Professor Emeritus (1931-2022)

855 Williams Hall


(215) 242-1596

CV (url)


Ph. D., Harvard University
M.A., Harvard University
S.B., M.I.T.

Nathan Sivin is a generalist who has contributed studies of all the sciences and medicine in every period of Chinese history, and comparative studies of these fields in China and Europe. He has taught a range of courses from the Scientific Revolution in Europe to advanced classical Chinese, as well as the sociology of professionalization (with Renée Fox) and ritual in science, technology, and medicine. 

After he obtained his doctorate with a dissertation published in revised form as volume 1 of Harvard Monographs in the History of Science, he taught at MIT from 1965 to 1977, founding what is now the Science, Technology, and Society program. He was also able to visit China for the first time in the fall of 1977; the Chinese Academy of Sciences eventually made him an Honorary Professor. He came to Penn with appointments in eight departments and programs, teaching until 2006, when he retired. Since then he has worked regularly with individual graduate students on dissertations and occasional undergraduates on honors theses in the departments of East Asian Languages and Cultures and HSS. 

Research Interests

the social relations of Chinese medicine, from a point of view which combines the conceptual tools of history of science with those of cultural and social anthropology and sociology
intellectual biography of Shen Kua 沈括 (1031-1095)
translations of key documents for a source book of Chinese science and medicine
the theoretical structure of alchemy

Selected Work

Two essays on medical writings, Ji jiu xian fang 急救仙方 and Xian chuan waike bi fang 仙傳外科秘方. In The Taoist Canon. A Historical Companion to the Daozang, ed. K. M. Schipper & F. Verellen, II, 774-779. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

A New Approach to Comparative and Other Research on Pre-modern Science in China and Europe. In Chung-kuo k’o-chi tien-chi yen-chiu中国科技典籍研究 (Studies of books and records of Chinese science and technology). Zhengzhou: Ta-hsiang.

Reflections on the Batesian Synthesis. In a volume on the work of the late philosopher of medicine Don Bates. Montreal: McGill University Press.

Chinese Medicine in View of Medicine and Healing. In a collection of papers from the conference of the same name, Academia Sinica, Nankang, Taiwan, 2005.12.13-15.

Teaching Fields

Chinese Culture
Chinese Literature
Chinese Science and Natural Philosophy
Classical Chinese
Classics of Science and Medicine
Current Sinology
Health Care in Traditional and Contemporary China
Methodology in the History of Science
Methods of Research in Sinology
Methods of Research in the History of Chinese Medicine
Readings in Chinese Science
Science and Philosophy from Antiquity to Copernicus
Science, Medicine and Ritual
Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment

Faculty Bookshelf