HPS Colloquia 2017 - 2018

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.

    Previous events of the year

    • Face/Interface: Type Design and Human-Computer Interaction Beyond the Western World

      In connection with the 2017-18 Stanford University Libraries exhibition, “Facing the World: Type Design in Global Perspective,” this international conference brings together scholars, designers, engineers, and technologists to explore Non-Latin type design, book design, interface design, and human-computer interaction beyond the Latin alphabetic world.

      Co-sponsored by the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, Stanford University Libraries, East Asia Library, Program in Modern Thought and Literature, Computer Science Department, Taube Center for Jewish Studies, Science, Technology and Society, History Department, and Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

    • Alessandra Celati, University of Veronapicture of archive source doc from Inquisition by A Celati

      "A Network of Dissident Physicians in the Confessional Age. From the Republic of Venice, to Italy and Beyond"

      Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 12:00PM

      Building 260, Room 252

      with the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies Workshop

    • Orit Halpern, Concordia University, Canada

      "Resilient Hope: Extraction, Speculation, and "Smart" Infrastructure"

      4:30pm, Thursday, October 5, 2017

      Communications Building 120, Room 101B

      Abstract: Today, growing concerns with climate change, energy scarcity, security, and economic collapse have turned the focus of urban planners, investors, and governments towards "infrastructure" as a site of value production and potential salvation from a world consistently defined by catastrophes and "crisis".

      This talk will interrogate the different forms of futurity and life that are currently emerging from this complex contemporary relationship between technology and design by engaging in a genealogy of "smartness" ranging from cybernetic ideas of machine learning in the late 1950's to early efforts to integrate computing into design at MIT in the Architecture Machine Group in the 1970's to contemporary greenfield "smart" developments and cities in the United States, India, and Abu Dhabi and the algorithmic financial instrumentation and data center infrastructures that support this speculation. In doing so, the talk will ask how these contemporary practices in ubiquitous computing, machine learning, responsive environments, and "resilient" planning are shaping the design of large scale infrastructures, making certain forms of life vulnerable and sacrificable and producing our imaginaries of the future of life.

    • Rafflesia flower picture Elaine Ayers, PhD candidate, Princeton University

      "Nature Resistant: Tracking the Strange History of the Corpse Flower in the Nineteenth-Century"

      4:30pm, Thursday, October 26, 2017

      History Building 200, Room 307

      Abstract: In the spring of 1818, British naturalist Joseph Arnold trekked into the rainforest outside of Padang, Western Sumatra, where he and his team of collectors discovered the "greatest prodigy of the vegetable world": Rafflesia arnoldi, the largest flower in the world, and perhaps the most repulsive. By mimicking the smell of rotting flesh, the so-called "corpse flower" attracts carrion pollinators attracted to its overwhelming stench and to its dark red, uncannily flesh-like body, speckled with pustular protuberances and undeniably animalistic weight. Even after swatting away the swirling flies and beetles, Arnold found himself unable to collect the flower—it rotted into a stinking mess by the end of the evening, and the naturalist feared that his colleagues back in Britain would never believe his account of the plant's size, smell, or appearance. Indeed, Rafflesia has operated outside of the bounds of botanical study since its discovery. Resisting collection, preservation, description, and even cultivation—to this day—the plant has facilitated news methods of botanical communication, redefining the limits of natural history writ large.

      By focusing on a single species of plant and following its transformation across media, I will examine the role of materiality—or lack thereof—in the history of collecting, preserving, shipping, illustrating, and describing plants. Rather than following a strict chronological history of the discovery of Rafflesia, we will explore its life history in several material forms, both as an individual and as burgeoning species: as text, as herbarium specimen, as illustration, as wax model, and, ultimately, as conceptual, monstrous object.

    • Workshop in History of Greek Mathematics

      October 27th, 2017 9am-5pm
      Classics Building 110, Room 112
      Stanford University

      Twenty years ago, in 1997, Wilbur Knorr of Stanford University passed away. Everyone who studies Greek mathematics today, does so following Knorr's footsteps. Contemporary scholars concentrate on what mattered to the ancient mathematicians themselves – and no longer suppose that those mathematicians had to pursue any philosophical agenda. Instead, contemporary scholarship concentrates on the practices, the problems, and the texts, of the extant Greek mathematical works. We gather in Stanford a group of historians to a Workshop in the History of Greek Mathematics, in honor of Knorr's crucial contributions. poster for Greek Math workshop

      Organized by Professor Reviel Netz. Participants are:

      * Michael Fried (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel)

      * Henry Mendell (California State University)

      * Stephen Menn (Humboldt University, Berlin)

      * Reviel Netz (Stanford University)

      * Marco Panza (CNRS IHPST)

      * Ken Saito (Osaka Prefecture University, Osaka Japan)

      * Nathan Sidoli (Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan)

      Co-sponsored by the Classics Department, the Math Department, and the Patrick Suppes Center for History and Philosophy of Science.

    • History of Science reading group presents, Tom Rockwell Director of Exhibits and Media Studio at the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco, for a dinner talk on November 7th from 5-6:30pm in History room 307.

    • "Time in Space: Representing the Past in Maps" Workshop

      November 10-11, 2017

      organized by Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer at the David Ramsey Map Center at Stanford University, more information on the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford.

      "Time in Space: Representing Time in Maps" brings together senior scholars and curators to explore a major challenge for mapmaking: how can time be conveyed through the representation of geographical features? The visual techniques that we take for granted today, such as the stratigraphic map, required deep shifts in how people understood physical space, the passage of time, and aesthetics. Participants represent a broad range of academic backgrounds including geography, history, and art history, and will treat a variety of contexts, from East Asia to Europe to the Americas. This conference will pave the way for an illustrated volume with the University of Chicago Press, the leading publisher in history of science and cartography. Members of the public are warmly invited to participate in the opening session, "Mapping Time," on the afternoon of Friday, November 10, 2017. Please register here.

      For further information, please contact the conference's graduate coordinator: Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein at char23th at stanford dot edu.

    • Robert DiSalle, University of Western Ontario

      "Mathematical method and the metaphysics of Newton's Principia"

      4:30pm, Tuesday, November 28, 2017

      History Building 200, Room 307

      author of Understanding Space-Time (Cambridge University Press) and numerous papers on Newton, Einstein and other philosopher-scientists

    • History of Science reading group presents, Halley Barnet, a PhD candidate in History of Science at Stanford

      January 12th, 2018 at noon. Building 200, room 307.

      "Looking for Homo Musicus: A Musical Re-Reading of Descartes' Physiology"

      Lunch will be served

      abstract: This talk will explore the uses of musical instruments as models of bodily function as they appeared in the work of Descartes and other Cartesian physiologists. I argue that early modern philosophers frequently turned to homo musicus, or the musical model of the human being, as an alternative understanding of life in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    • Mathematical Reasoning, a workshop at Stanford

      February 9-10th, 2018

      More Information


      Jonathan Ettel, Stanford University
      Arezoo Islami, Stanford University
      Rebecca Morris, Stanford University
      John Mumma, California State University of San Bernardino
      Marco Panza, IHPTS, CNRS Paris 1 / Chapman University
      James Walsh, UC Berkeley

      Silvia De Toffoli and Becky Morris (Contact: silviadt@stanford.edu)
      Find the rooms at: Maps

    • Vincenzo De Risi, French National Centre for Scientific Research, Sciences, Philosophie, Histoire, currently visiting UC Irvine

      Tuesday, February 27th, 2018, 4:30pm.

      Building 100 Room 101K

      "Drawing Lines through Rivers and Cities. The Meaning of Postulates from Euclid to Hilbert."

      abstract: The talk discusses Euclid's notion of a geometrical principle, and contrasts definitions, axioms and postulates as different principles of geometry. It deals with the development of such notions in the middle ages and the early modern age, and the consequent changes in mathematical epistemology. The birth and early meaning of of "logicism" is also discussed. The talk end with a few remarks on the transformation of the pre-modern notion of a mathematical principle into Hilbert's conception of an axiom.

    • History of Science reading group presents, Stephan Risi, a PhD candidate in History of Science at Stanford

      Bldg 200 room 307, February 28th, 2018, noon.

      "How Smoking Became Addictive (Against All Odds): Biology, Technology, and Culture in the Making of the Cigarette Century"

      Lunch will be served

      abstract: Modern neuroscience suggests that nicotine is inherently addictive: given tobacco use, addiction is all but assured. In this narrative, nicotine is one of those wily molecules that hijack our brain’s reward systems. But nicotine could not be found in an easily addictive way for centuries: nicotine is first and foremost a poison that the tobacco plant evolved about 20 million years ago to kill insects, and a single drop of pure nicotine can end a person’s life. In fact, once nicotine enters a human body, we usually respond by coughing it up, by vomiting it out, by metabolizing it as quickly as possible. What, then, made nicotine addictive?

      In this presentation, I argue that nicotine only became addictive between 1850 and 1950 as tobacco producers found--often accidentally--new technological ways of taming or circumventing our bodies’ initial response to nicotine while accentuating our brain’s pleasure and dependence responses. The story of how addiction was made unfolds in the intimate evolutionary ties that bind us to plants and insects, in the flue-curing barns of tobacco plantations, and in the technologies that made smoking both palatable and portable. By retracing the history of these technologies of addiction, it becomes clear that addictiveness is not inherent to a molecule. Instead, addictiveness comes to lie at the intersection of biology, technology, and culture.

    • History, Science and Technology Studies reading group workshop presents, Ben Franta, a PhD candidate in History of Science at Stanford

      Bldg 200 room 124, March 8th, 2018, noon.

      "Fall from grace: How climate science failed and how we might save it"

      Lunch will be served

    • Amos Nur, Professor Emeritus of Geophysics, Stanford University

      Wednesday March 28th, 2018, 5:00pm. History room 307

      "The history of scientific thinking about Earthquakes"

    • Giuseppe Longo, Directeur de Recherche (DR Emérite)
      Centre Cavaillès (République des Savoirs), CNRS, Collège de France & Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris

      April 3rd, 2018, 4:30pm. Building 90 room 92Q

      "The Role of History and Rare Events in Systems of Life, some Mathematical Challenges"

      Please also see the corresponding paper 1 and paper 2 and his website.

    • Taylor M. Moore, Rutgers University

      April 5th, 2018, 4:30pm. History room 307

      ‘Living Fossils’: Pelvic Bones and Fertile Wombs as Objects of Natural History in Semicolonial Egyptdrawing of Mahfouz Henhenit text

      abstract:In the late 1920s, gynecologist Naguib Mahfouz dissected the vagina of a young, Egyptian woman named Henhenit. The urinary fistula lodged between her genital apparatus and urinary tract, he believed, served as evidence that gynecological diseases had plagued women from “time immemorial.” Henhenit’s pelvic region, while well preserved, was over two thousand years old. Despite its age, her womb and the bones encasing it were the keys to a fertile reproductive future for the newly independent nation. Yet, Henhenit’s womb was not the only female Egyptian body under scientific scrutiny. Egyptian medical students examined skeletal remains in their lecture halls; Egyptologists raided necropolises in search of the ancient secrets of the dead; and anthropologists conducted ethnographic and anthropometric surveys on the bodies of living women in Upper Egypt. La femme pharonique, as the living Upper Egyptian woman was dubbed, was a unique scientific specimen for early twentieth century scientists—a ‘living fossil.’ They hypothesized that her skeletal structure, particularly the size and shape of her pelvic bone, was an atavistic trait characteristic of ancient Egyptian women. Unlike Henhenit, these women could be observed in the flesh, in their ‘natural environment’ of Upper Egypt, a region deemed isolated and immune to the passing of time.

      This talk examines the ways in which the pelvic bones and wombs of Upper Egyptian women took on new scientific and cultural meanings in the first half of the twentieth century as scientists and social reformers ‘returned to the womb’ seeking answers to questions of Egyptian natural history, social Darwinian theories of evolution and race, and neo-Malthusian hopes to decrease the country’s infant mortality rate. It explores how the bodies of Upper Egyptian women, both living and deceased, became specimen of scientific inquiry in museums, dissection halls, and in the field.

    • Henry Cowles, University of Michigan, on leave at the Stanford Humanities Centervery old b/w picture of students studying science

      Thursday April 12th, 2018, 4:30pm. NOTE ROOM CHANGE TO Building 120 Room 101B (Communications Bldg, aka McClatchy Hall)

      "When Science was a Habit"

      abstract: Today, science means many things—methods and institutions, publications and practitioners. In the nineteenth century, it was also something else: a habit. This talk asks how science came to seem habitual and how that status affected its authority. New human sciences like psychology and anthropology helped turn the scientific method into an adaptive trait, one that appeared across lines of culture, age, sex, and even species. As a result, science was transformed from a system of knowledge into a habit of mind. Science, in this sense, was everywhere, capable of solving all manner of problems. Eventually, this meaning was lost; science's method was reduced to a set of steps and its habitual nature was forgotten. But the history of when science was a habit has something to teach us, about both the rise of the human sciences and the age of alternative facts.

    • Lascaux, men pointing to cave drawing

      Fanny Defrance-Jublot, École Pratique des Hautes Études

      Thursday May 3rd, 2018, 4:30pm. Pigott Bldg 260 room 003

      "The Pickaxe and the Church book The experience of being Prehistorian and Catholic in France (from 1859 to 1962)"

      Abstract: In 1924, historian of the Catholic Church, Henri Bremond, compared prehistoric research at the end of the nineteenth century to a kind of allegory of a female Republican. He saw Prehistory as “A young women, dressed by an anticlerical shrew with a red Phrygian cap [Marianne, symbol of secular France], dancing an Indian war dance around the Church.” This description shows that, in France, prehistory represented a recurrent source of concern for the Church and the Catholic community. Despite the reticence that prehistory stirred up in Catholic circles, the discipline counted among its ranks a number of prehistorians who claimed religious membership and who chose to make this a part of their identity. They came to study this new field because they were living near various archaeological sites, because they were members of local scientific groups, or for apologetic reasons in order to support the Catholic faith.

      This talk will focus on issues of membership connections and boundaries for several generations of prehistorians who were also Catholics. These issues include the objective and subjective aspects of the relationship between faith and research, for instance in which ways prehistory analysis could influence a Christian life. Another question concerns the underlying aspect of such a relationship. Some prehistorians claimed objectivity; however, I ask whether one could find evidence of their Catholic faith in some of their scientific interpretations. Finally, I discuss how these Catholic prehistorians had to overcome two kinds of obstacles. When religious neutrality became an academic requirement linked with the process of secularization in France, a barrier emerged which separated public discourses according to the audience present. This made it more difficult to display the amalgamation these Catholic prehistorians were willing to create between science and religion. Also, in the Catholic world, until the beginning of the fifties, the context of the Modernist crisis, wherein the Church refused to acknowledge scientific modernity or accept critiques about the historicity of Genesis creation story, posed a number of problems. I interrogate what could be said and what could not be said in the French Catholic community about prehistoric origins in this context.

    • Kepler's Optics

      Ofer Gal, University of Sydney

      Thursday, May 10, 2018. 5:00pm. Pigott Bldg 260 room 002

      "From Kepler's Optics to Spinoza's Politics: Descartes' Turn to the Passions"

    • Special Seminar sponsored by the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science Residual Phenomena as Evidence

      A six part lecture series by Professor George E. Smith, Emeritus, Tufts University and Professor Teru Miyake visiting at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

      General Abstract: Residual phenomena involve systematic discrepancies between theoretical calculations and observation. Two classic examples from the 19th century are the 43 arc seconds per century discrepancy between the rate of precession of the perihelion of Mercury calculated according to Newtonian theory and the observed rate; and the systematic departures of each individual real gas from the ideal gas law – revealed one-by-one by Regnault during the 1840s and two decades later singled out by Clausius and Maxwell as a potential source of evidence on how molecules of different gases differ from one another. In these and many similar cases the discrepancy led to prolonged research trying to identify the cause of the discrepancy. Contrast this with the individual departures from a least-squares curve-fit obtained in linear regression analysis, which have no prima facie claim to resulting from some specific cause rather than from just the choice between linear and other options for the baseline curve. The question we shall be exploring in the seminar concerns the conditions under which residual phenomena do and do not have claim to being physically meaningful and thus for identifying the cause of the residual phenomenon in question.

      The seminar will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:15pm, May 24th - June 14th, 2018.

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