Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics (HAPP)

The St Cross Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics (HAPP) has been established in the first instance to bring together the community of scholars in the history and philosophy of physics in Oxford, the United Kingdom and beyond.

Over the centuries Britain’s contribution to the international study of physics has been enormous with the University of Oxford playing a key role in many areas of its advancement. Oxford continues to be a centre of excellence for research both on the historical development of the discipline and the philosophy which shapes its inquiry.

HAPP does not simply focus on chronicling the history of the discipline as a retrospective exercise but also critically engages with the philosophy and the methodologies which inform how current research in physics is undertaken. Being based at St Cross College, the Centre is well positioned to investigate those milestones in the field in which the University of Oxford has played a leading role. Such scientific contributions extend from the emergence of the study of physics during the Middle Ages to the establishment of the Royal Society and the development of the modern discipline in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Topics covered to date include Wittgenstein and Physics, Voltaire and the Newtonian Revolution, Physics and the Great War, A History of the Sun - Our Closest Star, Medieval Physics in Oxford, The Nature of Time, A History of the Moon, The Émigrés in Oxford Physics, The Nature of Quantum Reality, Astronomy Across the Medieval World, Physics Controversies Past and Present, From Space to Spacetime, Physics and the Dark Side and A History of the Small.




Geophysics across the Centuries - From Earth to Sky - Dr Greg Good, Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics

Monday 22nd October 2018 at 5.30 pm (St Cross Lecture Theatre, St Cross College)

When people think of physics, their most common image is of Einstein or of a particle accelerator or other laboratory site. Although much of physics fits comfortably within the dichotomy of theory versus laboratory, a lot of physics occurs in other settings. This talk focusses on the history of geophysics and space physics, areas in which much of the important research of the 19th and 20th centuries was pursued either in observatories or in the field. Whether it is the history of geomagnetism or of seismology, of atmospheric properties or magnetic storms, the stories of these researches must include field work and observatory measurement, in addition to laboratory testing, and theory and modelling. The talk will conclude with an overview of the work of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics and with a view towards the future needs of the history of physics.



The HAPP Network for the History of Physics has been established and aims to be the focal point for a new international group of historians, philosophers and practising physicists from a number of institutions including the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Manchester, University of Stuttgart, University of Warsaw, CNRS Paris, Real Academia Española, Uppsala University and the American Institute of Physics. It will be holding a summer school in August 2018 for early career researchers and graduate students, which will examine the history of the key roles played by scientific instruments in the evolution of twentieth and twenty-first century climate science (a field the programme will call "environmental physics"). The summer school will draw on the expertise of the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, and it will include hands on experience with the actual instruments as well as a visit to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.


HAPP Network Summer School on History of Physics: Scientific Instruments and Environmental Physics - 20th-24th August 2018

This Summer School will survey the history of scientific instruments and seeks to contribute to the understanding of the development of recent climate science by exploring the role played by the physical sciences. Climate change has been an important concern for historians of science since the mid-1990s. There have been foundational accounts of the discovery of global warming and subtle portraits of changing views of climate and place over time, along with detailed studies of the history of meteorology and the rise of numerical modelling, and vital accounts of climate discourse and scepticism. Underlying this scholarship are abiding concerns with the diverse ways that climate has forced reassessments of scale, demanded new engagements between local histories and global measures, and engaged different sorts of audiences. Alongside these accounts are a range of studies that consider how instruments and tools of science have been deployed in the field to gather data in the service of such global projects. These accounts link supposedly metropolitan physical sciences with stories of empire and expose the challenges of making instruments work in remote locations. Finally, these studies will thus help engage histories of physics creatively with the issues important in understanding the implications of global warming in distinctively different locales and should interest those working in meteorology, history and geography, as well as in the history and philosophy of science. The Summer School sessions will focus on various scientific tools and techniques, including those used to investigate and represent the climate, linking scientific inquiry to the development and trade in specialist instruments. There will be visits to the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford and to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The Summer School will be held in the historic surroundings of Brasenose College at the University of Oxford with the programme available here. Registration to attend the Summer School with payment of the registration fee of £195 which will also include the cost of all lunches and dinners can be done here by the registration deadline of Saturday 30th June 2018. Bed and breakfast accommodation in rooms at Brasenose College for the duration of the Summer School can be booked and paid for here using the code HAPP2018 before selecting the Summer School dates. Cancellations must be made within 14 days of registration and payment for a refund of the registration fee. There will be visits to the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory as part of the programme. A limited number of bursaries to cover the registration fee are available to students and postdoctoral researchers from developing countries - to apply please send a request or any queries to happ-centre@stx.ox.ac.uk .

The Summer School has received generous support from the University of Oxford John Fell Fund and from Oxford Instruments.