HPS Colloquia 2019 - 2020

image of doorway with skeleton

The colloquium meets generally three times per quarter on Thursdays at 4:30
in the Lane History Building, Room 307, unless noted below.



  • Porter Williams, University of Southern California

    "Julian Schwinger, Renormalization, and Ineffective Field Theory"

    Thursday, February 27th, 2020

    History Building, room 202

    Abstract: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Julian Schwinger developed renormalization methods for extracting finite results from quantum electrodynamics and laid the initial foundation for postwar quantum field theory (QFT) itself. He continued to work within the framework of QFT through the mid-1960s, long after most particle theorists had shifted their hopes for modeling the strong interactions to S-matrix Theory or the methods of current algebra. During this period Schwinger developed a unique, and remarkably prescient, understanding of the physical significance of renormalization. He also adhered to methodological scruples remarkably similar to those that, in the 1970s, led particle theorists to develop the now-dominant understanding of QFTs as effective field theories. In Schwinger's case, however, these methodological scruples led him to abandon QFT entirely in 1966 to devote himself to the development and elaboration of an alternative, largely fruitless theoretical framework for particle physics called Source Theory. In this talk, I argue that the reasons why Schwinger's methodological scruples and understanding of renormalization led him to Source Theory, rather than effective field theory, offer important insight into Schwinger's approach to physics, the state of particle theory in the 1960s, and the philosophical foundations of effective field theory itself.


  • Marie Ghis Malfilatre, EHESS, Paris - organized by Gabrielle Hecht

    Thursday, March 5, 2020

    History Bldg 200 Room 202


  • Magnus Altschäfl, visiting student researcher from LMU Munich, Germany

    Room TBA


  • Silvia Sebastiani from EHESS, Paris

    Tuesday, May 5, 2020

    Room TBA

    Co-sponsored with the British Studies


  • Climate Roundtable with Deborah Coen, Yale University, Lydia Barnett, Northwestern University, and Paul Edwards, Stanford University

    Organized by Mikael Wolfe, Stanford University

    5:30-7:30pm, May 7th, 2020

    History Building 200, room 02


  • May 15 & 16th, 2020 Early Modern Mobilities Workshop

    9am - 5pm, at Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University

    organized by Paula Findlen and project research team of Leo Barleta, Iva Lelkova, Katie McDonough, Rachel Midura, Luca Scholz and Suzanne Sutherland

    Early Modern Mobility poster

    Speakers include:

    Leonardo Barleta, Stanford University
    Giovanna Cesarni, Stanford University
    Anne Conchon, Paris Sorbonne I
    David Eltis, Emory University
    Federica Favino, visiting Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow, Stanford
    Patricia Murrieta-Flores, Lancaster
    Tiago Gil, University of Brasilia
    Jo Guldi, Southern Methodist University
    Howard Hotson, Oxford University
    Hagar Kotef, SOAS London
    Rachel Midura, Stanford University
    Katie McDonough, Turing Institute, London
    Massimo Meccarelli, Università di Macerata
    Diego Pirillo, UC Berkeley
    Dan Riches, University of Alabama
    Rosa Salzberg, Warwick
    Luca Scholz, Manchester
    Suzanne Sutherland, Middle Tennessee State
    Nick Terpstra, University of Toronto
    Thomas Wallnig, University of Vienna

    See more on the project and the conference at
    Early Modern Mobility


Previous events of the 2019 - 2020 year
  • Matthew Edney, Osher Professor in the History of Cartography
    University of Southern Maine

    "Enlightenment, Modernity, and Science: The Perspective from Mapping and “Cartography""

    Wednesday, October 9, 2019

    with the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

    Building 260, room 252

  • Eileen Reeves, Princeton University

    To visit Paula Findlen's seminar on Trial of Galileo

    Wednesday, October 30, 2019


  • Gordon Belot, University of Michiganline drawing of old bucket

    November 5th, 2019, 4:30pm

    History Bldg 200, Room 202

    "The Mach-Einstein Principle of 1917-1918"

    Abstract: In 1917 and 1918 Einstein was working on relativistic cosmology and on promoting and explaining general relativity in correspondence. During this period, the thesis that the spacetime metric should be determined by the distribution of matter played an important role in his thought. I will be concerned with interpreting this thesis and with investigating its status in general relativity.


  • Molly Warsh, University of Pittsburgh, and Surekha Davies, Utrecht University, and Cecile Fromont, Yale University

    "Early Modern Things: New Research and Approaches"

    Wednesday, Nov 6, 2019, 12-2pm

    Building 260 Room 252

    with the CMEMS workshop, lunch will be provided


  • Mario Biagioli, UC Davis, visiting at Stanford CASBS, this year

    November 19, 2019, 5:30-7:30pm

    "Between Machine & Text: Galileo’s Compass as a Techno-Legal Hybrid"

    Please RSVP to rrogers@stanford and then I will send you the pre-circlulated paper


  • Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with the Latin American Environmental /History of Science workshop

    in an informal conversation with Dr. Matt Vitz (UCSD) about her life and career devoted to colonial Latin American environmental, borderlands and indigenous history November 20, 2019

    with the Center for Latin American Studies


  • Yogi Hale Hendlin, in the HistSciTech Workshop

    Noon, December 3, 2019

    History Building room 302

    "Industrial Epidemics: A new public health frame for an old problem"

  • Laura Ruetsche, University of Michigan

    At the Philosophy Department Colloquium

    3:30-4:30pm, January 10, 2020

    Building 90, Room 92Q


  • Alison McConwell, Suppes Center Postdoc, Stanford

    "Contingency as a Causal Force (or Not)"

    4:30pm-6pm, January 28, 2020

    Building 200, Room 107

    Abstract: Is evolutionary contingency its own causal force or merely a statistical effect? In the past, philosophers of biology debated the causal status of evolutionary processes like natural selection and drift (Millstein 2006, Matthen and Ariew 2002, Bouchard and Rosenberg 2004). This causalist-statisticalist controversy was sparked by Sober’s (1984) work on evolutionary theory as a theory of forces informed by Newtonian mechanics. Yet evolutionary contingency’s status as a force has not received that same direct attention. Evolutionary contingency is typically represented three different ways: modally, statistically, and in terms of its sources or processes that produce contingent evolutionary trajectories. First, contingency is traditionally conceived of modally: In a famous longstanding debate over contingency’s prevalence in evolution, contingency concerns unique outcomes dependent on historical trajectories against a background of alternative possibilities (Gould 2002, Beatty 2006, Desjardin 2011). Second, contingency in macroevolution has been construed as something like the statistical effect in computer simulated modelling, which tracks species sorting as a stochastic process (Turner 2015). And finally, some philosophers argue that contingency as a pattern is (1) either produced or sourced by stochastic processes like mutation, drift, and species sorting or (2) is testable by tracking the influential significance of those chance-based processes (McConwell and Currie 2017, Travisano et al. 1995). I will survey these three accounts of contingency against the causalist-statisticalist debate of the early 2000s. To determine contingency’s status as a force, I plan to draw from two of Gould’s personally cited inspirations: D’Arcy Thompson’s pictorial representations of forces and activity, as well as Aristotle’s four causes.


  • Justin E. H. Smith, University of Paris

    "The Harmony of Languages and the Unity of Reason: 18th-Century Reflections on Linguistic Diversity and Human Origins"

    4:30pm-6pm, January 30, 2020

    Building 200, History Lounge (Room 302)

    Abstract: In his 1730 book, A Description of the Northern and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia, the Swedish traveler and linguist Philipp Johann von Strahlenberg included as an appendix a “Polyglot Table of the Harmony of Languages,” schematically presenting a number of vocabulary words in several of the languages of the Russian Empire, with an eye to lining up and comparing the terms in different languages that share a common root. The invocation of “harmony” is not incidental. Strahlenberg has borrowed his word list from a letter sent years earlier by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which he intended as a template for any traveller who might wish to realize his own dream of creating an exhaustive ethnolinguistic map of Eurasia. As Strahlenberg knew, Leibniz’s deepest philosophy was motivated by a vision of the ‘unity within multiplicity’, a vision that also informed his theory of the origins and diversity of languages. Having long before rejected the so-called ‘Adamic’ theory of language as esoteric obscurantism, late in his career Leibniz defended a view according to which different languages are to be grouped within larger families, and while these families cannot be traced back to a single divine source, they nonetheless are all expressive of the same basic and universal power of reason that structures the human mind. In this respect Strahlenberg’s Polyglot Table is a remarkable distillation of an active program of what may be called ‘applied Leibnizianism’, which in turn lay at the foundation of the emerging human science of anthropology in the 18th century, a science that took as its starting point the equality of all cultures, and understood the differences between them as different modulations of the same universal capacities.

  • Mary X. Mitchell, Purdue University with Helen Kang

    The Dilemma of Nuclear Insecurity and Limits of Law"

    3:30-5PM, Thurs Jan. 30, 2020

    Encina Hall, C231


  • Workshop on SCIENCE, POLITICS, AND FAITH IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY: THE WORLD OF THE GALILEANS

    Galileans poster of painting and list of participants as below

    organized by Federica Favino, Marie Skłodowska Curie Visiting Postdoctoral Scholar, and Paula Findlen

    Friday 10am-5pm, February 7, 2020

    History Building 200, Room 307

    Participants include:

    Mario Biagioli, UCLA
    Antonio Clericuzio, University of Roma 3
    Maria Conforti, Sapienza Universita di Roma
    Federica Favino, Marie Skłodowska Curie Visiting Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford
    Paula Findlen, Stanford
    Giulia Giannini, Università Statale di Milano
    Mazzimo Mazzotti, UC Berkeley
    Simon Dumas Primbault, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
    Jessica Riskin, Stanford University
    J.B. Shank, University of Minnesota

    The workshop abstracts are here.


  • Please visit the Green library exhibit entitled, Leonardo's library: The World of a Renaissance Reader which celebrated the 500th anniversary on May 2, 1519 of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci with a opening reception of over 300 guest in the library rotunda, complete with dance, music and book art and art performance. The exhibit will be on display in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda - held over - until December 13, 2019. See the article on the exhibit in the Palo Alto newspaper online, May 29, 2019.

Previous Year's HPST Colloquia


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