PHIL469 001 / ANTH 495B 001: Philosophy of Science – Knowing the Past: Philosophy of the Historical Sciences

Winter 2019 – Term 1
Instructor: Dr. Alison Wylie
Class meetings: Tuesdays/Thursdays 2:00-3:30
Office hours: weekly hours TBD and by appointment:
Course website: TBD

Do historians and historical scientists face unique challenges because they study the past? For example,
are they at a distinct disadvantage compared to experimental scientists? Are studies of the human,
cultural past especially vulnerable to constructionist critique, and do these suspicions extend to nonhuman historical sciences of evolutionary biology, geology and paleontology? In this course we will
explore philosophical questions about the nature and status of historical inquiry in a comparative frame,
taking as our point of departure Adrian Currie’s Rock, Bone and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the
Historical Sciences (2018). Currie reframes philosophical debate about historical knowledge with a focus
on paleontology, geology and archaeology. In subsequent sections we will address questions about the
nature of historical explanation and the role of narrative that have been central to philosophy of history
and debate in archaeology. Central texts here will be Trouillot’s Silencing the Past (1995) and selections
from Material Evidence (2014). Requirements include short weekly response posts, one in-class
presentation, and a term paper.
Prerequisites: At least one prior course in an historical science and/or in philosophy of science is
recommended. Contact the instructor if you have any questions about appropriate background for this
Graduate credit: If you prefer to take this course for 500-level credit contact the instructor to arrange
graduate-level requirements and to complete the necessary form. This request must be approved before
registration closes.