Course Syllabus

Observation, Objectivity, and Object Biographies:
Reading Lorraine Daston

Spring 2017 | 1 credit C/NC


Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie 
Office hours:  Thursdays, 3:00-5:00
Contact: | 206-543-5873

Seminar meetings:

  • three Mondays, 3:30-5:30
  • Daston's Katz Lecture: April 19
  • special events April 20: see below  

Seminar syllabus PDF
Weekly readings and posts wikipage


Course description

This microseminar convenes in conjunction with the visit of Lorraine Daston to the University of Washington as a Katz Distinguished Lecturer in April 2017. Daston is Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Visiting Professor of Social Thought and History at the University of Chicago. A widely respected historian of science, Daston has published on the history of probability and statistics, wonders in early modern science, the emergence of the scientific fact, scientific models, objects of scientific inquiry, the moral authority of nature, and the history of scientific objectivity. Her recent books include How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (co-editor, 2014), Histories of Scientific Observation (co-editor, 2011), and Objectivity (with Peter Galison, 2010).

The focus of this seminar will be on Daston's pivotal publications on historical transformations of ideals of objectivity, biographies of scientific objects, observational practices and conventions of image-making. These have been influential well beyond historical science studies (her home discipline); they have inspired generations of scholars who are committed to integrating historical, philosophical, and social/cultural studies of the sciences. Daston has also written on the divergent disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches that make up the cognate fields of science, technology & society studies represented in our own graduate Certificate in Science, Technology & Society Studies, so her visit is an occasion to reflect on the vision that animates this program as we conclude our second year.

Meeting dates

Sessions meet in Communications 202 unless otherwise noted

The seminar will meet twice before Daston visits the University of Washington, and once after her visit. Seminar participants are expected to attend Daston's Katz lecture and at least one of the other meetings with her listed below.

  • Monday, April 3, 3:30-5:30: seminar discussion
  • Monday, April 10, 3:30-5:30: seminar discussion
  • Wednesday, April 19, 7:00: Katz Distinguished Lecture, 'Algorithms Before Computers: Patterns, Recipes, and Rules' (Kane Hall 210) - NOW ON YOUTUBE! with some photos on FLICKR
  • Thursday, April 20: Daston discussion and colloquium
         10:00-11:30, morning coffee with Lorraine Daston at the Simpson Center (CMU 204)
         1:30-3:00: Katz public colloquium, 'Big Science and Big Humanities' (CMU 202)
  • Monday, April 24, 3:30-5:30: seminar discussion

Course readings

One common reading on objectivity, objects, and/or observation will be assigned for the two advance seminars. Each member of the seminar will be expected to search out and report on one additional reading that represents an aspect of Daston’s scholarship that is especially relevant to their own research. Assigned readings are available through the "weekly readings" page on this Canvas course website. In addition to recent articles, the sources on which we will draw include:

  • Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck, editors (2011) Histories of Scientific Observation (University of Chicago Press).
  • Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (2007) Objectivity (Zone Books).
  • Lorraine Daston, editor (2004) Things That Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (Zone Books).
  • Lorraine Daston, editor (2000) Biographies of Scientific Objects (University of Chicago Press).

Seminar format and requirements
This will be a reading-intensive, discussion-based micro-seminar. The writing requirements take the form of discussion posts:

  • two posts for the pre-visit seminars raising questions for discussion of the common readings and reporting on readings selected by participants;
  • a final post after Daston's visit reflecting on her visit as a whole and its relevance to participants' own research interests.

C/NC credit for this seminar will be assigned on the basis of the required posts and active participation in discussion. All assignments must be completed to receive credit.

Learning objectives
The central goals of this seminar are that you should come away with the following:

  • a working knowledge of Daston’s scholarship in areas relevant to your research interests;
  • the background necessary for productive engagement with Daston when she visits as the 2017 Katz Lecturer;
  • a facility for interdisciplinary communication in and about science, technology and society studies.

Course Summary:

Date Details