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.

Her dissertation “Proof, Probability, and Mathematical Uncertainties across Early Modern Europe and the Islamicate World” explores the relationship between knowledge and authority in different textual cultures by looking at debates in the mathematical sciences in the context of larger anxieties about evidence, proof, and the limits of persuasion in their respective communities. Tomasson draws upon a wide range of archival, manuscript, and printed sources in different languages and brings together science studies and global history with more technical religious, legal, and philological scholarship in order to interpret them.


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).