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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The University of Cambridge is hosting a Mellon Sawyer Seminar entitled 'Histories of AI: A Genealogy of Power' from May 2020 to July 2021. The Seminar will be co-hosted by the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and the Faculty of English.

Sawyer Seminars support comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. This Seminar aims to develop an interpretive community capable of offering a structural, historical perspective on the promises and problematics of AI and machine learning. This new community will include scholars from a variety of fields including historians of science and technology, and scholars from decolonial studies and critical theory, such as race, gender, and disability studies. We will engage in critical and comparative research, from antiquity to the present, on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments in AI technologies to investigate their entanglement in systems of politics, power and control. Four themes will guide our considerations: hidden labour, encoded behaviour, cognitive injustice and disingenuous rhetoric.

The Seminar's activities include:

  • A week long Summer School, hosted at Homerton College, University of Cambridge from 12 to 18 July 2021
  • A monthly Reading Group, commencing May 2020, accessible online for international participants (subscribe via our mailing list)
  • A series of Seminar Virtual Events, spanning graduate training, traditional academic papers and artistic performances (subscribe via our mailing list)
  • Four Public Events in Spring 2021 on the Seminar themes, held virtually and, conditions permitting, in Cambridge, London, and at Columbia University
  • A concluding Symposium for core Seminar members, held at the University of Cambridge in July 2021

The Sawyer Seminar supports:

  • A Research Project Grant Coordinator
  • One Postdoctoral Research Assistant Fellowship
  • Two Graduate Dissertation Fellowships for students enrolled at the University of Cambridge
  • Four International Research and Collaboration Awards
  • Travel Bursaries to participate in Seminar events



Fellowships and awards

Community bibliography

To receive further information on all our activities (and learn their online coordinates), please subscribe to the HoAI mailing list.

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