Category Archives: Talks & events

2019 HSMT Postgraduate Conference: Ch-ch-changes in the history of science, medicine, and technology

2019 HSMT PG Conference Poster

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 4th March (week 8)

“René Descartes wondered if people he observed through his window are just machines in hats and coats. One type of clockwork automata in Japan, dashi karakuri, were carried during religious festivals as vessels for deities (kami). The philosophical and scientific paradigm of Descartes’ contemporaries was shaped by the clockwork mechanism. In Japan, like in Europe, humanoid and animaloid automata reflected and affected the understanding of organic life. The ancestors of contemporary robots, clockwork automata, enchanted the people in Europe and Japan during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with their lifelike movements. Although they had common origin – the clockwork mechanism – Japanese automata, karakuri ningyō (mechanical dolls), remained a unique techno-cultural phenomenon until the modernisation at the end of the nineteenth century when most karakuri masters shifted to making telegraphs and steam locomotives. This talk presents a transnational history of clockwork automata with focus on Japan, discussing these clockwork wonders as a multifaceted historical phenomenon that shaped and was shaped by medical science, natural philosophy, spirituality, and popular culture. A transnational consideration of clockwork humanoid automata will show the heterogeneous attitudes toward organic and artificial life that emerged from the universal clockwork mechanism hidden behind cultured mechanical bodies.”

When? Monday 4th March 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 25th February (week 7)

“In this paper I introduce some of the key ideas of my new book Thrifty Science. I argue that “oeconomic” literature on household management provides a useful starting-point for making sense of the material practices of experimenters in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Oeconomy encouraged thrift in managing a household, which meant a balance of expenditure on new things and making the most of what one already had. Focusing on the seventeenth century, I shall argue that householders experimenting in their homes brought thrifty attitudes to new forms of natural knowledge-making, and while historians have focused on the new and dedicated materials of this period they have overlooked how experimenters exploited what they already had. This “thrifty science” involved, in particular, “making use of things” – using everyday items as best as possible, a practice which met derision from some quarters, but which various experimenters claimed was a critical feature of the new science. I shall highlight different opinions on the nature of household practices as experimental knowledge. For some, domestic experiment was sufficient in itself as a new form of science, but others argued that it needed to be extracted from the home for testing and accreditation elsewhere. Many things might be “experiments” but only some could be “natural philosophy.”

I examine seventeenth and eighteenth-century English attitudes to material goods, and suggest that the literature of “oeconomy” or household management offers a means to better understand this. Householders encouraged thrift in the management of their homes, which did not simply equate with saving money but with finding a balance between excess and frugality, a contribution to the good order of the home and social harmony. Householders might buy new goods, but they should also make use of what they already possessed. This encouraged a view of materials as open-ended and adaptable, and I propose this was one route to the experimentation that flourished in the seventeenth century. Scholarly households such as the Bacons, Evelyns and Boyles viewed experiment as an important means to find out the many uses of things systematically. Such a desire for what Francis Bacon called “polychrests” or things of many uses, was not uncontested, however. Not everybody was thrifty, the rich were extravagant and the poor were forced to be frugal; and not everybody thought that making use of things was an appropriate way to make natural knowledge. The chapter concludes by considering ways that experimenters gave humble household knowledge credit and legitimacy.”

When? Monday 25th February 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 18th February (week 6)

Dr Koen Vermeir, CNRS, Paris/Maison Française d’Oxford
Charlatan epistemology

‘In the spring of 1697, wonder-workers cured many citizens of Rotterdam by what was called “piss-work”. Instead of attending to the patient, healers used a secret powder to treat the patient’s fresh morning urine, and through a sympathetic interaction, the patient would be cured. The charlatans did not only draw censure from established physicians but some physicians supported the new cure bringing the charlatans into the fold. I will use this case study to discuss the epistemology of the charlatan. Charlatans have caused a historiographical headache for the history of medicine. The very category of “the charlatan” has been questioned again and again because of the intrinsic dangers of projection, anachronism and inappropriate judgment that seem to be embedded in the word itself. Instead of repeating the rhetoric of imposture and credulity, historians of medicine have recently tried to discover the “real” historical charlatan behind the polemics. In order to understand the charlatan we cannot ignore the divisive rhetoric, however. Key notions such as imposture, credulity, imagination and deception have to be historicized.’

When? Monday 18th February 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 11th February (week 5)

‘Throughout the eighteenth century and for much of the nineteenth, the French language was the equivalent of the English language today: it was the language of diplomacy, of national elites, of culture in general, of science and medicine in particular. During the early decades of the XIX century, two major French publishers, Charles-Louis Panckoucke (1780-1844) and Jean-Baptiste Baillière (1797-1885) entered the market of transnational and global communication, by making available translations from the German language into French. Panckoucke, the son of the publisher linked to the editorial enterprise of Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, published a Dictionnaire des sciences médicales (60 vol., 1811-1822). The work was heavily indebted to German medicine, and made him a millionaire. From the late 1820s until the late 1850s, Baillière produced multi-volume translations of German works in medicine, physics, chemistry, the history of medicine and the history of philosophy – with a marked predilection for homeopathy and macrobiotics. He opened a highly profitable shop in London, and sent members of his family to establish branches in Australia, Canada, the United States, and Spain, thus becoming the first global scientific publisher – and a very rich man.’

When? Monday 11th February 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 4th February (week 4)

‘Even before Britain’s National Health Service opened its doors on 5th July 1948, it was the subject of considerable international commentary, both enthusiastic and appalled. By 1948, the British government, medical professional bodies, activist groups, trade unions, and members of the public were not only aware of international conversations around the NHS, but were actively intervening in them. This is most visible in relation to perceptions of the Service in the United States, where the NHS was heavily invoked in national debates over the appropriate role of the state in the provision of health care. This talk will explore the efforts of a range of actors to influence domestic and international opinions about the National Health Service from its first decade to the end of the 20th century. What can representations of the NHS tell us about the place of the Service itself as a symbol of international standing and national values?’

When? Monday 4th February 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 28th January (week 3)

Dr Roderick Bailey (University of Oxford):
Murder in Palestine? Revisiting the causes of the Acre/Akka typhoid outbreak of 1948

‘In 1948, an outbreak of typhoid occurred in the coastal town of Acre (Akka) in northern Palestine. This was a time when Jewish and Arab communities were in open conflict, and subsequent claims that Jewish militants had deliberately contaminated the town’s water supply have become part of major narratives of the period and are routinely presented as fact. Drawing on a range of records, including the contemporary reports of Red Cross delegates and British military personnel on hand to examine the conditions, this paper discusses the supposed evidence for deliberate contamination and how the episode has been presented publicly since.’

When? Monday 28th January 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- 14th January (week 1)

When? Monday 14th January 2019, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- Week 7, 19th November

‘The late eighteenth century was a pivotal era in the history of ideas about venereal disease in the British Empire. The slow death of the Atlantic slave trade put new pressures on British doctors to cultivate sexual health among enslaved women in the British Caribbean in order to ensure their fertility, and at the same time the extensive engagement of the British military in the Caribbean raised new concerns about the sexual health of British soldiers and sailors. This paper will discuss how these pressures unfolded and how they shaped the circulation of medical knowledge about venereal disease. Particular attention will be given to the relationship between African and British healers, and especially the engagement  of the Surgeon General of the British Armed Forces, John Hunter, with ideas about venereal disease that were generated in the Caribbean through the interaction of white and black healers.’

When? Monday 19th November 2018, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.

Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology- Week 6, 12th November

‘What hereditary effect, if any, does alcohol have upon the nervous system? As the temperance movement gained popularity and political influence in the 19th century, the potential influence of intemperate habits on human heredity became a pressing topic for concern in both the medical and the religious press. The shared anxieties of medical and religious institutions led to an abundance of pamphlets and treatises that attempted to unite the religious and phrenological views on the dangers of intoxication. In this paper, I argue that by examining the significance of phrenological thought to the temperance movement, we can better understand how ideas of the transmission of illnesses and vices from parent to offspring were diffused in the 19th century to the reading public. Drawing on John van Wyhe’s characterisation of phrenology as a popular medium through which scientific naturalism gained prominence, I show that the temperance movement provided a site of discourse that communicated not only the dangers of alcohol, but also theories of reproduction, heredity, and the transmission of acquired traits. As such, the temperance movement prioritised some understandings of the laws of heredity while overlooking or downplaying others.’

When? Monday 12th November 2018, 16:00. Coffee will be available from 15:30.

Where? Lecture Theatre, History Faculty, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL

All welcome to attend! This term’s HSMT Seminar series is convened by Professor Rob Iliffe and Dr Sloan Mahone, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. More information about HSMT events can be found here.