Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds

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Coordinates: 53°48′25″N 1°33′11″W / 53.807°N 1.553°W / 53.807; -1.553

The Centre for History and Philosophy of Science is a research institution devoted to the historical and philosophical study of science and technology, based in the Department of Philosophy, at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. The Centre – previously known as the Division of History and Philosophy of Science, which was founded in 1956 – is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. Throughout its history, the Centre has been home to many of the leading historians and philosophers of science who have shaped our understanding of scientific activity and how it shapes and is shaped by wider society.

Early history and expansion[edit]

The key figure in establishing history and philosophy of science (HPS) as a discipline at Leeds was the philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin, who was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Leeds in 1954 and head of department in 1956. Whilst Thomas Kuhn is often seen as the founder of the modern field of history and philosophy of science, Toulmin had argued for an integration of philosophy of science and history of science some nine years before Kuhn published his famous work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[1] After becoming head of the department of philosophy, Toulmin hired two young scholars who would subsequently become amongst the most important thinkers in history and philosophy of science: Jerry Ravetz[2] and June Goodfield. Furthermore, physicist-turned-historian Donald Cardwell become a research fellow in HPS and then a lecturer. However, Cardwell left Leeds in 1963 to start a similar department at UMIST. When Toulmin, followed by Goodfield, left Leeds for the USA in 1959, Ravetz led the Leeds HPS group into a period of expansion during the 1960s, which is described by many as a ‘golden age’ of HPS at Leeds. A number of scholars were hired, including Piyo Rattansi, Charles Webster, Ted McGuire, Maurice Crosland, and Charles Schmitt, and a number of postgraduate students who would go to become leading HPS thinkers, such as Margaret Jacob[3] and Robert Fox,[4] studied at Leeds with them.

In the 1970s, after the departures of – amongst others – Webster and Crosland, historian of genetics Robert Olby became a leading figure in the Division through his book Path to the Double Helix,[5] which showed how the 1953 discoveries of Crick and Watson were rooted in the work of two University of Leeds scientists: the creator of molecular biology, William Astbury, and the Nobel prizewinning inventor of X-ray crystallography, William Henry Bragg. During this period, a number of scholars who would shape HPS at Leeds during the 1980s and 1990s were appointed. These scholars included John Christie[6] Jonathan Hodge[7] and Geoffrey Cantor, whose groundbreaking research on the history of physics – in particular Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday – would earn him the first professorship in the HPS division at Leeds.[8] Jonathan Hodge collaborated with Geoffrey Cantor on the classic co-edited study Conceptions of Ether: Studies in the History of Ether Theories, 1740–1900 (1981). However, Dr Hodge’s main research interest lies in the history of theories of creation and, in this context, he has written historical articles on the theories of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and Ronald Fisher, as well as philosophical pieces on evolutionary biology. In chronological terms, Hodge’s historical focus has been on the period 1770–1850, especially in France and Britain, working on Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin. Monographs are under preparation[when?] on the last two, following on from the Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2003), which was co-edited with recently arrived colleague Gregory Radick, and recently issued in a second edition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

John Christie has a broad range of expertise in enlightenment science, especially th history of chemistry. A significant proportion of his articles focus on the characters of William Cullen and Joseph Black in Edinburgh and on Joseph Priestley in Leeds. Christie, too, has collaborated with Geoffrey Cantor, their shared interests in linguistic aspects of science leading to the co-edited volume The Figural and the Literal: Problems of Language in the History of Science and Philosophy, 1630–1800 (1987).

Notable research students supervised by Cantor, Hodge, and Christie include:

  • Chris Kenny[9] – supervised by Cantor and now a teaching fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leeds.
  • Sam Alberti – co-supervised by Hodge, Graeme Gooday (Leeds), and Sally Shuttleworth (Sheffield), and now Keeper of Science and Technology at National Museums Scotland.
  • Jan Golinski[10] – supervised by Christie and now Professor of History and Humanities at the University of New Hampshire.
  • Mark Jackson[11] – supervised by Christie and now Professor of the History of Medicine and Director of the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter.

Furthermore, the collective endeavours of life in the Division of HPS at Leeds were epitomized in the much-cited multi-authored Companion to the History of Modern Science (1990), co-edited by Olby, Cantor, Christie and Hodge. Although there are now competitor volumes, articles from the Leeds Companion still reside on many a reading list for history of science courses throughout the world.

Diversification and expansion in the 1990s[edit]

From 1993 onwards, Leeds HPS took a new direction as several new specialist appointments were made in the philosophy of science, the history of medicine and the history of technology. Professor Steven French[12] came to Leeds in 1993, having previously worked in Brazil and the USA. He teaches the philosophy of science, especially the philosophy of physics, and he has supervised numerous PhD students in both areas. His research covers several areas in the history and philosophy of physics. Primarily, Professor French is known for a structuralist approach to models and theories, which can be extended to cover issues of explanation and representation in science and also provides the formal basis for a form of structural realism.

In the same year that Steven French was appointed, Adrian Wilson,[13] Lecturer in History of Medicine, came to the Division under a Wellcome University Award. Dr Wilson’s main research focus is seventeenth- and eighteenth-century midwifery/childbirth, particularly with reference to male and female roles in delivery – a subject he explored in his book The Making of Man-Midwifery (1995). However, Dr. Wilson also studies English provincial voluntary hospitals in the eighteenth century and the history of pathology. With help from colleagues, Dr. Wilson built up History of Medicine teaching both as part of the HPS degree programmes (BA and MA) and within the medical curriculum; and Leeds now offers an Intercalated Degree in History of Medicine (only the fourth such degree in Britain).

In 1994, Graeme Gooday[14] was appointed to teach courses on the history and philosophy (especially the ethics) of technology. Gooday’s main research interests are in the history of late nineteenth-century physics, technology, instrumentation, and gender. In particular, as demonstrated by his first book, The Morals of Measurement: Accuracy, Irony and Trust in Late Victorian Electrical Practice (2004), Gooday focuses on the history of laboratories, the multifaceted roles of measurement and on the spatial issues of scientific practice.

Jonathan Topham[15]arrived in Leeds in 1999 as an AHRB Institutional Fellow for the Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical (SciPer) Project,[16] having previously worked on the Darwin Correspondence Project and at the University of Cambridge. The work of the SciPer Project reflects Dr Topham’s wide interest in the production and reading of scientific publications in nineteenth-century Britain, a subject on which he has published a number of widely cited articles. Topham’s other main research focus is on science and religion, and he has published valuable articles on natural theology and theologies of nature in nineteenth-century Britain. As a lecturer in history and philosophy of science since January 2005, Topham has helped develop a new Masters programme in science communication in collaboration with the University of Leeds’s Institute of Communication Studies.[17]

After completing his postgraduate studies at Cambridge, Dr Gregory Radick[18] was appointed as lecturer in the HPS Division in 2000 during Professor Cantor’s sabbatical, becoming a permanent member of staff in 2003. His research and teaching specialties are in the history of the life sciences and the human sciences, with special emphasis on questions of Darwinism and genetics. He has published and contributed to two co-edited volumes, including, with colleague Jonathan Hodge, The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2003), which was recently issued as a second edition. Radick’s research work has concentrated on three themes in particular: scientific studies of animal mind and animal language; the role of social context and historical contingency in the development of modern biology; and the new genetic technologies in historical and philosophical perspective, concentrating especially on patenting and genetic testing. An interest in the relations between changing technology and changing knowledge runs throughout his work and was demonstrated in his first book, The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate About Animal Language (2008).

Notable postgraduate students at Leeds during and since the 1990s include:[citation needed]

  • James Ladyman[19] – supervised by Steven French and now a Professor at the University of Bristol.
  • Otavio Bueno[20] – supervised by French and now Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami.
  • Dean Rickles[21] – supervised by French and now a lecturer at the University of Sydney.
  • Juha Saatsi[22] – supervised by French and now, after holding a postdoctoral position at the University of Manchester, is now a lecturer in the department of philosophy. His research expertise covers various areas in general philosophy of science. He is particularly interested in various aspects of the scientific realism debate.
  • James Sumner[23] – supervised by Gooday and now lecturer in the history of Technology at the University of Manchester.

Further information[edit]

  • Graeme Gooday, 'History and Philosophy of Science at Leeds', Notes and Records of the Royal Society 60 (2006), 183–192.


  1. ^ Toulmin, Philosophy of Science: An Introduction (1953)
  2. ^ Jerry Ravetz, UK.
  3. ^ Margaret Jacob Archived December 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., UCLA, USA.
  4. ^ Robert Fox, University of Oxford, UK.
  5. ^ Robert Olby, Path to the Double Helix (1974).
  6. ^ John Christie Archived August 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., University of Leeds, UK.
  7. ^ Jonathan Hodge Archived June 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., University of Leeds, UK.
  8. ^ Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist : a Study of Science and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (1991), Optics After Newton: Theories of Light in Britain and Ireland, 1704–1840 (1983).
  9. ^ Chris Kenny, University of Leeds, UK.
  10. ^ Jan Golinski Archived April 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., University of New Hampshire, USA.
  11. ^ Mark Jackson, University of Exeter, UK.
  12. ^ Steven French, University of Leeds, UK.
  13. ^ Adrian Wilson, University of Leeds, UK.
  14. ^ Graeme Gooday, University of Leeds, UK.
  15. ^ Jonathan Topham, University of Leeds, UK.
  16. ^ Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical (SciPer) Project, University of Leeds, UK.
  17. ^ Communication Studies, University of Leeds, UK.
  18. ^ Gregory Radick, University of Leeds, UK.
  19. ^ James Ladyman Archived October 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., University of Bristol, UK.
  20. ^ Otavio Bueno.
  21. ^ Dean Rickles, University of Sydney, Australia.
  22. ^ Juha Saatsi, University of Leeds, UK.
  23. ^ James Sumner Archived June 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., University of Manchester, UK.

External links[edit]