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Week 1: Facts

Tutors: Dr James Poskett and Dr Claudia Stein

This seminar introduces some of the ways in which historians of science have approached major concepts in modern history. We focus in on the concept of the 'fact'. What does it mean for 'facts' to have a history? What kind of history is this? And what are the implications for the place of science in society today?

Seminar Questions

  • What does it mean for 'facts' to have a history? What kind of history is this?
  • How did the distinction between facts and evidence come about?
  • How did the concept of the fact change over time?
  • In what ways is this history relevant to the present?

Essential Readings

Daston, Lorraine, 'Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern Europe', Critical Enquiry, 18 (1991)

Poovey, Mary, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (University of Chicago Press, 1998), introduction, pp. xi-xxv.

Poovey, Mary, 'Figures of Arithmetic, Figures of Speech: The Discourse of Statistics in the 1830s', Critical Enquiry, 19 (1993) (This also appears as chapter seven of Poovey's A History of the Modern Fact.)

Further Readings

Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (Zone Books, 2010)

Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things (Routledge, 2005)

Golinski, Jan, Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2005)

Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Poovey, Mary, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Porter, Theodore M, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Princeton University Press, 1996)

Shapiro, Barbara, A Culture of Fact: England, 1550–1720 (Cornell University Press, 2003)

Shapin, Steven, ‘History of science and its sociological reconstructions’, History of Science, 20 (1982)

Shapin, Steven, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994)