ROCK, BONE AND RUIN: Evidence in Historical Science
Thursday & Friday 8-9 May, University of Sydney
Spaces are limited; please email to reserve one.
Historical scientists frequently work under poor epistemic conditions: as traces degrade there is a dearth of direct evidence for theories about the deep past. Some philosophers and scientists are sceptical about our ability to uncover many facts about the deep past, and yet, in the face of epistemic deprivation, historical scientists produce (at least sometimes) well-supported theories and hypotheses. This suggests that some philosophers have underestimated the ingenuity of historical scientists. By incorporating approaches and evidence from a wide variety of disciplines, taking surrogative approaches such as analogous reasoning and modelling, and by weaving complex, interdependent explanations, they extend our reach into the past. The aim of this workshop is to extend our models of historical confirmation by considering two broad questions: (1) How should we understand evidence in the historical sciences? (2) How should this affect our optimism or otherwise about scientists’ abilities to know the past?
Related topics include the role of models in confirming historical hypotheses, the nature of historical explanation, material remains as evidence and their connection to behavioural and social facts, the role of background (or ‘midrange’) theories in confirmation, as well as the importance of new technologies and perspectives in historical science.
Speakers and Titles
- Alison Wylie (University of Washington): How archaeological evidence bites back: scaffolding, critical distance, and triangulation.
- Derek Turner (Connecticut College): A second look at the colors of the dinosaurs.
- Lindell Bromham (ANU): Testing hypotheses in macroevolution.
- Peter Hiscock (Sydney): Staying put or moving on? Ethnographic reference as stabilizing framework or as limiting vision in Australian archaeology.
- John Wilkins (Melbourne): Evolutionary novelty and surprise.
- Adrian Currie (ANU & Calgary): Ethnographic analogy, the comparative method and archaeological special pleading.
- Malte Ebach (UNSW) and Michaelis Michael (UNSW): Do the links between evidence and causation in the historical sciences stand up to scrutiny? A need for standard criteria.
- Roland Fletcher (Sydney): What are the entities of cultural evolution?
- Kim Shaw-Williams (ANU) & Ivan Gonzalez-Cabrera (ANU): towards a new view of human origins: the wetlands foraging hypothesis.
- Maureen O’Malley (Sydney): Molecular stories from the life sciences: reconciling the past.
- Robert Hurley (Well): Ask any scientician: the unique difficulties of applying the philosophy of the historical sciences to human history.
Hosted by the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science and the Tom Austen Brown Bequest.