., & Buskell, A. (2022). 'How We Got Stuck: The Origins of Hierarchy and Inequality'. Mind & Language, 37(4), 751–759.

20 October

Strathern, Marilyn. 'A Community of Critics? Thoughts on New Knowledge'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12, no. 1 (2006): 191–209.

27 October

Maier, Maximilian, František Bartoš, T. D. Stanley, David R. Shanks, Adam JL Harris, and Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. 'No Evidence for Nudging After Adjusting for Publication Bias'. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119, no. 31 (2022): e2200300119.

And a reply: Hallsworth, Michael (2022). 'Making Sense of the "Do Nudges Work?" Debate'.

10 November

Mandler, Peter (2019). 'The Language of Social Science in Everyday Life'. History of the Human Sciences 32 (1):66–82.

17 November

Rubin, Ashley T. Rocking Qualitative Social Science: An Irreverent Guide to Rigorous Research. 2021. Chapter 11: Living on the Sharp End.

24 November

Replication controversies: Pownall, Madeleine (2022). 'Is Replication Possible for Qualitative Research?'. PsyArXiv. June 14.

Munger, Kevin (2022). 'Against Replication: Social Science Should Not Try To Be Natural Science'.


Decolonise HPS Working Group

Decolonise HPS 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.

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.

The group meets every other Friday on Zoom. In weeks 2 & 4 (14 & 28 October) we meet at 1–2pm; in weeks 6 & 8 (11 & 25 November) at 2–3pm.

All students and interested members of the University are welcome to attend; contact Mary Brazelton or Timothy Sim (tsss2) with any questions.

14 October: Introduction to decolonization (part 1), 1–2pm


Discussion points:

  • What does decolonization entail for each source? Which is more compelling to you?
  • Both sources present decolonization as a movement that originates outside of HPS. Do decolonial concerns matter to HPS, and if so, how?

28 October: Introduction to decolonization (part 2), 1–2pm


Optional reading:

Discussion points:

  • What are the most and least convincing aspects of Tuck and Yang's article?
  • Do you agree that decolonization 'is a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects' (p.2)?
  • Is the Decolonise HPS group an example of decolonization as metaphor? Is this a problem, and if so, what should be done?

11 November: Decolonization and historiography, 2–3pm


Optional readings:

Discussion points:

  • What, if anything, distinguishes postcolonial from decolonial history?
  • How does Anderson's understanding of decolonisation accord with or differ from Laveaga's?

25 November: Feedback session – planning for Lent and Easter Term, 2–3pm

The past three sessions have given a whirlwind tour of the diversity of decolonial perspectives. This session seeks to solicit feedback about what members might be interested in doing or focusing on in Lent and Easter Term. While there are provisional plans to continue the Decolonise HPS group as a reading group in Lent and Easter, members are invited to suggest topics/activities that they would like to organize or participate in for the rest of the year.

Some examples might include:

  • Recommendations for readings/discussion topics
  • Sessions to share or write work related to the group or to specific issues/projects in the University
  • Hosting a forum or event in Easter Term


Science Communication Reading Group

The Science Communication Reading Group – co-hosted by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) and the Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public – 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.

Meetings are held four times a term on Fridays, 2–3pm on Zoom. Organised by Drs James Dolan (jad67) and Richard Milne (rjm231). Please email Dr Dolan to be added to the mailing list.

This term, we will be exploring the relationship between science education, the research thereof, and science communication.

14 October

Feinstein, N.W. (2015), 'Education, communication, and science in the public sphere'. J Res Sci Teach, 52: 145–163.

Lewenstein, B.V. (2015), 'Identifying what matters: Science education, science communication, and democracy'. J Res Sci Teach, 52: 253–262.

11 November

Chapter 2, Theoretical Perspectives in Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. National Research Council. 2009. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

25 November

Archer, L., Dawson, E., DeWitt, J., Seakins, A., & Wong, B. (2015). '"Science capital": A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending Bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts'. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 922–948.

OPTIONAL: Jensen, Eric and Wright, David (2015) Critical response to Archer et al. (2015) '"Science capital": A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending Bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts'. Science Education, 99(6), 1143–1146.

9 December

Bauer, M.W. (2016). 'Results of the essay competition on the "deficit concept"'. Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 398–399.

Simis, M. J., Madden, H., Cacciatore, M.A., & Yeo, S.K. (2016). 'The lure of rationality: Why does the deficit model persist in science communication?'. Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 400–414.


Pragmatism Reading Group

The Pragmatism Reading Group is held on Mondays at 11am–12noon in the Board Room. Organised by Damon Kutzin (dtk23) and Oscar Westerblad (ow259). This term's theme is 'Classical and Neo-Pragmatist Theories of Inquiry'.

10 October

Dewey, John. (1933). 'Introduction' and 'What is Thinking?', intro and ch. 1 in How We Think, The Later Works, Volume 8, 1925–1953, Southern Illinois University Press: ix–1, 113–124.

17 October

Dewey, John. (1933). 'The Process and Product of Reflective Activity' and 'Examples of Inference and Testing', ch. 5–6 in How We Think, The Later Works, Volume 8, 1925–1953, Southern Illinois University Press: 171–195.

24 October

Dewey, John. (1933). 'Analysis of Reflective Thinking' and 'The Place of Judgment in Reflective Activity', ch. 7–8 in How We Think, The Later Works, Volume 8, 1925–1953, Southern Illinois University Press: 196–220.

31 October

Visiting Scholar: Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen – 'Knowledge as Knowing How'

7 November

Dewey, John. (1933). 'Understanding: Ideas and Meanings' and 'Understanding: Conception and Definition', ch. 9–10 in How We Think, The Later Works, Volume 8, 1925–1953, Southern Illinois University Press: 221–247.

14 November

Sellars, Wilfrid. (1960). 'Being and Being Known', Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 34: 28–49.

21 November

Sellars, Wilfrid. (1981). 'The Lever of Archimedes', The Monist, 64 (1): 3–36.

28 November

Rorty, Richard. (1982). 'Dewey's Metaphysics' in Consequences of Pragmatism, University of Minnesota Press: 72–90. [Scan will be provided]

Rorty, Richard. (1990). 'Inquiry as recontextualization: An anti-dualist account of interpretation' in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge University Press: 93–110.


The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse is a meeting place for students and researchers interested in the history and sociology of plants, food, agriculture and environment to explore how science and technology shape what we grow and eat. The regular programme of papers and discussions is curated in conjunction with the project From Collection to Cultivation, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The reading group is open to all. We meet fortnightly on Mondays, 2pm–3pm, in the HPS Board Room to discuss papers or presentations. Most meetings will be hybrid, with an option to participate via Zoom. Write to to subscribe.

Organised by Helen Anne Curry.

In Michaelmas our reading and conversation will focus on the history of oil palm, drawing especially on Jonathan Robins's award-winning Oil Palm: A Global History (UNC Press, 2021).

17 October: Oil Palm and the Global Plant Fat Industry

Introduction and Chapters 7 and 8, Robins, Oil Palm: A Global History.

Jonathan Robins, 'Oil Boom: Agriculture, Chemistry, and the Rise of Global Plant Fat Industries, ca. 1850–1920', Journal of World History 29, no. 3 (2018): 313–42.

31 October: Origins of Industry

Case Watkins, 'African Oil Palms, Colonial Socioecological Transformation and the Making of an Afro-Brazilian Landscape in Bahia, Brazil', Environment and History 21, no. 1 (2015): 13–42.

Valeria Giacomin, 'The Transformation of the Global Palm Oil Cluster: Dynamics of Cluster Competition between Africa and Southeast Asia (c.1900–1970)', Journal of Global History 13, no. 3 (2018): 374–98.

14 November: Seeds and Care

Alice Rudge, 'Cultivating "Care": Colonial Botany and the Moral Lives of Oil Palm at the Twentieth Century's Turn', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2022, 1–32.

Sophie Chao, 'Seed Care in the Palm Oil Sector', Environmental Humanities 10, no. 2 (2018): 421–446.

28 November: Labour and the Future

Chapters 9, 10, and 11, Robins, Oil Palm: A Global History.

Tania Murray Li, 'The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes', Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 245–76.


Formal Methods in Philosophy of Science

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

There will be only one meeting this term. Regular meetings will resume in Lent Term.

Monday 24 October, 3.00–4.30pm

In the Graduate Common Room, Faculty of Philosophy. We will read:

  • Mayo, Deborah G. 1996. 'Toward an Error-Statistical Philosophy of Science'. In Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge, 442–64. University of Chicago Press.
  • Mayo, Deborah G., and Aris Spanos. 2011. 'Error Statistics'. In Philosophy of Statistics, edited by Prasanta S. Bandyopadhyay and Malcolm R. Forster, 7:153–98. Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Amsterdam: North-Holland.



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 alternate between online and in-person meetings. For each session, we will discuss recent works with the author herself or himself joining us in the discussion.

The Michaelmas sessions are organised jointly by Hasok Chang ( and Sarah Hijmans ( If you would like to be on the mailing list of the group, please email one of us.

Those on the list will receive the links for joining the online meetings, the exact specification or copies of the readings, and all updates on future activities.

Monday 10 October, 5.00–6.30pm (in person)

Elisabeth Moreau (Visiting Postdoctoral Scholar/Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Galenic medicine and the atomist revival in the late Renaissance

Monday 17 October, 5.00–6.30pm (in person)

Sarah Hijmans (Visiting Student/Université Paris Cité)
The identification of simple substances, 1770–1870

Monday 24 October, 5.00–6.30pm (online)

Hjalmar Fors (Karolinska Institutet)
The alchemist's children: managing an alchemical heritage in the 18th century

Tuesday 8 November, 4.00–5.30pm (in person)

Peter Oakley (Royal College of Art)
Constructing temporalities in history of technology displays: the case of Geevor Mining Heritage Site, Cornwall

Tuesday 15 November, 4.00–5.30pm (in person)

Discussion of Technoscience in History in preparation for next meeting

Tuesday 22 November, 4.00–5.30pm (online)

Ursula Klein (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
Technoscience in history: Prussia, 1750–1850


Integrating the History and Philosophy of Science

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

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

We continue to meet online so that we can easily invite teams of scholars from around the world.

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

We will meet online, with the Zoom links being circulated through the mailing list. All readings will also be circulated through the mailing list.

Monday 31 October, 5 to 7pm

George Smith (Tufts University)
Brownian motion and molecular reality

Tuesday 29 November, 4 to 6pm

Uljana Feest (Leibniz University Hanover)
Operationism in psychology


Values in Science Reading Group

We meet on Wednesdays at 11am in Seminar Room 1. Organised by Cristian Larroulet Philippi and Ahmad Elabbar.

Book: Pamuk, Zeynep. Politics and expertise: how to use science in a democratic society. Princeton University Press, 2021.

Week 1, 12 October
Chapter 1: Science on Trial [pp. 1–26]

Week 2, 19 October
Chapter 2: Significant Knowledge [pp. 27–62]

Week 3, 26 October
Chapter 3: The Paradox of Scientific Advice [pp. 63–97]

Week 4, 2 November
Chapter 4: A Proposal for a Science Court [pp. 98–132]

Week 5, 9 November
Chapter 5: Justifying Public Funding for Science [pp. 133–160]

Week 6, 16 November
Chapter 6: Dangerous Science and the Limits of Free Inquiry [pp. 161–184]

Week 7, 23 November
Chapter 7: A Political Theory for Uncertain Times [pp. 185–192]

Week 8, 30 November
Chapter 8: Epilogue: COVID-19 [pp. 193–211]


Measurement Therapy

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

Organised by Cristian Larroulet Philippi (cl792) and Miguel Ohnesorge (mo459).

29 November, 6.30pm, online meeting

Book discussion with Luca Maria, Andrew Maul and Mark Wilson on Measurement across the Sciences


HPS Workshop

Fridays, 5–6pm in Seminar Room 2
History sessions organised by Zsuzsanna Ihar (zdi20)
Philosophy sessions organised by Phillip Kieval (pzhk2)

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.

14 October

Kim Alexander
Making the 'magic pill': history, oral contraception, and how (I think) it fits into my thesis

21 October

Arsham Nejad Kourki
A meta-theory of major evolutionary transitions

28 October

Myesha Jemison
Building to Brexit: the role of Cambridge Analytica in presidential elections in sub-Saharan Africa

4 November

Sophia Crüwell
The psychologist's green thumb

11 November

Daniela Sclavo
Analysing flavour: chiles become visible in Mexican research


Postgraduate Seminars

Aims and Methods of Histories of the Sciences

Thu 12noon, weeks 1–4 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
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.

6 October Nick Jardine
Formation and transformations of history of science
13 October Jeff Skopek and Nick Jardine
Scientists' uses of history
20 October Cristina Chimisso and Nick Jardine
Hélène Metzger on the methods and aims of history of science
27 October Hasok Chang and Nick Jardine
Philosophers' uses of history of science

Communication in the Sciences

Thu 12noon, weeks 5–8 (4 one-hour seminars) in Seminar Room 2
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.


Language Groups

German Therapy

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

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

The group will meet in Michaelmas Term 2022 fortnightly on Wednesdays, 12–1pm in the Board Room. The first meeting will be on 12 October, the last meeting on 23 November.

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.

In Michaelmas Term 2022 we will meet weekly on Fridays, 1–2pm in the Board Room. The first meeting will be on 14 October.