The Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS) is an interdisciplinary graduate program dedicated to the study of the history, philosophy, and social relations of science. Read more…


Friday, May 18th at 4:00pm

The Fishbein Workshop in the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science presents:
Quinn DuPont
"Origins of the Encrypted Information Society (1945-2013)."
* Friday, May 18th at 4:00 pm*
John Hope Franklin Room (Social Sciences 224)

Refreshments will be served.

I argue that we live in an “encrypted information society” characterized by practices, discourses, and ideologies of exclusion and control through the widespread use of encryption technologies. In recent years, encryption technologies have become normalized, ubiquitous, and unquestioningly adopted. I discuss how as a society we came to this state of affairs, and what as academics prevented (and continues to prevent) critical reflection on the social, political, and discursive implications of encryption technologies.

I present an alternative conceptual and historical characterization of encryption. Encryption has been in use since the dawn of writing but finds its modern origins in the development of information theory and network design, notably the influential work of Claude Shannon and Paul Baran, and later, in the development of the Internet. Yet, these technological developments and architectural decisions went largely unnoticed by scholars, who instead wrote optimistically about a free and open Information Age and Network Society. More recently, scholars and activists alike have turned to encryption technologies as a source of liberation and freedom from state intervention and surveillance, unwittingly adopting and implementing a technology designed to restrict freedom, open discourse, and public infrastructures.

The Social Science Research Building is located at 1126 East 59th Street. The building is accessible for all. For further information please contact Beth Calderon at

Friday, May 25th at 12:00pm (Noon)

The Fishbein Workshop in the History of Human Sciences presents
Emily Webster (Chicago)
*Friday, May 25*

Seeing the Forest for the Microbes: Land Use Change and Epidemic Disease in Melbourne, Australia, 1837-1890

Discussant: Natalie Smith
John Hope Franklin Room (Social Sciences 224)
Refreshments will be served.

In the late nineteenth century, the city of Melbourne, Australia, experienced unusually high tuberculosis mortality. Dr. William Thomson, whose statistical methods uncovered the epidemiological trend, argued that at least 1 in 3 of the adult population of Melbourne between the ages of 20 and 45 died of tuberculosis. While Thomson’s research challenged existing epistemologies of medicine, advocating sanitary rather than climatological etiology, Thomson was ultimately incapable of identifying the major factors in the spread of tuberculosis. Drawing on recent public health scholarship, which suggests a firm link between land use change and emerging infectious diseases, this paper examines the role of cultural, political, economic, and ecological activities of nineteenth century Melbournians in constructing a niche suited to the success of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Using epidemiological techniques, GIS, and historical records, this paper analyzes the city’s ability to handle waste, stagnant water, and other vectors of disease, and attempt to describe how manipulations of the landscape to accommodate the growing city’s sanitary and commercial needs exacerbated transmissibility of tuberculosis. It concludes that the imported characteristics of the British colonial city fostered land use change uniquely suited to the perpetuation of one of the most prolific diseases of the modern era.

The Social Science Research Building is located at 1126 East 59th Street. The building is accessible for all. For further information please contact Beth Calderon at