Tomasson, Julia

Field: Early Modern/History of Science and Technology; Advisor: Matthew Jones; Year: 2019

Julia Tomasson studies the interconnected histories of science, philosophy, mathematics, and information technologies across early modern Western/Central Eurasia and North Africa.  

Tomasson is interested in how our current standards of proof came to be and how other forms and ideals came to be unthinkable. How do we know what we know and why do we believe what we do—often so passionately and erroneously? How do ways of knowing gain and lose credibility? How have individuals and communities coped with incommensurability? These questions are at the center of Tomasson’s research, as well as a commitment to understanding how ideas and ideals about nature, power, Reason, (ir)rationality, and the Self vary and move across time and cultures and the ways in which these ideas get crystallized in objects, practices, people, and formal and informal knowledge systems.

While she is interested broadly in the history of proof, her dissertation research is on the history of mathematical proof—that is, proof in mathematics and mathematics as proof. Her dissertation “Histories and Practices of Proof across Epistemic Cultures: Transmission, Translation, and Traditions of Arabic Mathematics in and between Europe and the Islamicate World” focuses on the transmission of Arabic mathematics as an important, yet underexplored part of this archetypally “Western” history. This dissertation traces the reception of Arabic mathematical texts first within the post-classical Islamicate world, then into early modern Europe, and then through their stark, negative reassessment in the 19th and 20th centuries by orientalists and mathematicians. Rather than focusing on who got what proof, where, when, and how, she instead focuses on the epistemological practices embedded in these texts and their usage, and how we might trace divergent ideas of logos and non-logocentrism in mathematics. Ultimately, her dissertation draws upon extensive and intensive manuscript and archival research in Arabic, Latin, and European languages and uses the history of Arabic mathematical texts to tell larger stories about knowledge, power, culture, and (in)commensurability in the history of ideas.


Tomasson holds a A.B. from the Program in History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HiPSS) at the University of Chicago. Her graduate work at Columbia University has been supported by numerous fellowships, including a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (under: History and Philosophy of Science) and two Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (Classical Arabic).



Research: Tomasson became interested in the broader epistemological questions that prompted her turn to history after conducting several years of quantitative biology research based in institutions in the U.S., U.K. and China. Prior to attending Columbia, Tomasson worked as a research assistant and project manager for the University of Chicago/Neubauer Collegium project: “Censorship and Information Control in Information Revolutions.”

Teaching: At Columbia, Tomasson has been a teaching assistant and guest lecturer for the following courses: “Scientific Revolution in Western Europe” (Matthew Jones); “The Atlantic Slave Trade” (Christopher Brown); and “Origins and Meanings” (Brian Greene, Physics Department).

Curatorial: Tomasson has also assisted in the curation of three rare books exhibits: “Tensions in Renaissance Cities” (University of Chicago); “Censorship and Information Control (University of Chicago); and “Science, Nature, and Beauty in the Islamicate World” (Columbia University).