Lorraine Daston

Director (Since 1995)

PhD, Professor, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Lorraine Daston has published on a wide range of topics in the history of science, including the history of probability and statistics, wonders in early modern science, the emergence of the scientific fact, scientific models, objects of scientific inquiry, the moral authority of nature, and the history of scientific objectivity. Recent books include (with Paul Erikson et al.) How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold war Rationality (2014)  and (co-edited with Elizabeth Lunbeck), Histories of Scientific Observation (2011), both products of MPIWG Working Groups.

Her current projects include a history of rules, based on her 2014 Lawrence Stone Lectures at Princeton University, the emergence of Big Science and Big Humanities in the context of nineteenth-century archives, and the relationship between moral and natural orders.

She is the recipient of the Pfizer Prize and Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society, the Schelling Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, the Lichtenberg Medal of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences, the Luhmann Prize of the University of Bielefeld, and an honorary dotorate of humane letters from Princeton University. In addition to directing Department II of the MPIWG, she is a regular Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and Permanent Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.


Commentaries on Mathematical Texts in a Comparative Perspective


I. Science, History of Science, and Modernity


II. The Sciences of the Archive


Islamic Scientific Manuscripts Initiative (ISMI)


IV. Between the Natural and the Human Sciences


Rules: A Short History of What We Live By


V. Science in Circulation: The Exchange of Knowledge, Ninth–Seventeenth Centuries


Cold War Rationality


Collective Observation


History of Scientific Objectivity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


History of Scientific Observation


How Reason Became Rationality


Natural Law and Laws of Nature


Science Goes to the Archives


VI. The History of Scientific Observation


Selected Publications

Daston, L. (2016). History of science without 'Structure'. In R. J. Richards, & L. Daston (Eds.), Kuhn's 'Structure of scientific revolutions' at fifty: reflections on a science classic (pp. 115-132). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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Daston, L. (2016). Die Zukunft der GDNÄ - die GDNÄ der Zukunft. In A. Schanbacher, & E.-M. Neher (Eds.), Menschen und Ideen: die Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte 1822 - 2016 (pp. 11-13). Göttingen: Wallstein.

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Daston, L. (2016). Cloud physiognomy. Representations, 135(1), 45-71. doi:10.1525/rep.2016.135.1.45.

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Daston, L. (2016). Authenticity, autopsia, and Theodor Mommsen’s Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. In A. Blair, & A.-S. Goeing (Eds.), For the sake of learning: essays in honor of Anthony Grafton. Vol. 2 (pp. 955-973). Leiden: Brill. doi:10.1163/9789004263314_054.

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Daston, L. (2016). When science went modern. The Hedgehog Review, 18(3).

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Daston, L. (2015). Epistemic images. In A. Payne (Ed.), Vision and its instruments: art, science, and technology in early modern Europe (pp. 13-35). University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

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Daston, L. (2014). The naturalistic fallacy is modern. Isis, 105(3), 579-587. doi:10.1086/678173.

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Erickson, P., Klein, J. L., Daston, L., Lemov, R., Sturm, T., & Gordin, M. D. (2013). How reason almost lost its mind: the strange career of Cold War rationality. Chicago [u.a.]: The University of Chicago Press.

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Daston, L. (2012). The sciences of the archive. Osiris, 27(1), 156-187.

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Daston, L. (2008). On scientific observation. Isis, 99(1), 97-110.

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Premodern Conversations Series

A History of Rules: Algorithms, Patterns, and Recipes


Plato’s Cave Revisited: A Conversation about Education Today

External/Cooperation Event

Before Scientific Revolutions: Error and the Fear of Error


Presentations, Talks, & Teaching Activities

"The Evolution of Clouds"

Keynote lecture at conference "Description across the Disciplines," Columbia University

"Which Self? The Rationalities of Self Interest"

Straker Lecture, University of British Columbia

"The Immortal Archive of the Nineteenth Century"

Keynote lecture at conference "The Total Archive", University of Cambridge

"Rules, Models, Paradigms: Before Rules Became Rigid"

Keynote Lecture at Conference "Breaking Rules," University of Leiden

"Before the Two Cultures: Big Science and Big Humanities in the Nineteenth Century"

Martin Buber Lecture, Israel Academy of Sciences

"The Way We Think Now: A Short History of Rules"

University of Santa Barbara

(Three lectures) "Rules. A Short History of What We Live By"

Princeton University

All at Once and Completely Changed: Revelation in Henry James' The Golden Bowl

University of Chicago

"The Paradoxes of Self-Interest"

Einstein Forum, Potsdam

"Norms and Nature"

London School of Economics

"Weather Watching and Table Reading in the Early Modern Royal Society and Académie Royale des Sciences"

Royal Society of London

"The Synoptic Image in Early Modern Europe"

Courtauld Institute, London

"Nature's Revenge: A History of Risk, Responsibility, and Reasonableness"

Humanitas Lecture, Oxford University

"One Word Worth a Thousand Images"

University of Chicago

"The Rule of Rules: From Enlightenment Reason to Cold War Rationality"

University of California at Berkeley

"History of Science without Structure"

University of Chicago

"The Science of Clouds"

Indiana University at Bloomington

"Nature's Revenge"

Aarhus University
"Objectivité et impartialité"

Ecole normale supérieure, Paris

"Epistemic Virtues in the Humanities: Objectivity versus Impartiality"

Royal Dutch Institute, Rome

"Moral and Natural Orders"

University of Chicago

"Vernunft und Rationalität"

Deutscher Philosophischer Kongress, Munich

"Wissenschaftliche Beobachtung als Lebensform"

Forschungszentrum Gotha

"Rules Rule: From Enlightenment Reason to Cold War Rationality"

Columbia University

Seminar: "Origin Stories: Religion and Science Narrate the World"

University of Chicago

Seminar: "Observation: A History of the Sciences, the Senses, and the Self"

University of Chicago

Seminar: "Against the Gods: Comparative Perspectives on Human Resistance to the Higher Powers"

University of Chicago

Seminar: "Naturalism as a Way of Life"

University of Chicago

Seminar: "History's Histories"

University of Chicago

“The History of Scientific Experience in Early Modern Europe”

Rubinstein Lecture: Queen Mary University of London

Lecture: “Ideas in Fugue: Passion, Knowledge and Memory in Aby Warburg’s Theory of the Image”

Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid