Histories of Scientific Observation

Working Group Book

Histories of Scientific Observation

Lorraine Daston, Elizabeth Lunbeck


Observation is the most pervasive and fundamental practice of all the modern sciences, both natural and human. Its instruments include not only the naked senses but also tools such as the telescope and microscope, the questionnaire, the photographic plate, the notebook, the glassed-in beehive, and myriad other ingenious inventions designed to make the invisible visible, the evanescent permanent, the abstract concrete. Yet observation has almost never been considered as an object of historical inquiry in itself. This wide-ranging collection offers the first examination of the history of scientific observation in its own right, as both epistemic category and scientific practice. Histories of Scientific Observation features engaging episodes drawn from across the spectrum of the natural and human sciences , ranging from meteorology, medicine, and natural history to economics, astronomy, and psychology. The contributions spotlight how observers have scrutinized everything—from seaweed to X-ray radiation, household budgets to the emotions—with ingenuity, curiosity, and perseverance verging on obsession. This book makes a compelling case for the significance of the long, surprising, and epistemologically significant history of scientific observation, a history full of innovations that have enlarged the possibilities of perception, judgment, and reason.


“Chalk to cheese,” review of Lorraine Daston's book “Histories of Scientific Observation”; Times Literary Supplement (16.12.2011)

"Thinking About Looking," review of Lorraine Daston's book “Histories of Scientific Observation”; American Scientist (July-August 2011)

Review of Lorraine Daston's book “Histories of Scientific Observation”; Technology and Culture 53.1 (2012)

"Observations on Observation," review of Lorraine Daston's book “Histories of Scientific Observation”; Endeavour 35.4 (2011)

Book page for Lorraine Daston's book “Histories of Scientific Observation” at the University of Chicago Press website

Review Carla Nappi, Looking to Learn, Science Mag, 6 2012

Review Harold J. Cook, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 86, 3 2012

Review Christoph Hoffmann, NTM, Vol. 20, 2 2012

Review Elizabeth Neswald, Science & Education, Vol. 22, 3 2013


University of Chicago Press