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Home > Seminars > History of Science, History of Text

Axis Interdisciplinary Research in History and Philosophy of Science

History of Science, History of Text



The seminar examines the various types of documents produced in the context of scholarly practices in order to understand how the shaping of textual forms and inscriptions is part of the scientific activity. The seminar also aims to understand how these works make it possible to better interpret the sources on which historians of science draw to conduct their research. We will focus this year on the following topics:
  • how are layouts instruments that scientists put into play in their work and do they need to be interpreted as such?
  • How to read diagrams?
  • how do the writings and inscriptions produced in one environment circulate and how are they taken up in other milieux?
  • How can we document the genesis of texts, calculations, textual forms, and what does it tell us about the modes of writing practiced in various contexts?
  • How do the sources document what they do not talk about?
  • What does the organization of the writings of the actors tell us about their scholarly activities?


Organizers: Karine Chemla (SPHere, CNRS-University of Paris & Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University) & the HSHT Group.


SCHEDULE 2020-2021

IMPORTANT: Due to the current health situation, the sessions will take place by webconference, on Thursdays. Access to links and abstracts by clicking on dates

2020/10/15, !!! 10:15am–4:30pm !!! : Working with and Interpreting Columns
C. Proust Sémantique des colonnes dans quelques textes mathématiques cunéiformes
E. Haffner Mise en page des brouillons mathématiques : colonnes, colonnes et colonnes
K. Chemla Elements of a History of the Reading of ancient sources

2020/11/19, 10:15am–4:30pm : Texts in pieces
S. Schmitt Les encyclopédies spécialisées au 18e siècle. L’exemple de l’histoire naturelle
M. C. Bustamante Géométries non archimédiennes selon un procédé d’écriture du physicien Jacques Solomon
F. Bretelle-Establet Notes marginales, commentaires et ajouts : les multiples interventions dans les textes de médecine en Chine à la fin de l’empire (17e-19e siècles)

2020/12/17, 10:15am–4:30pm : Diagrams 1
J. Lefebvre Quelques remarques sur l’articulation d’un diagramme à une ligne écrite : typologie et enjeux interprétatifs
M. Decorps Sur la relation entre texte et figure dans les traités mathématiques et techniques grecs : étude de quelques exemples
A. Trouillot Production of an archive and production of a calculation text in the Saharan West

2021/01/14, 10:15am–4:30pm : Organizing texts
A. Costa De la taxinomie à l’encyclopédie : les plans d’ouvrages dans la production de G.W. Leibniz
T. Morel Writing, Drawing and Preaching Mathematical Practices
 in Early Modern Mines
A. Keller La colonne comme outil de calcul dans les commentaires mathématiques en Sanskrit : avec ou sans sens ?

2021/02/04, 10:15am–4:30pm : Diagrams 2
A. Volkov Mathematical texts from Dunhuang: The problem of filiation
S. Gessner Between astronomical diagrams and instruments: spatializing numerical data of astronomical tables
N. Jacobson The Role of Planetary Diagrams in Fourteenth-Century Procedure Texts to the Alfonsine Tables

2021/03/04, 10:15am–4:30pm : Drafts
A. Remaki Choix des variables dans les brouillons d’algèbre de Leibniz
Edgar Lejeune tba
M. Grote Synthesis and systematization – Modern European Encyclopedisms

2021/04/08
F. De Block (Re)drawing the Lines: The Science of the Stars in the Late Fifteenth-century sultanate of Cairo
A. Bréard tba

2021/05/06
M. Geller The Cuneiform Conundrum: how do you ‘alphabetise’ without an alphabet?

2021/06/10/
F. Geller tba
Discussion on next year program

ABSTRACTS

October 15, 2020, !!! 10:15am–4:30pm !!!, Room Mondrian, 646A

:: Working with and Interpreting Columns

To participate online at this session, we thank you to write on the 14/10 latest to :
chemla ( at ) univ-paris-diderot.fr with mail object "HSHT 15-10"

10:15am–11:45am

  • Christine Proust (SPHERE, CNRS & University of Paris (Diderot))
    Sémantique des colonnes dans quelques textes mathématiques cunéiformes
    Certain textes mathématiques cunéiformes se présentent sous la forme de listes ou de tables sans autre forme d’explication qui nous renseignerait sur leur signification ou leur mode d’emploi. Cependant, ces textes comportent des alignements verticaux qui semblent intentionnels. Dans quelle mesure ces éléments de mise en page suppléent-ils à l’absence d’explication ? Peut-on déceler une sémantique des alignements dans ces textes ?

11:45am–12am: break

12am–1:30pm

  • Emmylou Haffner (University Paris Saclay)
    Mise en page des brouillons mathématiques : colonnes, colonnes et colonnes
    Dans les brouillons de mathématiciens, les organisations spatiales des écritures se démarquent souvent du texte imprimé rectangulaire et propre que l’on a coutume de lire. Une récurrence de ces organisations spatiales est l’utilisation de colonnes. Nous verrons, sur une sélection d’exemples, que plusieurs manières d’utiliser les colonnes cohabitent dans de tels textes, chacune donnant des indications différentes sur les pratiques mathématiques au brouillon et sur certaines temporalités de la recherche.

1:30pm–2:30pm: picnic together

2:45pm–4:15pm

  • Karine Chemla (SPHERE, CNRS-University of Paris & Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)
    Elements of a History of the Reading of ancient sources
    In contrast with the majority of other mathematical classics, the work completed in the first century CE under the title The Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures is characterized by the fact that throughout history it was the subject of commentaries. I will compare the reading of a single paragraph that various commentators carry out to highlight how different commentators expect different types of knowledge from their readers and what these differences reveal on the text commented upon.

November 19, 10:15am–4:30pm

:: Texts in pieces

  • Stéphane Schmitt (Archives Henri Poincaré)
    Les encyclopédies spécialisées au XVIIIe siècle. L’exemple de l’histoire naturelle
    Il est bien connu que le 18e siècle a vu l’essor d’une grande tradition encyclopédique, représentée notamment par l’Encyclopédie de Diderot et d’Alembert, mais aussi par de nombreuses autres (Cyclopaedia de Chambers, Dictionnaire de Trévoux, etc.). Plusieurs de ces ouvrages, qui ont en commun d’être généralistes, ont été soigneusement étudiés par les historiens. Mais parallèlement, un très grand nombre d’encyclopédies spécialisées, c’est-à-dire restreintes à un champ particulier, ont été publiées au cours de la même époque. Cette littérature, qui a été très largement diffusée, a joué un rôle important dans l’histoire de chaque discipline concernée. Je présenterai ici quelques exemples dans le domaine de l’histoire naturelle et de la médecine.
  • Martha Cecilia Bustamante (SPHERE & University of Paris (Diderot))
    Géométries non archimédiennes selon un procédé d’écriture du physicien Jacques Solomon
    Entre 1939 et 1941, Jacques Solomon (1908-1942) a porté un regard aigu sur les géométries non archimédiennes. Nous nous intéresserons aux documents qui sont restés dans la perspective de la génétique des textes et des procédés d’écriture mis en jeu par le scripteur. Nous montrerons comment Solomon rassemble des travaux publiés depuis la fin du XIXe siècle, et, sur cette base, met en place une écriture par fragments impliquant des auteurs et des sources très diverses. Dans le regard que Solomon porte sur le sujet, le travail du mathématicien italien Veronese a une place de premier plan. Enfin, l’analyse que nous faisons des documents en question montre que comprendre les implications épistémologiques du type d’écriture que Solomon met en œuvre est un enjeu essentiel.
  • Florence Bretelle-Establet (CNRS, SPHERE, & University of Paris (Diderot))
    Notes marginales, commentaires et ajouts : les multiples interventions dans les textes de médecine en Chine à la fin de l’empire (XVIIe-XIXe siècles)
    Augmentés de notes marginales manuscrites, de notes marginales imprimées, de commentaires, de nouveaux morceaux ou de nouvelles préfaces, les textes médicaux en Chine, à la fin de l’empire, attestent de multiples interventions non auctoriales. Nous mettrons en lumière les différents types d’interventions qui accompagnent les textes de médecine, dès leur première édition, et celles qui s’ajoutent lors de nouvelles éditions et nous tenterons d’en saisir les enjeux.

December 17, 10:15am–4:30pm

:: Diagrams 1

  • Julie Lefebvre (University Paris-Ouest-Nanterre, MoDyCo, UMR 7114)
    Quelques remarques sur l’articulation d’un diagramme à une ligne écrite : typologie et enjeux interprétatifs
    Nous reviendrons tout d’abord sur l’appellation de « diagramme » en convoquant des éléments lexicographiques et étymologiques, mais également en la confrontant à d’autres dénominations telles que « figure », « schéma » ou encore « illustration » qui désignent couramment, dans un texte donné, des entités à dimension iconique articulées à une chaîne de signes graphiques —une linéarité écrite. Sur la base d’un corpus de textes contemporains relevant de genres discursifs variés, nous proposerons ensuite de poser les bases d’une typologie linguistique de l’articulation entre un diagramme et la ligne écrite à laquelle il est relié. On s’interrogera ainsi sur la nature des éléments associés dans cette mise en relation et sur les ressources, notamment syntaxiques, référentielles et ponctuationnelles, qu’elle met en jeu. Ce faisant, nous essaierons de montrer comment les différentes modalités de l’articulation entre une ligne graphique et un diagramme conditionnent l’interprétation du texte que, dans leur association, ils constituent.
  • Micheline Decorps (University Blaise Pascal, Clermont II)
    Sur la relation entre texte et figure dans les traités mathématiques et techniques grecs : étude de quelques exemples
    À la lumière des études menées sur les diagrammes et les problèmes posés par leur interprétation, on apportera ici quelques éléments concrets empruntés à certains textes mathématiques et techniques de l¹Antiquité grecque. Dans cette approche on donnera une importance particulière aux différents aspects à la fois matériels et intellectuels de la relation entre le texte et la figure.
  • Alexis Trouillot (University of Paris (Diderot), SPHERE)
    Production of an archive and production of a calculation text in the Saharan West
    This talk aims to present a source for Saharan intellectual history: the Harūn Sīdiyyā library, a collection of 2051 works from a Mauritanian family library. By recreating a short history of this particular archival entity we will first show what it can tell us on the status of erudition in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries but also what was omitted.
    We will then place the library in the wider context of the Saharan West. On the one hand, the manuscript culture of the region has received considerable attention by different actors ranging from the French colonial government to an informal association of American researchers to Mauritanians scholars and government officials leading to an explosive growth in cataloguing efforts. On the other hand, they all had different ideas on how to catalog and preserve texts, or on how to divide them into genres and subjects while operating under the same impression that only manuscripts should be preserved and not printed texts. This, added to the fact that the texts were seldom read once catalogued, leads to blind spots in our access to the history of local erudition, some of which can be mended by working on texts of the Sīdiyyā library. Finally, we will demonstrate the kind of inquiries into local intellectual history that the library allows us to produce by looking at the production of a text on inheritance calculations written by his founder, the Sharḥ bāb al-tarikā min Mukhtaṣar Khalīl b. Ishāq.

January 14, 2021, 10:15am–4:30pm

:: Organizing texts

To participate online at this session, we thank you to write on the 13-01 latest to :
chemla ( at ) univ-paris-diderot.fr with mail object "link HSHT 14-01"
  • 10:15–11:45 Andrea Costa (CNRS, Centre Jean-Pépin UMR 8230)
    De la taxinomie à l’encyclopédie : les plans d’ouvrages dans la production de G.W. Leibniz
    Les pages des volumes de l’édition nationale allemande des œuvres de G.W. Leibniz s’avèrent parsemées d’inventaires, catalogues, taxinomies, énumérations et répertoires bibliographiques à travers lesquels se définit la cartographie globale de l’énorme projet encyclopédique que le philosophe d’Hanovre poursuivit tout au long de sa vie. Condensée dans la dimension minimale de la « liste » ou développée jusqu’à atteindre l’ampleur d’un ouvrage autonome et articulé, la pratique de l’inventaire se révèle ainsi comme le noyau originaire structurant le dispositif de la réflexion leibnizienne ainsi que sa pratique d’écriture. La communication se propose d’étudier l’évolution des lignes directrices du projet encyclopédique leibnizien à partir de ses ébauches taxinomiques, à travers l’analyse d’une série d’exemples tirés des œuvres publiées et des manuscrits inédits.
  • 11:45am–12am Break
  • 12am–1:30pm Thomas Morel
    Writing, Drawing and Preaching Mathematical Practices
 in Early Modern Mines
    Subterranean geometry developed during the early modern period around a set of concrete technical problems, in specific cultural and religious settings. In the second half of the sixteenth century, scholars published their view on this craft, most famously Georg Agricola (1494–1555) with this De Re Metallica. However, one can dig up other sources to understand these geometrical practices: mining laws and customs, sketches and technical documents used by practitioners. Mining sermons, which developed with the rise of protestantism, offer another – and diverging – conception of underground surveying. Which methodology can be used to cross-reference sources that can tend to be contradictory? How to cope with the heterogeneity between a scholarly approach and traces of concrete practices, an acute problem concerning mathematics? Can we then reach more general conclusions about the scope and role of early modern practical mathematics?
  • 1:30pm–3pm pause déjeuner
  • 3pm–4:15pm Agathe Keller (CNRS, SPHERE, & University of Paris (Diderot))
    The columns as a computational tool in Sanskrit mathematical commentaries: with or without meaning?
    In the representations of working surfaces that Sanskrit mathematical commentaries include in their texts, as well as in the names given to certain algorithms and to configurations in an algorithm, columns (vallī lit. creeper) appear. In two case studies I would like to observe how the column works as a formal tool in the execution of procedures: it is a configuration that has a meaning at the beginning of the computation and in the end, but in its intermediary steps it works seemingly like an algebraic symbolism, enabling one to execute computations without having to worry about their meanings. Or is it so? My presentation will take examples from Pṛthūdhaka (fl. 860)’s commentary on the mathematical chapter of the Theoretical astronomical treatise of the true Brāhma School (Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta-628) dealing with fractions and combinatorics mirroring them with other uses of columns in the same context..

February 4, 2021, 10:15am–4:30pm

:: Diagrams 2

  • Alexei Volkov (Institute of Advanced Studies (Paris) and National Tsing-Hua University (Taiwan)
    Mathematical texts from Dunhuang: The problem of filiation
    In 1900, a large collection of old manuscripts was discovered in the Buddhist monastery in Dunhuang (Gansu Province, West China) in a cave sealed between 1006 and 1035. The majority of the manuscripts were copies of Buddhist scriptures, yet the collection also included numerous non-Buddhist texts related to traditional sciences, such as astronomy, astrology, medicine, divination, and mathematics. These mathematical manuscripts are representative samples of the texts used for mathematics instruction in China in the late first millennium AD.
    In my presentation I will discuss the works devoted to the mathematical manuscripts authored by Chinese and Western authors, and offer analysis of several mathematical problems found in them. I will also attempt at restoring connections between these problems and those found in other Chinese mathematical texts of first and early second millennium AD.
  • Samuel Gessner (SYRTE, Observatoire de Paris)
    Between astronomical diagrams and instruments: spatializing numerical data of astronomical tables
    Astronomers have connected their computational methods with geometrical representations in various ways. The ways these connections were elaborated on are not universal, but historically contingent of the local astronomical practice. Parchment instruments to graphically determine (approximate) positions of the planets, i.e. the family of planetary “equatoria” instruments, saw renewed developments in the 15th century. We will start with a European case study about a particular type of instrument that emerged in manuscripts from Erfurt and Leipzig termed “Theorice novelle”. In discussing this material the talk proposes to look into possible connections between the representation of computed data in tables and corresponding diagrammatic representations on the “Theorice novelle” and similar instruments. More generally, it raises the question of how the use of tables was preparing the minds for experimenting with new types of instruments and whether this trait can be used to characterise a specific astronomical practice.
  • -* Nick Jacobson (SYRTE, Observatoire de Paris)
    The Role of Planetary Diagrams in Fourteenth-Century Procedure Texts to the Alfonsine Tables
    Medieval Latin manuscript witnesses from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that contain instructions for using astronomical tables are remarkably free of geometrical diagrams. This has led some scholars to conclude that the texts are concerned principally with the basic arithmetic operations for manipulating the tables, rather than the theoretical models that were used to calculate the tabular values. This conclusion is partly belied by the fact that many procedure texts within the Alfonsine tradition allude to diagrams in some way or another, and engage in verbal forms of geometrical reasoning even if there are no diagrams to be found directly accompanying the procedures. In collaboration with the ALFA research team, I have been collecting witnesses to procedure texts that do, in fact, have diagrams constructed in the margins to passages containing diagrammatic and geometrical language. In this presentation I will treat two such sources: Erfurt UFB, Amplon. Q. 366 and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 97. By close textual and material analysis, I will consider whether these should be strictly defined as procedure texts or classified under a separate genre. I will suggest that there are variations in language that correlate to different registers of the texts’ instructions. These registers draw from different sources and make use of the diagrams in different ways. Ultimately I hope this analysis might help us to understand what epistemic role(s) the diagrams play – specifically in terms of the mathematical practices of the historical actors. At times they serve to clarify tabular procedures; at other times they seem to justify these procedures. What results is an interesting interplay between arithmetic and geometric reasoning in parallel passages.

March 4, 2021, Room Mondrian, 646A

:: Brouillons

  • Arilès Remaki (University of Paris (Diderot), SPHERE, & ANR Mathesis)
    Choix des variables dans les brouillons d’algèbre de Leibniz
    L’algèbre constitue un domaine absolument central des mathématiques du XVIIe siècle occidental, considérée par beaucoup d’acteurs de l’époque comme le modèle à suivre pour diriger le progrès des sciences. L’un des aspects qui touche le plus le jeune Leibniz, lorsqu’il découvre cette discipline durant son séjour parisien, se trouve dans la spécieuse, c’est-à-dire l’utilisation de caractères spécialisés pour incarner les objets du calcul algébrique. Au travers des nombreux brouillons que Leibniz nous a laissés, nous pouvons donc porter notre attention sur le choix des variables opéré par l’apprenti géomètre. Cette étude porte doublement ses fruits. D’abord, elle permet de mettre en évidence des nouveaux indices quant à la datation des manuscrits. Mais elle permet également d’interroger les conceptions d’inconnus, connus ou d’indéfinis faites par Leibniz et de les confronter à ses discours méthodologiques.
  • Edgar Lejeune (University of Paris (Diderot),SPHERE, et Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle, LATTICE)
    tba
  • Mathias Grote (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
    Synthesis and systematization – Modern European Encyclopedisms
    In order to understand which factors beyond the recent effects of digitization have influenced transformation processes of scientific literature, this talk will investigate the history of scientific writing, publishing and reading in a short 20th century. More specifically, my aim is to analyze the strategies and practices employed by scientists, research institutes, libraries or publishers to systematize and synthesize, critically evaluate, document and communicate knowledge. In other words, this talk looks for answers to the historical as well as political question of which "knowledge infrastructures" have been formed and maintained in a largely pre-digital, but nevertheless technologically advancing century in order to put reliable knowledge into circulation. One case in point is the coming into existence and transformation of an influential book for philosophy of science, the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (1938-1945), edited by Otto Neurath et al. My future goal is to work comparatively on Francophone cases.

April 8, 2021, Room Mondrian, 646A : tba

Fien De Block (Universiteit Gent)
(Re)drawing the Lines: The Science of the Stars in the Late Fifteenth-century sultanate of Cairo
In this lecture, I will discuss the role and place of cilm al-nujūm or the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo on the basis of two different but contemporary and indirectly related collections of manuscripts. The first one is a collection of ephemerides initiated by the muwaqqit or Islamic timekeeper Ibn al-Majdī (d. 850/1447). Whereas the work of muwaqqits has been considered to have been explicitly non-astrological, I will show how a material approach to these manuscripts -an approach which takes into account the traces of their use and circulation - sheds a different light on the practices of which they were a part. The second collection of texts that I will discuss is a collection of elitist occult texts. The works of al-Jamālī Yūsuf ibn Qurqumās al-Ḥamzāwī (d. 902/1497) and Aḥmad ibn Aḥmad Timurbāy (fl. late ninth/late fifteenth C.), I will show, bear the marks of a tradition of Neopythagorean, ṣūfī and illuminationist scholars studying the stars as signs in order to get closer to the invisible reality beyond the empirical world, and ultimately to God. Both of these collections of texts provide interesting insights into the science of the stars. However, both in their own way, these collections also appear to have been constitutive parts of subdisciplines of this science that in no way fit into our present-day classificatory triad of religion, magic and science, and hence can only be grasped through a material approach of the manuscripts at hand.


May 6, 2021

  • Mark Geller (University College London & IRA Paris)
    The Cuneiform Conundrum: how do you ‘alphabetise’ without an alphabet?
    My talk is based on an interesting tablet which is a long list of materia medica, which I have been studying for a long time. It is a very complex text, 3 columns on each side with lots of ‘paragraph’ rulings, giving the circumstances in which the drugs are to be applied. The problem is trying to determine why the drugs and diseases are listed in the particular order in which they appear, since there is good reason to argue that the drugs were listed according to the drugs in column one, or the diseases in column two, or the applications in column three. All are possible! What I would like to explore further is whether the entire text can be a kind of theoretical ‘model’, similar to mathematical or astronomical models, which no one has as yet suggested.

June 10, 2021

  • Discussion on the program for next year







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