Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Spring, 2012
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1416
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

May 24: Note the changes to the schedule for week 8, Jun 6.

Seminar on Matter and Information: Science Studies
History of Science

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

The theme for the 2011 Spring Term will be “History of Science.” In this segment, we focus on original sources. For each class we read an original source from the history of science in English translation, and an accompanying research paper, or study, by a historian of science writing on the same subject. We are not attempting to be chronologically or topically comprehensive, but are, rather, looking at a completely different topic each week―for example, ancient Greek optics, medieval Islamic medicine, ancient Chinese mathematics, Italian Renaissance astronomy, Newton’s theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relatively, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Mendel’s genetics, Von Neumann on the computer, the discovery of the structure of DNA, and so on.

We will then conclude by reading a recent book on a particular topic in the history of science. This term the book will be A. Pinkering’s The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future.

Students taking this class will be introduced to modern approaches to the history of science and will study select topics in the history of science.

Required Texts

A number of papers will be available for download from this site.

  • A. Pickering, 2011. The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. (UCP: Chicago).
  • Grading:

    Participation 30%
    Discussion questions 30%
    Final paper 40%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions and to submit a final paper.

    Final Paper

    History paper, around 3,000 words.

    This term the writing project will be a history paper. This means that you need to learn a lot about a historical topic and tell as story about it. This means that you need to pick your topic early and do a lot of reading. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    The project will be done in three phases: (1) a topic proposal and preliminary bibliography, (2) an anotated bibliography (3) a final paper.

  • (1) Start thinking about possible topics right away. Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of the story you will tell, which should be followed by a short bibliography (two or three items).
  • (2) You should begin to read your sources and take notes on them. Make a bibliographic list of at least ten sources, with a short blurb on each one.
  • (3) Based on all this reading, write up your account of the historical events.
  • Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    There is a lot of reading for this term. Each week, there will be one primary source reading and one piece of sholarship on the same general subject. It is not essential to understand everything about the primary source, but you should have a look at it and see what the general approach is. Then, focus on the reading. When you are reading, keep the following questions in mind.

      1. What is the perspective that the historian is taking?
      2. What sorts of sources is the historian using, and how are they being used?
      3. Is the historian taking a more theoretical and argumentative approach, or one that is more narrative and descriptive.
      4. Why has the historian chosen to tell this particular story?
      5. Does the approach that the historian has chosen suit the overall purpose?

    Week 1: Apr 11

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Apr 18

    Greek Mathematics

  • Primary Source: Dee’s Euclid: Title page, Billingsley's Preface, and Book III props. 16 and 17.
  • Reading: J. Høyrup, The formation of a myth: Greek mathematics - our mathematics.
  • Week 3: Apr 25

    Translations from Greek to Arabic

  • Primary source: The Preface of the Banu Musa to their version of Apollonius’s Conics.
  • Reading: D. Gutas, Patrons, translators, translations (from Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, chap. 6).
  • Holiday: May 2

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 4: May 9

    Descartes’ intellectual context

  • Primary source: Chaps. 5, 6 and 7 from R. Descartes, The World.
  • Reading: P. Dear, A mechanical microcosm.
  • Week 5: May 16 (Paper phase one due)

    William Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood

  • Primary source: Chaps. 5 and 8 (Of the motion, action and office of the heart and Of the Quantity of Blood Passing Through the Heart from the Veins to the Arteries; And of the Circular Motion of the Blood) from Harvey’s On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals (Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus).
  • Reading: A. Gregory, Harvey, Aristotle and the weather cycle.
  • Week 6: May 23

    Darwin’s finches

  • Primary source: Darwin, Selection from Chap. 4 of the Origin of Species (pp. 105-119, Divergence of Character).
  • Reading: F. Sulloway, Darwin and his finches, pp. 1-38.
  • Week 7: May 30

    Einstein’s inspiration

  • Primary source: A. Einstein, Relativity, chaps. VIII, IX, X and XI.
  • Reading: P. Galison, Einstein’s clocks: The place of time.
  • Week 8: Jun 6

    Historiographic controversy over 1001 Inventions

  • Source: Please take a look at the websites and; and the book 1001 Inventions.
  • Reading: I will send everyone an email that includes the reading.
  • Old Topic: The structure of DNA

  • Primary source: Watson and Crick, Molecular structure of nucleic acids, and the following summary of Watson’s The Double Helix.
  • Reading: S. de Chadarevian, Portrait of a discovery: Watson, Crick, and the double helix.
  • Week 9: Jul 13

    Richard Fineman’s youth

  • Primary source: R. Fineman, Los Alamos from below.
  • Reading: D.N. Rall, The ‘House that dick built’.
  • Week 10: Jun 20 (Paper phase 2 due)

    Cybernetic Brain, I

  • Reading: chaps. 1 and 2.
  • Week 11: Jun 27

    Cybernetic Brain, II.

  • Reading: chap. 3.
  • Week 12: Jul 4

    Cybernetic Brain, III.

  • Reading: chap. 4.
  • Week 13: Jul 11

    Cybernetic Brain, IV.

  • Reading: chap. 5.
  • Week 14: Jul 18

    Cybernetic Brain, V.

  • Reading: chap. 6.
  • Week 15: Jul 25 (Paper due)

    Cybernetic Brain, VI.

  • Reading: chaps. 7 and 8.