A History of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) at Utrecht University

The HPS group of the Freudenthal Institute is the largest research group in the field in the Netherlands. Together with the HPS master's programme and the university-wide activities of the Descartes Center, it makes Utrecht a prominent international center for the history and philosophy of science.

The current HPS group has several predecessors.

Interest in the history of the natural sciences in the Netherlands began in the second half of the nineteenth century. This mainly concerned 'national heroes' such as Huygens and Leeuwenhoek. From the middle of the twentieth century, the field became more professional. In 1953, Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis was appointed professor in the history of mathematics and natural sciences in Utrecht. He earned internationally acclaim for his book The Mechanization of the World Picture (1950). He also published extensively on mathematics education.

Dijksterhuis was succeeded in 1967 by Reyer Hooykaas, another prominent historian of science, especially known for his work on the relation between science and religion. In 1977 Hooykaas was succeeded by Harry Snelders. Under their leadership, the Institute for the History of the Natural Sciences at the Janskerkhof became an important breeding ground for science historians in the Netherlands.

In the meantime, Frans Verdoorn had founded the Biohistorical Institute in 1959, located on the Nieuwegracht. He initiated a grand program to rewrite history from a biological perspective. In practice, this did not lead to much groundbreaking research, but it was inspiring for a generation of new biohistorians.

At the physics department, Johan Bernard Ubbink was appointed professor of Foundations and Philosophy of Physics in 1961.

In the 1980s, history of science, biohistory and foundations of physics were merged into the new Institute for the History and Foundations of Science (IGG), part of the physics department at the Utrecht Science Park. Ubbink was succeeded by Jan Hilgevoord and then Dennis Dieks; Snelders by Albert van Helden and Bert Theunissen.

In 2002, the IGG started a master's programme in History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). It started small, with only a handful of students in the first years, but has grown into one of the largest HPS master's programmes in the world.

Other researchers at Utrecht University were also doing history and philosophy of science. In 2007, they were all united in the new Descartes Center for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities. For a few years there was also a separate master's program in Historical and Comparative Studies of the Sciences and the Humanities (HCSSH), but in 2012 that program was merged with HPS.

In 2014, the IGG merged with the renewed Freudenthal Institute (FI). The HPS group of the FI still has a strong research tradition in philosophy of physics, in addition to broad expertise in history and philosophy of life sciences, climate science, and of "knowledge" in a much broader sense.

a student and teacher browsing an old science book