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

Deborah Coen
History (Barnard)
410 Lehman; 212-854-7449

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
322 Fayerweather; 212-854-2430

David Rosner
420 Fayerweather; 212-854-4272

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

Pamela Smith
605 Fayerweather; 212-854-7662

Fall 2016

HIST BC2305 Bodies and Machines. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).
Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Situates key scientific and technological innovations of the modern era in their cultural context by focusing on the interactions between bodies and machines. Through our attention to bodily experience and material culture, we will explore the ways in which science and technology have shaped and been shaped by the culture of modernity.

HIST W3911 Medicine and Western Civilization. 4 points.

This seminar seeks to analyze the ways by which medicine and culture combine to shape our values and traditions. To this end, it will examine notable literary, medical, and social texts from classical antiquity to the present.

HSPB W3950 Social History of American Public Health. 3 points.

The purpose of this course is to provide students with an historical understanding of the role public health has played in American history. The underlying assumptions are that disease, and the ways we define disease, are simultaneously reflections of social and cultural values, as well as important factors in shaping those values. Also, it is maintained that the environments that we build determine the ways we live and die. The dread infectious and acute diseases in the nineteenth century, the chronic, degenerative conditions of the twentieth and the new, vaguely understood conditions rooted in a changing chemical and human-made environment are emblematic of the societies we created. Among the questions that will be addressed are: How does the health status of Americans reflect and shape our history? How do ideas about health reflect broader attitudes and values in American history and culture? How does the American experience with pain, disability, and disease affect our actions and lives? What are the responsibilities of the state and of the individual in preserving health? How have American institutions--from hospitals to unions to insurance companies--been shaped by changing longevity, experience with disability and death?

Spring 2016

HIST BC2180 Merchants, Pirates, and Slaves in the Making of Atlantic Capitalism. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS)., BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Cultures in Comparison (CUL).

Examines how the Atlantic Ocean and its boundaries were tied together through the flow of people, goods, and ideas. Studies the cultures of the communities formed by merchants, pirates, and slaves; investigates how their interactions and frictions combined to shape the unique combination of liberty and oppression that characterizes early modern capitalism.

HIST BC3119 Capitalism and Enlightenment. 4 points.

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

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

Traces the lively debates amongst the major European Enlightenment figures about the formation of capitalism. Was the new market society ushering in an era of wealth and civilization or was it promoting corruption and exploitation? Particular emphasis on debates about commerce, luxury, greed, poverty, empire, slavery, and liberty.

HIST W3716 History of Islamic Societies. 0 points.

Focus on religions, conversion, ethnic relations, development of social institutions, and the relationship between government and religion. Field(d): ME

INSM W3921 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 2017: INSM W3921
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
INSM 3921 001/88548 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Hl-2 Heyman Center For Humanities
Douglas Chalmers, Wm Theodore De Bary, Rachel Chung 4 15/22

HIST W4588 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.  

Not Offered in 2016-2017

HIST W2901 Historical Theories and Methods. 3 points.

Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Designed to replace the History Lab and Historian's Craft, HIST W2901 "Historical Theories and Methods" (formerly titled "Introduction to History") offers a new approach to undergraduate introductory courses on historical practice and the history of history. The course combines an overarching lecture component consisting of one lecture per week of 75 minutes with a two-hour "laboratory" component that will meet weekly at first, then less often as the semester progresses. The course aims to introduce students to broad theoretical and historiographical themes while drawing on those themes in providing them skills in actual historical practice, in preparation for the writing of a senior thesis or extended research paper.  It is required that juniors planning to write a senior thesis take this course in the spring semester in preparation for their projects. Students who plan on studying abroad during the spring term must take HIST W4900 The Historian's Craft in the fall term as a replacement. Field(s): METHODS

HPSC W3201 Philosophy and History of Evolutionary Biology. 4 points.

This course does not carry credit as a biology course.Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.

Explores the philosophical basis and historical development of evolutionary biology as a means of inquiry into causation, explanation, and testing in biology, and the implications for human understanding. Topics include Darwinian evolutionary theory, creationism, theories of inheritance, Mendelism and natural selection, species concepts, and synthetic theory of evolution.

CSER W3222 Nature and Power: Environmental History of the US. 0 points.

Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

This course will introduce students to the central concepts and key methodologies of environmental history through a survey of some of the leading episodes of ecological and social change in North America. Topics to be investigated include Indian uses of the environment; the reshaping of ecosystems under European colonization; the transfer of plants, animals, and diseases from Africa and Europe to the Americas; urbanization; eugenics; and the rise of the environmental justice movement. Environmental history casts into particularly sharp relief the ways in which the natural world can serve both to undermine and to reinforce the divisions within human societies.  Although all human beings share profound biological similarities, they nonetheless enjoy unequal access to natural resources and to healthy environments—differences that have frequently been justified by depicting such conditions as “natural.”

INSM C3940 Science Across Cultures. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
Enrollment limited. Open to seniors and some qualified juniors. Priority given to seniors.Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Development of scientific thought from various cultures and from antiquity till the time of the European Renaissance. Provides examples of the process by which scientific thinking has developed and illustrates that, although science may not have always developed in a linear fashion, the problems science was called upon to solve exhibited a continuity that crossed cultural, linguistic, and religious borders. 

HIST W4101 The World We Have Lost: Daily Life in Pre-Modern Europe. 4 points.

Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

What was daily life like for the "average" European in pre-industrial society? This course will examine the material circumstances of life in Europe from 1400-1800, and will investigate how historians are able to enter into the inner life and mental world of people who lived in past. How did people respond intellectually and emotionally to their material circumstances? The readings and discussions in the course aim to examine such questions, with an eye both to learning about the material conditions of life in pre-modern Europe, and to understanding the techniques by which historians are able to make the imaginative leap back into the mental world of the past. Field(s): *EME

HIST W4584 Race, Technology, and Health. 4 points.

Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Prerequisites: previous coursework in African-American history or social science; United States social history; or sociomedical sciences required.

Students will gain a solid knowledge and understanding of the health issues facing African Americans since the turn of the twentieth century. Topics to be examined will include, but will not be limited to, black women's heath organization and care; medical abuses and the legacy of Tuskegee; tuberculosis control; sickle cell anemia; and substance abuse. Group(s): D Field(s): US Formerly listed as "History of African-American Health and Health Movements".

Of Related Interest

Biological Sciences
BIOL W3208 Introduction to Evolutionary Biology
Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
CSER W3222 Nature and Power: Environmental History of the US
Colloquia, Interdepartmental Seminars, and Professional School Offerings
INSM C3940 Science Across Cultures
HIST W2901 Historical Theories and Methods
HIST W3523 History of Health Inequality in the Modern United States
HIST W3716 History of Islamic Societies
HSPB W3950 Social History of American Public Health
HIST W4101 The World We Have Lost: Daily Life in Pre-Modern Europe
HIST W4584 Race, Technology, and Health
HIST W4911 Medicine and Western Civilization
History (Barnard)
HIST BC2180 Merchants, Pirates, and Slaves in the Making of Atlantic Capitalism
HIST BC2305 Bodies and Machines
HIST BC2388 Introduction to History of Science since 1800
HIST BC3119 Capitalism and Enlightenment
HIST BC3324 Vienna and the Birth of the Modern
PHIL UN2101 The History of Philosophy I: Presocratics to Augustine
PHIL V2201
PHIL V3551
Women's Studies (Barnard)
WMST BC3509 Gender, Knowledge and Science in Modern European History