Peter Galison

Joseph Pellegrino University Professor
Director, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Harvard University

In 1997, Peter Galison was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow; in 1999, he was a winner of the Max Planck Prize given by the Max Planck Gesellschaft and Humboldt Stiftung.

Galison is interested in the intersection of philosophical and historical questions such as these: What, at a given time, convinces people that an experiment is correct? How do scientific subcultures form interlanguages of theory and things at their borders? More broadly, Galison's main work explores the complex interaction between the three principal subcultures of twentieth century physics--experimentation, instrumentation, and theory. The volume on experiment (How Experiments End [1987]) and that on instruments (Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics [1997]) are to be followed by the final volume--Theory Machines--that is still under construction. Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps (2003) begins the study of theory by focusing on the ways in which the theory of relativity stood at the crossroads of technology, philosophy, and physics. Image & Logic won the Pfizer Award from the History of Science Society in October 1998.

In addition, Galison has launched several projects examining the powerful cross-currents between science and other fields. His book (with Lorraine Daston), Objectivity (2007) asks how visual representation shaped the concept of scientific objectivity, and how atlases of scientific images continue, even today, to rework what counts as right depiction. Further work on the boundary between science and other fields includes his co-edited volumes on the relations between science, art and architecture, The Architecture of Science (1999) and Picturing Science, Producing Art (1998), as well as Big Science (1992), The Disunity of Science (1996), Atmospheric Flight in the 20th Century (2000), Scientific Authorship (2003), and Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture (2008).

His courses include: "History and Philosophy of 20th-Century Physics"; "History and Philosophy of Experimentation"; "Fascism, Art and Science in the Interwar Years"; "Scientific Realism"; "The Einsteinian Revolution"; seminars on Critical History and on the History and Philosophy of Theory in 20th Century Physics; and "Filming Science." Additionally, he leads weekly meetings of Harvard's Physical Sciences Research Group where students, faculty, and staff have the opportunity to present and discuss relevant topics in the history of science including the history of mathematics and the history of technology.