Dear all:

Method in the historical sciences...with examples from ancient marsupials!

Best, Jeremy B
Jeremy Butterfield:
Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ: Tel: 07557-668413 (mobile)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2016 20:19:41 +0100
From: Adrian Currie <>
To: " <>"
Subject: +++ First McMenemy Seminar of Term - 19 October. Come listen   toAdrian
    Currie talk about extinct species

Hi all,

See below for details of the first McMenemy seminar at Trinity Hall this term, 
delivered by, um, me. It will be an accessible look into the philosophy of 
historical science, with plenty of extinct marsupials... Its being held in the 
Bridgetower room – just ask at the entrance.

Adrian Currie
Postdoctoral Researcher, CSER (

From: McMenemy Seminar TH
Sent: 17 October 2016 08:28
Subject: +++ First McMenemy Seminar of Term - 19 October. Come listen toAdrian 
Currie talk about extinct species

Dear MCR members, 

You are welcome to attend the McMenemy Seminar in the Leslie Stephen Room this 
coming Wednesday (19 October) from 6.30 o'clock (Please note the different time 
from last year). 
Come listen to Adrian Currie present his research about Australia's extinct 
species and the way he tackles the question. 

His presentation is entitled "Stories, Omnivores & Marsupial Lions: how do we know 
so much about the past?" 

Please also download and add to your calendars the seminars of this term - all 
listed in the term card.

Here is the abstract of Adrian Currie's presentation. 

Australia’s Pleistocene boasted an array of strange critters. In addition to 
giant wombats and kangaroos, enormous lizards and the rhino-sized Diprotodon, 
the largest mammalian predator was Thylacoleo carnifex, the so-called 
‘marsupial lion’ (although I’ll argue that marsupial bulldog is a more 
appropriate moniker). There is a rich debate about T. carnifex, how it lived 
and how it killed, which I’ll use to consider the nature of historical 
evidence and science.

When philosophers and scientists reflect on evidence from the deep past, we 
often conclude that it is impoverished: after all, signals decay and 
millennia-old events are hardly amenable to the controlled, repeated 
experiments which are the by-word of scientific success. However, the 
historical sciences—geology, archaeology, paleontology, and cosmology, for 
instance—are extremely successful. Our understanding of past events and 
patterns, and the processes which shape them, continues to deepen. So, why so 
much success in the face of such terrible evidence?

I’m going to argue that this tension is resolved when we see that it is our 
understanding of historical method and evidence which is impoverished, not the 
evidence itself.

I’ll highlight two aspects of how historical scientists think which explains 
their success. First, I’ll argue that narrative consistency—telling a 
coherent story—is a more significant epistemic achievement than is typically 
recognised. In addition to linking existing traces to the past, historical 
scientists knit their hypotheses about the past together, often using 
well-confirmed, systematic theories. These links—stories—extend our reach 
into the past. Second, I’ll emphasize the opportunism of historical 
scientists, their capacity to co-opt, adapt and incorporate a wide range of 
different kinds of evidence and techniques. This ‘methodological omnivory’ 
explains how they do so much, with so little.
...brought to you by HPS-discussion.  

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