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Liba Taub

Professor of History and Philosophy of Science

Director and Curator of the Whipple Museum

Research interests: History of scientific instruments and the preservation of material relating to scientific heritage; early science and mathematics, particularly physics, meteorology and astronomy.

taub-cambridge-companion.jpgThe Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Science (2020), which I edited, provides a comprehensive overview of key themes in Greek and Roman science, medicine, mathematics and technology. A distinguished team of specialists engage with topics including the role of observation and experiment, Presocratic natural philosophy, ancient creationism, and the special style of ancient Greek mathematical texts, while several chapters confront key questions in the philosophy of science such as the relationship between evidence and explanation.

taub-whipple-objects.jpgThe Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Objects and Investigations, to Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of R.S. Whipple's Gift to the University of Cambridge, which I co-edited with Joshua Nall and Frances Willmoth, published by Cambridge University Press, is available via Open Access.

I was a co-investigator, with Nick Jardine and Sachiko Kusukawa, on the AHRC-funded project Diagrams, Figures and the Transformation of Astronomy, 1450–1650.

The Einstein Foundation awarded me a Visiting Fellowship, which supported my work (over four years) with the Berlin-based excellence cluster TOPOI: The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations.

Selected publications

‘Celebrating Science in Ancient Greece and Rome’, Nuncius 34,2 (June 2019) Special Issue: Prizes and Awards in Science before Nobel: 236-45,

'Concepts concerning the Moon in Plutarch's De facie in orbe lunae – Found, Inherited or Borrowed Ideas?', in Finding, Inheriting or Borrowing? The Construction and Transfer of Knowledge in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. J. Althoff, D. Berrens and T. Pommerening, Mainz Historical Cultural Sciences 39, transcript Verlag, 2019.


The Cambridge History of Science, volume 1: Ancient Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Currently being translated into Chinese and Turkish.

'Hellenistic and Roman Science', in The Cambridge History of Science, vol. I, ed. A. Jones and L. Taub, Cambridge University Press, 2018, 248-77.

‘What is a scientific instrument, now?’, Journal of the History of Collections vol. 31,no. 3 (2019): 453467;

Liba Taub, 'Science Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity'

Science Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity. (Key Themes in Ancient History.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Here, I argue that by considering the diverse ways in which scientific ideas were communicated, in different types of texts, we can uncover otherwise hidden meanings and more fully comprehend the historical contexts in which those ideas were produced and shared, the aims of the authors and the expectations of ancient readers. I explore the rich variety of formats used to discuss scientific, mathematical and technical subjects, from c.700 BCE to the sixth century CE.

'Taub explores diverse genres of surviving texts in Greek and Roman science writing from antiquity: poetry, letters, encyclopedias, and commentaries. By considering the actual texts, as well as the ideas being conveyed and taught, the author is able to delve into ancient scholarly communication through a route of discovery that owes its insights to a fresh perspective, using representative extant texts as case studies to discuss the writers’ motivations and ways of elucidating truth. … The narrative structure of this book reveals a fascinating unity of the ancients’ scientific thought ('philosophy') while noting incomplete or contradictory evidence, with a nod to diversity in mentioning what little is known about the role of women in the scholarly record. The selected texts are situated in their historical context, providing an accessible yet challenging intellectual history for any individual interested in the history of science.' -Choice

'Archiving Scientific Ideas in Greco-Roman Antiquity', in Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures, ed. Lorraine Daston, University of Chicago Press, 2017, 113-135.

'wind', in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Ed. Sander M. Goldberg. New York: Oxford University Press, February 2017.

‘Selling by the Book: British Scientific Trade Literature after 1800’ (with Joshua Nall), in How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands, A.D. Morrison-Low, Paolo Brenni and Sara Schechner (eds), Brill, 2017, 21-42.

'Three Dimensional Models', with Joshua Nall, in A Companion to the History of Science, edited by Bernard Lightman (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016): 572-86

'Meteorology' in A Companion to Science, Technology and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by Georgia Irby (Wiley Blackwell, 2016): 232-46

'"Problematising" the Problems: The Problemata in Relation to Other Question-and-Answer Texts', The Aristotelian Problemata Physica: Philosophical and Scientific Investigations, edited by Robert Mayhew (Leiden: Brill, 2015): 413–436

'"Perhaps Irrelevant": The Iconography of Tycho Brahe's Small Brass Quadrant', with Emma Perkins, Iconography of Scientific Instruments, thematic issue of Nuncius: Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science 30 (2015): 9–36

'On the Variety of "Genres" of Greek Mathematical Writing: Thinking about Mathematical Texts and Modes of Mathematical Discourse', Writing Science: Medical and Mathematical Authorship in Ancient Greece, edited by Markus Asper (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013): 333–366

'Physiological Analogies and Metaphors in Explanations of the Earth and the Cosmos', Blood, Sweat and Tears – The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe, edited by Manfred Horstmanshoff, Helen King and Claus Zittel (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 41–63

Structures and Strategies in Ancient Greek and Roman Technical Writing, co-edited and introduced with Aude Doody and Sabine Föllinger, special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43 (2012) ('Structures and Strategies in Ancient Greek and Roman Technical Writing: An Introduction': 233–236)

'Reengaging with Instruments', introduction to commissioned Focus section: The History of Scientific Instruments (with articles by Jim Bennett, Simon Schaffer, Ken Arnold and Thomas Söderqvist), for which I served as editor, Isis 102 (2011): 689–696

'Greco-Roman Meteorology and Navigation', Maritime Technology in the Ancient Economy: Ship-Design and Navigation, edited by W.V. Harris and K. Iara, Journal of Roman Archaeology supplementary series no. 84 (2011): 133–146

'Translating the Phainomena across Genre, Language and Culture', Writings of Early Scholars in the Ancient Near East, Egypt and Greece: Zur Übersetzbarkeit von Wissenschaftssprachen des Altertums, edited by Annette Imhausen and Tanja Pommerening (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010): 109–127

'Das Lebewesen und die Erde: Analogie oder Metapher in physikalischen Erklärungen der Antike?', AKAN (Antike Naturwissenschaft und ihre Rezeption) XX, edited by Jochen Althoff, Sabine Föllinger and Georg Wöhrle (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2010): 1–14

On Scientific Instruments, edited and introduced, special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40.4 (2009) ('On Scientific Instruments': 337–343)

Authorial Voices in Greco-Roman Technical Writing (AKAN-Einzelschriften Band 7), co-edited and introduced with Aude Doody (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2009)

'Cosmology and Meteorology', Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism, edited by James Warren (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 105–124

taub-aetna.jpgAetna and the Moon: Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2008)

'"Eratosthenes Sends Greetings to King Ptolemy": Reading the Contents of a "Mathematical" Letter', Mathematics Celestial and Terrestial – Festschrift für Menso Folkerts zum 65. Geburtstag, edited by Joseph W. Dauben, Stefan Kirschner, Andreas Kühne, Paul Kunitzsch and Richard P. Lorch, Acta Historica Leopoldina 54 (2008): 285–302

'Presenting a "Life" as a Guide to Living: Ancient Accounts of the Life of Pythagoras', The History and Poetics of Scientific Biography, edited by Thomas Söderqvist (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007): 17–36

taub-whipple-instruments.jpgThe Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Instruments and Interpretations, to Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of R.S. Whipple's Gift to the University of Cambridge, edited and introduced with Frances Willmoth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

'Are Orreries "Newtonian"? A Consideration of the Material, Textual and Pictorial Evidence', The Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Instruments and Interpretations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 403–426

'Preserving Nature? Ecology, Tourism and Other Themes in the National Parks', Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37 (2006): 602–611

taub-ancient-meteorology.jpgAncient Meteorology (London: Routledge, 2003; Greek translation, Athens: Enalios, 2003)

'Instruments of Alexandrian Astronomy: The Uses of the Equinoctial Rings', Science and Mathematics in Ancient Greek Culture, edited by C.J. Tuplin and T.E. Rihll (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002): 133–149

'On the Role of Museums in History of Science, Technology and Medicine', Endeavour 22 (1998): 41–43

taub-ptolemys-universe.jpg'Heroes of Microscopy and Museology', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30 (1999): 729–744

'Evolutionary Ideas and "Empirical" Methods: The Analogy between Language and Species in Works by Lyell and Schleicher', British Journal for the History of Science 26 (1993): 171–193

'The Historical Function of the Forma Urbis Romae', Imago Mundi 45 (1993): 9–19

Ptolemy's Universe: The Natural Philosophical and Ethical Foundations of Ptolemy's Astronomy (Chicago: Open Court, 1993)

Selected broadcasts

'Ptolemy and Ancient Astronomy', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 17 November 2011

'Pliny's Natural History', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 8 July 2010

'Meteorology', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 6 March 2003

Liba Taub

The Whipple Museum holds an internationally important collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present.