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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Part II students' guide: Primary sources

Seminars are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Japan Day by Day
Lewis Bremner
Thu 10am (weeks 1–4)
Does AI-Generated Art Plagiarise Artists?
Tom McClelland
Fri 10am (weeks 1–4)
COVID-19 Vaccination
Stephen John
Fri 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Does Physics Need Experiments?
Matt Farr
Mon 10am (weeks 1–4)
Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk
Richard Staley
Mon 2pm (weeks 1–4)
The Population Bomb
Salim Al-Gailani
Tue 10am (weeks 1–4)
Comparative Psychology
Marta Halina
Wed 10am (weeks 1–4)
Hortus Malabaricus: The Colonial Botany of South Asia
Dániel Margócsy
Wed 2pm (weeks 1–4)


Japan Day by Day

Lewis Bremner (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Edward S. Morse, Japan Day by Day (c. 1880, published 1917)

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, the American zoologist Edward Sylvester Morse made a series of trips to Japan, keeping a comprehensive diary each time. We will look at (and try to decipher the handwriting of) these original diaries, but our main focus will be on the book that Morse published in 1917, Japan Day by Day, based on what he had written forty years earlier. While in Japan, Morse had given one of the earliest lectures on Darwinian evolution in the country, served as Tokyo Imperial University's first professor of zoology, conducted excavations and published papers that gained him a reputation as the father of Japanese archaeology and anthropology, and, all the while, recorded his observations on the material and technological culture of Japan at the time. But how reliable are his accounts of his activities and the places, people, and things that he encountered, and what insights can be gained from them? As we consider these questions, we will discuss more broadly the potential of sources written by European and American travellers in other parts of the world, and the methodological tools that historians can use to critically analyse them.

Does AI-Generated Art Plagiarise Artists?

Tom McClelland (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Andersen, McKernan and Ortiz vs. Stability AI Inc, Midjourney Inc and DeviantArt Inc, Demand for Jury Trial (13 January 2023)
  • Margaret A. Boden, 'Creativity in a nutshell', Think 5(15) (2007), 83–96

Text-to-image platforms, such as Stable Diffusion and Dall-E, allow users to generate novel images by inputing text prompts. Thanks to advances in Machine Learning, these AI image-generators now function at a very high level. The artworks they produce can often pass as human-made works and, in some cases, have been snuck into art competitions that they have then gone on to win. But when these astonishing images are created who, or what, is being creative? The legal complaint above proposes that these platforms are nothing but '21st century collage tools' that plagiarise the intellectual property of hard-working human artists. Others claim that the platform-users are the real artists, creatively coaxing images from the AI by entering the right words. Alternatively, the AI itself could be regarded as the locus of creativity. The AI is influenced by the images to which it has access and by the prompts of external agents, but is this really so different to a human artist? This seminar brings together a cluster of technological, legal, moral, aesthetic and metaphysical considerations to establish which of these positions best stands up to scrutiny.

COVID-19 Vaccination

Stephen John (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

Decisions about vaccination in the UK are informed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. In this seminar, we focus on two of the most controversial decisions which the JCVI has taken around COVID-19 vaccinations: in setting priority groups, and in deciding not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for younger patients. These seminars consider vaccination choices from the perspective of bio-ethics, philosophy of science and political philosophy, to ask who should decide who gets which vaccines when.

Does Physics Need Experiments?

Matt Farr (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk

Richard Staley (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois published a remarkable book that furthered nearly a decade of research and advocacy in history, economics and sociology but that in intent and form broke with the usual forms of those disciplines – and has since become foundational for our understanding of African Americans and Black Studies more generally, especially for its introduction of the concept of the veil and double consciousness in thinking across the colour line. This primary source seminar sets The Souls of Black Folk and Du Bois's career in the context of his earlier work, the ambivalent reception that he received amongst different groups over time, his later work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the recent resurgence of sociological interest in Du Bois. It will raise questions about activism and academic work, the relations between history, economics and sociology – and social and economic justice – and the significance of concepts of science, values in research and empirical methods, thereby providing foundational insights into the ongoing project of decolonising the sciences. A helpful guide to internet-accessible resources is available.

The Population Bomb

Salim Al-Gailani (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968)

'Population Control, or Race to Oblivion?' This provocative question lay at the heart of Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich's 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb. Credited with bringing concerns about global overpopulation into the mainstream, the book attracted a huge following with its ominous prediction that humanity stood on the brink of catastrophic famine, epidemics and war. One of the most resonant works to emerge from the American environmental movement, Ehrlich's draconian prescriptions, from scaling back food aid to forced sterilizations, were also extremely controversial, on both left and right. How was the book written and read in the 1960s and 70s, and how was it reassessed when climate change put the world population problem back on the agenda? These seminars offer an opportunity to explore the history of population thinking and its relations to reproduction, geopolitics, global health and scientific activism.

Comparative Psychology

Marta Halina (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • C. Lloyd Morgan, An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (London: Walter Scott, 1894/1903)

The British psychologist and ethologist, Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852–1936), is regarded as a key founder of the scientific study of animal minds. In his An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (1894), Morgan states: 'In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale' (p. 53). This now famous (or infamous) statement is known as 'Morgan's Canon' and has been described as 'perhaps the most quoted statement in all of psychology'. What role does Morgan's Canon play in contemporary research on animal minds? Is it justified? How does our understanding and use of the Canon today compare with Morgan's original formulation? In this seminar, we address these questions by examining Morgan's Canon from historical, philosophical, and scientific perspectives.

Hortus Malabaricus: The Colonial Botany of South Asia

Dániel Margócsy (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Hendrik Rheede tot Drakesteyn, Hortus malabaricus: the colonial botany of South Asia (c. 1680)

The Hortus malabaricus is arguably the first luxurious atlas of colonial natural history, and the first volume to document in detail the plant diversity of South India. Written in the 1670s, and published between 1678 and 1692, its volumes had a tremendous influence over the development of botany ever since, not the least because they contain hundreds of exquisitely produced, oversize engraved illustrations, which are accompanied with inscriptions of the plants' names in various scripts and languages. In the past decades, the study of the Hortus malabaricus has revolutionised the history of science and medicine, because it called attention to the contributions of indigenous experts to the making of natural knowledge. This course will offer a close reading of the text and the images of this encyclopedia, and a critical evaluation of the secondary literature on the source.


Resources for the primary source seminars on Moodle