Second session 1st July 2008

0:09:07 First half of 1972 very important for me as learnt that I could survive on my own; became disillusioned with various forms of political Zionism; I did a lot of archaeological work on a major dig under the south-west wall of the old city of Jerusalem; very significant place historically and politically; the level they had reached was Byzantine when I was there; the meticulousness of an archaeological dig is very interesting; I found a coin and a piece of glass; learnt a lot about patience, attention, reading the signs; came back to England in the Summer after youth hostelling and then came up to Trinity with an Open Exhibition to read natural sciences; Trinity was an amazing experience as an undergraduate; still single-sex, enormously supportive, though pretty stern with no central heating and cellars flooding regularly; the pattern of training was rather nineteenth-century for the tripos; the bulk of significant teaching took place within the college, a collegiate rather than university experience; J.J. Thomson had been terrified of the effects of the big science labs on college life but thirty years ago Trinity controlled all the teaching of its students; not until the Spring of 1974 that my centre of gravity began to switch from college to Department of History and Philosophy of Science; at that stage the Department was not in the Whipple building but in a series of buildings on Lensfield Road; these tiny seminar rooms became rather inspirational for me, partly because of the teaching; Gerd Buchdahl was significant for the way he taught and his egalitarian humility; he was a classic central European Jewish intellectual who had been interned in Australia during the Second World War; in the prison camp he started a reading group in philosophy of science; after the war he got a post at Melbourne University and more or less single-handedly started the first department of history and philosophy of science; his central area of interest was critical philosophy of Kant; he came to Cambridge in the 1950's more or less with the express function of setting up a programme within Cambridge like the one in Melbourne; he hired Mary Hesse and they forged the Department as it is now; by the time I met him he was already a grand, stately, hilarious man who almost completely failed to communicate the content of what he was teaching but succeeded in communicating its importance; his lectures on Locke; Martin Rudwick also taught course on nineteenth-century earth sciences; in the Department felt that even without background one's views were worth hearing

13:37:17 In summer 1974 I noticed that the National Maritime Museum offered internships for two months, to work in Greenwich on some aspect of the collection; that was the first time I worked behind the scenes at a museum and to think about scientific hardware; the collection was catalogued on index cards; I was given a Polaroid camera, two dozen sextants, for example, and had to take them to bits, photographing each bit, pasting the photo onto a card, writing a description for each bit, then putting the instruments back together again; it was revelatory for me that you could learn things from this hardware, that minute differences matter; I was working with a small group of curators and assistants who were world experts - Commander Waters and Alan Stimson; found material for a dissertation topic for my final year; by then I was utterly committed to doing history and philosophy of science in Part II; an agonizing decision as I really wanted to stay with physics; mine was the last year that studied physics in the Old Cavendish as in 1975 the scientists moved to West Cambridge; more interested in the archaeology of what was left on Free School Lane, especially as it was now where History and Philosophy of Science was, than by what would happen in West Cambridge; made very clear to me that I was giving up the possibility of research in science; had splendid time in my final year with a lovely room in Neville's Court, learnt the wonders of the University Library, and the dissertation topic proved to be viable and interesting; at this time my father was on secondment to the Shannon Free Airport Development Corporation as an advisor on ways of improving development in the west of Ireland; involved my parents moving to a wonderful cottage in a village called Corofin in Clare, about fifteen miles from Shannon; in the vacation I went there and wrote my dissertation; our landlord, Ignatius Cleary,  worked to create a museum in a disused church; my parents helped and I wrote labels

21:37:15 In the first half of 1975 couldn't quite make up my mind what to do; a strength of Cambridge for me was that one could change courses; in my last two terms I applied for everything, including the Foreign Office; the most amusing aspect of that was being vetted by a retired policeman from Hove; at the time there was thought in Whitehall that there were not enough people with science degrees working in the Civil Service; there was some discussion of me going on to study a "hard" language, meaning Arabic or Chinese; I was very clear that if I took that route I would study Chinese; in the end I was offered a Kennedy Scholarship to go to Harvard for a year, and did that because Harvard has the world class history of science programme; it taught a thorough, systematic, Masters programme which Cambridge did not and many eminent scholars were working there; this confirmed me in this discipline and convinced me that I wanted to work on early modern natural philosophy - Newtonianism etc.; Bernard Cohen was one of the eminent scholars at Harvard; the programme balanced intense seminar teaching with directed reading courses; I did the latter with Franklin Ford; I reflected on staying but was working on Isaac Newton and it seemed silly to stay there so came back to Cambridge; I was there when I was nineteen-twenty and enjoyed it (I had come to Trinity at seventeen); it was a year of maturing and of much travel; it was a country in crisis after Watergate and Vietnam; I was impressed and excited by hybridity, pluralism and optimism, and depressed by introversion and the deeply ill-informed attitude to the rest of the world; I had actually been to the States when my father was on sabbatical at Cornell in 1967 which was also a crisis-ridden period with Cornell being a centre of anti-war feeling; I had been at Dewitt Junior High in Ithaca and was taught how well the green berets were doing in Vietnam and what to do if there was a nuclear attack; educationally the most important thing about the Harvard programme was the course offered by Everett Mendelsohn; he was deeply active politically on the liberal left, a major peace campaigner, teaching a course on the sociology of science; course oriented partly on classics of sociology - Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton - explaining sociologically the asocial quality of the sciences; other part of the course was on alternative ideologies in the sciences - Schumacher etc.; Mendelsohn encouraged his students to do whatever they wanted and to resource that as far as possible; interesting time for micro and macro controversies around the sciences around Harvard; David Baltimore and research on recombinant DNA and the polywater affair; I learnt how to do oral history by interviewing scientists on the latter; wrote up the results and sent it off to a new journal, 'Science Studies', edited in Edinburgh by David Edge; it was rejected but the referee, Harry Collins at Bath University, wrote pages of comments which I learnt a lot from

37:48:11 Back in Cambridge aged twenty-one at Trinity who had been kind enough to give me a graduate scholarship, havering on this kind of work and work on Isaac Newton; my supervisor, Michael Hoskin, convinced me to write on Newton; pointed me to David Castillejo's typescript in the University Library; he had been the first scholar to look at Newton's theological papers; David Brewster the greatest of Newton's biographers had access to all Newton's papers, then in the hands of the Portsmouth family, the bulk of which were alchemical and theological; as an evangelical Christian he both ignored and explained away this material; Brewster had transcribed some of this material so it was in the public domain; in the 1890's the whole collection was offered to Cambridge; took  the mathematical and natural philosophy papers but returned the rest to the family; these were auctioned in 1936; Maynard Keynes bought some that are in King's and the rest ultimately go to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Castillejo was the first to tackle the subject and his typescript seemed a good start for a Ph.D.; worked on this between 1976-1979 and produced a thesis: "Newton's Cosmology and the Steady State"; while I was doing that I was also doing other smaller bits of research; Michael Hoskin had founded the 'Journal of the History of Astronomy' in 1970; Tom Whiteside had published in the very first volume a piece on Newton's path to the 'Principia' and was then editing Newton's mathematical papers; I was not equipped to learn as much as I should have done from him, and he was not the easiest person to get along with, but he was a towering pillar of scholarship; in 1977 at a conference at Churchill College to mark the anniversary of Newton's death, he was presented with the Sarton Medal; honoured to be asked to give a paper which was based on my thesis work; I got interested in issues of cosmology and cosmological development and found and transcribed a couple of papers by Edmund Halley, which were published in 'Notes and Records of the Royal Society', on his defence against the charge of atheism; also had articles published in Michael Hoskin's journal; at the same time William Herschell's manuscripts were available in Churchill College Library and I used them to work on Herschell's astronomical and cosmological beliefs which were also published

50:45:16 The most important person that I met in my field in the late 1970's was Roy Porter; he was the only member of the Cambridge History Faculty remotely interested in what the historians of science were doing; he was a professionally trained historian from Christ's; he had been close to Martin Rudwick and his Ph.D. thesis was on eighteenth-century earth history; he showed us how you could be an historian of the sciences which was not obvious at that time; the history of science begins in Cambridge in the 1930's through the work of Joseph Needham, Ernest Rutherford, Arthur Eddington etc., all scientists, who started the Cambridge Committee for the History of the Sciences; after the war, members of the Communist Party etc. dominated discourse on the past of the sciences in Britain; Herbert Butterfield etc. responded by saying that the past of science was too important to be left to scientists, especially if they are historical materialists; series of famous disputes which resulted in left wing scientists were writing materialist history of the sciences and conservative, idealist historians were writing intellectual history of scientific knowledge; by the 1970's idealism and intellectualism are firmly ensconced within the Cambridge programme of history and philosophy of science and Roy Porter brought reasonably judicious social history back into the picture; Roy got me to give a couple of talks to his final year special paper on eighteenth-century sciences, also to review material for a journal he was then editing, 'History of Science'

57:51:15 In 1979-1980 I went to France; I was just finishing my thesis and was encouraged by my parents to spend time in Paris; I was given a Thank-offering to Britain Fund award, a Norwegian award, paid through the British Academy; enabled me to spend a few months at the Centre Koyré, a section of École des hautes études, a centre for the study of science; it was then in rue Colbert next to the Bibliothèque nationale in a romantic building; encouraged to wander the Paris archives; also went to the College de France every Wednesday morning to Foucault's lectures on the practice of confession; the lecture audience consisted of a small layer of grande dames in furs, a largish group of mainly East Asian students with portable tape recorders, and people like me at the back; as a lecturer he was quiet, high-pitched, very charismatic, allusive, rapid, he spoke off the text and his breadth of knowledge was remarkable

1:02:27:10 Being in Paris was rewarding and I was able to encounter a lot of French philosophical and epistemological writing which was simultaneously Martian and indispensable; a good example was my work on Herschell, a Hanoverian musician who came to Britain to practice as an organist and choirmaster, and eventually moved to Bath in the 1770's; he joined a local philosophical society and began to study natural history; got his own microscope; fascinated by coral;  also teaching himself how to build telescopes; built increasingly large and strange mirror telescopes and set out to survey the heavens; the result was the discovery of Uranus in 1781 which brought him international fame; King gave him a place at Slough where for the next thirty years he ran a detailed survey of just those parts of the sky astronomers were not interested in; that was my puzzle; by late eighteenth-century standards he was not an astronomer so what was he? He said he was doing the natural history of the heavens; he was applying  Linnaean methods to stars, to classify stars into species, observing their growth cycle; Herschell gives us the notion of light year and that when looking into space one is looking deep into the past; Foucault's work seemed really useful as a tool for describing that; I wrote an article ' Herschell in Bedlam' which is half Foucault and half Herschell; sent it to the 'British Journal of the History of Science' and they published it; it is full of my Paris experience; I gave it as a paper at Bath in March 1980,  at the first joint meeting of the British Sociological Association and the British Society for the History of Science; it brought together a new generation of sociologists of scientific knowledge and historians of science; the paper went well and I met Bruno Latour; the paper that impressed me the most was given by Steven Shapin on the dispute between Leibniz and Samuel Clark; the final chapter of my thesis was on the same thing; Shapin was much better at analysing what was at stake in that metaphysical-philosophical dispute showing the political issues involved in these different cosmologies; it footnoted anthropologists whom I had never read like Mary Douglas; when it came to choosing examiners it seemed obvious that the internal should be Roy Porter and the external, Steven Shapin; on a cold, rainy day at U.C.L. I had my viva, and passed; since then Steven Shapin has become indispensable for my work and life; collaborative work is hard but he makes it easy; his writing (as shown in the Bath paper) is witty, profound and without jargon, with a deep empiricism; he is respectful of genuine expertise and delighted by craftsmanship; he moved from a liberal arts college, Reed, to Penn, Philadelphia, one of the headquarters of the social studies of the sciences; did his thesis on the social world of science in the Edinburgh enlightenment; Tom Whiteside got him a job initially at Keele University, to catalogue their library of mathematics books; then he went to Edinburgh; a charismatic, generous person; his work on the controversy between Boyle and Hobbes and his use of anthropology, particularly of Evans-Pritchard

1:23:17:12 In 1980 I got a job in London at Imperial College; living in Paddington, could walk to work; wonderful time; between 1981-1983 Steve and I wrote a book; as he was in Edinburgh and I was in London so we typed letters, cut them up and pasted them together and sent them back; every so often I would go and stay with him; it was an intensely cloistered project and barely discussed it with anybody else or gave lectures or seminars about it; the only grant we applied for was a tiny grant from the Royal Society to help us make sure we had covered the extant air-pumps; if the book ('Leviathan and the Air-Pump') has virtues one of them is that it was a back stage project yet intensely conversational; an experiment in rethinking an event in the history of science; think the book fell still-born from the press and almost all the initial reviews were uninterested or hostile; only two exceptions, by Harry Collins and Owen Hannaway; it changed life for me as it helped me get a job back in Cambridge in 1984; much later, in 2005, it won the Erasmus Prize; the book is often cited; it is Steve's book, I helped; the argument that the book makes is that really important innovation happens in the course of detailed, meticulous labour; metaphysical questions about the repetition of experiments; subsequently both Steve and I have done work on similar questions; for me, that work gave me a certain confidence in the kinds of questions I was trying to ask; when I was appointed to a lectureship in Cambridge, probably on the basis of that book in press, I was actually replacing Gerd Buchdahl, though not replacing him with any of the things he did; at the same time my father died of a heart attack on 10th May 1984 and I have never recovered from that; I still have the experience of pointing things out to him; on the other hand it has clearly brought myself and my mother much closer; she threw herself into politics in Brighton from the mid 1980's onward as part of the struggle against Thatcherism; she became a Labour councillor, an active militant in the anti-nuclear and the green movements, and taught me a lot; I came back to Cambridge and could see what my career was going to be