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Talks in London on the 28th October 17, 2010

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.

If you happen to be in London these days, and you are free on the 28th, you could make your way over to Greenwich, and pay six-to-eight quid to hear Simon Schaffer’s talk, “Acting at a Distance: The Venus Transit Expeditions and the Establishment of Empire” at the National Maritime Museum.  It is part of the Royal Society’s lecture series, Science and the Maritime Nation, which is running this month.

Or, you could skip the obligatory inspirational lesson on “how fraught and fragile” the transit expeditions’ “attempts to make science and empire work together” were, download his Tarner lectures on astronomy, hear/read his take on the transit expeditions here, read Thony C’s very nice summations of the frustrations of an 18th-century transit expedition here, and then feel free to come and see me, free-of-charge, at Imperial College in South Kensington, as part of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine’s seminar series.

My talk will be entitled “Some Facets of the 20th-Century-Problem in Historiography: Scientists, Policymakers, Experts, and Analysts”, and will be at 4:15pm, Sherfield Building, 5th Floor Seminar Rooms. Hopefully drinks afterward.  My talk will begin with an overview of my work on operational research, policy analysis, and decision theory, and some of the new conclusions I was able to draw from that research.  However, it will then move into the difficulties of studying very big topics (i.e., the “20th-century problem” which is a term that has gained a modicum of traction in discussions around here), the dangers of adhering to classical historiographical expectations of what tensions will inhabit those topics (science! politics! where-oh-where will the boundaries be drawn this time?) and some possible strategies for dealing with this historiographical problem, i.e., the internet.  I will discuss blogs as a way of keeping the historiographical pot stirred, and ACAP as an example of addressing a big topic in a preliminary way.  This will lead into an introduction of my brand new research project: a broad survey of forms of expertise used in the British state, 1945-1975, on which much more anon.  It’s a whirlwind, but I figure it will be more interesting than a boring old lecture on a single topic.

By the way, Whewell’s Ghost contributor Rebekah Higgitt will be doing a lecture, “The Admiralty’s Observatories: Greenwich, Cape, Rossbank” on November 4th at the NMM.  I will not be lecturing on that day, so by all means do go and check it out.



1. Michael Robinson - October 17, 2010

Sad to be missing this. Will you offer a write up of your remarks, video, interpretive dance etc for those who cannot attend? Good luck to Rebekah as well.

2. Thony C. - October 17, 2010

Will Thomas vs Simon Schaffer is no contest!

Who’s this Schaffer guy anyway?

If I were to be in the Old Smpke I would of course firs listen very intentively to Dr Thomas and then saunter on over to Greenwich to hear Prof. Schaffer.

I would of course return to Greenwich for the very erudite and learned Dr Higgitt on the 4th of November.

I wish all three of you attentive, intelligent and friendly audients.

3. Thony C. - October 17, 2010

That should of course read ‘Old Smoke’ and ‘first’! Sometimes my fingers and brain are not in synch!

4. darwinsbulldog - October 17, 2010

Ah, London would have been nice… but I do like Portland.

5. Rebekah Higgitt - October 17, 2010

As Thony says, you can absolutely do both, especially if you travel by river (via Embankment)! If you get to Greenwich just before 7pm you can also grab a glass of wine (or two) for your £6/8. And, by the way, it’s not really the Royal Society’s lecture series, but the National Maritime Museum’s – or, more accurately, mine. So don’t tell people not to go!

6. Will Thomas - October 17, 2010

I will personally buy a drink for anyone who successfully accomplishes the Thomas-Schaffer double-header via the Thames! I’ll buy an evening of drinks if you blog about it.

Anyway, I don’t think Simon needs to worry too much about his attendance numbers on my account — even benefiting from Thony’s too-kind lies! (And thanks to all for regrets and well wishes.)

The series looks very good, Rebekah. My compliments! I hope to make it over myself to see a couple before it winds up. Has it been going well so far?

7. Jai Virdi - October 17, 2010

All of a sudden Toronto seems so isolated, lonely, and boring…

8. Rebekah Higgitt - October 17, 2010

The talks have been great, the audiences appreciative and the Q&As interesting, but sadly we’ve not really been managing to get the numbers I hope for, so far. I wish we didn’t charge for events like this, and there’s always the problem of persuading people that Greenwich is not *that* far.

For the record, I know someone who commutes daily from Deptford to South Kensington – by river.

9. Thony C. - October 17, 2010

Anyone who feels like popping over to Nürnberg on Wednesday (20th Oct.) can hear my lecture Die Kraft des Dampfs: Matthew Boulton, James Watt and the Dampfmaschine at 7 pm at the Nicolaus-Copernicus-Planetarium. It only costs 5 Euro. The lecture is unfortunately in German but the slides are in English!

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