Serafina Cuomo is currently Professor of Ancient History at Durham University, in the North-East of England. Previously, she has worked at Imperial College and Birkbeck, University of London. Her main area of expertise is the history of science in the ancient Greek and Roman world. Her publications have focussed on mathematics and technology. She is working on numeracy in ancient Greece and Rome, and hopes in the future to develop a new project on concepts and views of work and labour.
She will take part of the Visiting Professors Program designed by EHESS, on proposal of Giovanna Cifoletti (Centre Alexandre-Koyré) from March 25th to April 13th 2019. She will be available to meet with students during this period.
"Ancient accounting: a view from the bottom"
This session will explore the practices of accounting in ancient Hellenistic and Roman-era Egypt. We will look at examples of accounts, both from domestic contexts, and from public administrative ones. We will focus on questions such as: how is the account formatted? How are the entries organized? What evidence is there, both explicit and implicit, of calculations? What kind of knowledge does the account imply, and what is the account for? What information can we glean about the people involved, and in particular the author of the account? We will try to draw general features arising from the examination of individual accounts, and ask the key question about generalization: can we generalize on the basis of particular accounts? Can we generalize from the predominantly Egyptian material? Can we generalize in terms of the principles of economic behaviour? The session should be relevant for students of ‘practical’ mathematics focussing on later periods.
- Tuesday 26 March 2019, 17:00-18:00 - EHESS (room A04_47) - 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris
"The morals of measurement"
This session will follow a philosophical thread from Plato to Seneca, to Hero of Alexandria, to Pliny the Elder, exploring the question of whether measurement in particular, and some forms of mathematics in general, are ethically sound. Mathematical practice is often explicitly value-laden. The example of measurement is particularly poignant, because on the one hand, it is represented as a constituent of justice and fair distribution, and conducive to good order, both politically and socially, and cosmically, while on the other hand it is criticized as morally dubious. We will discuss passages in Plato’s Republic, Seneca’s Letters and Pliny the Elder’s Natural History to the effect that some forms of measurement (in Pliny’s case, measurement of the heavens) are reprehensible, or indeed downright deranged. We will focus on questions such as: what arguments are presented on each side? Can we detect intertextuality between the sources, and what can be inferred from these connections? To what extent does the ethical blur into the epistemological, and into the social – are criticisms of a mathematical practice also criticisms of the mathematical practitioners? This session should be useful to students of the later debates around the utility and status of the mathematical disciplines, particularly as they revolve around ancient authors who were widely read in the Renaissance.
- Tuesday 2 April 2019, 17:00-19:00 - EHESS (room A04_47) - 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris
"Numeracy in Antiquity. Sources, Methods and Problems"
This session will explore the general question of how to approach the history of counting, calculating and measuring in ancient Greece and Rome, touching also upon other pre-modern contexts (Egypt, Mesopotamia, China) for comparison. What sources should we draw upon – in particular, given that evidence about numeracy is scarce in literary sources, how should we go about reconstructing it from archaeological, epigraphical, and other ‘material’ sources? What historiographical approaches are available, and what disciplines (anthropology, sociology) could we marshall in our aid? Ultimately, what questions and problems should guide our research? Hopefully the issues raised will be relevant for students of later pre-modern and early-modern periods as well.
- Thursday 4 April 2019, 10:00-12:00 - Centre Alexandre-Koyré (seminar room) - 27 rue Damesme 75013 Paris
"Standardization in Antiquity – Measurement, Power, and Trust"
This session will look at the question of standardization of weights and measures, in particular in what ways it was conceptualized in the ancient Greek and Roman period, and to what extent it was practised or enforced. We will focus on questions such as: what was defined as a ‘standard’? How were standards arrived at? What discourses and rhetorical strategies surrounded the idea of standardization? What evidence do we have of standardization in actual practice? On the one hand, we will analyse some key textual documents, for instance the so-called Athenian standards decree, in the form of a 5th-century-BCE ‘patchwork’ inscription. On the other hand, we will survey the archaeological evidence available for metrological ‘standards’ – cups, measuring tables, weights, and the problems arising from their classification and typology. The session should be relevant for students of metrology and of the mathematics applied to metrology and standards, including those concentrating on different periods and contexts.
- Friday 5 April 2019, 9:00-11:00 - EHESS (room 6) - 105 bd Raspail 75006 Paris