A History of Distributed Cognition

A 3 year project, funded by the AHRC, exploring historical expressions of the philosophical notion that cognition is distributed across brain, body and world.



This research project has been funded for over three years by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project explores historical expressions of the recent philosophical notion that cognition is distributed across brain, body and world. The project will further examine how the historical nature of these concepts can in turn open new approaches to understanding current definitions and debates.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

The project is led by Professor Douglas Cairns of the University of Edinburgh. Prof. Cairns has previously been awarded funding awards from the Leverhulme Trust and the European Research Council for earlier phases of his work on ancient Greek emotion. Dr Miranda Anderson, who initiated the project, is a full-time Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. The project expands on research carried out for her book, The Renaissance Extended Mind, which explores notions of the mind as extended in literary, philosophical, and scientific works from the Renaissance and which was funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.

Philosophers Dr Mark Sprevak, based at the University of Edinburgh, and Professor Michael Wheeler, at the University of Stirling, have both carried out extensive research on current notions of distributed cognition. They will be joined by the University of Oxford’s Professor George Rousseau, a pioneer in the field of medical humanities, and the University of Durham’s Dr Peter Garratt, who is a literary scholar in the cognitive humanities.

The project has also been generously supported by Eidyn: the Edinburgh Centre for Epistemology, Mind and Normativity, which funded the pilot, and by the Balzan Project, based at St John’s College, Oxford, and led by Prof Terence Cave.

Multimedia Resources

The project has created a series of eight seminars by influential philosophers in this area, which are openly available on the project website. In the spring and summer of 2015 humanities scholars from around the globe will gather for a series of four workshops that will examine the historical expression of notions of distributed cognition. This will lead to the publication of a series of four edited volumes, entitled 'A History of Distributed Cognition', which will explore this theme from ancient Greece to the twenty-first century.

The National Museums of Scotland are the History of Distributed Cognition’s project partner. This partnership will involve a recorded public lecture series by leading humanities scholars and the creation of an interactive app that will make use of artefacts in the NMS collections to encourage visitors to the museum and its website to engage with and reflect on the many ways in which cognition is fundamentally supplemented by resources in the world.

Project Website and Researcher Profiles

The project website is here: