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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 Paris Cité) & the HSHT Group.

PROGRAM 2023-2024

  • Thursday, 26th October 2023, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Rothko room 412B Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Org. Clément Bonvoisin, Marie Lacomme and Edgar Lejeune

    Arthur Perret (Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, ELICO)
    From bibliographic criticism to non-linear writing: the annotated bibliography as an epistemological object
    Abstract :
    It’s a list of bibliographical references interspersed with remarks of varying length - sometimes simply descriptive, sometimes judgmental. But this is not the "critical bibliography" of journals: more informal, often self-published, sometimes surprising in its presentation, it’s another form of annotated (or commented) bibliography that we present here. Based on a few examples, we’ll see how this type of document constitutes an epistemological object, what it reflects of changes in the academic world since the 1960s (massification, computerization), and what it suggests about the future of bibliography.

    Giorgio Matteoli
    The Long Pre-History of Lalande’s astronomic bibliography
    Abstract :
    When Jérôme de Lalande published his Bibliographie astronomique in 1803, he stood at the apex of his career. As one of the most influent astronomers in Europe, he was well aware of the implicit power wielded by histories and bibliographies of a discipline such as astronomy, especially in an age when the production of such works remained relatively scarce – namely, that of presenting and organizing the past of the discipline by separating the chaff from the wheat to be fed to new generations of increasingly professionalized astronomers. Indeed, as Lalande himself recognizes in the preface to his work, it was the Ministry of Public Instruction who provided the means to carry out his enterprise; and that is why ‘mere erudition’ and ‘completeness’ were never his objectives, for they would have rendered his book a ‘simple waste of time’. However, Lalande did not start accumulating data from scratch. He could rely on a long lineage of direct predecessor who had been accumulating bibliographical materials in the previous two centuries, within the same State-driven economy of astronomical knowledge. As I will show on the basis of recent archival research, it was Giovanni Domenico Cassini who, at the end of the XVII century, started organizing astronomical materials in his capacity of chief scientific administrator for the Parisian Academy of Sciences. Later, his pupil Joseph-Nicolas Delisle resumed this project from where it was left, putting it on an entirely new footing. He soon started to involve other scholars from all over Europe to help gathering the information he needed; sometimes, he even commissioned others (like the Wittenberg wolffian scholar Johann Friedrich Weidler) to complete some its parts. Even though Delisle’s work was ultimately left unaccomplished, his pupil Lalande took it up once again and extensively deployed it in compiling his Bibliographie, thereby embedding it in the wider structure of the Ancient Régime’s political epistemology of astronomy.

    Valérie Neveu (Université d’Angers)
    Print catalogs from the de Thou library (1617-1679): from private collection catalog to bibliographic model
    Abstract :
    The objective of this presentation is to demonstrate, through an emblematic collection, how the work done by library managers in the 16th and 17th centuries constructed a new scientific knowledge, known as bibliography: this discipline involves describing and classifying books from all fields of knowledge for the benefit of the research community. The art of cataloging (describing the physical units of a given library) and bibliography (describing books independently of their location) are often intertwined, as shown by the example of the Thou library, first described in a private catalog and later in a printed publication that could serve as a bibliography. The first catalog from 1617, completed after the death of the parliamentarian, politician, poet, and historian Jacques-Auguste I de Thou, demonstrates a unique level of perfection for its time. De Thou, instead of creating a simple inventory of his library like his contemporaries, relied on the already extensive bibliographic literature of the 16th century to write accurate and structured notices and to organize them thematically based on a thoughtful classification of sciences. This was a private catalog but was known to the scholarly world as the library was open to researchers. A second alphabetical catalog (1645-1648), in line with the preferences of the Dupuy brothers who managed the library at that time, required extensive bibliographic knowledge to be used, as it was organized solely by author names. To address this gap, Jacques-Auguste II de Thou commissioned the astronomer Ismaël Boulliau to create a second thematic catalog, completed in 1653, with a different plan from the 1617 catalog, featuring an even more precise and refined classification. This catalog was printed in 1679 for the sale of the library, following the bankruptcy and death of Jacques-Auguste II. From then on, this work lost its technical function as a library catalog to become a "bibliographic monument" of reference, known throughout Europe and regularly cited in scholarly literature.
    Manuscript catalogs located at BnF and foreign libraries (Brussels, New York): documents partly digitized + personal photos of VN
    Catalogus bibliothecae Thuanae, Paris, 1679

  • Thursday, 9th November 2023, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Rothko room 412B Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Org. K. Chemla

    Julie Lefebvre

    Wang Xiaofei (IHNS, Beijing, & SPHERE)
    How the notes from Fourier’s course at the Ecole Polytechnique were produced
    Abstract :
    The manuscripts Ms. 1852 and Ms.2044 are two individuals’ notes deriving from Joseph Fourier’s course of analysis at the Ecole Polytechnique. Each manuscript contains the notes of the lectures Fourier gave to different classes of students at the school during the year 1796. This talk will focus on the process of the production of these notes. Through an analysis of the textual features of the two manuscripts, it aims to clarify their factual relationship with Fourier’s teaching.

    Clément Bonvoisin
    Building (on) a commentary: Tsien Hsue-shen’s Engineering Cybernetics (1954) as a case study for adaptions in the history of science
    Abstract :
    In 1954, Tsien Hsue-shen (1911 – 2009), a Chinese-born engineer then living and working in the United States, published a monograph under the title Engineering cybernetics. The goal of the book, as stated by the author in his preface, was to make use of the then-active field of cybernetics to organise engineering practices into a science. An instance of such practices was what engineers usually called relay servomechanisms – roughly speaking, mechanisms switching between two states to regulate the behaviour of a given system. Tsien devoted a chapter of his monograph to such relay servomechanisms. In this talk, I will focus on several sections of this chapter, in which the author commented on a Ph.D dissertation that had been defended in 1952 by American mathematician Donald Bushaw (1926 – 2012). In a nutshell, as a graduate student at Princeton University, Bushaw had investigated the optimal design of certain relay servomechanisms from a mathematical viewpoint. In the course of his research, he derived some results for the optimal design of a specific family of devices – namely, second order linear relay servomechanisms. Although the dissertation had a restricted distribution list, Tsien discussed Bushaw’s results in his book, thus disclosing it to a broader audience. As it happens, as early as 1956, a Russian translation of Tsien’s monograph was edited in the Soviet Union. This translation allowed a group of Moscow-based mathematicians, gathered by Academician Lev Pontryagin (1908 – 1988) to work on related matters, to gain access to Bushaw’s achievements and to make use of it.
    In my view, this situation raises a set of questions for the history of science, pertaining to the adaptation of scientific works. How has Tsien adapted Bushaw’s work to his own agenda? In doing so, how did he transform Bushaw’s work? In receiving an adapted version of Bushaw’s result, what were Soviet mathematicians able to do? And, to what extent did this version impact their own work? Such are the questions that I intend to address in this talk.

  • Thursday, 7th December 2023, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Rothko room 412B Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Diagrammatic dimensions of textual elements

    Edgar Lejeune (Centre Alexandre Koyré, EHESS)
    What is the difference between plotting a graph by hand and generating it automatically? Epistemological consequences of two approaches of vizualisations in the humanities (France, 1960-1980)
    Abstract :
    From the early 1960s onwards, two competing models of data analysis were developed in France for the humanities and social sciences. On the one hand, mathematician Jean-Paul Benzécri (1932-2019) and his team worked on a series of computer-assisted mathematical procedures, such as the famous correspondence analyses. On the other hand, cartographer and semiologist Jacques Bertin (1918-2010) developed with his colleagues data analysis methods that relied on the manual manipulation of cardboard files or reorderable matrices made of plastic dominoes.
    Behind these different material and epistemological approaches are two opposing visions of how to produce visualizations for data analysis. In Benzécri’s approach, visualizations are automatically generated by computer. In doing so, the structure of the dataset ’appears’ to the researcher in the form of a printer output. The researcher must then decipher a visualization derived from a mathematical procedure. In contrast, the methods developed by Bertin require no mathematical knowledge. Instead, the researcher handles physical artifacts representing the data, with the aim of revealing the structure of the dataset step by step, guided by his visual perception.
    How do these two regimes of visualization production affect the epistemology of researchers? What are the theoretical discourses associated with these two approaches? And to what extent a comparison between them shed light on the epistemological consequences of automatic generation of scientific visualizations? We will address these questions on the basis of a few case studies and an extensive theoretical literature produced by Jacques Bertin and his colleagues.

    Scott Trigg (SYRTE, Observatoire de Paris)

    Karine Chemla (SPHERE)
    Diagrams as discourse
    Abstract :
    In this talk, I focus on diagrams used to work on equations as evidenced in Chinese sources from the eleventh century on. I examine the part played by these diagrams in the discourse, through their diagrammatic features as well as the textual mentions added to them. My aim is to show that without reading the diagrams as discourse we lose key parts of the knowledge to which the writings testify.

  • Thursday, 11th January 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Textual transmissions
    Org. K. Chemla

    Mau Chuanhui (Ts’ing-hua national university and SPHERE, Visiting professor)

    Carole Hofstetter (SPHERE, ANR Access ERC),
    Reading circles of the Introduction to Arithmetic in Byzantium (Part 2)
    Abstract :
    This presentation is the second part of the paper presented at the ’HSHT’ seminar in 2022-2023 under the title ‘Reading circles of the Introduction to Arithmetic in Byzantium (XIIIth-XIVth c.)’.
    The treatise, composed by Nicomachus of Gerasa (1st-2nd c. AD), is known to us from nearly fifty manuscript copies produced in medieval Byzantium.
    The frequent use of the text in this period for the study of arithmetic meant that this part of the manuscript tradition was heavily contaminated. By identifying circles of reading and study of the text, the aim is to propose an approach, complementary to that of philology, to account for the relationships between witnesses that are both philologically and chronologically close, where the classic tools of philology do not always provide a reliable answer.

    Costantino Moretti (École française d’Extrême-Orient)
    Random Notes on Standards, Textual and Formal Variants in Dunhuang Buddhist Manuscripts (Second Part)
    Abstract :
    The notion of “mistake” and that of “textual variant” share, at times, some ambiguities. By comparing several manuscripts containing the same Chinese Buddhist scripture, for example, it becomes apparent that a number of presumed variants in modern edited texts are in fact simple scribal copying errors. In most cases, these mistakes are produced due to a chain of factors whose combination leads to accidental textual corruption, or due to a misunderstanding of the source-manuscript layout.
    In the second part of my talk, I will point out additional considerations regarding variants/alterations that involve a modification of the text layout, i.e. “formal variants”, which can determine a misconstruction of the manuscript that served as the basis for producing a given copy.

  • Thursday, 8th February 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Org. Arilès Remaki

    Arilès Remaki

    Célestin Xiaohan Zhou

    Erika Luciano

  • Thursday, 28th March 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Erasing/Crossing out
    Org. Emmylou Haffner

    Emmylou Haffner (ITEM, ENS Ulm)
    What are "ratures" and what are they for?
    Mathematicians’ drafts, which allow us to observe the research and writing process(es) of their author, contain, of course, a number of corrections, deletions, etc (whose multifaceted nature is well encompassed in the French word "rature"). In this talk, I will propose a first reflection on the status and the role of various types of "ratures" in mathematical drafts. I will suggest that there exists many types of "ratures" — not all corrections are about errors — and that they testify of different acts of writing, not only from one author to another, but also inside the work of one author. To do so, I will use a selection of German and French manuscripts from the 19th and early 20th century.

    David Rabouin (SPHERE, CNRS—UPC)
    On the importance and the difficulty of editing erasures
    Abstract :
    The study of erasures is an essential tool in trying to reconstruct the thought of an author as if unfolding before our eyes. This could be called the local approach to erasures. But it is also possible to find in erasures elements of a global evolution, points where the thought of an author changes to evolve towards something new. This is particularly the case when we can identify erasures/corrections that the author makes systematically. This type of erasure has not yet, to my knowledge, been the subject of an in-depth methodological analysis, even though it is of great importance and poses specific editorial problems. In this talk, I will give three examples of this global approach in the case of Leibniz’s mathematical manuscripts.

    Martha Cecilia Bustamante (SPHERE)

  • Thursday, 25th April 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Org. K. Chemla

    Introduction, by Matthieu Husson and Divna Manolova

    Divna Manolova ( SYRTE, PSL-Observatoire de Paris, CNRS)
    Colour Equates Light, Colour Equates Knowledge
    Abstract :
    I study the use of polychromy in the corpus of Byzantine manuscripts preserving Cleomedes’ The Heavens (80+ manuscripts) and related texts, that is medieval Greek exegetical texts which tend to accompany the Stoic treatise, especially in codices produced from the thirteenth century onwards. I focus on those diagrams that involve one or more of the luminaries, or the stars more generally, and are concerned with the representation of light or its absence. While some parts of The Heavens explicitly refer readers to a visual representation (diagrammatic or otherwise), more often than not when diagrams are featured on the folio, what prompts their inclusion is less clear. Further, what motivates the use of differently coloured lines is rarely reflected on by the scribes, scholars and draftsmen and therefore it requires an interpretation.
    My approach relies on the assumption that (in Byzantine manuscripts) colour, or rather polychromy, equates light. While monochromy in diagrams (using a single-coloured line to draft the image) is sufficient to make a figure visible as opposed to the use of a hard point, the use of multiple colours adds information and complicates further the meaning of the diagram design. In the case of lunisolar diagrams the use of polychromy is less concerned with questions of hue and more with expressing brightness and the presence or absence of light (light is emitted or reflected, it is directional, it is present or absent). Polychromy in diagrams allows for the synchronic operation of multiple layers of meaning related to knowledge about the cosmos acquired through the medium of sight. In terms of expertise and practice, it also indicates access to pigments, knowledge of the preparation of inks and of their application, as well as of graphic and symbolic grammars related but not limited to representations of textures, materiality, and dimensionality. Thus, the use of polychromy points out to the culturally-defined encoding of information and allows us to ask questions concerning its ownership, control, access to and lack thereof, the expertise in, as well as the exchange, communication, and trade of this knowledge.

    Matthieu Husson (SYRTE PSL-Observatoire de Paris, CNRS)
    The colors of numbers: astronomers and scribes uses of colors in late medieval astronomical tables in Latin Europe
    Abstract :
    Late medieval astronomical manuscripts produced in Latin Europe regularly make use of inks and pigments of different colors, in their textual part, but also in numerical tables, diagrams and various illustrations. In this communication I want to explore this phenomenon in connection with numerical tables and reflect about the type of historical evidence these uses of colors in numerical tables may offer to the historian of astronomy.
    Relying on a corpus mainly taken from the manuscript tradition of John of Lignères Tabule Magne, of which I’m preparing a critical edition with Eleonora Andriani, I’m going to consider three aspects in the sources. First a codicological aspect: how colors present themselves in the document, what can we reconstruct of the production processes of the colored tables? Second a readability aspect: How colors orient and assist the users in navigating the often complex layout of astronomical tables? Third, an astronomical aspect: how certain uses of colors can also be embedded with an astronomical and mathematical meaning? Overall I wish to argue that in the corpus I examine, different agencies intervene each with its own set of conventions and aims in relation to the uses of colors. These visual conventions are in some cases complementary but might also be conflicting with each other resulting in a rather diversified set of situations which uniquely document certain aspects of astronomical cultures.

    Florence Bretelle

  • Thursday, 16th May 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013


    Org. K. Chemla

    Marie Bizais-Lillig

    Guillaume Loizelet

    Agathe Keller

  • Thursday, 13th June 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Org. K. Chemla

    Stéphane Schmitt (Archives Henri Poincaré, Nancy)
    What is a collective work? The case of the Histoire naturelle des oiseaux (1770-1783)
    Abstract :
    The Histoire naturelle des oiseaux (1770-1783) is, in principle, the work of the naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707-1788). However, several other people participated in its elaboration. To say nothing of the illustration, several people contributed to the writing of the text. Their statuses are diverse, from Guéneau de Montbeillard, who signed his chapter (but not from the beginning), to the Abbé Bexon, whose role was officially acknowledged a posteriori, but minimized (as revealed by the manuscripts), and Sonnini de Manoncourt, whose work can only be guessed. This range of situations raises the question of how a text can by composed by several hands, and of the definition of an author and a collective work. br/>
    Eric Gurevitch (Vanderbilt University)
    Contesting the Classics: The Toolkit of Philosophy and the Authority of Medicine
    Abstract :
    What was philosophy in Sanskrit good for? This presentation poses this seemingly-simple question to explore the different tasks for which the toolkit of philosophy in Sanskrit was used. Philosophers writing in Sanskrit developed epistemic tools for making sense of texts and assessing the validity of truth claims. And from the medieval through the early modern period, these tools were put to use in questioning the authority of the Sanskrit medical classics. Following an extensive debate between the scholars Saura Vidyādhara and Bhaṭṭa Narahari about the authority of Vāgbhaṭa’s Heart of Medicine (Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayam) – before moving on to discuss different disputes raised in different medical texts and commentaries – this presentation explores the stakes of scholastic disputes over the origins and the practice of medicine.

    Organizing next year seminar

  • Thursday, 10th October 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013


  • Thursday, 7th November 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

    Editions : what is removed, what is added
    Org/speakers : Arilès Remaki

  • Jeudi, 5 décembre 2024, 9.30 am - 5.30 pm, location : Malevitch room 483A Condorcet building Université Paris-Cité, 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013



Building Condorcet, University of Paris, campus Diderot, 4, rue Elsa Morante, 75013 - Paris*. Plan.
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