Robert S. Westman

Robert S. Westman
University of California, San Diego
Department of History, 0104
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0104

Phone: (858) 534-6317
Fax: (858) 534-7283


Professor Westman studied at the University of Michigan (B.A. 1963) and Imperial College, University of London (1967-69), receiving his doctorate in the History of Science from the University of Michigan in 1971. He taught in the Department of History, UCLA from 1969 to 1988 and joined the UCSD faculty in 1988. Entering the field of history of science at a time when the Scientific Revolution of the 16C and 17C was the major focus of scholarship and internalist approaches were dominant, he sought counterbalance by bringing philosophical, sociological, psychoanalytic and cultural explanations into his studies. Long intrigued by the general question of the conditions under which people give up their most profoundly held beliefs, he has devoted much of his scholarly attention to the enigma of why Copernicus abandoned the traditional earth-centered account of the heavens and also to the resistance and revisions, across three succeeding generations,  to his alternative sun-centered hypothesis. In his recent, major work, The Copernican Question: Prognostication, Skepticism and Celestial Order (2011), he argues that central to the problem to which Copernicus’s theory was the answer was a major political and religious controversy about the credibility of astrology in the late fifteenth century.

Professor Westman was Director of the Science Studies Program, 2008-2013 and is a founding member. He has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 2011-12, he was the Huntington Dibner Distinguished Fellow in the History of Science and Technology.


  • The Copernican Achievement. Editor. (Contribution no. 7, UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975. 410 pp. + 30 illus.
  • Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution. (With J.E. McGuire, University of Pittsburgh). Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1977. Contribution entitled: "Magical Reform and Astronomical Reform: The Yates Thesis Reconsidered," pp. 1-91.
  • The Wittich Connection: Conflict and Priority in Sixteenth Century Cosmology. (With Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1988. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 78, pt. 7. 148 pp. + 44 illus.
  • Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution. (With David C. Lindberg, University of Wisconsin). Cambridge University Press, 1990. 551 pp.  Co-editor + co-author of introduction + contributor.
  • Thinking Impossibilities: The Legacy of Amos Funkenstein (With David Biale, University of California, Davis), Toronto University Press, 2008. Co-editor, co-author of introduction + contributor.
  • The Copernican Question: Prognostication, Skepticism and Celestial Order. University of California Press, 2011. 704 pp. -
  • Copernicus and the Astrologers. 2013 Smithsonian Dibner Library Lecture. Forthcoming.

Articles (Selected).

  • "Kepler's Theory of Hypothesis and the 'Realist Dilemma'," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 3 (1972): 233-264.
  • "The Comet and the Cosmos: Kepler, Maestlin and the Copernican Hypothesis," in: Studia Copernicana, 5 = Colloquia Copernicana 1. (Wroclaw: Ossolineum, 1972), pp. 7-30.
  • "The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory," Isis 66(1975):165-193. Reprinted in The Scientific Enterprise in Early Modern Europe, ed. Peter Dear (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 7-36.
  • "Three Responses to the Copernican Theory: Johannes Praetorius, Tycho Brahe, and Michael Maestlin," in Robert S. Westman, The Copernican Achievement (1975), pp. 285-345.
  • "The Astronomer's Role in the Sixteenth Century: A Preliminary Study," History of Science 8(1980): 105-147.
  • "Huygens and the Problem of Cartesianism," in Henk Bos, et. al., eds, Studies on Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), (Amsterdam: Swets, 1980), pp. 83-103.
  • "The Reception of Galileo's Dialogue in the Seventeenth Century: A Partial World Census of Extant Copies," in Paolo Galluzzi, ed., Novità celesti e crisi del sapere (Florence: Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Monografia no. 7, 1983), pp. 329-372.
  • "Nature, Art, and Psyche: Jung, Pauli and the Kepler-Fludd Polemic," in: Brian Vickers, ed., Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 177-229.
  • "Naturaleza, Arte y Psique: Jung, Pauli y la Polémica Kepler-Fludd," in Brian Vickers, ed., Mentalidades ocultas y científicas en el Renacimiento (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1990), pp. 145-204. Spanish translation.
  • "The Copernicans and the Churches," in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter of Christianity and Science (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 76-113.
  • "La préface de Copernic au Pape: Esthétique Humaniste et Réforme de l'Eglise," History and Technology, 4 (1987): 365-384.
  • "Proof, Poetics, and Patronage: Copernicus's Preface to De Revolutionibus," in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman, eds., Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, 1990, pp. 167-205.
  • "The Duhemian Historiographical Project," Synthese, 83,2 (1990): 373-389.
  • "Two Cultures or One? A Second Look at Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution," Isis, 85 (1994):79-115.
  • "Zinner, Copernicus and the Nazis," Journal for the History of Astronomy, 28 (August 1997): 1-13.
  • “Kepler’s Early Physical-Astrological Problematic,” Journal for the History of Astronomy, 32:3 (August 2001): 227-236.
  • “Was Kepler a Secular Theologian?” in Thinking Impossibilities: The Intellectual Legacy of Amos Funkenstein (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 24-52.
  • “Weighing Extraordinary Phenomena: Giovanni Battista Riccioli on Novas and Comets,” in Miguel Angel Granada, ed., Novas y cometas entre 1572 y 1618, Barcelona: 2012, pp. 333-352.
  • “The Copernican Question: Prognostication, Skepticism and Celestial Order,” The Montréal Review, July 2012.
  • “The Copernican Question Revisited: A Reply to Noel Swerdlow and John Heilbron,” Perspectives on Science, 21:1 (Spring 2013): 100-136.
  • “Why Was Copernicus a Copernican?” Comment on reviews of The Copernican Question  by Peter Barker, John Christianson and Peter Dear in Metascience, November 2013.
  • Reply to Michael Shank” Isis, 105(1) (March 2014): 177-184.
  • “Revolutions in Science,” Galilaeana. 2014. Forthcoming.


  • Joe Palca, “Science Friday,” National Public Radio, October 2011.
  • Patrick Slaney, “The Copernican Question,” New Book Network (New Books in Science, Technology and Society), August 29, 2012.