History of Physics in Utrecht
Welcome to Utrecht! Utrecht University in the Netherlands houses a strong and competitive graduate programme in History and Philosophy of Science. Furthermore, HPS in Utrecht offers tracks that have a robust emphasis on History and Philosophy of Physics. Courses and student research can also be combined with courses and research in core physics disciplines, notably in theoretical physics. Utrecht's HPS program is entirely offered in English, and is as such the only program on the European continent in the field. Many HPS students from outside the Netherlands and outside Europe enroll at Utrecht University.
HPS in Utrecht can be studied at the Master and PhD level; the first degree is obtained after two years, after which the most successful students may be invited to continue towards a PhD in Utrecht. 80% of Utrecht’s Master’s degree graduates continue for a PhD in Utrecht, elsewhere in the Netherlands, or abroad.
Currently, the core faculty that teaches History and Philosophy of Physics includes Dennis Dieks, Jeroen van Dongen and Jos Uffink. Their research centers on the historiography of late 19th and 20th century physics, and foundational issues in physics and philosophy of science; recent topics have included the science and life of Albert Einstein and his contemporaries, foundational debates on space, time and quantum mechanics, and the development of European physics in the context of World War II and the Cold War. Visiting Associates in History and Philosophy of Physics are Albert van Helden, A.J. Kox, Frans van Lunteren and Fred Muller; recent HPS PhD graduates with an emphasis on physics include M.P. Seevinck (on correlations in physical theories and what these say about the world), Daan Wegener (on the history of energy conservation in 19th century German science and culture) and David Baneke (on the desire for "synthesis" in Dutch debates about science and culture in general during the first third of the twentieth century).
Utrecht's HPS program is taught at two of the university's institutes: The Institute for History and Foundations of Science, which is part of the Physics Department, and the university-wide Descartes Centre. With the combined faculty of both, our HPS degree program can offer advanced courses in history and philosophy of all core academic disciplines, even the humanities; students can of course also choose to do a number of topical courses in the sciences or humanities proper. HPS is one of Utrecht University's designated research focus areas, which is reflected in a broad presence of faculty in the field. Main recommended tracks that the program offers are in: History of Science; Historical and Comparative Studies of the Sciences and Humanities; Philosophy of Science; Foundations of Physics, and, finally, Mathematics and Logic.
A substantial number of graduate students enrol after having completed their undergraduate degrees in Utrecht, which generally already contain a number of high level HPS courses in their curriculum; consequently, HPS graduate students are expected to immediately perform at an advanced level. This is particularly true in the case of students who have done a Bachelor degree in physics in Utrecht.
The Utrecht Institute for History and Foundations of Science houses the editorial offices of two of the leading journals in the field: Studies in History and Philosophy of Physics, and Foundations of Physics. Furthermore, "Gewina," the History of Science Society of Holland and Belgium, has its offices there, and close collaborations exist with the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in nearby Berlin. At the Descartes Centre, recent visiting faculty in History and Philosophy of Physics have included Roman Frigg and Miklos Redei from the LSE, and Giovanni Valente from Pittsburgh. In collaboration with the Centre for the Humanities, it hosts Peter Galison (Harvard) who holds the Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Chair for 2010 through 2013. The Descartes Centre also hosts many other prominent historians of science who focus on other disciplines than physics.
The atmosphere at Utrecht’s HPS institutes is distinctly lively, with many student activities, conferences and seminars. There is much interdisciplinary collaboration across departments, faculty is easily accessible to students and the university offers excellent libraries and other facilities. For the historian of physics it should be noted that some of Europe’s best physics archives are to be found within commuting distance in Haarlem, Leiden, Amsterdam and of course in Utrecht itself.
Utrecht University is one of Europe's leading institutions of higher learning, and has consistently been listed in the European top ten in the Shanghai ranking of global universities. The town of Utrecht is very attractive, with beautiful age old canals, gabled houses, a lively city centre and a large and active student community. It is located in the heart of the "Randstad" metro area, which includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; one finds here many museums, a rich cultural life and a vibrant economy. So, to all aspiring young historians of physics: Visit Utrecht, or better still: join us for a first rate degree in History and Philosophy of Science!