Program in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
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History of Science Colloquia

Colloquia 2012-13

The colloquium meets generally three times per quarter on Thursdays at 4:15 in the Lane History Building, Room 307, unless noted below.

  • Newtonian Relativity

    Professor George Smith, Tufts University and Stanford University Visiting Professor


    Robert DiSalle, University of Western Ontario

    Professors Smith and DiSalle will explain new work on Newton's conception of space, time, and motion that sheds striking new light on the famous Scholium on space and time in the PRINCIPIA—as well as on the development of Newton's views on the relativity of motion from his early drafts on motion to the PRINCIPIA itself.

    3-6pm, Thursday, June 6th, 2013
    History Building 200 Room 107

Previously this year

  • Beginning of year HPS party, October 8th, 2012, 6pm-8pm

    Please email rrogers for RSVP and directions to the party

  • Sarah Gwyneth Ross, Boston College

    4:15pm September 27th, 2012
    Building 260 Piggot Hall, Room 252, Stanford CA

    Followed by Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies reception

    "Renaissances Writ Small: The Wills of Physicians in Sixteenth-Century Venice."

    "I leave to Zuanbattista, son of Piero the carpenter and of Marietta our maid, all of my books and everything else in my studio if he continues his studies, as I hope he will do." Doctor Giovanni Battista Peranda (d.1586) thus bequeathed his library and all its appurtenances to a young man whom he and his wife, Laura Foscarini, had informally adopted. Drawing upon thirty testaments written by Venetian physicians and their wives, this presentation will elucidate the frequency with which testators in Peranda's professional milieu took his humanistic approach to their final wills. Whereas most Venetian wills of the era are pragmatic and laconic, the wills of physicians are discursive. Physicians made and reflected upon book bequests, lectured on the ethics of kinship and extolled the intellectual honor of their families. I will argue that physicians used their testaments to construct monuments of themselves as humanists - monuments that reflected anxieties about medicine's awkward position between manual labor and the civil professions in the sixteenth-century social taxonomy. In their family documents no less than in their printed publications, medical practitioners stressed the broadly learned and "humane" dimensions of their lives and libraries to make a case for themselves as moral philosophers and, by extension, for medicine as a liberal art.

    Portrait by Lavinia Fontana of the physician-humanist Gerolamo Mercuriale (from The Walters Art Museum of Baltimore's website)

  • Barton Bernstein, Stanford University

    noon, lunch talk, November 8, 2012
    Room 307, History Building

    "Reconsidering J. Robert Oppenheimer"

    Please email rrogers to RSVP for lunch

  • Marilena Di Bucchianico, San Francisco State University

    4:15pm Thursday, November 29, 2012
    Piggot Hall (Bldg 260), room 001

    "A Matter of Phronesis: Experiment and Virtue in Physics, a Case Study"

    In this talk I present an integrated historical and philosophical approach to ongoing scientific controversies and explore the dialogue between theory and experiment in contemporary physics, through selected episodes in the history of Condensed Matter physics. As a case study, I focus on the balkanization of the theory community in Superconductivity. The input of experimental practice is epistemically crucial, and its role evident in the struggle towards a consensus on a 'final' theory. This struggle underlies controversial and often ambiguous theories of evidence, feeding dissent. I will explore some of the reasons for such dissent, through integrated methodology and testimonies.

  • Mismodeling Indo-European Origins: Science, the New York Times, and the Assault on Historical Linguistics

    Martin W. Lewis, senior Lecturer, History, Stanford University
    Asya Pereltsvaig, Lecturer, Linguistics, Stanford University

    4:15pm, Thursday, December 13th, 2012
    History bldg 200, Room 305

    co-sponsored by the Department of Linguistics

    Can language spread be modeled using computational techniques designed to trace the diffusion of viruses? A recent article in the New York Times announced that biologists had solved one of the major riddles of human prehistory, the origins of the Indo-European language family, by applying methodologies from epidemiology. In actuality, this research, published in Science, does nothing of the kind. In this talk, we show that the assumptions on which it rests are demonstrably false, the data that it uses are woefully incomplete and biased, and the model that it employs generates error at every turn, undermining the knowledge generated by more than two centuries of research in historical linguistics and threatening our understanding of the human past.

  • Nicholas Dew, McGill University

    noon, January 30th, 2013
    History room 032

    "The Colony in Script and Print: Writing Natural Histories in Early French Guyana (17th-18th C)"

    Abstract: Much of the textual corpus of natural history in the 17th or 18th century is non-specialized, or of mixed genre: this seems especially true for colonial settings. We often find the natural history of the New World being offered in texts like missionary letters, travel narratives, maps, or descriptive general "histories". This paper is a preliminary discussion of the problems of genre, authorship, and publication in colonial (natural) histories of the Atlantic. Using some texts on French Guyana (Guyane) from the 1650s to the 1740s as case studies (some in print, some in manuscript), the paper aims to explore the overlapping relationships between the forms and genres of colonial knowledge.

    Nicholas Dew is associate professor in history at McGill University, in Montreal. He is the author of Orientalism in Louis XIV's France (OUP 2009) and the editor, with James Delbourgo, of Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (Routledge, 2008). He is currently working on science in the French Atlantic colonies of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

    Please email rrogers at to RSVP for lunch

  • Mary Terrall, UCLA History Department

    6-8pm, January 31st, 2013
    Stanford Humanities Center Boardroom
    "The Life of a Natural History Collection in Eighteenth-Century Paris"

    Abstract: Eighteenth-century collections have been studied as instantiations of classification schemes (reducing nature to order), as fashionable commodities, as aesthetic statements, and as vehicles for the domestication of exotic objects. This paper takes a different approach, considering a few examples of collections of insects, birds, shells and other naturalia as the material remnants of scientific practice and the representation of that practice to various kinds of observers, spectators and publics.

    Please RSVP to RRogers for dinner and a copy of the pre-circulated paper

  • David Hollinger, Department of History, UC Berkeley

    noon, February 13, 2013
    History Room 030
    "Kuhn, the Quotidian, and the Question of God's Death"

  • Robert Morrison, Bowdoin College

    4:15pm, February 21st, 2013
    History Room 030
    "The Broader Context of Renaissance Astronomy"

    Abstract: For several decades, historians of astronomy have been aware of circumstantial evidence that Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) had drawn, without acknowledgment, on the achievements of the astronomers of Islamic societies, particularly Ibn al-Shair (d. 1375). Since there is a consensus that Copernicus relied on the work of Regiomontanus (d. 1476) without actually mentioning Regiomontanus by name, the issue of other un-cited sources for Copernicus' work remains. This presentation will show that these connections were not just circumstantial and that the range of connections between the theoretical astronomy of the Islamic world and Renaissance astronomy extends beyond the appearance of the innovations of astronomers of the Islamic world in Copernicus' work. Then, the presentation will show that these exchanges in theoretical astronomy were only a small part of the activities of a broader scholarly network.

  • Alan Code, Philosophy Department, Stanford University

    4:15pm, March 6, 2013
    Building 380 room 380F

    "Aristotle on Stating the Causes of Natural Phenomena in General and Sleep in Particular"

    Abstract: The first methodological question that Aristotle raises in his Parts of Animals about zoology concerns whether the causal study of general attributes such as sleep or respiration should be conducted (i) as a single, general level or (ii) separately, species by species. He next raises another methodological question as to whether the zoologist should just follow a procedure that mathematicians use according to which first phenomena are stated, and next their causal explanations. Although his initial methodological discussion does not answer either of these questions, the treatment of the proper way to state causes in Metaphysics VIII.4 shows a method used in astronomy that ought to be applied to the causal explanation of sleep. This methodology is in fact used to structure the inquiry into the cause of sleep in his De Somno, and a consideration of its deployment in that treatise shows how to answer the question as to whether the causal investigation of sleep should be studied generally, or species by specie. This illustrates the way in which he adopts and modifies his doctrine of four causes to fit causal investigation of natural phenomena.

  • Serafina Cuomo, Reader in Roman History at Birkbeck College, University of London

    Sponsored by the Classics Department

    "Numeracy in ancient Greece and Rome: the story so far"

    March 6, 2013 in Building 110, Room 112. The talk will begin at 5:15 with refreshments at 5:00 pm.

    Abstract: Historians face a paradox when exploring numeracy in ancient Greece and Rome: counting, calculating and measuring were everywhere, when establishing a majority in the Athenian democracy or distributing land to Roman veterans, from the census to the fiscus, from assessing legacies of individuals to administering the property of major sanctuaries dotted around the Mediterranean. And yet, you will hardly find a mention of these practices in modern textbooks, curricula or even classical scholarship - unlike literacy, ancient numeracy is practically invisible. My current research project aims to bring ancient Greek and Roman numeracy into the light; I will report on my progress so far.

  • James Delbourgo, History Department, Rutgers University

    4:15pm, April 15th, 2013
    History Room 307
    "Empire of Curiosities: Hans Sloane, the British Museum, and the Collection of the World."

  • Hélène Mialet, Visiting Assistant Professor, Rhetoric Department, University of California, Berkeley

    noon, May 2, 2013
    History Building room 217
    On her new book, Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject

    Please email rrogers at to RSVP for lunch

  • A Newton Workshop

    "Philosophy, Theology, and the Problem of the Earth's Motion"

    by Andrew Janiak, Philosophy Department, Duke University


    "A Tale of Two Treatises: Newton's Scientific and Prophetic Work in the Late 1680's"

    by Robert Iliffe, History of Science, University of Sussex, and Visiting Professor in History at Cal Tech

    with discussion led by

    Professor George Smith, Tufts University
    Michael Friedman, Stanford University
    Paula Findlen, Stanford University

    3-6pm, Friday, May 17th, 2013
    History Building 200 Room 307

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