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The next Vossius seminar will take place online via zoom, on Monday 5 October. Two recently appointed Vossius Fellows, Anna-Luna Post and Niels Martens, will talk about their research at the Vossius Center.

Detail Summary
Date 5 October 2020
Time 16:00 -18:00

The talks will be digital, and slightly shorter than usual: 30 minutes talk followed by 20 minutes discussion. Please send an email to if you want to join the seminar. Then we will send you a zoomlink by 4 October at the latest.

Anna-Luna Post

Conflicting Interests? Historical ideas about Integrity in Scholarship and Trade

16:00 - 16:50


In the seventeenth century, scholarly ideals of disinterestedness and impartiality functioned as key factors to determine the credibility of individual practitioners. These ideals, it has been argued, were formed in direct contrast to the mercantile life. Scholarly ideals of trust and credibility were built on notions of disinterestedness and independence from precisely those monetary worries that drove the actions of merchants: only by being free from the corrupting effects of personal interests could scholars be trusted in the collective search for knowledge. That, at least, is what has been suggested by seminal studies focusing on the self-fashioning of seventeenth-century English natural philosophers.  

Taking Caspar Barlaeus and his well-known oration Mercator Sapiens (1632) as a starting point, this project re-evaluates this argument, drawing attention to two main developments. These are, first, the growing private and public interests associated with scholarship, and second, the growing status of trade as an occupation – which was occasionally, as in Barlaeus’ case, facilitated by scholars. In his inaugural address, Barlaeus argued for the combined pursuits of scholarship and trade, claiming that this would result in more (and better) profits in both domains. In this paper, I examine Barlaeus’ lecture and the arguments it advanced more closely, while also paying attention to the circumstances in which Barlaeus delivered it. This way, the paper brings into focus the social norms and interactions that shaped the forming of new ideas about trade as a pursuit that brings not only private, but public benefits as well – and that thereby complicated the idea that scholarly and mercantile pursuits were incompatible.

Niels Martens

The divide between dark matter and modified gravity

17:00 - 17:50


Application of Einstein’s laws of gravity to the luminous objects that we observe on the night sky, such as galaxies, fails to correctly predict their behaviour. The majority of physicists takes this to require postulating an additional type of non-luminous matter that is supposed to be ubiquitous in our universe: dark matter (DM). A minority of physicists prefers modifying the laws of gravity instead (MG). The interaction between these communities is notorious for its polemical nature. While Peter Galison has argued that the strength and progress of science arises from a tightly connected web of scientific communities glued together via trading zones, such a trading zone seems to barely exist between the DM and MG communities. In this presentation I explore various reasons for this lack of cohesion, from an integrated history and philosophy of science perspective. Are there principled reasons that make the dark matter and modified gravity solutions mutually exclusive, to the extent that neither community would have anything to gain by interacting with the other community? Does scientific practice reveal different explanatory standards and aims in each community? Which other guiding principles, expectations and promises drove the history of each of the two communities?