Fall 2021 Colloquium


This series is jointly hosted by the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, the Program in History of Science and Technology, and the Program in the History of Medicine. Each semester we invite scholars from around the country and the world to present on scholarship in the history and philosophy of science, technology and medicine.

Lectures begin at 3:35pm in Rapson Hall 45 on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. As a reminder, masks are required indoors by University of Minnesota policy. There will be no refreshments served this fall due to COVID. 

At this time, all events will be in-person unless otherwise stated. Some events may be subject to change. Please check back for updates or contact hstm@umn.edu for more information. 


Stephen Casper, September 10, 3:35pm

Department of History, Clarkson University

A Dorothy Bernstein Lecture in the History of Psychiatry

Title: "Punch Drunk Slugnuts: Violence and the Vernacular History of Disease"

Abstract: Since hits to the head can cause dementia, why is our culture only now realizing it? This essay argues that the observation that neurological illnesses follow recurrent hits to the head was tempered by the very languages that first called the diseases into scientific existence: punch drunk, slug nutty, slap happy, goofy, punchie, and a host of other colloquialisms accompanying class identities. Thus the discovery of disease and its medicalization ran straight into a disbelief about losers - losers in boxing, losers in life, losers in general. To medicalize such individuals, was to fly in the face of a culture that made them jokes. Yet, a subculture began to emerge around pathological understandings, first in medicine, then in journalism, then in the courts, and then finally with patient accounts about illness. These new understandings never achieved canonical status in English-speaking cultures prior to the 2000s but they persisted and grew stronger throughout the post-war period.

Head injury literature


Mikio Akagi, September 17, 3:35pm

Mikio Akagi, History and Philosophy of Science, Texas Christian University

MCPS Lecture

Title: "Microaggressions in social explanation and individual phenomenology"


Jole Shackelford, September 24, 3:35pm

History of Medicine, University of Minnesota

Title: "Normal and Abnormal Rhythms in the Search for Biological Clocks: An Epistemological Gap Between Early Twentieth-Century Biology and Experimental Psychology."

Abstract: I will posit an epistemological gap between the research designs and interpretations of results of experimental psychologists and animal physiologists during the first half of the twentieth century, evident at least in the study of biological rhythms and the pursuit of biological clocks.  That scientists working in different fields often operated within their own silos, as this is sometimes called, is not a particularly novel idea, but I will show that in the history of rhythms studies this has led to a mistaken priority claim in the search for “the biological clock” – one that led to a nomination for a Nobel Prize on historically dubious grounds.  It remains to be seen whether this finding can be applied more broadly.


Richter Comp Psych Monographs

Andre Wakefield, October 8, 3:35pm

Department of History, Pitzer College

Title: Toxic Anachronism in the History of Science and Technology: The Case of Leibniz

Abstract: The history of science and technology has long been especially prone to Whiggish anachronism. You might say it’s built into the marrow of our discipline. While the complete elimination of anachronism from our histories may be a fool’s errand, certain forms of anachronism, instantiated in what I have elsewhere called “Disney History,” constitute a problem worth discussing. I will use the case of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his experiments with mining machines in the Harz Mountains, to demonstrate what I mean.



Jacob Steere-Williams, October 15, 3:35pm

Department of History, College of Charleston

Title: Carbolic Colonialism: Race, Labor, and Plague in the British Empire

A Charles E. Culpeper Lecture in the History of Medicine and HSTM Alumni Lecture

Abstract: This talk examines the entanglements of colonial public health through the history of a singular chemical technology; carbolic acid. Derived from coal tar production in British and German industrial factories, carbolic acid exploded in use from the 1870s after Joseph Lister advocated for aseptic and antiseptic surgeries. By the early twentieth century, carbolic acid and other chemical disinfectants were domesticated as common household tools in the fight against germs. An unexplored history of carbolic acid, however, are the practices—gendered and racialized—whereby carbolic acid became the central and everyday weapon used by colonial public health officers and indigenous laborers in fighting outbreaks of infectious disease. This talk, using the rich archival material derived from anti-plague work in British India and South Africa around 1900, shows how carbolic acid and the practices of disinfection were key sites of scientific knowledge transfer, debate, and contestation, over colonial environments, bodies, and what bodies produce.


karachi carbolic

Benjamin Feintzig, October 22, 3:35pm

Department of Philosophy, University of Washington

MCPS Lecture

Title: Why care about quantization?

Abstract: The modern mathematical theory of quantization provides methods for both constructing quantum theories from information about classical physical systems as well as analyzing the limit of small values of Planck's constant, which relates quantum theories to their classical predecessors. In this talk, I will suggest that quantization provides tools for contributing to long-standing issues in philosophy of science. First, I claim the tools of quantization can help clarify the extent to which one can formulate an intertheoretic reduction between classical and quantum mechanics. Second, I claim the tools of quantization can make precise the sense in which there is structural continuity between classical and quantum mechanics, as required by certain kinds of structural realism. Third, I claim that quantization highlights whether certain heuristics for theory construction could possibly be justified. My discussion will be programmatic, aiming to provide an introduction that avoids technical details, and I will conclude with a number of open questions.


A simple test

Elizabeth Toon, October 29, 3:35pm

University of Manchester

Title: The Do-It-Herself Smear: Prevention Technology, Medical Practice, and Cervical Cancer Screening in 1960s Britain

Please note: this lecture will be held virtually via Zoom: https://umn.zoom.us/j/97588163771

Abstract: This talk is part of my larger project, 'Making Screening Work', on the history of cervical cancer screening in the United Kingdom.  While national health authorities registered support for a regular programme of cervical cancer screening early in the 1960s, it took until the end of that decade for facilities, practitioners, and systems to be fully ready to take on the challenge of providing the service to the UK's women. Even so, policymakers and leading medical experts disagreed about the best approaches to delivering screening, and were particularly worried about reaching rural women and women thought less likely for cultural, social, or economic reasons to attend.  One approach they trialed was what they called the 'do-it-herself smear', a form of self-sampling that -- theoretically, at least -- would allow women to participate in screening without visiting a GP or clinic.  In this talk, I discuss why this approach initially seemed appealing, and why it failed in practice, asking what it can tell us about the technological, social, and political challenges associated with the introduction of screening.  By focusing on historical discussions about the mundane realities of smear-taking, I show that we can better understand the larger challenges that instituting screening presented to medical organisation, and grasp how this new technology of prevention reshaped both the delivery of care and women's health experiences. 



Elena Conis headshot

Elena Conis, November 5, 3:35pm

School of Journalism, UC-Berkeley

Title: Vaccination and its Historical Documents

Abstract: Hesitancy and resistance to vaccination is more common than not in U.S. history. This talk will explain how and why public attitudes toward vaccination have changed over time, with an emphasis on twentieth and twenty-first century trends. Many age-old vaccination objections—including those grounded in religious beliefs, secular values, political ideology, and distrust in powerful interest groups—have persisted for more than two hundred years. But the modern era of vaccination, which dawned in the 1950s, is unique for its emphasis on compulsory vaccination of children, the visibility of so-called anti-vaccine views, and the often-overlooked but historically unprecedented acceptance of mandatory vaccination of the youngest citizens. This talk will place trends in the modern era of vaccination in the context of issues related to the nuclear family, economy, health care, and federal politics. It will also discuss how shifting social values, environmental concerns, gender roles, the valuation of children, and the relationship between secular and religious values inform vaccination skepticism. Finally, it will consider how today’s vaccination discourse and behaviors both echo and depart from historical trends in vaccination resistance and acceptance. 


This lecture will be held virtually via Zoom: https://umn.zoom.us/j/92335536120


Cooley Renn picture

Mackenzie Cooley, November 12, 3:35pm

Department of History, Hamilton College

Title: Making Razze: Knowing and Controlling Animal Generation, 1500-1600

Abstract: The Renaissance is celebrated for its belief that man could fashion himself to greatness. But there is a dark parallel to this fêted history. Those same men and women who were offering profound advancements in understanding the human condition, laying the foundations of the Scientific Revolution, were fascinated with controlling that condition and the wider natural world. This talk introduces The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Humans, and Race in the Renaissance (In Press, The University of Chicago Press), a book that traces how the Renaissance world – from the Mediterranean to Mexico City to the high mountains of the Andes – was marked by a lingering fascination with breeding. Just as one strand of the Renaissance celebrated a liberal view of human potential, another limited it by biology, reducing man to beast and prince to stud. Aristocrats, breeders, and intellectuals thought through generation as those around them endeavored to create improved animal bodies, traced here through the cases of Italian horses, Mesoamerican dogs, Andean camelids, and other creatures. As the idea of controlled breeding was brought to life again and again, a rich, complex, and ever-shifting language of race and breeding developed. The bureaucratic language of “razze,” employed to designate a selected population thought to embody fragile differences over a few short generations, slipped from animals, becoming more permanent and hierarchical when applied to humans living in European colonies in this chapter of the long and convoluted history of race.


MCPS logo

Subrena Smith, November 19, 3:35pm

University of New Hampshire

MCPS Lecture

Title: "What’s to be Gained from an Evolutionary Approach to Behavior?"

Abstract: To explain something is to illuminate it, to render the thing understandable, to make it clear. Human behavior is that domain that is constituted by the many different ways that human beings “move” themselves. I wish to understand such “movements.” But what kinds of explanations best illuminate them? One framework has it that for at least some of our behaviors, an evolutionary grounding is best. I’ll attempt in this talk to specify what is at stake in the evolutionary approach, and therefore what is supposed to be gained by taking the evolutionary stance.


Ashley Inglehart, December 3, 3:35 pm

College of Medicine, Florida State University

 Ashley Inglehart headshot

Title: "Genesis, Creation, and Generation in Robert Boyle's Natural Philosophy"

Abstract: This paper examines the problem of generation -how plants, animals, and minerals come into existence- as considered by eminent English Aristocrat, Robert Boyle. Boyle, most noted today for work in pneumatics, addresses the problem in more than twenty treatises spanning roughly forty years. His understanding of the forces of generation, moreover, would remain closely tied to his ideas about God and the biblical account of Creation throughout his life.

I show how Robert Boyle took up the imagery of seminal principles for religious purposes and made them cohere with his larger mechanical and experimental project. I likewise expand upon the influence that Boyle’s Theological Voluntarism had upon his epistemology and methodological approach to experiment. In doing so, Boyle would contribute to a larger project of rejecting Aristotelian essentialism in favor of a modern approach to science. Both his approach and ideas about the forces of generation would go on to have tremendous influence in medicine, philosophy, and the birth of science itself.


Rescheduled: Erika Milam, December 10, 3:35pm

This event will no longer be held on December 10. It has been rescheduled for January 28, 2022. 

Erika Milam, Department of History, Princeton University

Title: "Philosopher Kings of the Rocky Mountains: Marmots, Time, and Animal Behavior"

Abstract: TBD