I have taught the early history of science and medicine for many years on the premise that one of the most important ways to understand how science, medicine and technology have become so central to contemporary society comes from examining the process by which scientific knowledge emerged. I also take enormous pleasure in examining a kind of scientific knowledge that did not have an autonomous existence from other kinds of creative endeavors, but emerged in the context of humanistic approaches to the world (in defiance of C.P. Snow's claim that the modern world is one of "two cultures" that share very little in common). More generally, I am profoundly attracted to individuals in the past who aspired to know everything. It still seems like a worthy goal.
My other principal interest lies in understanding the world of the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Italy. I continue to be fascinated by a society that made politics, economics and culture so important to its self-definition, and that obviously succeeded in all these endeavors for some time, as the legacy of such figures as Machiavelli and Leonardo suggests. Renaissance Italy, in short, is a historical laboratory for understanding the possibilities and the problems of an innovative society. As such, it provides an interesting point of comparison to Gilded Age America, where magnates such as J.P. Morgan often described themselves as the "new Medici," and to other historical moments when politics, art and society combined fruitfully.
I have a certain interest in the relations between gender, culture and knowledge. Virginia Woolf rightfully observed at the beginning of the twentieth century that one could go to a library and find a great deal about women but very little that celebrated or supported their accomplishments. This is no longer true a century later, in large part thanks to the efforts of many scholars, male and female, who have made the work of historical women available to modern readers and who have begun to look at relations between the sexes in more sophisticated ways. Our own debates and disagreements on such issues make this subject all the more important to understand.
In addition to my work in the History Department, I currently direct Stanford's ESF (Education as Self Fashioning) Program for entering freshmen (https://sis.stanford.edu/education-self-fashioning-esf) and am also Faculty Director of Stanford's MLA (Masters in Liberal Arts) Program (https://mla.stanford.edu/), an evening masters program for adults who want an interdisciplinary learning community in which to cultivate their intellectual passions. All this is to say that I enjoy working with students at all levels. Prospective PhD students might enjoy reading my thoughts on getting a doctorate: https://www.chronicle.com/article/why-go-to-grad-school/
In recent years, I have worked with colleagues from Notre Dame, Princeton, and Stanford to offer the Rome Archive Seminar, a funded opportunity for graduate students who want to learn how to use the Roman libraries and archives for their doctoral research: https://rome.nd.edu/research/projects-activities/rome-seminar/
During summers, I also teach in Pioneer Academics, a research program for high school students who want to learn about the history of science as well as the experience of developing a college-level research paper: https://pioneeracademics.com/
BBC Radio 4 - Philip Ball - Science Stories
Galileo's lost letter
Paula Findlen on Athanasius Kircher with Robert Harrison on KZSU Stanford Radio
Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio - Medieval Feminists
Embodied Knowledge: Women and Science Before Silicon Valley (August 11, 2023 - March 24, 2024)