History and Philosophy of Science

The University offers a number of courses in the history and philosophy of science, although it does not, at this time, offer a major or concentration to undergraduates in Columbia College or General Studies. The course listings bring together a variety of courses from different disciplines, which should be of interest to anyone wishing to pursue work in the history and philosophy of science. The list is not intended to be all inclusive; students interested in the history and philosophy of science should speak to members of the committee.

Interdepartmental Committee on History and Philosophy of Science

David Albert
706 Philosophy; 212-854-3519

Walter Bock (emeritus)
1106 Schermerhorn; 212-854-4487

Marwa Elshakry
512 Fayerweather; 212-851-5914

Karl Jacoby
424 Hamilton; 212-854-3248

Richard John
201E Pulitzer; 212-854-0547

Matthew Jones
514 Fayerweather; 212-854-2421

Joel Kaye
422B Lehman; 212-854-4350

Philip Kitcher
717 Philosophy; 212-854-4884

Eugenia Lean
925 International Affairs Building; 212-854-1742

Christia Mercer
707 Philosophy; 212-854-3190

Alondra Nelson
607 Knox; 212-851-7081

Samuel Roberts
History/Sociomedical Sciences 
322 Fayerweather; 212-854-2430

David Rosner
History/Sociomedical Sciences 
420 Fayerweather; 212-854-4272

David Rothman
History/Sociomedical Sciences
622 West 168th Street; 212-305-4096

George Saliba (emeritus)
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
312 Knox; 212-854-4166

Pamela Smith
605 Fayerweather; 212-854-7662

Fall 2018

HIST BC1062 Introduction to Later Middle Ages: 1050-1450. 4 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).

Social environment, political, and religious institutions, and the main intellectual currents of the Latin West studied through primary sources and modern historical writings.

Fall 2019: HIST BC1062
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 1062 001/08566 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
Room TBA
Joel Kaye 4 0

HIST BC3062 Medieval Economic Life and Thought ca 1000 to 1500. 4 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Preregistration required.

Traces the development of economic enterprises and techniques in their cultural context: agricultural markets, industry, commercial partnerships, credit, large-scale banking, insurance, and merchant culture. Examines usury and just price theory, the scholastic analysis of price and value, and the recognition of the market as a self-regulating system, centuries before Adam Smith.

HIST UN2112 The Scientific Revolution in Western Europe: 1500-1750. 4 points.

Introduction to the cultural, social, and intellectual history of the upheavals of astronomy, anatomy, mathematics, alchemy from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. Field(s): EME

Fall 2019: HIST UN2112
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 2112 001/36481 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
Room TBA
Matthew Jones 4 0/40

Spring 2019

HSAM UN2901 Data: Past, Present, and Future. 3 points.

Lect: 1.5. Lab: 1.5.

Data-empowered algorithms are reshaping our professional, personal, and political realities, for good--and for bad. "Data: Past, Present, and Future" moves from the birth of statistics in the 18th century to the surveillance capitalism of the present day, covering racist eugenics, World War II cryptography, and creepy personalized advertising along the way. Rather than looking at ethics and history as separate from the science and engineering, the course integrates the teaching of algorithms and data manipulation with the political whirlwinds and ethical controversies from which those techniques emerged. We pair the introduction of technical developments with the shifting political and economic powers that encouraged and benefited from new capabilities. We couple primary and secondary readings on the history and ethics of data with computational work done largely with user-friendly Jupyter notebooks in Python.

Spring 2019: HSAM UN2901
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HSAM 2901 001/16947 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
309 Havemeyer Hall
Chris Wiggins, Matthew Jones 3 74/105

HIST GU4588 Substance Abuse Politics in African-American History. 4 points.

Priority given to majors and concentrators, seniors, and juniors.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.

Through a series of secondary- and primary-source readings and research writing assignments, students in this seminar course will explore one of the most politically controversial aspects in the history of public health in the United States as it has affected peoples of color: intoxicating substances. Course readings are primarily historical, but sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists are also represented on the syllabus. The course's temporal focus - the twentieth century - allows us to explore the historical political and social configurations of opium, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, medical maintenance (methadone), the War on Drugs, the carceral state and hyperpolicing, harm reduction and needle/syringe exchange. This semester's principal focus will be on the origins and evolution of the set of theories, philosophies, and practices which constitute harm reduction. The International Harm Reduction Association/Harm Reduction International offers a basic, though not entirely comprehensive, definition of harm reduction in its statement, "What is Harm Reduction?" (http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction): "Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs."[1] Harm reduction in many U.S. communities of color, however, has come to connote a much wider range of activity and challenges to the status quo. In this course we will explore the development of harm reduction in the United States and trace its evolution in the political and economic context race, urban neoliberalism, and no-tolerance drug war. The course will feature site visits to harm reduction organizations in New York City, guest lectures, and research/oral history analysis. This course has been approved for inclusion in both the African-American Studies and History undergraduate curricula (majors and concentrators). HIST W4588 will be open to both undergraduate and masters students. To apply, please complete the Google form at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1xaPFhQOzkl1NHnIjQIen9h41iel2hXAdhV59D5wH8AQ/viewform?usp=send_form. Questions may be directed to skroberts@columbia.edu.  

Spring 2019: HIST GU4588
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 4588 001/63866 T 10:10am - 12:00pm
411 Fayerweather
Samuel Roberts 4 11/15
Fall 2019: HIST GU4588
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 4588 001/36506 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
Room TBA
Samuel Roberts 4 0/12

CPLS GU4320 Marginalization in Medicine: A Practical Understanding of the Social Implications of Race . 4 points.

There is a significant correlation between race and health in the United States.  People of color and those from underserved populations have higher mortality rates and a greater burden of chronic disease than their white counterparts.  Differences in health outcomes have been attributed to biological factors as race has been naturalized.  In this class we will explore the history of the idea of “race” in the context of changing biomedical knowledge formations.  We will then focus on the impact that social determinants like poverty, structural violence, racism and geography have on health.  Ultimately, this course will address the social implications of race on health both within the classroom and beyond. In addition to the seminar, there will also be a significant service component. Students will be expected to volunteer at a community organization for a minimum of 3 hours a week. This volunteer work will open an avenue for students to go beyond the walls of their classrooms while learning from and positively impacting their community.

Spring 2019: CPLS GU4320
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 4320 001/14837 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
707 Hamilton Hall
Samuel Roberts 4 7/20

HIST UN3437 Poisoned Worlds: Corporate Behavior and Public Health. 4 points.

Priority given to majors and concentrators, seniors, and juniors.

In the decades since the publication of Silent Spring and the rise of the environmental movement, public awareness of the impact of industrial products on human health has grown enormously. There is growing concern over BPA, lead, PCBs, asbestos, and synthetic materials that make up the world around us. This course will focus on environmental history, industrial and labor history as well as on how twentieth century consumer culture shapes popular and professional understanding of disease. Throughout the term the class will trace the historical transformation of the origins of disease through primary sources such as documents gathered in lawsuits, and medical and public health literature. Students will be asked to evaluate historical debates about the causes of modern epidemics of cancer, heart disease, lead poisoning, asbestos-related illnesses and other chronic conditions. They will also consider where responsibility for these new concerns lies, particularly as they have emerged in law suits. Together, we will explore the rise of modern environmental movement in the last 75 years. 

Spring 2019: HIST UN3437
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 3437 001/62487 T 8:30am - 11:20am
923 Rosenfield Building
David Rosner 4 6/10

INSM UN3921 Nobility and Civility II. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement

Prerequisites: one semester of Contemporary Civilization or Literature Humanities, or an equivalent course, and the instructor's permission.

A team-taught multicultural, interdisciplinary course examining traditions of leadership and citizenship as they appear in the key texts of early Indian, Islamic, Far Eastern, and Western civilizations. One goal is to identify and examine common human values and issues evident in these texts while also recognizing key cultural differences

Spring 2019: INSM UN3921
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
INSM 3921 001/82246 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Hl-1 Heyman Center For Humanities
Douglas Chalmers, Rachel Chung 4 14/21

HIST GU4031 Transforming Texts: Textual Analysis, Literary Modeling, and Visualization . 4 points.

Designed for graduate and advanced undergraduate students in the social sciences, humanities, and computer science, this hybrid course is situated at the crossroads of historical exploration and computer sciences. Students will be exposed to digital literacy tools and computational skills through the lens of the Making and Knowing Project. The edition will draw on collaboration with and research done by the Making and Knowing Project http://www.makingandknowing.org/ on an anonymous 16th-century French compilation of artistic and technical recipes (BnF Ms. Fr. 640). Students will work from the encoded English translation of the manuscript, prepared by the Spring 2017 course “HIST GR8975 What is a Book in the 21st Century? Working with Historical Texts in a Digital Environment.” This course will also utilize the concepts and prototypes developed by computer science students in the Spring 2018 “COMS W4172: 3D User Interfaces and Augmented Reality (AR). The skills students will learn over the course of the semester are widely applicable to other types of Digital Humanities projects, and indeed, in many fields outside of traditional academic study.

For the final project, students will collaborate to investigate linguistic features of Ms. Fr. 640 using natural language processing and text mining techniques. These projects will shed light on topics of interest within the manuscript and uncover connections within the textual data. By using the tools prototypes in a Spring 2018 COMS W4172 course, and working alongside computer science students, the groups will learn to adapt and recode data sets, and to view them into a variety of visualizations.

Spring 2019: HIST GU4031
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HIST 4031 001/68443 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
311 Fayerweather
Dennis Tenen, Pamela Smith 4 17/20

Of Related Interest

Biological Sciences
BIOL UN3208Introduction to Evolutionary Biology
Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
CSER W3222Nature and Power: Environmental History of the US
Colloquia, Interdepartmental Seminars, and Professional School Offerings
INSM C3940Science Across Cultures
HIST UN2523History of Health Inequality in the Modern United States
HSPB UN2950Social History of American Public Health
HIST GU4584Drug Policy and Race
History (Barnard)
HIST BC2180Merchants, Pirates, and Slaves in the Making of Atlantic Capitalism
HIST BC2305Bodies and Machines
HIST BC2388Introduction to History of Science since 1800
HIST BC3119Capitalism and Enlightenment
HIST BC3324Vienna and the Birth of the Modern
PHIL UN2101The History of Philosophy I: Presocratics to Augustine
PHIL UN2201History of Philosophy II: Aquinas to Kant
PHIL UN3251Kant
Women's Studies (Barnard)
WMST BC3509Gender, Knowledge and Science in Modern European History