History and Philosophy of Science (HPS)

History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) uses the tools and methods of the humanities (especially history and philosophy) to study the sciences understood as human endeavors. This includes historical evolution and context; conceptual foundations and puzzles; theories, methods, and claims to knowledge; institutions, material practices, and social structures, past and present.

Duke HPS incorporates science, technology, engineering, medicine, and mathematics. We promote universal ownership of the sciences as shared cultural inheritance through encouragement and support of HPS in research and in teaching across the academy.

Upcoming Events

In the Beginning Were the Words: Technological Speaking and Thinking Before a Philosophy of Technology

wordsDate: Thurs, Jan 30th 2020

Time: 4:00 PM

Location: Rubenstein 249

Speaker: Jocelyn Holland, Professor of Comparative Literature, Caltech 


To scholars of Idealism and Romanticism, the years leading up to 1800 are known as a time of bold system-building and poetic experimentation. In this talk, I focus on a less-explored aspect of the same time period: where self-described “technologues” tried and, by their own admission, failed to come up with a theoretically sound account for the science of technology. Their sense of failure sprang from an inability to manage proliferation of technical terms, from a lack of consensus on the basic divisions of technology (including whether the fine arts should be included under its umbrella, with aesthetics as an “auxiliary science”), to unsuccessful attempts at constructing technological systems.

This talk examines technological thinking and speaking from the ground up. It begins with the problem of language before asking to what degree the failures of technological theories, with their incomplete gestures towards completion and perfection (Vollkommenheit), are themselves interesting and instructive as increasingly elaborate attempts to build conceptual frameworks. I begin with a brief meditation on Leibniz’s Unpresuming Thoughts on the Use and Improvement of the German Language (c. 1697), with its reflections on technological words, before diving into the late eighteenth-century quagmire of technological writing, drawing upon examples from Beckmann, Lamprecht, Cunradi, Walther, and others. 

Call for Applications: Vienna Summer School

The Vienna Summer School will be holding a two-week session, July 6-July 17, 2020 on Representation in Art and Science 

An international team of scholars, including  Chiara Ambrosio (University College London), Angela Breitenbach (University of Cambridge) and Dominic McIver Lopes (University of British Columbia)  will be conducting a program of lectures, seminars, and tutorials directed to graduate students and focusing on a series issues described in detail at: https://www.univie.ac.at/vcs/SWC/. English is VSS’s official language.

This is an outstanding opportunity not only to broaden one's understanding of the relationship between the culture of science, its philosophy and scientific practice but also to establish connections with international colleagues.  Duke students who attended the program in previous years were enthusiastic and felt the program contributed significantly to their graduate career. 

Students in all disciplines are welcome to apply.  As part of their exchange program, Duke and VSS will provide up to five full fellowships to successful applicants, covering tuition and accommodations.  Recipients will receive also a significant airfare subsidy (minimally $1000).  Apply directly to Vienna but send the Duke coordinator a brief note indicating that you have submitted your application (mhacohen@duke.edu). Vienna determines admission and will be contacting successful applicants.  The deadline is February 15, 2020. 

Call for Submissions: 2020 Du Châtelet Prize Prize in Philosophy of Physics 

Submissions are invited for the 2020 Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics. The topic for this year’s prize is: Mathematics as a tool of conceptual innovation in physical theory and/or experiment, 1780-1890

The winner will receive $1000, an invitation to participate in a workshop to be held at Duke University, and an invitation to have their paper considered for publication in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

The prize is open to graduate students and to scholars within 5 years of Ph.D. Submissions should not exceed 10,000 words. 

The deadline for submissions is February 1, 2020. 

The members of this year’s prize committee are: Katherine Brading (Duke University), Janet Folina (Macalester College), Doreen Fraser (University of Waterloo), Lydia Patton (Virginia Tech) and Sheldon Smith (UCLA). 

For more details of the prize and of submissions requirements, please go to https://duchateletprize.org.

The Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics is supported by Duke University in collaboration with Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics: Prize Lecture


Time: Wednesday April 15th, 4:30pm

(more information to follow)