Network of scholars bring history of science to life

The audience listens attentively as Walter Peace delivers a lecture on the history of cartography. His presentation contains a series of intricate images that look more like works of art than historical maps.

The audience is made up of students, faculty and others from different disciplines and different corners of the University, eager to learn more about the art and science of map-making.

This lecture is part of an initiative called HISTReENet (History of Ideas, Science and Technology, Research and Education Network), a McMaster speaker series that explores the histories of different fields of science and aims to connect people across campus interested in these areas of study.

This depiction of Iceland (circa 1600) was among the maps discussed during Walter Peace's HISTReENet lecture on the history of cartography.

This depiction of Iceland (circa 1600) was among the maps discussed during Walter Peace's HISTReENet lecture on the history of cartography.

“I joined McMaster about five years ago now. My primary research area is the history of astronomy, particularly ancient Egyptian astronomy,” says Sarah Symons, co-creator of HISTReENet and a teaching professor in the Integrated Science program as well as the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “No one else in my department actually does history of astronomy, and I found it difficult to find people around the University that were interested in ‘history of…’ whatever they were doing.  There was no easy place I could go to find new colleagues or collaborators.”

Symons set about looking for others at McMaster interested in the history and philosophy of science and connected with Rob Cockcroft, a postdoctoral fellow, also in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Together, they applied for and received a Forward with Integrity grant and HISTReENet was born.

“One of the interesting things around this subject area is that it brings together people across faculties, across departments, it brings together people who have just a reading interest in the area as well as people who are studying the discipline,” says Symons. “Students, faculty emeriti, anyone in the University community is capable of being interested the history of their discipline.”

Last term, Symons and Cockcroft organized a series of four talks, including a lecture from Miroslav Lovric, a professor of mathematics and statistics, who presented his research on the symmetry and tiling at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. There was also a panel discussion on the history of science in education.

Symons says the response has been very good so far and there are plans to continue the program this term. The new line-up includes a speaker from the Corning Glass Museum in New York who will talk about its collection of glass scientific instruments. Students will also have the chance to present their research as part of the series.

“We want to include talks from different Faculties focused on different topics and viewpoints, and we want to include students as much as possible.  One of the events we’ve planned for next term invites students who have done a project connected to the history of science to do a short presentation.  We’re trying to balance the research and education aspects of the network and make some really good connections.”

The next HISTReENet lecture will be on Ancient Egyptian Astronomical Diagonal Star Tables.  See the schedule of HISTReENet lectures for more information.